Sunday, July 13, 2014


CHAPTER 30: Beatrice

Just as at night the seven stars we call
The Plough and Charlie’s Wain and The Great Bear
guide all good steersmen on the salt sea plain,              3

so three great Christian virtues: Faith, Hope, Love,
            with Courage, Wisdom, Justice, Temperance
            (four virtues Pagans recognize) create                           6                     

to eyes not blinded by the fog of sin,
            the candelabrum holding seven flames
            which light our way on earth to God above.                  9                                 

After it halted, all the twenty four
            pure white robed, leaf crowned prophets in between
            candles and griffin, turned toward the car                    12                              

with smiling faces, blissfully serene.
            Then one inspired by Heaven, sang three times,
            O come, my bride, to me from Lebanon.                   15                  

The others joined their melody to his
            like blesséd souls on Resurrection Day,
            raised by the clang of the last trump to sing                  18                  

hosannas with rejuvenated tongue.
            At the great sound I saw above the car
            a hundred angel messengers appear                              21                              

who sang, Blesséd is she who comes, and then,
            O give her lilies with full hands. They flung
            up and around flowers of every kind.                          24                  

I once saw in the dawning of a day
            a rosy eastern sky, clear blue above,
            while low white mist so gently veiled the sun,             27                              

my eyes could linger on its perfect sphere.
            Thus in the cloud of blooms from angel hands
            that whirled and fell inside the car and out,               30                              

a lady came, with olive garland crowned
            and white veil, misting a green dress through which
            her loveliness shone like a living flame.                    33                              

I had not felt the awe now filling me
            for many years. I had first felt it when
            a child of nine, I met another child                             36                 

I loved unselfishly, and so knew then
            what press of adult care made me forget –
            that love can be and ought to be divine.                       39                              

The goddess now reminded me of this.
            I turned to Virgil in my sore distress
            as a child turns to mother in a fright                             42                              

meaning to say, “I tremble with despair –
            how can I make my treachery come right?”
            He was not there. Virgil, my dearest friend,                 45                  

the good guide who had led me safe through Hell,
            and washed my cheeks with dew to make me fit
            to climb so close to my salvation                                 48                                          

had vanished. Gone. I wept, then heard a voice.
            “Don’t weep now, Dante. You must shed more tears
            for worse than loss of Virgil’s company.”                   51

Hearing my name I turned and saw her stand                            
within the car, speaking across the stream
            as admirals commanding fleets address                        54

a sailor, from a flagship’s highest deck.                 
The veil descending from her head, held there
            by olive-wreath-sprays from Minerva’s tree              57

did not allow a clear view of her face,                                           
and yet the regal way she spoke conveyed
            her harshness was restrained by tenderness.              60

“Look well at me. I am your Beatrice.                                 
How dare you come so high? Did you not know
            this paradise was made for happiness?”                      63

Ashamed, I stared down into the pure stream;                            
saw my glum face reflected; turned away.
            Stern pity has for me a bitter taste.                               66

She spoke no further as the angels sang                          
the psalm that starts, My hope is in the Lord,
            ending with, You give freedom to my feet.                  69

 They seemed to say, “Lady, why blame him so?”
            Such Heavenly compassion warmed and thawed
ice that had bound my heart. This flowed away         72

like candlewax in flame, or frozen snow
packed hard by northern blasts between the firs
upon the Apennines (Italy’s spine)                             75

melts in warm breezes out of Africa.
            I who had never so profoundly grieved,
            poured from my eyes and mouth, water and sighs.      78

They proved my agony was honesty.
            Still upright in her car my lady said,
            “You spirits living in eternal day                                 81

know well why he’s to blame, and only asked
            to let him hear me make his falseness plain.
            Repentance needs his grief to equal guilt,                     84

sorrow to balance his dead weight of sin.
            The starry wheels that turn the universe
            let folk bring gifts from God to splendid ends,             87
but only through their will. He had great gifts.
            With care they would have yielded splendid fruit,
            yet in good soil foul weeds may also sprout.              90

Our childhood love preserved his innocence.
            His adolescence brought new friends, but sight
            of my young eyes at times still kept him right.             93

When twenty-five I died and was reborn
            in purity, while his acquaintances
            misled his will, because he now pursued                   96

visions of good that could not be made real.
            In dreams and memories I called him back.
            He did not heed, sank low till Heaven                     99
for his salvation. Only showing him
the wholly lost in Hell could save his soul;
and so I went to Limbo, found t                            102

who led him here where I will be his guide,
            for I must guide him to a greater height
            that poetry may show to folk on earth                     105

the architecture of eternity.
            But the decrees of Heaven will be undone
            were he not first washed clean in Lethe’s stream.

The strongest tears must pay his entrance fees.                   109


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