Monday, December 23, 2013


                      Chapter 7: The Climb Halts

Those Mantuans, Sordello and my guide
         embraced each other happily until
         the first drew back enquiring,  “Who are you?”                                3

“A soul from Hell,” the greater poet said.
      “ Augustus, the first Emperor of Rome,
         buried my bones before faith in Christ’s cross                                  6

let saved souls make a staircase of this hill,
         so I, Virgil, will not reach paradise.”
         Like one who thinks, “This is . . . it cannot be!                                  9

It must . . . but surely not?” Sordello stood
        wondering, as if his eyes perceived
        a marvel far too great to be believed,                                                   12

then he bowed as low as anybody could.
      “You are the glory of the Latin race!”
        he cried, “Through you our language is as strong,                             15

will live as long as Gospel scriptures do.
       Tell me the miracle that brings you here,
        and if you think me fit to know, from which                                    18

cloister of Hell.” Said Virgil, “I have come
        through all the rings of Hell, but dwell with souls
        who do not suffer pain. Ours is the state                                           21

of babies who die before christening
        cleans off their sinful stain. We do not weep
        but sigh for what we, living, could not know                                   24

so cannot now enjoy eternally—
        true faith, hope, charity. But even so
        Heaven has ordered me to lead this man                                         27

up to your mountains height. Since sunset casts 
        its shadow on us we will climb by night,
        having not reached real Purgatory yet.                                            30

Sordella, can you tell us the right way?”
       “Yes, I will be your guide a while,” said he,
         but not up hill at once. Now you must halt                                    33

and be escorted to a resting place
       where you will find folk you’ll be glad to see.”
       “Why? Who bans our divinely ordered climb?”                             36

my master cried, “Do you?” Sordello stooped,
        drew a line with his finger on the ground,
        and said, “If light failed you could not cross this.                        39

None forbid night climbing here, but darkness
        abolishes all wish to climb, though letting
        any drift backward down the way they came.”                            42

My master brooded, then said, “Lead us please
        to where you say a rest will do us good.”
        He lead us in the gloaming a short way                                         45

toward a corrie hollowing the slope.
         He said, “There we will wait for a new day
         deep in the mountains lap.” A winding path                                48

that rose and fell brought us to that deep dell.
         We stood upon the edge there, gazing down.
          There was still light enough to see below                                   51

a glowing lawn as green as emerald
         with blossoms golden, crimson, pearly white,
         silver and azure and pure indigo.                                                   54

All colours of the rainbow were surpassed
          by blooms feasting our eyes. Sweet scents from them
          blent in one sweetness, lovely but unknown                                57

to living men before I breathed that air,
         and there sat souls unseen by lower folk
         singing the Holy Hymn to Heavens Queen.                                 60

“Before the sun now sitting leaves the sky,”
         Sordello said, “We will not go down there.
         Why? Those bellow are clearly seen from here.                         63

He who sits highest of that kingly crew,
         to glum to move his lips in sacred song
         was Rudolph, Emperor, who failed to heal                                 66

wounds that have mangled Italy so long.
       Trying to comfort him is Ottocar,
        King of Bohemia, in his nappies                                                  69

better than bearded Wenceslaus, his son
         who lazily now occupies his throne.
         That snub-nosed chap beating his breast in grief                         72

regrets how he disgraced the Crown of France.
         That vicious thief, his son, has gone to Hell
         but see his daughter’s husband, formerly                                     75

the Prince of Anjou, also torn by grief.
        You see two monarchs sing in harmony—
         stout Tory King of Aragon beside                                                 78

the manly-nosed Whig King of Sicily.
        There sons have none of their nobility.
         How seldom vigor in a parent tree                                                81

enters its branches! Only God knows why.
         See England’s Henry sit apart, alone,
         a simple king whose Edward Prince of Wales                             84

is now a hammer of the French and Scots.
         Lowest and looking up, unluckiest
         prince of this age was Montferrat’s William                             87

tricked by foes, who died in an iron cage.”


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