Wednesday, January 11, 2017

Purgatorio, Song II

The story thus far: Dante, a poet and town prior in Florence, finds himself on a dark road of the soul. Before his spirit can fall to its ruin, he encounters the soul of Virgil, the greatest poet of classical Rome. Virgil, at the behest of Beatrice, a woman who was Dante's inspiration in life, offers Dante a journey through the realms of the afterworld, through which Dante may find his soul's salvation. He shall travel through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, with Virgil as his guide through the first two. Dante accepts Virgil's offer, and they embark. After descending through the myriad levels of Hell, they climb up to the shores of Purgatory, on the other side of the center of the Earth. They meet the spirit of Cato the Younger, who oversees the landing. Cato orders Virgil to clean the residue of Hell's filth from Dante's face, and to gird him with a reed from the island's coast.

The souls of the redeemable arrive on Purgatory's shores.

The sun already rested at the horizon
Whose meridian circle covers
Jerusalem at its highest point.

And the night, opposite to that circle,
Emerged from the Ganges with Libra’s scales,
Which fall from her hand as night overflows the day.

The white and rosy cheeks
Of the lovely Aurora, from where I stood,
Were becoming orange as time passed.

We were still walking along the seaside
Like those considering their path,
Going in heart but staying behind in body.

And so, as with the approach of the morning,
Mars glows red through the thick mists
Low in the west above the ocean’s floor,

So appeared to me--may I see it again!--
A light coming so quickly across the sea
That no flight could match its speed.

I had for a moment looked
Away to ask a question of my leader,
When I saw it again, now larger and brighter.

On each side of it, I saw
A whiteness, and I did not know what it was. Below it,
Another whiteness came forth, little by little.

My master did not say a word
Until it was clear that the first whiteness were wings.
He then recognized the vessel’s pilot.

“Kneel, kneel!” he cried out.
“This is God’s angel! Clasp your hands!
From now on, you will encounter ministers such as this.

See his disdain for humanity’s tools.
He needs no oar, nor any sail other
Than his wings while traveling between such distant shores.

See how they point towards Heaven,
The immortal feathers that traverse the air.
They do not age like mortal plumage.”

Then, as he came closer and closer,
The divine bird appeared even brighter.
My eyes could not bear him so near.

I lowered my head, and he came upon the shore
With a ship whose lightness and speed
Were such that it took in no water.

The heavenly pilot stood upon the stern.
Blessedness seemed inscribed upon him.
More than a hundred spirits sat within.

“In exitu Israel de Aegypto,”
They sang in unison,
Followed by the other verses in the psalm.

The angel then made the sign of the cross,
And they all cast themselves upon the beach.
He then left as swiftly as he had come.

To these that had been left, the place
Seemed strange. They repeatedly looked around
Like those trying to make sense of new things.

On all sides of the day shot the arrows of
The sun, and with its cutting shafts
It chased Capricorn from the height of the sky.

When the arrivals lifted their eyes
To us, they said, “If you know,
Show us the way by which to climb the mountain.”

Virgil replied, “You all believe,
Perhaps, that we are familiar with this place.
But we, like you, are pilgrims.

We came here a short while ago, just a little before you,
By another road that was so hard and tiring
That the climb now will seem like sport.”

The souls, who realized
From my breathing that I was still alive,
Marveled at me and turned pale as death.

It was as with a messenger who bears an olive branch,
Around whom people crowd to hear the news,
And none moves to avoid the crush.

And so they stared at my face,
All these fortunate souls,
Almost as if they had forgotten the journey to achieve their grace.

I saw one of them come forward
To embrace me. There was such great affection
That it moved me to do the same.

O shades, ethereal despite appearances!
Three times I clasped my hands behind him
And as many times brought them through him back to my breast.

I believe I looked astonished,
For the shade smiled and drew away.
I, following his lead, pressed forward.

He gently told me to stay put.
I then knew who he was, and implored him
To speak to me and stay a while.

He replied, “As I loved you
In my mortal form, so do I, now liberated from that state, love you still.
As such, I remain. But you, why do you go this way?”

“My dear Casella, it is so I may return another time
To this place, that I take this journey,”
I said. “But why has so much time been taken from you?”

He said, “No wrong has been done to me
If the one who lifts whom he pleases--and chooses when--
Has many times denied me this passage.

It is from a just will that his own derives.
Indeed, for the last three months, he has taken
All who have wished to embark, and with complete peace.

As such, I, who had just turned to the shore
Where the water of the Tiber becomes salt,
Was gathered by him in good will.

His wings now take him straight to that river’s mouth,
For there are always those gathering
Who are not falling to Acheron.”

I said, “If no new law has taken from you
The ability or memory of the love songs
That used to quiet all my longings,

May it please you to soothe my soul
With them, since, in coming here
With my body, I am so spent.”

“Love, who reasons with my reason,”
He began, and so sweetly
That the sweetness still sounds within me.

My Master and I and the people
With the singer seemed so content,
As if nothing else could concern us.

We were all still and attentive
To his notes, and then the honest elder
Cried out, “What is this, dawdling spirits?

What neglect, what loitering is this?
Correct yourself--to the mountain to divest yourself of the slough
That does not allow God to show Himself to you!”

Like when, gathering grain or weeds,
Doves assemble at their fodder
Quietly, and without showing their usual pride,

Something appears that frightens them.
They suddenly leave, their food left behind,
Because they are overwhelmed with a greater care.

It was like this that I saw this newly arrived group
Leave the song and head towards the slope
Like those who go without a doubt over where.

Our departure was in no less haste.

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