Saturday, April 26, 2014


Chapter 18: Love and Sloth

Silent once more, my teacher closely watched
            my face for understanding of his words.
            Though thirsting to hear more I held my tongue                                3

since further questioning might pester him.
            That good instructor guessed what I suppressed.
            With smile and nod he told me to ask more.                                       6

“Master,” said I, “you clarify my brain,
            so say again how love induces both
            virtuous actions and their opposite.”                                                 9

 “Give me your full attention now,” said he,
            “and concentrate your analytic mind
             on truth that Plato gave humanity                                                     12

before Epictetus made scholars blind.
            All souls are born with appetite for love,
            so bound to look at what most seems to please                                 15

whenever pleasure beckons them, and thus
            attractive visions from outside ourselves
            enter our souls.  Love is what draws them in,                                    18

makes soul and vision a new entity.
            Thus nature’s objects take a hold of soul,
            and as the flames leap upward to the sun                                           21

(the source of every fire) no soul can rest
            before she blends with objects that she loves.
            But they are wrong who say all love is good.                                     24

Substantial minds possess material shapes
            and yet are different, though only seen
            in what they do and show, like grass when green.                             27

None know how virtue starts. It moves our hearts
            as bees are moved to building honeycomb.
            No praise for such instinctive skill is due,                                         30

because such instincts should not be obeyed
            till brought in tune with other wills as good
            and communal, as are the busy bees.                                                 33

We have to choose between right love and wrong
by freely reasoning, as all folk can
            when love submits to reason as it should.                                         36

Indeed, necessity creates our love,
            but free-will only gives it right control.
            Reason and free-willed souls are gifts from God                               39

to everyone: Greek, Roman, Pagan, Jew
            and those like you born since that Hero died
            who conquered death. My words sound cut and dried.                      42

They point to Heaven’s Grace but they stop short
            at gate of Paradise, where that pure soul
            Beatrice will become your only guide.”                                             45

Now it was midnight and the rising moon
            upon the wane had reached its height, and hung        
            among the stars like tilted golden bowl.                                       48      
The poet who had brought his birthplace fame
            now dropped the burden of instructing me.                                      
            As we reclined I pondered drowsily                                                  51

on all the noble thought he had made mine,
till noises at my back awakened me,
for round the mountain track there came a mob                       54      
who seemed at first a wildly charging herd
            of peasants drunk on half-fermented wine,
            but as they neared I saw most were well dressed.                              57

 Not revelry but pain was driving them,
            a frantic pain allowing them no rest.
            I and my guide, our energy renewed,                                                 60

sprang to our feet and sprinted at the side                
of two in front who alternately cried,      
           “Hail Mary, pregnant with our Saviour,                                             63

 rushing uphill to greet her cousin Beth!”                                                      
 and, “Caesar, in haste to conquer Lerida,
                routed Marseilles and then swooped into Spain.”                        66

Meanwhile the horde behind were shouting out,                                           
“Go faster! Faster still! Slowness in love                                          
            prevents the Grace that blesses from above!”                                    69

My master cried, “Your mighty urgency,                                         
O souls, will one day purge the laziness                                           
            delaying your salvation when alive,                                                  72

but this man lives.  Heaven has ordered him                                     
to climb above you when the sun appears.   
            Please teach us how to reach the nearest stair.”                                 75

Someone among these racers answered him,                                      
“Follow us. You will see a staircase soon.                                       
             Forgive me if I have to run away                                                      78

and seem discourteous. I lived in great
Emperor Barbarossa’s day, he who                                                   
            plundered Milan. I was then abbot of                                                 81

San Zeno in Verona, and can say
            who rules it now has one foot in the grave,                                                           
            and soon in Hell will curse what he has done.                                   84

He has made certain that his bastard son,                                          
crippled in legs and mind, will take his place,                                   
            keeping a good priest from that benefice. . .”                                    87

He raced so far ahead I heard no more,
            but I am glad to recollect his words
            before my master said, “ Now look behind.                                      90

Here come the two who goad the slothful on
            by telling them some things to keep in mind.”
            At once I heard a strong voice loudly say,                                        93

“Of those to whom the Red Sea opened wide,
            three only lived to see The Promised Land               
            because of slothfulness upon the way.”                                            96

Another cried, “ When Aeneas led forth
            his Trojan band to the grand enterprise
            of founding Rome, many abandoned him                                         99

in Sicily, and died there without fame.”
            I paused then till that multitude had passed
            quite out of sight. My head was in a whirl.                                      102

Each thought that came inspired another one
            or two, or three that contradicted it
            with hectic fancies, frivolous and deep,                                           105

until I sank beside the road, asleep.





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