Wednesday, January 22, 2014


Chapter 12: Going From Pride

Like two slow oxen harnessed in one yoke
            I, bending almost double at his side,
            we crept on till my gentle master spoke:                                            3

“Leave him; we must go faster now.” I did,
            though inwardly depressed, but very soon
            followed my leader eagerly. We seemed                                             6

lighter of foot. Said he, “Start looking down.
            There’s splendid entertainment where we tread.”
            As flat stones in a graveyard often show                                           9

carvings provoking memories and tears,
            in every part that round-the-mountain street
            was paved with wonders of mosaic art.                                             12

All showed the penalties of too much pride.
            I saw the noblest creature God had made
            falling like lightning. On the other side                                               15

I saw the fifty-headed, hundred-armed
Briareus dismembered by Jove’s dart;
I saw Jove’s armored children as they viewed                                   18

the scattered limbs – Apollo, Pallas, Mars;
I saw King Nimrod, Babel’s architect
bewildered, staring at his futile heap;                                                 21

and poor Niobe, statue who bled tears
with seven sons and seven daughters dead;
and Saul, the conquered King of Israel,                                 24

on Gilboa self-slaughtered by his sword;
and mad Arachne, half a spider now,
still clinging to the woeful web she wove;                              27

and Rehoboam, boastful coward king,
fleeing by chariot, though none pursued.
That pavement also showed me how and why                                  30

Alcmaeon slew his mother, who betrayed
his father for a jeweled ornament;
and Assyria’s king Sennacherib,                                                         33

stabbed in a temple by his ruthless sons;
and afloat in a big cup of his own blood
Cyrus’ head, dropped there by Queen Tomaris                                 36

who said, “You liked bloodshed, so drink this up”;  
and showed Assyrians in panic flight
when General Holofernes lost his head;                                             39

and lastly showed the broken walls and ash
of mighty Troy, brought pitifully low.
No human artist could contrive to show                                            42

these histories in carving or in paint
so wonderfully well. The dead looked dead,
the living seemed to breathe. I found upon                              45

that road the fate of pride spelled out for me,
but go your haughty ways, great sons of Eve!
Do not believe what’s written on the ground.                         48

I had not seen how far we and the sun
had circled round the hill when Virgil said,
“The time for brooding’s past. Look upward – see,                          51

the hour is noon. An angel’s coming fast
who will direct us to the upward way,
so give him all the reverence he’s due.                                       54

Today, you know, will never dawn again.”
Knowing my master dreaded wasting time
I followed him in haste. We came to halt                                     57

before a lovely creature clad in white
whose face gleamed on us like the morning star.
Spreading his arms to us and then his wings,                               60

he, pointing to a deep cleft in the cliff,
told us, “Climb here! It is an easy way.
Why do so few arrive to share it now?                                               63

Mankind was made to soar. What little winds                               
detain such multitudes so far below?       
But up you go.” His wings then brushed my brow.             66       

The cloven rock contained a noble stair
            like that arising from the Arno bridge,
            built when my city had just government,                                           69

rising to where all Florence can be viewed,
            before the church of Miniato’s door,
            and as we climbed I heard a sweeter voice                                          72

than words can tell, sing “Blessèd are the meek,”
unlike the lamentable screams I heard
            between one level and the next in Hell.                                               75

I found that walking up that holy stair          
was easier than on the level ground.
            “Master,” I asked, “what weight has been removed?”                       78

“The weight of that first P and what it means,                                             
rubbed from your brow by the angelic wings,”
            said he. “The rest remain more faintly now.                                      81

All will be cancelled, one by one, until                                              
your body is so lightened by good will,
            you’ll be incapable of weariness.”                                                      84

Then I behaved like those who, unaware
of how they look before the stares of folk
begin to worry them. They use their hands                                        87

to feel what they can’t see and don’t yet know­.
With five spread fingertips I felt my head
and found six Ps where seven had been etched.                        90

My guide smiled as he saw me doing so.







                         Chapter 11: The Proud

“Our Father in Heaven, unlimited
            except by your great love for all you made,
            for everything you’ve given us on earth                                              3     

we praise your name as angels do above.
            Teach us to find your House of Peace on high
            which by our strength alone we cannot reach                                     6

however hard and painfully we try.
            Give everyone the nourishment we need
            to rightly follow in the steps of Christ                                               9

and not slide backwards into sinful ways.
Forgive our sins as we also forgive
those who have hurt us. Dear Lord, most of all           12                 

 do not let enemies become so strong
            they drive the virtuous to doing wrong.
         Lord God, you know that prayer is not for us,      15                                  

but souls alive whose state is not redeemed.”
            Yes, those ghosts prayed for us while toiling on
            beneath such weight as we have never dreamed.       18                           

Let we with any goodness pray that they
            are quicker lightened, raised above the moon
            to their appointed place in Paradise.                               21                       

Reading my mind I heard kind Virgil say,
            “May all who stoop here be unburdened soon
             and wing their upward flight. I lead a man                                           24
still clad in Adam’s flesh, so we need stairs
            to climb this cliff.  Can any of you say
if the nearest way is to left or right?”                                               27

We could not see who spoke but heard a voice.
           “Go with us to the right, where there’s a place
             a man may climb. Were I not bent so low                                           30

I might see his face, recognize a friend              
            who pitied me. I was Italian,
            my father great Bill Aldobrandesco­–                                                    33

surely you know his name? Pride in my birth
and famous ancestors made me forget         
all of us share one common Mother Earth.                                    36

Arrogance killed me, dragged to infamy
my name and kin.  In Compagnatico                                     
            children know this and in Sienna too.                                                39

I am Umberto, whose excessive pride
            will crush me until God is satisfied.”                                     
            To hear him I’d bent low and so saw one                                           42

who did not speak but twisted round his neck
            to see me, knew me, kept his eyes on me                              
            as he crept onward very painfully.                                                      45

Bent almost double at his side I cried,
            “You, Oderisi! Pride of Gubbio                                 
         for illustrating books, or as they say           48                                                                 

in Paris, for illuminating them.”
            “Brother,” said he, “Franco of Bologna                                 
             does that better now.  His claim to fame                                           51

is partly due to what he learned from me.
            When living I denied how good he was.                                 
            Here I am purging all that pettiness.                                                  54     

The emptiness of glory in a name
is obvious. Florence once gloried in                                                   
            the radiance of Cimabue’s art.                                                           57

Giotto’s fame has cast a shade on it.
            Guido Guinizelli’s verse was once                                        
            the splendour of our tongue. Cavalcanti’s                                         60

is now more highly sung. Who’s next? Are you?
            Who cares? A thousand years, two thousand, ten                
            are eye-blinks to the slowly turning spheres                                      63

of the universe. Fame is a brief noise.
            He crawling before me once had a name                                
            shouted through Tuscany, and adored                                              66

in Sienna, where it’s now ignored, though
            he helped it smash a mad Florentine horde.”                         
           “Your true words humble me, but tell me more,”                               69

I said, “about that lord who crawls before.”
            “He, Provenzan Salvani, tried to be                                       
             Sienna’s tyrant prince and so creeps thus                                         72 

like all of us who raised ourselves far too
            presumptuously high.” Said I, “But why,
            is he not below with other princes                                                      75

not yet fit for your purifying pain?”
             Orsini said, “He earned this higher place
 because once, when a despot but not rich,                                        78

he begged for money in the public square
            to ransom a dear friend, though his proud soul
            found this humiliation agony.                                                             81

You too will know the pain of beggary.”