Monday, June 09, 2014


CHAPTER 28: Eden

The pleasure of exploring such a wood                                                                
            by easy strolling over fragrant turf                                          
            did my heart good. The green boughs overhead              3

filtered the sunlight into golden gleams.                                                               
            The sweet air fanned my brows and shook the leaves
around wee tuneful birds whose vocal art                          6

cheered us by blending with an undertone
of branches softly murmuring like pines
beside Ravenna when Sirocco blows.                                 9

We strayed so far among these ancient glades
            that where we entered them was lost to sight.
            Then, just ahead, a stream three paces wide                    12

ran past from left to right, grass on each side
            wet by small waves. I never saw water
            darker and yet so clear. Earth’s purest wells                    15

are cloudier, though density of shade
            prevented sunshine entering, and made
the richly coloured petals of the blooms                            18

on the far bank much more astonishing.
            A lady plucking them was singing there.
            “Lady,” I called, “if kindliness belongs                            21

to so majestically fair a face,
            come nearer please, to let me hear your songs.
            You gather blossoms like Persephone,                               24

dear daughter of the Goddess, Mother Earth,
            before the King of Hell abducted her,
            thus robbing us of Spring for half the year.”                     27

She turned and danced toward me and her feet
            did not depress the crimson and yellow
            petals she trod. Erect, at the streams edge,                       30

still holding this high garden’s flowering sprays,
            she raised her modest head and smiled at me
            with lovely eyes bright as two morning stars.                   33
The strait dividing Asia from Greece
            bound both the scope of human pride and love,
            from Persia’s great king who lost his fleet,                       36

to amorous Leander, who it drowned.
            They loathed the Hellespont. I hated more
            that little stream which would not part for me.                39

“This place, though new to you,” the lady said,
            “should not feel strange, for it was made by God
            exactly to delight the human race.                                   42

The first man and woman thought it paradise.
            Yet wonder (which I notice on your face)
            is natural, for God’s creation is                                       45

almost too wonderful to understand.
            Ask what you wish to know. I will reply.”
            “Lower down this hill of stairs,” said I,                          48

“someone said running streams and moving airs
            could not happen here.” “They can’t elsewhere,”            
            said she. “This summit is exceptional.”                          51

God who delights in generosity
made Adam good, giving him Eve for wife,
this lovely, perfect garden for their home                       54

raised far above the stormy seas and lands
            of Earth and Hell where Satan is interred.
            Here they enjoyed both peaceful ease and mirth,           57

where all good kinds of tree, herb, fruit, flower
            flourish abundantly. By sin they lost
this best and first human nest, exchanged it                    60

for grief, pain, toil in nations you know well.
            From these their children graduate to Hell
            or rise to Paradise by climbing here.                              63

Clouds are sucked upward by the sun, and so
            the triple steps of penitence are raised
so high that nothing misty reaches them,                      66

so no one being purified by pain
            is hurt by harsher natures than their own.
            Air stirring tree tops gently at this height                      69

circles the globe, as the First Mover wills
            who turns bodies of Celestial light­ –
            moon, sun, planets, starry constellations.                      72

Thus, seeds from here are carried by the air
            world-wide to all the nations, taking root
            in soil that suits them best. No rain falls here                75

so far above the clouds. A fountain fed
            by God’s will flows out in two steady streams.
This we call Lethe, the other Eunoë.                              78
Who drink this lose all memory of sin;
            the next renews all memory of good.
            Drunk later, it has sweetest taste of all.                          81

Soon these will quench your thirst, but first of all
            you may welcome news I’d like to add.
            Ancient poets spoke of a Golden Age                           84

when all was good and nothing went amiss.
            Here is the former home of which they dreamed.
            Nectar they sang about was in these streams.”                 87

My fellow poets smiled, nodded at this.                                        


Chapter 27 : Chastity

Midnight in Spain; high noon in Asia;
            sun nearing dawn at Calvary where Christ
            was crucified; here, ready to depart.                                                   3

Upon the cliff edge, close beside the flames,
            God’s happy angel welcomed us and sang
            in voice more clear than any I had heard,                                            6

Blest are the pure in heart! Come, holy souls,
pass through this fire and climb to Paradise!
His last words struck me with a deathly chill.                                   9

I have seen people burned alive. Raising
            clasped hands I glared into the flame. Virgil
            turned to me, said, “Son, here is agony                                              12

but certainly not death. Recall, recall
            our ride on Geryon. I brought us through!
            I’ll do the same now we are nearer God.                                            15

If you were in this flame a thousand years
            it would not burn a hair upon your head.
            Go closer if you fear I’m fooling you.                                                18

Test it with your garment hem. Put away,
            put away fear! Enter with confidence!”
            But still I stood, in spite of conscience.                                             21

My fearful stubbornness now troubled him.
            “Remember that this fiery wall,” he said
            “divides you from Beatrice.” Hearing that name                                24

I softened, stared at him. “So now we go?”
            he murmered, with a smile as at a child
            beguiled with promise of a sweet. He then                                         27

told Statius to come behind me and
            strode first into the fire. On entering
            I felt a bath in molten glass would be                                                 30

a cooling change, so terrible the pain,
            but my sweet father spoke of Beatrice
            to lead me on: “I seem to see her eyes,                                               33

rejoice!” he said. A new voice led me too,
            singing, “Come you who God the Father blest!
            Once again I came out into a light                                                       36

too bright for me to see. Now the voice said,
            “Evening has come. Don’t stop. Start up the stair.
            before the west grows dark. “ Straight through the rock                    39

the narrow staircase went, with sun so low
            my shadow filled it up ahead. Night fell.
            That hill lets none go forward after dark.                                           42

Each sank to make his bed upon a step.
            As goats in morning light that leapt at play
            in noonday heat rest, chewing cud in shade,                                       45

watched by the goatherd leaning on his staff;
            as shepherds also watch their flocks by night,
            ensuring no wild beast attempts a raid,                                              48

I, like a goat between two herdsmen, lay
            in that high-walled ravine where I could see
            only a few stars overhead, but these                                                  51

were bigger, brighter than I’d ever seen,
            and as I gazed sleep seized me, sleep that brings
            sometimes good news of things to come. Venus,                               54

our morning star had risen from the sea
            I think, and cast a ray upon the hill
            when I dreamed that a lady came to me,                                             57

young and beautiful, through level meadows
            gathering spring flowers. She also sang
            “Know, if you want my name, that I am Leah,                                  60

and weave these garlands to adorn myself,
            unlike my sister Rachel who all day
            sits before her mirror, loving her eyes,                                               63

while I adore the garments that I weave.”
            And now the dawn in splendour touched the sky.
            Shadows fled everywhere and so did sleep.                                       66

The poets had arisen. So did I.
            “The fruit that mortals seek on many trees,
            you will pluck today,” I heard Virgil say.                                          69

No promise ever pleased as much. Each step
            made me feel wings were sprouting on my heels.
            Reaching the top he looked at me and said,                                        72

“You’ve seen the Hellish, also purging fires.
            I’ve led you by intelligence and skill
            up to this level where I have no power.                                             75

From here, let happiness decide your way.
            see how the sunlight glows on you and on
            smooth grassy lawn, fine trees, fruits and flowers                             78

clothing this gracious soil. The splendid eyes
            that chose me as your guide must soon appear.
            Rest now or roam as wide as you’re inclined.                                    81

While Statius and I will follow you.
            I am not needed now. Your will is whole,
            free, strong. Not to obey it would be wrong.                                     84

I crown you king and bishop of your soul.”



Chapter 26: The Lustful

While my good master still called out to me,
            “Take care! Beware!” We walked in single file
            along the precipice’s outer rim.                                                          3

The sinking sun made bright the Western sky
            and being at our altitude it cast
            my shadow on the flames we travelled past,                                      6

so yellow flames appeared to burn more red.
            As all the shades were journeying our way
            the nearest ones attended to that sight.                                              9

A pair on whom I eavesdropped near me said,
            “That man lives in the flesh.” “Yes, I agree.”
            At once both of them came closer to me,                                        12

though keeping carefully within the fire.
            Escaping it was not their main desire.
            One questioned me, “O you who walk behind                               15

the other two, tell me, burning with thirst
in dreadful heat, what others want to know.
            How come you here without having to die?”                                 18

Before I replied a strange thing happened.
            In that blazing road a crowd came running
            from the way ahead. Kisses were exchanged                                  21

too fast on either side as they rushed past
            to cause delay, like ants upon their tasks
            rubbing noses to convey something good.                                      24

Not stopping all tried to out shout the rest.
            “Sodom and Gomorrah!” those leaving yelled
            those travelling my way balled, “Pasifae,                                       27

Cretan queen, in fake cow got fucked by bull!”
            As cranes divide, one flight departing north
            to Arctic snows, one south to Egypt’s sands,                                 30

both sides went different ways, singing hymns,
            chanting scriptures, lamenting sins in tears
            and thus in thirst obtaining holiness.                                             33

Those who had first approached me came again,
            and I, respecting their desire began,
            “O souls whose thirst for righteousness will be                            36

as Jesus said, fulfilled at last one day,
            in paradise a saint has ordered me
            to look at what God made for human kind                                   39

from the world’s centre to the outmost stars.
            But say (for I will write it in a book)
            who were those folk going the other way?                                  42

And also, who are you?” The couple gaped
            like Highlanders bemused by city streets
            but soon resumed civility again.                                                   45

The first shade said, “Your soul is truly blest.
            It will learn how to die better than most,
            Those you saw run the other way have sinned                             48

as Ceasar did, whose soldiers called him ‘queen’.
            They shout ‘Sodom’ in self reproach. We too
            enjoyed unlawful feasts of lust, My crowd                                  51

shout the disgraceful name of Pasifae
            who lust turned into beast. I do not know
            all who are here. Guido Guinicelli                                               54

is my name. I so sorrowed for my sins
            death sent me quickly here. I’ll soon be free.”
            In King Lycurgus’ time two orphan boys                                    57

found that their mother lived. I partly felt
            their joy on hearing Guido’s name for he
            wrote best the earliest Italian verse,                                             60

in sweet and graceful songs of love. I gazed
            speechlessly til, after my sight was fed,
            I offered my respect in humble words                                         63

he could not doubt, and said, “Thank you but why
            with words and looks you value me so high,
            I cannot think.” Said I, “Your noble verse                                   66

in common speech of shop and street enreach
            our talk and thought. Thus, sacred is the ink
            you wrote them in.” “Brother,” said he, “look there!”                 69

He pointed to a shade ahead. “In verse
            and prose romance he had more craftsmanship.
            Fools deny this, misguided by the cry                                        72

of other fools who set mere fashion high
            above good rules of reason and of art.
            Let me be selfish, if you will be kind.                                       75

When you ascend to Paradise and find
            a monastery where the abbot is
            Jesus Christ our Lord, there please pray for me.                      78

He sank back into flames like fish in sea.