Saturday, April 26, 2014


                         Chapter 21: Statius

The thirst for truth that never can be quenched
           unless Christ give it, was tormenting me.
           I picked footsteps on that awkward way                                                3

while grieving for the mourners’ long delay
           when all at once I noticed we were three.
           Luke writes of how to followers of Christ                                              6

after his crucifixion, found themselves
           joined on a road by One they did not know
           at first, or recognize as He. We two                                                          9

were overtaken from behind, nor knew
           until we heard, “Brothers, God send you peace.”
           Said Virgil, “ May you find it with the blest                                  12

in that high court of God which exiles me.”
           “But why?” the stranger asked as we walked on,
           “If your souls excluded from God’s Grace,                                             15

how did you climb so high on Heaven’s stairs?”
           At this my poet said, “See this man’s face.
           It still has marks the Angel at the gate                                                   18

wrote on his brow. He’ll reach that great high place
           though still his thread of life is being spun.
           Death has not slit it yet. His soul— sister                                              21

of yours and mine— could not climb here alone,
           having no eyes like ours. I was released
           from Limbo as his guide and do my best.                                              24

But can you tell what shook this sacred hill?
           What made it ring with shouts of jubilee?”
           These questions chimed so well with my desires                               27

I listened for the answers eagerly.
           The shade replied, “ Nothing disorderly
           like rain, dew, hail, frost, snow can rise above                                    30

the three steps where Saint Peter’s curate sits.
          To wind and lightning also we’re immune
          and subterranean shocks. What shakes us                                             33 

is a soul love unties from chosen sin,
             free at last to rise where it wants to be.
             I lay in pain over five hundred years,                                                     36

and my release is a most glad surprise.
            You felt the tremor, heard the shout of praise
            from the devout. God send them soon above!”                                    39

The drink is more enjoyed the worst the thirst.
            How this intelligence delighted me!
            My wise guide said, “I now perceive the chords                                 42

of conscience that hold these mourners down,
            what freed you, why so many souls rejoiced.
            Please tell us who you were, and why you were                                 45

thus pinioned down for many centuries.”
            “I lived when Titus was our Emperor,
             he who made such stern warfare on the Jews.                                    48

My gift of song was such that from Toulouse,
             Rome drew me to itself, and placed the crown
             of myrtle on my brow for poetry.                                                            51

My name’s still spoken there— it’s Statius.
            I sang the wars of Thebes: and tried to make
            Achilles hero of an epic song,                                                          54

but that was rather more than I could do.
           The spark that kindled my poetic aim
           leapt from the flame of Virgil’s Aeneid,                                                   57

where many other poets have caught fire.
           He taught me how heroic history,
           the strife of gods and men in daily life                                                    60

is the pure substance of morality.
           Without his Aeneid none would believe
            my verses worth a penny. Could I live                                                   63

when Virgil lived I gladly would endure, what? . . .
            an extra Purgatorial year.”
            These words turned Virgil to me with a look                                       66

that silently said, “Silence!” willpower
            cannot do all. Laughter and tears are so
            near passions causing them, sometimes they show                          69 

whether we will or know. I only smiled,
           at which the spirit looked into my eyes
           where most expression is and said, “Forgive,                                       72

but I need to ask, why that gleam of mirth?”
          Between one commanding and one
          begging for speech, what could I do? I sighed.                                       75

My master understood for he too sighed
          and said, “Reply. Answer his eagerness.”
          “You wondered, ancient spirit, at my smiling,”                                     78

I began. “Hear now a greater wonder.
          He leading me is he who taught you how
          to sing of gods and men— Virgil, I mean.                                                81

  I only smiled because you spoke of him.”
          Statius, bending to embrace my teacher’s feet,
          was told by him, “Brother, that can’t be done.                                84

We are both of us shades, so bodiless,        
          and neither nobler than the other one.”
         Statius, rising, said, “It proves my love                                                    87

that I forgot we lack solidity.”


Chapter 20: Hoarders and Wasters

While thirsting for more words with that good Pope
            I found his silence stronger than my will,
            so had to leave before I’d drunk my fill.                                              3

Between the prostrate mourners and cliff base
            a narrow space left something like a path.
            I paced along this, close behind my guide,                                           6

appalled by lamentations on our right
            from those who now felt greed’s iniquity.
            To Hell, you wolf of Greed! Your poisoned fangs                              9

have damned more souls than any other beasts!
            Your gluttony enforces poverty.
            You spread starvation by your wasteful feasts.                                 12

Having to place our footsteps carefully
            we slowly moved along this narrow way,
then from in front we heard a clear voice cry,                                15

“Sweet Mary!” Like a woman giving birth
            in agony that yet suggested joy,
            adding, “What could exceed the poverty                                             18

of labour pains within a trough of hay,
            between the muzzles of an ox and ass?”        
            A pause, then the voice said, “Fabricius                                             21

chose virtue and poverty, not riches
            by military conquest. So should we.”
            Wanting to see the soul who said these things                                    24

I pressed ahead, hearing him talk about
            Saint Nicholas, whose generosity
            brought marriage to the poorest of young maids.                                27

I said, “O soul in pain announcing good,
            please tell me who you were. Your words will be
            recorded down on Earth when I return.”                                             30

Said he, “I will reply, though not because
            your good report will do the Earth much good.
            You have a radiance that pleases me.                                                   33 

From me sprang up that monarchy of France
            which overshadows Christendom and stops
            much good fruit growing there. If Douai, Lille,                                    36

Ghent, Bruges had strength, they’d cast it off,
for which I pray to He who judges All.
In Paris dad was butcher. I became                                                      39

head of the royal household when the last
            of Charlemagne’s great line, a monk, expired.
            I had such wealth and friends that very soon                                      42

my son was wedded to the widowed queen.
            From me, Hugh Capet, grew that lengthy line
of Phillips, Louis, commanding France,                                          45

their bones entombed in consecrated earth.
            As long as they inherited Provence,
they did no good and very little harm                                             48

but riches strengthened their rapacity.
            To better that, by force and fraud they took
            Pointhieu and Normandy and Gascony,                                             51

then bettered that, killing in Italy
            Conradin, and better still, poisoning
            Saint Thomas Aquinas. Soon you will see                                         54

another prince bringing to France more fame.
            Using hypocrisy (that Judas lance)
            he will burst the guts of Florence,                                                      57

gaining no land by it but gold and shame.
            The less he thinks of this, the worse for him.
His brother sells his daughter to an old                                              60

and evil count, also for gold.  O Greed,
            what fouler misdeeds can you bring my race?
            To make these crimes seem less, I can foresee                                   63

the fleur-de-lis flag enter Anagni,
            see Christ’s appointed Vicar, captured, mocked,
fed with vinegar and slain between                                                     66

two live thieves by a new Pontius Pilate
            so unscrupulous, he goes on to loot
            the treasury that good Knight Templars use,                                     69 

escorting pilgrims to Jerusalem.
            O Lord my God, when shall I gladly see
your vengeance smiting down these evil men?                              72

You heard me calling on the Holy Ghost’s    
            one Virgin Bride.  By day we think of Her
            and others without greed; at night we brood                                      75

on those whose sin resembled ours, such as
            Pygmalion, traitor, thief, parricide
            through lust for gold; Midas whose silly greed                                  78

made him laughable– a king with asses ears.  
            We think of foolish Achan stoned to death
            for keeping gold, Joshua meant for God;                                            81

Ananias and Saphira his wife,
            stealing coin from the first of Christian kirks,                       
            and dropping dead, rebuked. We praise the kicks                             84

the angel’s horse gave Heliodorus                                                      
            when by force he tried to steal the treasure
            from Jerusalem’s temple. We lastly                                                  87

shout in chorus, “Crassus, how does gold taste?”                             
            remembering Rome’s grasping millionaire
            whose mouth and throat a Parthian monarch filled                           90

with molten gold. Sometimes we yell aloud                                      
            or softly sing the stories that we share
            or ponder within. You heard me praise Mary.                                  93

Others were also thinking of her then.”                                             
            We parted from him, trying to walk fast,
            but suddenly the whole great  mountain shook                                96

as if it fell.  I felt a deathly chill.                                                         
            The floating Isle of Delos could not shake more
            when sunk and fixed by Jupiter, to be                                              99

a birthplace for the gods of sun and moon.                                       
            Mourners on every side shouted aloud.
            My master drew me close, said, “Do not fear,                                 102

for I am guiding you.” Then I made out                                 
            from the folk nearest us the words they yelled
            were Gloria in Excelsis Deo.                                                           105 

Like shepherds who first heard this news proclaimed          
            we stood stock-still and stupefied until
            they shut their mouths. The mountain ceased to quake.                 107

Again we walked upon the narrow path                                            
            beside those spirits weeping as before.
            Never did ignorance make me so keen                                           110

to understand, or so afraid to ask.