Monday, June 09, 2014


Chapter 25: To The Lustful

The time had come to climb without delay
            for it was after noon. The narrow way
            made us go single file. Within my brain                                              3

a question formed. Just like a little stork
            wishing to fly, raises a wing, but since
            it fears to leave the nest, drops it again,                                             6

I was like that, hardly dared clear my throat
            when without backward glance my master spoke:
            “You are on fire to ask me something. Shoot!”                                  9

Assured once more I said, “Shades do not eat,
            so what makes some of them so very thin?”
            Said he, “Our figures in a looking glass                                           12

are bodiless, yet show us as we are,
thinner or fatter though they do not eat.
I know a better explanation’s due.                                                    15

Statius, may I pass that job to you?”
            Came the reply, “You know as much as I,
            but your request is one that I accept.”                                              18

Statius told me, “Listen son, and learn.
            The human male’s creative fluids go
through vein and heart, infuse and shape each part                      21
until in loving acts they overflow
the female vessel, thus fertilizing
her passive fluids into a new life                                                        24

with whole new soul, but not yet rational.
            Think it a plant containing seeds. These sprout
            into organs that it needs, moving like                                                 27

some sea creature, sponge or jellyfish,
            stirring in the womb. By natural growth
            these turn into a complex animal.                                                       30

How animal becomes a child with mind
            is mystery. A wiser man than we,
            Arabian Everroes, could find                                                              33

no organ of self consciousness so said
            they naturally grew in simple souls.
            Untrue! Believe what Aquinas deduced.                                            36

As soon as nature forms the foetal brain
            The First Creator welcomes it as His.
            Rejoicing, he breathes into it His own                                                39

freedom that can reflect upon itself.
            Think of how sunlight changes grapes to wine.
            God’s gift of free thought is far more divine.                                     42

When, after life, the soul is loosed from flesh
            it keeps those faculties it gained in life
            (memory, intelligence, active will)                                                    45

but much more enhanced, so keener than before.
            These rush it to the one or other shore
            where wait the ferries that will take them to                                      48

fit states in Hell or here, for what they’ve made
            of their immortal souls which radiate
            on air their shapes and size while still alive,                              51
as sunbeams build across a rain-wet sky
             a bow of colours to entrance the eye.
            That shape moves as the soul moves for each sense                          54

has organs letting it walk, speak, smile, weep
            as you have seen and heard. Our passion
            changes our shape as you saw in glutton’s ring,                                57

prompting you to ask for explanation.”
            We set foot on the last road round that height,
            turned right and I was terrified to see                                                 60
huge flames that blasted from the inner cliff
            to almost reach the ring-road’s outer edge.
            A strong up-draft of wind from down below                                     63

drove back that fiery hedge a little way
            leaving space along the precipice’s edge
            where we walked in single file, me the last,                                        66

between cremation and a deadly fall.
            My master said (but did not need to say)
            “Be careful here and do not swerve at all.”                                        69

Then from the endless bonfire at my side
            that mighty hymn, “O Lord have mercy” came,
            sung by a band of spirits in the flame.                                                72

Fear for my skin and curiosity
            made me stare to and fro between my feet
            and that choir of shades. Having sung the hymn                                75
they cried aloud the words that Mary said
            on hearing she was carrying a child:
            “But I have never known a man!” They then                                     78

softly began singing the hymn again.
            After each hymn they chanted a new phrase
            denouncing lust or praising chastity,                                                  81

and with these penances they pass their days.


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