Monday, December 23, 2013


Chapter 10: To the First Terrace

And so the angel warder let us through
            that gate locked fast to those of evil will.
            We climbed a narrow track in the cleft hill,                                          3

nor did I dare look round when at my back
            the gate shut with a clang that shook the ground.
            Our steep path zig-zagged sharply left and right.                                6

Said Virgil, “This will test your climbing skill,
so concentrate,” I did. It was near noon
            when I emerged from that tight needle’s eye.                                       9

Footsore and tired I stood beside my guide,
like him, unsure of where to go again:
            sheer drop behind, on each side empty plain,                                     12

ahead a sheer cliff three men’s height away.                          
            We had not moved a step before I knew
            the cliff we faced was marble, pure and white,                                   15

marvelously carved with shapes livelier
and lovelier than a human sculptor
            or nature too could ever have devised.                                               18

On going near we recognized just One
           could make them so. We saw the angel there
           announce the coming of the Prince of Peace                                     21

for whom man-kind has wept through centuries.
           He seemed to say “Hail Mary, full of grace!”
           and the humility of her reply,                                                              24

“Here am I, God’s servant,” glowed in her face                                
            so I believed I heard her with my ears.
“Look over here,” my guide said pointing to                         27

images of a more crowded scene:
            oxen pulling a cart holding the ark
            brought by King David to Jerusalem.                                                 30
Seven jubilant choirs surrounded it.                                                  
           My eyes declared, “they sing!” my ears, “they don’t!”,
           and where, in marble, clouds of incense rose                          33          

 eyes disagreed with nose. Before the ark,                                         
            the psalmist monarch with his robe tucked up
            danced like a happy clown. His wife looked down                            36

from a high window, smiling scornfully
            at his humiliating lack of pride.
            Beside this was another crowded scene:                                              39

Emperor Trajan riding forth to war                                                 
            with knights and retinue. Eagles above
            flapped gold wings. A poor widow clinging                                       42
to his bridle cried, “Sir, my murdered son                                         
             should be avenged!” “He’ll be, when I return.”
            “But if you don’t?” “My heir will do what’s right.”                         45
“If you don’t do what’s needed now,” cried she,                               
            “then why should he?” “True!” Trajan said, halting,                        
            “none should delay just acts.” Justice was done.                                48

Our best Pope since Saint Peter, Gregory,
             esteemed this just humility as proof
             of Trajan’s noble Christianity,                                                            51

 so he is now redeemed in Paradise.                                                  
            These splendid visions of true humbleness
            pleased me by showing truth and beauty one,                                    54

 till I heard Virgil murmur, “Here come some                                        
             who may show a stair to the greater heights.”
             Dear reader, I was eager for new sights                                            57

that teach how God gets back what is His due–                                        
            news that should aid and not discourage you.
            I looked to see some kind of cavalcade,                                             60
then staring said, “I see no folk at all!
            Here’s a slow avalanche of heavy stones
            advancing on the ground. Sir, please explain.”                                    63

Said he, “Stoop down and look. Under those weights                                   
           see once proud sinners crawling on their knees.”
           I cried out, “O you poor ones who believed                                       66

that wealth and power could magnify your worth!
           Now crushed to earth, at last you will discard
           your pride, a grubby caterpillar shell                                                   69

splitting to loose angelic butterfly                             
            soaring to God upon His judgement day.”                                         
            Brackets supporting ceilings on high walls                                        72

are sometimes carved like men, knees squeezed to chest.
            Those here were just like that, sorely oppressed,
            and the most patient ghosts were weeping most.      75                            

Their state was nearly more than they could bear.


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