Monday, June 09, 2014


Chapter 24: Toward Temperance

This conversation did not slow us down.
            We went on like a yacht before fair winds.
            The former gluttons who appeared twice dead                                  3

found us astonishing. Continuing
            I said, “Please speak of how Piccarda is,
            and of these gazing, may I know their names?”                                  6

“My lovely sister is in Paradise,”
            said he, “as for the rest of us, although
            almost featureless from fasting, none seek                                         9

anonymity. There is,” (he pointed)
            “Bonagiunta, poet and toper
            of Lucca. He with the most wizened face                                           12

is Martin, Pope, Defender of our Faith
            who died because he over-ate the eels
            of Bolsena, stewed in sweet Vernage wine…”                                   15

He named more, whose looks showed them not ashamed
            but pleased by my attention: Ubaldin
            de la Pila who made new recipes                                                        18

and now from hunger bit the air; Archbishop
            Bonniface who kept a mighty table;
            Lord Marquess of Fornay whose thirst got worse                             21

the more he drank; but Bonnagiusta
            of Lucca seemed most keen to speak with me.
            I turned to him again. From his dry throat                                         24

the word “Gentucca” came. “I do not know,”
            said I, “what that means. Can you speak more plain?”
            “A woman has been born but not yet wed,”                                      27

he said, “she will make Lucca kind to you.
            If you don’t understand that, nevermind.
            Thus it shall be. Let us now speak of verse.                                      30

Surely you wrote the poem which begins,
            Ladies who have intelligence of love.
            That was a splendid novelty. Your lines                                            33

have sweetness, strength, passionate nakedness
            that almost made me blush.” I shrugged, replied,
            “I write as love commands.” He cried aloud,                                      36

“Yes, that is why you beat a poor old bard:
            like me, and he they call The Notary
            of Sicily, and Tuscan Guittone.                                                          39

Compared with yours our style is cold and hard.
            Our grandest efforts were just good enough
            to point you on the way to better stuff,                                            42

but love is what has made your lines excel.”
            Then he fell silent, with a sigh and smile.
            Cranes wintering upon the Nile take wing                                          45

to fly much faster in a single line.
            So too the former gluttons rearranged
            to travel forward at a swifter pace.                                                     48

As some let others race ahead while they
            regain their breath, Forese paused to ask,
            “How long before we meet again?” I said,                                          51

“I do not know how long I have to live
            but think my healthy years ahead are few.
            Our Florence mocks at virtue, praises sin,                                         54

and hurries down the road to ruin’s brink.”
            Said he, “ The one who will help to push her in
            is my own brother, Corso Donati,                                                      57

and he will meet his end by being tossed
            and dragged behind his horse on the ground.
Dear friend, farewell. I must exert myself                                          60

to make up for the precious time I’ve lost.”
            With length and stride he disappeared ahead.
            Beside these captains of the human mind                                           63

I followed at a slower pace behind
            until the curving road brought into sight
            another tree fruit-laden like the first,                                                  66

a mob with arms stretched upward underneath
            and begging, though I could not hear their speech.
            The tree, like adult teasing greedy child,                                             69

wagged fruit above their grabbing fingers’ reach
            until the starving grabbers ran away.
             As Virgil Statius and I drew near                                                       72
a voice out of the leaves commanded us,
            “Go forward! On the summit of this hill
            you’ll see the tree whose fruit made Eve so ill.                                  75

This is a shoot from it. Recall fights lost
            by those who gave way to their appetites:
            drunken centaurs Theseus had to slay;                                               78

the Jews who Gideon chose not to use
            because they quenched their thirst incautiously.”
            At foot of inner cliff we picked our way                                            81

hearing more punishments foe gluttony.
            We walked on far beyond that second tree
            in sombre meditation without talk                                                      84

until another voice astonished me:
            “What are you three thinking of?” Timidly
            I raised my head, beheld a figure glow                                                87

more red than furnace-heated glass or steel.
            “If you would go above turn here,” it said.
            “This stairway is for people seeking peace.”                                     90

I could not face this figure, kept my eyes
            on Virgil’s heels following close behind.
            As the soft breeze in May before the dawn                                       93
feels with it’s scent of dew wet grass and flowers
            I felt a wing brush my brow, heard these words:
            “Blest are those free of impure appetite                                              96

whose only hunger is for what is right.”


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