Wednesday, March 25, 2015


CHAPTER 15: Martial Hero

Bad manners grow from greedy selfishness,
as courtesy reflects Christ’s charity
            which, as we know, is kindness to the weak.       3

I needed silence if required to speak,
            and so it came. The choirs of Paradise
            silenced their song when, like a shooting star       6

down gloaming sky, from right arm of the cross 
            yet linked to it by arc of finer fire
            a light swept down to join me at the foot.             9

It greeted me with the same welcoming
            that Virgil tells us in The Aeneid  
            the soul of dead Anchises gave his son                12

who, living, met him in Elysium.
“O my own blood! O wondrous grace of God
            that Paradise will open to you twice!”                   15
The light said that. Amazed, I turned my eyes                                         
to Beatrice again, whose smile was such
            I fully knew how blesséd I’d become.                   18

And then, although a the sound was ecstasy,                               
the light said things I could not comprehend.
            Their meaning was too great till heat of love         21

cooled down enough, letting it condescend                                                          
to sentences of much more common sense.
            “Divine foreknowledge we in Heaven share         24

has kept me long expecting this delight.                                                   
            Holy the guide who dressed you in such wings
            as raise you to this height! You rightly think         27

I know your thoughts, so do not ask my name,
            or why my joy appears much greater than
            the others in this sphere. You are about                 30
to satisfy my thirst to share the bliss
            of perfect truthfulness. Ask what you wish.”
            Encouragement from smiling Beatrice                  33
gave me the confidence to boldly say,
            “Just as the sun’s ray pours out equally
            both warmth and light, you equally possess          36

love and intelligence, which mortals lack.
            I am still mortal. My ability
            cannot support my will. Not tongue but heart       39
 declares my depth of gratitude for this
            paternal welcoming. I beg you now,
            O jewel in the Cross and Crown of Christ            42

say who you are.” “O branch I greet with joy
            I am your root, your ancestor,” said he.
            “My son became your great-great-great-granddad 45

who has been trudging for a century
round Purgatory’s ring where pride is purged.
Pray to reduce his toil when back on earth.          48

We knew a Florence that, seen from afar,
            did not appear to outshine Rome as much                                               
            as one day it will look a great deal worse.            51

Back then our town was peaceful, sober, chaste
            filled smaller ground. No wife or daughter wore                         
jewellery, embroidered gown, rich stuff seen       54

before wearers. No father lived in dread
            of baby girls growing too old to wed                                             
before he got gold enough for dowry                   57

People were buried in their native soil –
            no exiled owner left an empty house.
            No families had rooms they did not use                60

or houses like the palaces of kings.
Nobility dressed plain. Our honoured knight
good Bellincion wore a leather suit                       63

and had a wife with clean unpainted face.                                               
            Wives were lucky. Husbands did not desert
            the marriage bed to trade abroad for years.            66

Mothers rocked cradles, soothing infant fears                             
by crooning songs that pleased themselves and dads
            and later, spinning thread, told older bairns           69
brave tales of Trojans; how they fought and spread
            to Italy, Fiesole and Rome;
then told of Cincinatus and Lucrece,                     72

who both chose death rather than break an oath.
            Kids would have marvelled more to hear about
            those who now dominate Florence’s state:            75

corrupted lawyers! Blatant prostitutes!
            To life in Florence as the town was then,
            with lovely streets, good neighbours, honest men, 78

my mother no doubt bore me crying out
            Mary as women do, when giving birth.
            Then in our ancient Baptistery the priest               81

Christened and called me Cacciaguida.
            My wife came from the valley of the Po
            bringing your surname, Alligieri.                          84

I followed Conrad, Emperor who led
            the next Crusade to free Jerusalem:
            was knighted by him for my part in fight              87

to free Christ’s sepulchre from pagan hands.
We lost, as Christendom is not – should be
united by the popes. Death shifted me

into this perfect bliss called Martyrdom.                           91




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