DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PARADISE: Chapter 17
CHAPTER 17: Dante’s Future
That shining soul my very great Grandsire
could read my mind. My wish was now to hear
what Florence held for me when I returned, 3
but he was silent. I began to fear
this was a thing he wished me not to know.
I looked to Beatrice who gently said, 6
“He wants to satisfy your thirst but first,
to prove you understand what you desire,
say what it is in words that make it clear.” 9
I cried, “Dear root of me, your intellect
has soared to such a height, you share with God
His view of time past, present, and to come. 12
If I should live to be three score and ten
I have run halfway through my time on earth.
When deep with Virgil in the cone of Hell 15
and up Mount Purgatory, I heard tell
dark prophecies about my future years.
They told me these would bring much suffering. 18
Let fuller knowledge please reduce their sting,
for that is what I pray you give me now.
Forewarned is forearmed, we in Florence say.” 21
Unlike those riddling oracles struck dumb
by Christ’s triumphant Crucifixion
what he now spoke had no obscurity. 24
“Do not believe your future agony
is willed by God because it is foreseen.
He no more plans the world’s contingencies 27
than an observing eye moves ships at sea.
You know how slander drove Hypolitus
from his Athenian home. For Whigs like you 30
the very same is being planned in Rome.
Of course the injured parties will be blamed,
though vengeance one day will reveal the truth. 33
The first pains that you feel will be the worst:
the agony of leaving all you love,
eating the tasteless bread of charity, 36
learning how steep are stairs you do not own.
Heavier too will be the company
of those also expelled, a senseless crew 39
vilely denouncing you. Their vicious fuss
will grow as brutal as notorious.
None will believe them; fame will make you be 42
a political party of just one,
and favourite guest of della Scala,
Lombard Count of Verona. His regard 45
will give what you most need before you ask.
You will know his brother, born below Mars
and now a child. After the Papacy 48
moves to Avignon, and French Pope Clement
fools the Emperor Henry, you will see
that boy heroic, fearing neither wealth 51
nor toil, his generosity so great
his foes will praise it while he makes beggars
change place with millionaires. You will see this 54
and not say how you knew it would be so.”
He said more, which only those who see them
happen can possibly believe, adding, 57
“My dear son, this explains the worst rumours
of the foul snares awaiting you in years
that are to come. Don’t envy Florentines 60
who remain at home. You will live to see
the punishment of their foul perfidy.”
That shining soul fell silent, having shown 63
the woven pattern of my tapestry.
I needed better news from He who sees
all that exists, and rightly wills and loves. 66
“Father,” said I unhappily, “since now
loss of my dearest home is known to me
advise me how to keep the place I’ve won 69
in people’s minds by my poetic song.
In Hell, and on that Hill my lady’s eyes
have raised me from, I learned many things that, 72
immortalized in art, are bound to hurt.
I am a timid friend of truth, so fear
danger from folk who want their crimes forgot.” 75
The light from which my Grandsire smiled now blazed
like a golden mirror in the bright sun.
He said, “Consciences dark with their own sin 78
or shame at another’s guilt will indeed
feel pain, but do not nurse hypocrisy!
Make the truth plain! Let them scratch where they itch. 82
Your verses may taste bad at first; digested
they will be nourishing. Write like the wind,
hitting high mountains hardest. What more 85
can poet do? That is why you have been shown
only the famous down below in Hell
and up Mount Purgatory. Folk ignore
examples set by those they don’t know well.” 89