Wednesday, March 18, 2015


CHAPTER 5: Free Will and Mercury

“Don’t wonder that in loving warmth I shine
            more vividly than mortal eyes can bear.
            The light of truth now growing in your mind           3

mirrors the highest good and so is bound
            to kindle greater love in me, though since
            you loved me as a child you’ve been beguiled         6

by many gleams of truth in lesser things.
            You ask me now if souls can be redeemed
            by good works when they break a holy vow.”         9

Having begun this chapter with the words
            of Beatrice, here follows her reply,
            her answer to the things I wished to know.              12

“The greatest gift God gave when he made men                         
was what is greatest glory in Himself:
            free will, a function of intelligence.                          15

Only humanity possesses that.                                           
We are the only beasts who worship Him
            with rights of sacrifice, with priests and nuns           18

who promise they will do God’s will alone                                    
by sacrificing all their will to Him.  
            A given sacrifice that’s taken back                           21

is ill-got gain, like any other gift                                                     
            lawlessly repossessed. Can thieves use well
            what they have stolen? They are robbers still.          24

Remember that chief point. Though Holy Church                                   
            sometimes releases priests and nuns from vows
            which seems to contradict the truth I’ve told,           27

regard that as a mouthful of tough meat
to carefully chew over as I speak.
            Think hard and you will come to understand           30

a sacrifice has two parts. There is first                                          
            promise of gift, and then the given thing.
            A promise is not cancelled if not kept.                     33
Only the keeping of one wipes it out,                                            
but Jewish law said promises stayed good
            if witnesses and parties to the deed                          36

agreed upon a substituted gift                                                       
of greater value than the promised one.
            Our church accepts this law of substitute,                39

but lets no single person use that law                                           
till a just judge, weighing with equal scales,
            can demonstrate no fraud or force prevails              42
We Christians should be slow to swear an oath
            and having sworn should strive to keep our word,
but not like Jephtha, Agamemnon too,                    45
who slaughtered daughters rather than revoke
            the hasty, cruel vows that proved them fools.
O Christians, learn to be a steadier folk.                  48
We have both Testaments, the Old and New,                               
and further guidance, for our Holy Church
            has shepherds known to every one of you.             51

These should be all we need to save our souls.
Don’t leave your mothers’ milk like silly lambs                            
who think the world is made for fretful play.          54

Do not be led astray by wicked greed
            so any Jew who keeps his rabbi’s laws
            can point to you in scornful mockery.”                   57

I write these words as Beatrice spoke them
before she looked up longingly to where                          
            the universe was sending down most light.             60

Her silence and her ardent face imposed
a quietness upon my eager will                                         
as, like an arrow striking the bull’s eye                   63

before the string impelling it is still,
we sped up to the second sphere, and here                                 
her bliss increased and Heaven brightened too.      66

What did this greater brightness do to me
            who am so liable to change?            New bliss                                          
            left me no words to say more than I saw.               69

 As in a calm clear pool the fishes come
expecting food from one upon the rim
            I saw a thousand splendours drawing near             72
and heard from each, “Here’s one who brings more love!”
            As these souls neared us they appeared more full,
            more radiant with shining happiness.                     75
Dear reader, if my story ended here,
            how eagerly you’d want to know the rest.
            I say so to make plain how much I wished            78
to hear about the state these souls possessed.
            This happened when a voice addressed me straight.
            “O you who, born for virtue, travel here               81
before the warfare of your life is done,
            since it is given you to view the thrones
            which the eternally triumphant won,                     84
ask what you wish and I will answer you.”
            “Ask anything you want,” Beatrice cried,
            “and trust the answers as if gods replied.”           87
The speaker nestled finely in a glow
            that shone from his serenely smiling eyes
I thanked him for his courtesy then said,             90

“Please tell me of yourself and Mercury,
            smallest of spheres between the moon and sun,
planet least known because the rays least strong.” 93
Then, like the sun seen through dissolving mist
            joy made him brighten till excess of light
prevented seeing him. I heard his words

which sound in the next chapter of my song.                   97




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