Monday, June 09, 2014


                     Chapter 22: To the Gluttonous

We three then passed the angel of the stair
          taking us up to the next mountain ledge,
          but not before his wing brushed from my brow                       3            

the scar of the fifth P, as he announced,
          “Blessed are they that thirst for righteousness.”
          Lighter of foot than I had ever felt,                                          6

I followed easily these two swift souls
          conversing as they climbed; heard Virgil say,
          “All good and selfless love inspires a love                               9

reflecting it. I heard from Juvenal
          (who came to Limbo and had been your friend)
          how highly you regarded me, also                                         12

he praised your work so much I thought of you
          far more than others I have never met.
          I hope you will consider me a friend                                     15

if I ask something many might think rude.
          How came (with all the wisdom you possessed)
          the sin of avarice to foul your breast?                                     18

You need not answer. That is understood.”
          Statius smiled a little at these words
          then answered, “All you say declares your love,                   21

although appearances have led astray.
          Because I lay face downward in the grit
          among the hoarders, I appeared like one.                               24

My sin, however, was the opposite.
I was a wastrel, spending money fast
            to glut my appetites: a jolly sin                                              27

I thought, but squandering is just as bad
            as hoarding money tightly in a bank.
            That I’m not where wasters jostle hoarders                            30

endlessly in Hell, I have you to thank,
            for in you Aeneid’s third book I read
            To what crimes have not many been misled                          33

by that infernal appetite for gold?
            This made me stop and think because I saw
            that if I did not rectify my flaw                                             36

I’d sink to be more beastly than I was.”
            “I’m puzzled by another mystery,”
            my master said. “Your Theban epic deals                              39

with history, but gives no hint of Faith
            lacking which no good effort sets us free.
            Faith releases you from prison here                                       42

to find (as I will not) a higher home.
            Some guide in Rome directed you into
            Saint Peter’s holy ark, which has no place                             45

within your poems. Why?” Statius said,
            “Cowardice stopped me emulating you,
            in your third Eclogue heralding the birth                                48

of one whose reign would bring us peace on earth
            and happily restore true Golden Age,
            creating thus a better human race.                                           51

You died before our Saviour was born,
            I lived after The Resurrection.
            Your poetry first made of me a poet,                                     54

then taught me how to be a Christian
            when preachers of Christ’s faith were everywhere
            and these I visited. Their upright ways                                  57

soon taught me to despise all other sects
            so I was baptized when Domitian
            was persecuting theirs. I meanly chose                                  60

to seem a Pagan still. Four centuries
            I raced round the slothful circle till
            my lukewarmness for that was purged away.                         63

Now say (if there is still time as we go)
            where that old Latin author Terrence is,
            and Plautus, Cecilius, Varius.                                                 66

Are these damned? And in what place?” My guide said,
            “In Limbo, where I meet them face to face
            with that great blind Greek Homer,  he                                  69

whose genius gave new life to all the arts,
            with thinkers, playwrights and historians;
            also heroic folk they wrote about.”                                        72

The poets, having reached the topmost stair,
            were not quite sure which way to turn until
            my teacher said, “Let us turn to the right.”                            75

They did. I followed very close behind
            learning much from their talk of poetry
            how I should write my own. And then we saw                     78

a tall tree in the middle of the road
            with many fruits whose scent was sweet and good.
            As a fir tapers from great width to height                              81

this tapered downward, so could not be climbed.
            From the high cliff upon the left a stream
            of pure clear water fell among the boughs                              84

which, glistening, absorbed it while a voice
            among them cried, “You may not eat this food!”
            It added, “Mary, at the marriage feast,                                   87

cared more for nourishment of other guests
            than for her mouth, and anciently in Rome
            women preferred pure water for their drink.                          90

By hungering the prophet Daniel
            grow wiser still. In the first Golden Age
            hunger made acorns seem the sweetest food.                         93

The Baptist thought honey and locusts good.”






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