Wednesday, March 25, 2015


CHAPTER 17: Dante’s Future

That shining soul my very great Grandsire
            could read my mind. My wish was now to hear
            what Florence held for me when I returned,          3

but he was silent. I began to fear
            this was a thing he wished me not to know.
            I looked to Beatrice who gently said,                    6

“He wants to satisfy your thirst but first,
            to prove you understand what you desire,
            say what it is in words that make it clear.”            9

I cried, “Dear root of me, your intellect
            has soared to such a height, you share with God
            His view of time past, present, and to come.         12

If I should live to be three score and ten
            I have run halfway through my time on earth.
            When deep with Virgil in the cone of Hell           15

and up Mount Purgatory, I heard tell
            dark prophecies about my future years.
            They told me these would bring much suffering.  18

Let fuller knowledge please reduce their sting,
for that is what I pray you give me now.
Forewarned is forearmed, we in Florence say.”   21

Unlike those riddling oracles struck dumb
            by Christ’s triumphant Crucifixion
what he now spoke had no obscurity.                   24

“Do not believe your future agony
            is willed by God because it is foreseen.
            He no more plans the world’s contingencies         27

than an observing eye moves ships at sea.
            You know how slander drove Hypolitus
            from his Athenian home. For Whigs like you       30

the very same is being planned in Rome.
            Of course the injured parties will be blamed,
            though vengeance one day will reveal the truth.   33
The first pains that you feel will be the worst:
the agony of leaving all you love,
eating the tasteless bread of charity,                      36

learning how steep are stairs you do not own.
            Heavier too will be the company
            of those also expelled, a senseless crew                39

vilely denouncing you. Their vicious fuss
            will grow as brutal as notorious.
            None will believe them; fame will make you be   42

a political party of just one,
            and favourite guest of della Scala,
            Lombard Count of Verona. His regard                 45
will give what you most need before you ask.
            You will know his brother, born below Mars
            and now a child. After the Papacy                        48

moves to Avignon, and French Pope Clement
            fools the Emperor Henry, you will see
            that boy heroic, fearing neither wealth                  51

nor toil, his generosity so great
            his foes will praise it while he makes beggars
            change place with millionaires. You will see this 54

and not say how you knew it would be so.”
            He said more, which only those who see them
            happen can possibly believe, adding,                   57
“My dear son, this explains the worst rumours
            of the foul snares awaiting you in years
            that are to come. Don’t envy Florentines             60

who remain at home. You will live to see
            the punishment of their foul perfidy.”
            That shining soul fell silent, having shown          63

the woven pattern of my tapestry.
            I needed better news from He who sees
            all that exists, and rightly wills and loves.            66

“Father,” said I unhappily, “since now
            loss of my dearest home is known to me
            advise me how to keep the place I’ve won          69
in people’s minds by my poetic song.
            In Hell, and on that Hill my lady’s eyes
            have raised me from, I learned many things that, 72

immortalized in art, are bound to hurt.
            I am a timid friend of truth, so fear
            danger from folk who want their crimes forgot.” 75

The light from which my Grandsire smiled now blazed
            like a golden mirror in the bright sun.
            He said, “Consciences dark with their own sin    78

or shame at another’s guilt will indeed
            feel pain, but do not nurse hypocrisy!
            Make the truth plain! Let them scratch where they itch. 82

Your verses may taste bad at first; digested
            they will be nourishing. Write like the wind,
            hitting high mountains hardest. What more                    85

can poet do? That is why you have been shown
only the famous down below in Hell
and up Mount Purgatory. Folk ignore

examples set by those they don’t know well.”                           89






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