DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PARADISE: Chapter 11
CHAPTER 11: Of Francis
O daft deliriums of earth-bound men!
With force or fraud you fight to gather wealth
by trade or law, priest-craft or shedding blood, 3
then glut your appetites on luxuries,
corrupting sense by wasteful indolence,
driving your mental wings into foul mud. 6
Freed from such emptiness by Beatrice
I stood a guest among the blest who danced
around us like a splendid galaxy. 9
Then pausing as before, that radiance
who first had spoken spoke to me again,
smiling and glowing brighter as he did. 12
“Because all here share in the mind of God
I see some words of mine engendered doubt:
there is good fattening unless we stray; 15
as also these: none ever rose so high.
To clarify I’ll speak at greater length.
The Providence that rules the world of men 18
cannot be absolutely understood
by human minds. To wed His human Church
Christ married Her with cry of dreadful pain 21
and loss of life. To keep Her true to him,
Providence sent the Church two princely men.
One was for wisdom like the Cherubim 24
and one whose ardour matched the Seraphim
who I will speak of first, since praise of him
applies to both. They toiled for the same end. 27
The Porta Sole of Perugia
faces the Apennine, whence winds blow down
both hot and cold. Small rivers too descend, 30
surround a town where Mount Subasio
slopes to the plain. Assisi is its name.
A better name for it is Orient 33
for here dawned Francis, Italy’s new sun.
While still a lad he reveled in the sins
most folk forgive the child of a rich man, 36
or even praise. He fought in petty war,
caroused and whored, was very popular,
then illness made him face the fact of death, 39
forced him to see he was not fit for it.
He read what Jesus said to the rich youth
who wanted Heaven, and knew these words were true, 42
then tried to give away the wealth he had,
resulting in a quarrel with his dad
because he chose a bride all wished to shun. 45
Her first spouse had been taken from her side
over eleven hundred years before.
Though known to famous men much earlier 48
(Diogenes was one who scorned a great
world conqueror) the proud rejected her.
None took example from her constancy. 51
Even Christ’s mother stayed below when she
climbed up the Cross to share Christ’s agony.
In case you cannot guess of whom I speak 54
the bride who Francis wed was Poverty,
in church renouncing his inheritance
on earth to live on just what Heaven’s Dad 57
gives everyone who does not seek for gain.
With such a wife he came to love her more
and poor himself, worked hard to help the poor. 60
Though old companions flung mud at him,
his happiness and harmony moved some
of contemplative mind to emulate. 63
His wealthy neighbour Bernard was the first
to kick off shoes and follow him barefoot.
Egidius, Sylvester followed suit. 66
Eight other too, delighting in his bride,
wore rough wool robe tied with a simple chord
and did not fear the sneers of vulgar wealth. 69
The scorn they all found very hard to bear
came from those thinking them competitors
in holiness: the confirmed clergymen. 72
Francis and his eleven followers
walked forth to Rome and showed Pope Innocent
the nature of Franciscan brotherhood. 75
Thus it was tolerated by the Church,
and when the flocks of Francis grew much more
through missions to France, Spain and Germany 78
Pope Honorius made its status sure.
Francis then sailed to Egypt and when there
preached Christ until the Sultan promised him 81
far better treatment of the Christian slaves,
and in Jerusalem Christ’s tomb would be
placed firmly in Franciscan Brothers’ care, 84
after which he returned to Italy.
Twixt Arno and the Tiber is a crag
where stands the cell where Francis found good proof 87
that Jesus loved him well: on hands, feet, side
the bloody wounds of crucifixion came.
For two more years he bore those stigmata 90
till Christ who destined him to so much good
disclosed that his last day was drawing near.
He then bequeathed the poverty he’d wed 93
to all his brothers, begging them always
to love her faithfully. Then from the ground
(he had rejected any other bier) 96
his ardent soul rose up to Paradise.
Consider now which colleague is most fit
to help God keep Saint Peter’s boat afloat 99
on troubled seas under our stormy skies.
Surely my own patriarch Dominic!
His followers carry good merchandise 102
although too many wander far away
to fields remote from where he guided them,
thus yielding to their fold much less sweet milk. 105
Some dutifully keep their shepherd’s path,
so few their cowls require but little cloth.
Now know my meaning when you heard me say
there is good fattening unless we stray. 109