Wednesday, May 20, 2015

DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PARADISE: Chapter 25


Chapter 25: Saint James and John


I have grown thin through working years upon
            this sacred song both Heaven and earth require.
            Perhaps it may persuade my enemies                     3

who drove me from the town where I was born, 
            a lamb among ferocious wolves, to change
            their minds, invite me back with thicker fleece,      6

sharper horns, stronger bleat, to be crowned as
            Italy’s Poet Laureate within
            the kirk where I was christened, given entry          9
           
to the faith that had Saint Peter welcome me 
in Heaven. Here Peter thrice circled me.
From out that part of the sphere wherein shine     12

our Lord’s apostles, a new glory came
             “See the noble James,” my guide now murmured,
             “Brother of Saint John and martyred in Spain      15

where pilgrims worship at his shrine.” I saw
            Peter and James converse, rotating round                                               
              each other like mating doves, then both gazed    18

so steadily at me. I had to cringe
            and look away. Laughing, Beatrice said,                                        
             “O famous poet! Only living soul                         21

chosen to see the court of Paradise
            and show the world it’s generosity!                                                               
              To make good hope resound about this height    24

you must meet Peter, James and John, the three
            to whom their Master showed the greatest light.”                                   
             “Lift up your head! take comfort!” James declared,  27

the second glory, adding, “At this height 
              everyone is ripened by our rays.”
              So I raised my eyes to those whose greatness       30

previously held them down, then James said.
            “God’s grace has brought you to meet face to face                                  
              those of His inner cabinet, that you                       33
  
may strengthen in yourself and others, hope
            that lets love flourish on the earth below.                                    
              So first of all let me examine you.                         36

Say what hope is, how grows in you, and whence                            
              hope came.” She who had winged me here replied.
            “Our Kirk has nobody more full of hope                39

than this man our Sun chooses for His Grace.
            Yes, he may enter new Jerusalem
            from out the land of bondage into which                42

he must return. You ask for two more facts,
            not because you don’t know his answers, but
            to show how much you value hopeful speech.        45

He will answer for himself easily,
without boasting. God’s Grace will be his help.”
Like student keen to see his master smile,              48

“Hope,” said I, “is sure expectation of
glory to come, made by God’s Grace in souls
purged fully of old sins. This light reached me       51

from many stars, but first King David’s psalm
            inspired the surest hope. He sang Let them
            hope in Me who know My name. I who was          54

baptized knew it well. To David’s stream
            of hope your Epistle added more, so
            satisfied, I now try to satisfy                                   57

others with what I know.” In that fire’s heart
            flashes like lightning were repeated while
            I spoke, then it breathed this: “The love of hope    60

still burns in me and always will. Please me
            more. Say what hope now promises to you.”
            Said I, “Old and new scriptures tell the goal          63

God provides for his friends. They point me here.
            Isaiah says, All reaching their own land
will be clad, body and soul, in double robes.         66

Your brother John says the robes will be white.
The promised land is here.” When I said this
            I heard above, “Hope for all is in You.”                69

All choirs in Paradise repeated that,
            and a great star among them shone as bright
            as any in the zodiac. As at                                     72

wedding feasts a happy maiden dances,
            not just for fun, but honouring the bride,
            I saw this new splendour join the two flames        75

dance to the anthem that proclaimed their love.
            Said Beatrice, “See John, who Christ loved most
            of His disciples and when crucified,                      78

begged him to care for His mother Mary.”       
              As after eclipse folk have been blinded
by suddenly the sun striking their eyes                  81

I discovered my eyes had lost their sight
            “Why dazzle yourself to see what’s not here?”
            Said John, “My body is earth, will be there            84

till our number equals the pure sum God
requires. My brothers in this company
are the only lights that have come so high.             87

Take this report back to your world.” At this
            the flaming sphere fell silent, with the sound
            of the saints’ sweetly mingled breath, just as          90

at a whistle’s sound, oarsmen stop rowing
            to avoid danger or fatigue. O how
            troubled I was not to see Beatrice,

though she was by my side in Paradise!                             94

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