||Purgatory XXXI read by Robert Pinsky
"Oh you on that side of the sacred river,"
turning the point of her words towards me
when the edge itself has seemed sharp to me,
she began again, going on without pausing,
"Say, say whether this is true: your confession
must be joined to such accusation."
What strength I had was so bewildered that
my voice stirred and was done before it
was set free of the organs that made it.
She scarcely waited, and then said, "What do you
think? Answer me, for the water has not
cancelled the sad memories in you yet."
Bewilderment and fear mingled together
forced out of my mouth such a "yes" that
to hear it one would have had to see it.
As a crossbow, when it is drawn too far,
breaks both the cord and the bow so that
the shaft strikes the target with less power,
so I broke under that heavy burden,
with tears and sighs out of me pouring
and my voice collapsed in its opening.
At that she said to me, "In your desires of me
which to the love of that good were leading you
beyond which there is nothing to aspire to,
what ditches dug across the way, or chains
did you come to, that forced you to abandon
any hope that you had of going on,
and what attractions or advantages
were visible on the brows of the others
so that you had no choice but to loiter there?"
After I had drawn a bitter sigh
I had scarcely any voice to answer,
and my lips formed it with great labor.
In tears I said, "Things of the moment
with their false pleasure turned my steps away
at once, after your face was hidden."
And she, "If you had said nothing or denied
what you confess, your guilt would be noted
nevertheless, by such a judge is it known!
But when the accusation of the sin
bursts from the cheeks of the accused, in our court
it turns the grindstone against the edge again.
All the same, so that now you may bear
the shame of your mistakes, and when you hear
the sirens another time you may be stronger,
lay down the sowing of tears and listen
so you may hear how my flesh in the tomb
should have led you in the other direction.
Never did nature or art show you such
beauty as the lovely members in which
I was enclosed, and they are crumbled in earth.
And if the highest beauty, with my dying,
so failed you, what mortal thing after that
should have drawn you into desiring it?
Indeed at the first arrow of deceptive
things you should have risen and followed after
me, who was of that kind then no longer.
Your wings should not have been weighed down by any
girl or other vanity so briefly
known, waiting to shot repeatedly.
Two or three times a fledgling bird will wait
but in vain is the net spread or arrow shot
before the eyes of the bird when it has grown."
As children stand feeling ashamed, without
a word, their eyes on the ground, listening,
admitting what they have done and repenting,
so I stood there, and she said, "Since what you
hear is painful, lift up your beard and you
will find that what you see is even more so."
With less resistance the massive oak is
uprooted, whether by the wind out of our own
regions or that from the land of Iarbas,
I lifted my chin then at her command,
and when she summoned my face by the beard
I felt the full venom of the argument.
And when my face had opened, my eyes
came to see that those primal creatures
had paused in the scattering of flowers,
and my eyes, when they were still uncertain
of what they saw, saw that Beatrice had turned
toward the beast that in two natures is one person.
Under her veil and across the stream, it seemed
to me she surpassed her former self even more
than she surpassed the others when she was here.
The nettle of the remorse so stung me there
that the thing among all others that had most
bent me to love it, I hated worse.
Such recognition ate at my heart that
I fell, overcome, and what I became then
she knows who was the reason for it.
Then, when my heart gave my outward sense again
to me, I saw the lady I had found alone
above me, and she said, "Hold onto me! Hold onto
She had drawn me into the river up to my
throat, and pulling me after her, she
was moving, light as a shuttle, over the water.
When I was near the blessed shore I heard
"Purge me" chanted so sweetly that it
cannot be written or even remembered.
The beautiful lady opened her arms,
embraced my head and drew me under
so that I had to swallow the water.
Then she brought me out and, bathed now, led me
into the dance of the beautiful four
and each of them held an arm over me.
"We are nymphs here and are stars in heaven.
Before Beatrice went down into the world
we were ordained to be her handmaidens.
We will take you to her eyes. But in the happy
light within them, the three on the other
side will sharpen yours, for they see more
So they began to sing, and they drew me
with them to the breast of the griffin
where Beatrice stood, turned in our direction,
and said "Be careful not to look away now.
We have brought you before the emeralds
from which Love shot its arrows once at you."
A thousand desires hotter than a flame
held my eyes fixed on those shining eyes
that were fixed on the griffin the whole time.
Like the sun in a mirror, not otherwise,
the double beast was shining in her eyes
now one with nature, now with the other.
Think, reader, whether I marveled, seeing
the object remain still in itself, and
only the image of it changing.
While my soul, full of amazement and joy,
was tasting that nourishment which always
is enough, and for which one remains hungry,
the other three, who by their bearing showed
their higher order, came dancing forward
to the angelic measure their feet followed.
"Turn, Beatrice, turn your holy eyes,"
they were saying, "to your faithful one who
has traveled so many steps to see you.
Out of your grace, grace us by unveiling
your mouth to him, so that he may perceive
the second beauty which you are concealing."
Oh splendor of the living eternal light,
who has ever grown so pale in the shadow
of Parnassus, or has drunk from its well so
as not to have a mind that seems encumbered,
trying to render you as you appeared
there shaded by the harmonies of heaven,
when you disclosed yourself to the open air?