Wednesday, May 20, 2015


Chapter 21: Saturn

My lady, reading worship in my eyes,
            gravely regarded me and then declared,
            “I must not smile. My beauty shines the more            3         

at each new height we reach. If not restrained,
            the blaze of it will turn you into ash
like Semelé who gazed on Jupiter,                              6

or cleave you as the lightning splits a tree.
            We have ascended to the seventh sphere –
            Saturn, beneath the Lion galaxy.                                 9

Waken the mind behind your eyes! Reflect
            deeply the image that will now appear.”
            Though very sad to look away from her                     12

it was a pleasure to obey. I saw
            deep in the crystal circling our Earth
            a ladder, golden, flashing in the sun                            15      

to such great height my eyes could see no top,
            and on it moved so many splendid forms
            all lights in Paradise appeared thereon.                       18

And as at daybreak flocks of birds will fly
            higher to warm their feathers in the sun,
            and scattering while others flutter down,                     21
I saw one settle on a nearby step,
            seeming to grow more bright with love for me!
            Or so I thought, but did not dare to speak                   24
till Beatrice said, “Say what you desire.”
            Said I, “Although unworthy of reply,
            since I am granted leave to speak, say why                 27

silence is so profound at this great height?
            Heavens below are jubilant with sound.”
            The light replied, “Your ears are as mortal                  30

as your sight. Your deafness to our music  
            is from the same reason why you must not
            here be allowed to see Beatrice smile.                         33

I have descended, cloaked within my light
            to welcome you, guided by charity
            that rules, as you perceive, the universe.”                    36

“O holy lamp,” said I, “indeed I see
            how free love here serves the Eternal Mind.
            I do not understand why you alone                               39
are commanded to speak with me.” At once
            round at centre the light spun like a millstone
            or Catherine wheel and said, “Divine light                    42

focused on me adds to my radiance,
            but Seraphs who directly look on God
            will not answer questions that created minds                  45

can’t grasp. When back on earth tell people that
            what here is clarity seems smoke down where
            too few have lifted themselves Heavenward.”                48

Checked by these words, I humbly asked his name.
“Within Italian shores near your home town
are crags so high thunder sounds far below.                   51

They form a ridge called Caria on which
            a hermitage is built. There I served God
            so constantly, in contemplative mood                             54
in heat or cold my need of food was small.
            That cloister raised for God good crops of souls –
            Now it sends none, and soon will be condemned.          57
Called Peter Damian, then called to Rome,
I became Cardinal where hats now pass
from bad to even worse, so signed my name                  60
Peter Sinner, to remind me when priests
were barefoot, thin, begged bread at any inn.
            Pastors are now too fat to stand without                         63

one on each side and one holding his train.
            Their fur cloaks hide palfreys on which they ride,
two beasts beneath one skin. How long must we           66

endure such sin?” He paused as bright wee globes
            came wheeling down from step to step, shouting
            words meaningless to me but so intense

their clamour fast annihilated sense.                                            70


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