Monday, December 23, 2013


Chapter 9: The Gateway

Upon the little valley’s verdant floor
I, Virgil, Sordello, Nino the judge
and Conrad Malespino spoke no more                                               3
and I, imperfect man, slept deep until
that early hour when swallows, sensing dawn,
   mournfully cheep and sleepers, not disturbed                               6

by dreams of bodily and mental stress
sometimes see visions of pure blessedness.
A golden-feathered eagle seemed to be                                               9

hovering over my head with wings outspread.
I thought, “That bird seized Ganymede to be
butler in Heaven, so very fair was he.                                      12

He won’t want me!” Then like a thunderbolt
it swooped and, snatching, soared with me up, up,
up to the height of Empyrean fire                                                      15

where the imagined heat fused us in one       
before at last (of course) wakening me. 
The mother of Achilles carried him                                                    18

 asleep from Crete to a Greek island where
his opening eyes knew nothing he could see.                            
Two hours after day dawned, I awoke like that                                 21

 cold, weak, and staring at the oceans shore
far, far below. My comforter and guide
seated at my side said, “Don’t be afraid.                                            24

Your state is excellent. Before day broke,
as you were sleeping upon the flowers
that clothe the lower dell, a lady came.                                 27

She said, ‘I am Lucy, here for this man
to take him, sleeping, further on his way.’
Sordello stayed with other noble souls                                               30

as, when this clear day dawned, she took you up,
I following until she laid you here
and pointed to that gate before she left.”                                33

Made confident once more I rose to face
the rampart of the mountainside, my guide
leading me up to a much higher place                                     36

than we had been before. Reader, please know
I must rise to a higher theme, sustained
by greater art. We reached what at first seemed                                 39

a cleft in that rock wall, but was a gate
above three differently coloured steps.
On the thresh-hold a silent warder sat,                                               42

his face so bright I could not bear the sight,
and in his hand he held a naked sword
I also tried to look upon in vain,                                                         45

for it reflected light so dazzlingly.
“Where are you from? What do you seek?” he said.
 “If no Heavenly escort brings you here,                                            48

beware! This upward climb may do you harm.”
 “A celestial maid,” my master said,
 “recently pointed out to me this gate.”                                             51

“She did so for your good. Come then, and climb,”
the courteous warder said, so we stepped
onto the white marble, which was so smooth                             54
it mirrored me exactly as I am.
The second was dark purple, rough and cracked
throughout it’s length and breadth. The top-most step        57

resembled porphyry, as red as blood
spurting from a vein. On this God’s angel
rested his feet, seated on a thresh-hold                                               60

which seemed to be of hardest adamant.
By these three steps my leader drew me up,
saying, “Now ask him to withdraw the bolt.”                           63

I threw myself down at his holy feet,
and after beating on my breast three times
begged him to mercifully let me through.                               66

With his sword point he wrote upon my brow
seven Ps, then said, “When you are inside
these will be washed away.” Out of his robe,                                    69

of ashen colour he removed two keys,
one gold, one silver. Turning in the lock
the white first, then the yellow, he explained,                             72

“When both keys do not turn the gate stays shut.
            One is more precious but the other needs
more skill, more wisdom, to make it unlock.                               75

Peter said as he gave them, ‘If you err,
do it on the side of mercy to those
prostrate before your feet.’ So enter now,                                         78

but remember, never dare to look back.
Those who do are expelled.” When Caesar stole
the Tarpeian temple’s gold, there went up                                         81

a deafening roar, less loud than that of
the door’s massive hinges grinding around.
Entering, I heard the Te Deum start.                                                 84

Sweet voices blending well with organ chords
rose and fell in our God’s mightiest hymn,
words lost in mirthful tune or ringing clear,                                87

sounds I love most of those I hear on earth.


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