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.







Blogger CM said...

I am so happy to see that you have a blog. Amazing and wonderful. You have a profound influence on me as a writer. Thank you for being here. Your book are some of my most prized possessions, and I read from them often -- they are never far from my reach. I have "Unlikely Stories" right here, right now in hand. Thanks again. CM Evans

3:16 am  

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