Friday, January 31, 2014

Inferno V: Forgotten

Doré plate for Inferno V


Circle the Judges,
meet many times,
stand and ask no further question.

Begin now
as the sea does:
hither, thither, downward, upward,

and as the cranes go
in air:
so voluptuous,
so many
and more than bewildered
through the purple air;

so strongly,
yet conducted;
borne along to
the much-longed-for
all one spirit
and even as a body.

Inferno: Canto V, Longfellow, tr.

Thus I descended out of the first circle    Down to the second, that less space begirds,    And so much greater dole, that goads to wailing.    There standeth Minos horribly, and snarls;    Examines the transgressions at the entrance;    Judges, and sends according as he girds him.    I say, that when the spirit evil-born    Cometh before him, wholly it confesses;    And this discriminator of transgressions    Seeth what place in Hell is meet for it;    Girds himself with his tail as many times    As grades he wishes it should be thrust down.    Always before him many of them stand;    They go by turns each one unto the judgment;    They speak, and hear, and then are downward hurled.    "O thou, that to this dolorous hostelry    Comest," said Minos to me, when he saw me,    Leaving the practice of so great an office,    "Look how thou enterest, and in whom thou trustest;    Let not the portal's amplitude deceive thee."    And unto him my Guide: "Why criest thou too?    Do not impede his journey fate-ordained;    It is so willed there where is power to do    That which is willed; and ask no further question."    And now begin the dolesome notes to grow    Audible unto me; now am I come    There where much lamentation strikes upon me.    I came into a place mute of all light,    Which bellows as the sea does in a tempest,    If by opposing winds 't is combated.    The infernal hurricane that never rests    Hurtles the spirits onward in its rapine;    Whirling them round, and smiting, it molests them.    When they arrive before the precipice,    There are the shrieks, the plaints, and the laments,    There they blaspheme the puissance divine.    I understood that unto such a torment    The carnal malefactors were condemned,    Who reason subjugate to appetite.    And as the wings of starlings bear them on    In the cold season in large band and full,    So doth that blast the spirits maledict;    It hither, thither, downward, upward, drives them;    No hope doth comfort them for evermore,    Not of repose, but even of lesser pain.    And as the cranes go chanting forth their lays,    Making in air a long line of themselves,    So saw I coming, uttering lamentations,    Shadows borne onward by the aforesaid stress.    Whereupon said I: "Master, who are those    People, whom the black air so castigates?"    "The first of those, of whom intelligence    Thou fain wouldst have," then said he unto me,    "The empress was of many languages.    To sensual vices she was so abandoned,    That lustful she made licit in her law,    To remove the blame to which she had been led.    She is Semiramis, of whom we read    That she succeeded Ninus, and was his spouse;    She held the land which now the Sultan rules.    The next is she who killed herself for love,    And broke faith with the ashes of Sichaeus;    Then Cleopatra the voluptuous."    Helen I saw, for whom so many ruthless    Seasons revolved; and saw the great Achilles,    Who at the last hour combated with Love.    Paris I saw, Tristan; and more than a thousand    Shades did he name and point out with his finger,    Whom Love had separated from our life.    After that I had listened to my Teacher,    Naming the dames of eld and cavaliers,    Pity prevailed, and I was nigh bewildered.    And I began: "O Poet, willingly    Speak would I to those two, who go together,    And seem upon the wind to be so light."    And, he to me: "Thou'lt mark, when they shall be    Nearer to us; and then do thou implore them    By love which leadeth them, and they will come."    Soon as the wind in our direction sways them,    My voice uplift I: "O ye weary souls!    Come speak to us, if no one interdicts it."    As turtle-doves, called onward by desire,    With open and steady wings to the sweet nest    Fly through the air by their volition borne,    So came they from the band where Dido is,    Approaching us athwart the air malign,    So strong was the affectionate appeal.    "O living creature gracious and benignant,    Who visiting goest through the purple air    Us, who have stained the world incarnadine,    If were the King of the Universe our friend,    We would pray unto him to give thee peace,    Since thou hast pity on our woe perverse.    Of what it pleases thee to hear and speak,    That will we hear, and we will speak to you,    While silent is the wind, as it is now.    Sitteth the city, wherein I was born,    Upon the sea-shore where the Po descends    To rest in peace with all his retinue.    Love, that on gentle heart doth swiftly seize,    Seized this man for the person beautiful    That was ta'en from me, and still the mode offends me.    Love, that exempts no one beloved from loving,    Seized me with pleasure of this man so strongly,    That, as thou seest, it doth not yet desert me;    Love has conducted us unto one death;    Caina waiteth him who quenched our life!"    These words were borne along from them to us.    As soon as I had heard those souls tormented,    I bowed my face, and so long held it down    Until the Poet said to me: "What thinkest?"    When I made answer, I began: "Alas!    How many pleasant thoughts, how much desire,    Conducted these unto the dolorous pass!"    Then unto them I turned me, and I spake,    And I began: "Thine agonies, Francesca,    Sad and compassionate to weeping make me.    But tell me, at the time of those sweet sighs,    By what and in what manner Love conceded,    That you should know your dubious desires?"    And she to me: "There is no greater sorrow    Than to be mindful of the happy time    In misery, and that thy Teacher knows.    But, if to recognise the earliest root    Of love in us thou hast so great desire,    I will do even as he who weeps and speaks.    One day we reading were for our delight    Of Launcelot, how Love did him enthral.    Alone we were and without any fear.    Full many a time our eyes together drew    That reading, and drove the colour from our faces;    But one point only was it that o'ercame us.    When as we read of the much-longed-for smile    Being by such a noble lover kissed,    This one, who ne'er from me shall be divided,    Kissed me upon the mouth all palpitating.    Galeotto was the book and he who wrote it.    That day no farther did we read therein."    And all the while one spirit uttered this,    The other one did weep so, that, for pity,    I swooned away as if I had been dying,    And fell, even as a dead body falls.    

Random Comments

1. It's Thomas Merton's birthday (January 31, 1915). The previous post, Facing the Desert, is inspired by parts of his writing that were in turn inspired by St. John of the Cross.

2. The erasure poem for Canto V of Inferno is very difficult to make, and it will take a while. In fact, erasing Dante is difficult in general because he uses so many abstract nouns. He was a master at it. I'm not. Poetry is much easier to write using lots of concrete nouns. I'd also like to steer away from the overtly spiritual. Hmmm. Coulda picked lighter material.

Facing the Desert

The desert is always open. The park is patrolled. The neighborhood is gated. The state asks for the proper papers and applications. Even the family can turn out its own. All places have barriers and prices. Not the desert. All the desert asks is that you make a choice.

At first glance the desert offers nothing but expanse and nothing to entertain the senses. But here you are. Your back is to the world you’ve known. No telling how anyone gets to this dry frontier. Some even pray for this vantage point on emptiness.

After you've taken the first step into the desert, one step is the same as any other. There are no landmarks. It’s as if you’ve gone blind in a world in which no direction is possible. You could be going straight or in circles, and even this difference seems impossible to discern. All directions are without value. So why continue?

Because you decided to be here. Even if there was nowhere left to go but the desert, you walked in. In its profound aridity, there are no distractions, no others visible, no one to blame. And yet after walking a while you realize a growing presence. It becomes enormous. It is fear.

It is fear. And it is you. It is fear because you don’t know how this aimless journey ends. It is you because only you are here. After a while you realize that there's no knowing how this journey ends. It’s a blindness always to be yours.

After a while (and who knows how long things last in the desert?) some dots appear on the horizons. They are cities with their families and neighborhoods and parks; the familiar people. You gain entrance to them again, or they may shut you out. It is no longer very important.

The desert is always here, open and asks nothing in return.

Thursday, January 30, 2014

Inferno IV: From the Quiet

Doré plate for Inferno IV

From the Quiet

Within the valley
let us be first aware
of infants and of women and of men,
spirits who through the forest
saw a fire that overcame darkness:
a distant place.

Together they honour the light;
keep silent.

I entered
a meadow.
People were there
with gentle voices,
mighty spirits
whom I knew:
the little family
who puts the world
in full company;
conducts me
forth from the quiet.

Inferno: Canto IV, Longfellow, tr.

Broke the deep lethargy within my head   A heavy thunder, so that I upstarted,   Like to a person who by force is wakened;  And round about I moved my rested eyes,   Uprisen erect, and steadfastly I gazed,   To recognise the place wherein I was.  True is it, that upon the verge I found me   Of the abysmal valley dolorous,   That gathers thunder of infinite ululations.  Obscure, profound it was, and nebulous,   So that by fixing on its depths my sight   Nothing whatever I discerned therein.  "Let us descend now into the blind world,"   Began the Poet, pallid utterly;   "I will be first, and thou shalt second be."  And I, who of his colour was aware,   Said: "How shall I come, if thou art afraid,   Who'rt wont to be a comfort to my fears?"  And he to me: "The anguish of the people   Who are below here in my face depicts   That pity which for terror thou hast taken.  Let us go on, for the long way impels us."   Thus he went in, and thus he made me enter   The foremost circle that surrounds the abyss.  There, as it seemed to me from listening,   Were lamentations none, but only sighs,   That tremble made the everlasting air.  And this arose from sorrow without torment,   Which the crowds had, that many were and great,   Of infants and of women and of men.  To me the Master good: "Thou dost not ask   What spirits these, which thou beholdest, are?   Now will I have thee know, ere thou go farther,  That they sinned not; and if they merit had,   'Tis not enough, because they had not baptism   Which is the portal of the Faith thou holdest;  And if they were before Christianity,   In the right manner they adored not God;   And among such as these am I myself.  For such defects, and not for other guilt,   Lost are we and are only so far punished,   That without hope we live on in desire."  Great grief seized on my heart when this I heard,   Because some people of much worthiness   I knew, who in that Limbo were suspended.  "Tell me, my Master, tell me, thou my Lord,"   Began I, with desire of being certain   Of that Faith which o'ercometh every error,  "Came any one by his own merit hence,   Or by another's, who was blessed thereafter?"   And he, who understood my covert speech,  Replied: "I was a novice in this state,   When I saw hither come a Mighty One,   With sign of victory incoronate.  Hence he drew forth the shade of the First Parent,   And that of his son Abel, and of Noah,   Of Moses the lawgiver, and the obedient  Abraham, patriarch, and David, king,   Israel with his father and his children,   And Rachel, for whose sake he did so much,  And others many, and he made them blessed;   And thou must know, that earlier than these   Never were any human spirits saved."  We ceased not to advance because he spake,   But still were passing onward through the forest,   The forest, say I, of thick-crowded ghosts.  Not very far as yet our way had gone   This side the summit, when I saw a fire   That overcame a hemisphere of darkness.  We were a little distant from it still,   But not so far that I in part discerned not   That honourable people held that place.  "O thou who honourest every art and science,   Who may these be, which such great honour have,   That from the fashion of the rest it parts them?"  And he to me: "The honourable name,   That sounds of them above there in thy life,   Wins grace in Heaven, that so advances them."  In the mean time a voice was heard by me:   "All honour be to the pre-eminent Poet;   His shade returns again, that was departed."  After the voice had ceased and quiet was,   Four mighty shades I saw approaching us;   Semblance had they nor sorrowful nor glad.  To say to me began my gracious Master:   "Him with that falchion in his hand behold,   Who comes before the three, even as their lord.  That one is Homer, Poet sovereign;   He who comes next is Horace, the satirist;   The third is Ovid, and the last is Lucan.  Because to each of these with me applies   The name that solitary voice proclaimed,   They do me honour, and in that do well."  Thus I beheld assemble the fair school   Of that lord of the song pre-eminent,   Who o'er the others like an eagle soars.  When they together had discoursed somewhat,   They turned to me with signs of salutation,   And on beholding this, my Master smiled;  And more of honour still, much more, they did me,   In that they made me one of their own band;   So that the sixth was I, 'mid so much wit.  Thus we went on as far as to the light,   Things saying 'tis becoming to keep silent,   As was the saying of them where I was.  We came unto a noble castle's foot,   Seven times encompassed with lofty walls,   Defended round by a fair rivulet;  This we passed over even as firm ground;   Through portals seven I entered with these Sages;   We came into a meadow of fresh verdure.  People were there with solemn eyes and slow,   Of great authority in their countenance;   They spake but seldom, and with gentle voices.  Thus we withdrew ourselves upon one side   Into an opening luminous and lofty,   So that they all of them were visible.  There opposite, upon the green enamel,   Were pointed out to me the mighty spirits,   Whom to have seen I feel myself exalted.  I saw Electra with companions many,   'Mongst whom I knew both Hector and Aeneas,   Caesar in armour with gerfalcon eyes;  I saw Camilla and Penthesilea   On the other side, and saw the King Latinus,   Who with Lavinia his daughter sat;  I saw that Brutus who drove Tarquin forth,   Lucretia, Julia, Marcia, and Cornelia,   And saw alone, apart, the Saladin.  When I had lifted up my brows a little,   The Master I beheld of those who know,   Sit with his philosophic family.  All gaze upon him, and all do him honour.   There I beheld both Socrates and Plato,   Who nearer him before the others stand;  Democritus, who puts the world on chance,   Diogenes, Anaxagoras, and Thales,   Zeno, Empedocles, and Heraclitus;  Of qualities I saw the good collector,   Hight Dioscorides; and Orpheus saw I,   Tully and Livy, and moral Seneca,  Euclid, geometrician, and Ptolemy,   Galen, Hippocrates, and Avicenna,   Averroes, who the great Comment made.  I cannot all of them pourtray in full,   Because so drives me onward the long theme,   That many times the word comes short of fact.  The sixfold company in two divides;   Another way my sapient Guide conducts me   Forth from the quiet to the air that trembles;  And to a place I come where nothing shines.   

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Inferno III: I Fell

Doré plate for Inferno III

I Fell

To the city: among the people
there were no created things;
only hope
with joyful mien,
words whirling on
for ever in that air.

And I commingled
not to be less fair,
envious of every other fate.

But I looked again,
and was certain:
naked and stung exceedingly,
people said, "What shall lead
to the other shore yonder,
to eternal living;
guide 'round wheels of flame
souls weary
of their engendering
and of their birth?"

One by one
passes a good soul
being finished of
the land of tears.

And as a man
I fell.

Inferno: Canto III, Longfellow, tr.

"Through me the way is to the city dolent;    Through me the way is to eternal dole;    Through me the way among the people lost.    Justice incited my sublime Creator;    Created me divine Omnipotence,    The highest Wisdom and the primal Love.    Before me there were no created things,    Only eterne, and I eternal last.    All hope abandon, ye who enter in!"    These words in sombre colour I beheld    Written upon the summit of a gate;    Whence I: "Their sense is, Master, hard to me!"    And he to me, as one experienced:    "Here all suspicion needs must be abandoned,    All cowardice must needs be here extinct.    We to the place have come, where I have told thee    Thou shalt behold the people dolorous    Who have foregone the good of intellect."    And after he had laid his hand on mine    With joyful mien, whence I was comforted,    He led me in among the secret things.    There sighs, complaints, and ululations loud    Resounded through the air without a star,    Whence I, at the beginning, wept thereat.    Languages diverse, horrible dialects,    Accents of anger, words of agony,    And voices high and hoarse, with sound of hands,    Made up a tumult that goes whirling on    For ever in that air for ever black,    Even as the sand doth, when the whirlwind breathes.    And I, who had my head with horror bound,    Said: "Master, what is this which now I hear?    What folk is this, which seems by pain so vanquished?"    And he to me: "This miserable mode    Maintain the melancholy souls of those    Who lived withouten infamy or praise.    Commingled are they with that caitiff choir    Of Angels, who have not rebellious been,    Nor faithful were to God, but were for self.    The heavens expelled them, not to be less fair;    Nor them the nethermore abyss receives,    For glory none the damned would have from them."    And I: "O Master, what so grievous is    To these, that maketh them lament so sore?"    He answered: "I will tell thee very briefly.    These have no longer any hope of death;    And this blind life of theirs is so debased,    They envious are of every other fate.    No fame of them the world permits to be;    Misericord and Justice both disdain them.    Let us not speak of them, but look, and pass."    And I, who looked again, beheld a banner,    Which, whirling round, ran on so rapidly,    That of all pause it seemed to me indignant;    And after it there came so long a train    Of people, that I ne'er would have believed    That ever Death so many had undone.    When some among them I had recognised,    I looked, and I beheld the shade of him    Who made through cowardice the great refusal.    Forthwith I comprehended, and was certain,    That this the sect was of the caitiff wretches    Hateful to God and to his enemies.    These miscreants, who never were alive,    Were naked, and were stung exceedingly    By gadflies and by hornets that were there.    These did their faces irrigate with blood,    Which, with their tears commingled, at their feet    By the disgusting worms was gathered up.    And when to gazing farther I betook me.    People I saw on a great river's bank;    Whence said I: "Master, now vouchsafe to me,    That I may know who these are, and what law    Makes them appear so ready to pass over,    As I discern athwart the dusky light."    And he to me: "These things shall all be known    To thee, as soon as we our footsteps stay    Upon the dismal shore of Acheron."    Then with mine eyes ashamed and downward cast,    Fearing my words might irksome be to him,    From speech refrained I till we reached the river.    And lo! towards us coming in a boat    An old man, hoary with the hair of eld,    Crying: "Woe unto you, ye souls depraved!    Hope nevermore to look upon the heavens;    I come to lead you to the other shore,    To the eternal shades in heat and frost.    And thou, that yonder standest, living soul,    Withdraw thee from these people, who are dead!"    But when he saw that I did not withdraw,    He said: "By other ways, by other ports    Thou to the shore shalt come, not here, for passage;    A lighter vessel needs must carry thee."    And unto him the Guide: "Vex thee not, Charon;    It is so willed there where is power to do    That which is willed; and farther question not."    Thereat were quieted the fleecy cheeks    Of him the ferryman of the livid fen,    Who round about his eyes had wheels of flame.    But all those souls who weary were and naked    Their colour changed and gnashed their teeth together,    As soon as they had heard those cruel words.    God they blasphemed and their progenitors,    The human race, the place, the time, the seed    Of their engendering and of their birth!    Thereafter all together they drew back,    Bitterly weeping, to the accursed shore,    Which waiteth every man who fears not God.    Charon the demon, with the eyes of glede,    Beckoning to them, collects them all together,    Beats with his oar whoever lags behind.    As in the autumn-time the leaves fall off,    First one and then another, till the branch    Unto the earth surrenders all its spoils;    In similar wise the evil seed of Adam    Throw themselves from that margin one by one,    At signals, as a bird unto its lure.    So they depart across the dusky wave,    And ere upon the other side they land,    Again on this side a new troop assembles.    "My son," the courteous Master said to me,    "All those who perish in the wrath of God    Here meet together out of every land;    And ready are they to pass o'er the river,    Because celestial Justice spurs them on,    So that their fear is turned into desire.    This way there never passes a good soul;    And hence if Charon doth complain of thee,    Well mayst thou know now what his speech imports."    This being finished, all the dusk champaign    Trembled so violently, that of that terror    The recollection bathes me still with sweat.    The land of tears gave forth a blast of wind,    And fulminated a vermilion light,    Which overmastered in me every sense,    And as a man whom sleep hath seized I fell.    

Waking Up at the Zen Center

This morning I wake up at 4:30 a.m. This is an hour earlier than needed. In another Zen center 4 a.m. might be time for people to gather for practice. In a Buddhist monastery 4 a.m. might be oversleeping. Here, in this urban Midwest Zen center, our morning practice starts at 6 a.m. Of course waking up too early is always a bit frustrating, but doing so at a Zen center seems appropriate because there’s always something to do: meditate, clean, catch up on temple paperwork. I surf the net.

At 5:15 I go downstairs and unlock the front door for those who show up for practice. I do this every weekday, and most of the time it’s a gesture motivated by wishful thinking. Morning practice is terribly unpopular, even at our late, non-monastic hour. Practice begins with 108 full prostrations and is followed by the long morning bell chant and 30 minutes of sitting meditation. No one shows up anymore except on Wednesdays, today. Wednesdays my teacher gives kong-an interviews during morning practice, and this opportunity attracts one regular, Leo, an enthusiastic young college student and rapper. (Kong-an interviews are the notorious Zen tradition in which the teacher asks tricky questions of the student as a means of training for enlightenment. Some people find interviews intimidating, even though one might not have a kong-an in it to deal with at all. The session might just be a chat about practice. We’ve discussed coming up with a less intimidating name than “interviews” to encourage new people to try them out. My flippant suggestion of the term “enhanced interrogation” met with proper disapproval at a meeting of center teachers.)

I look outside through the front door. It’s cold out there and has been for days. The old snow no longer looks real. It’s more like flat white paint. Through it I’ve cut a trench across the front lawn to the sidewalk. Cold.

Cold. It’s definitely time to go to the kitchen to make coffee. But I’m already thinking about mice. The cold has driven mice into the house, and we’ve removed several using live traps. It’s a relief to find the kitchen trap empty this morning. Maybe the mouse population is depleted. Getting rid of pests in a Buddhist temple is always problematic, what with the proscriptions against killing. Live traps seem like a solution just as long as you don’t think about the released mouse’s fate, and that’s impossible to forget when you turn a mouse out into this bitter cold.

I’m still thinking about cold when I grind the coffee beans, making extra since Leo’s bound to show up. My mind’s always wandering this way. That’s one reason why I train in meditation: to improve concentration. But, darn it, it seems cold in the house. Our thermostat is in the dharma room, the room with the big Buddha statue where we meditate. I go in there and check out the temperature.

It reads 59°. The thermostat is set for a frugal 64°. The vents should be blowing heat. I hear the furnace beneath the floor, but the fan’s not running. I try to turn on the fan. It doesn’t start. Check the temperature. 58°.

Normally I wake my teacher for up for morning practice at 5:55 by hitting an instrument called a moktak, a hollow, wooden bulb, but the dharma room isn’t getting any warmer, a guest is probably on the way and there’s the matter of freezing pipes. I go upstairs to my teacher’s door.


“Mrarm… Yeah?”

“Sorry to wake you up a little early, but the furnace doesn’t seem to be working.”

Our Zen center is lucky to have residents in it, even if only two, to spot household malfunctions before they become emergencies. It’s especially lucky to have a live-in teacher qualified to give kong-an interviews who is also a retired general contractor; an all-around handyman. We head for the basement where he removes the side of the furnace, takes a seat on a box and inspects wires and tubes. I, in the stock role of someone who wants to be helpful but doesn’t have a clue, stand a couple of paces off watching in silence. He turns the furnace off. He disconnects this. Unscrews that. Then there are noises above us unrelated to heating ducts and too heavy to be a mouse.

I go upstairs and greet the cause. “Hi, Leo. The dharma room may be a little cooler than usual today.” Then I add the unfortunate phrase of an old guy trying to sound hip. “But it's always is cool in the dharma room.” Leo is a good sport.

It’s 5:57, so I put on my bowing robe for practice. We’ll start without Poep-sa if he needs to keep working on the heating. Leo sits down on a cushion in the dharma room. Before I get to the altar to light the incense, the heating ducts are blowing again. Poep-sa comes up from the basement. Normally I’d have already started the mini-marathon of prostrations, but Leo and I wait, standing with our palms together, for our teacher to join us. In a minute he’s in the dharma room too. Before we start bowing we recite the Four Great Vows.

Sentient beings are numberless. We vow to save them all.
Delusions are endless. We vow to cut through them all.
The teachings are infinite. We vow to learn them all.
The Buddha Way is inconceivable. We vow to attain it.

*"Poep-sa" is an honorific Korean term for a teacher.

Tuesday, January 28, 2014

Video About Anger and Zen Practice

I couldn't possible refrain from posting a link to this video featuring a nun in my school, Seon Joon Sunim. She talks about what anger really does in our lives.

Random Comment on Shamans

The old Ice Age communities hunted. A deer, once killed, meant food, clothing and tools. Everyone in the community knew their lives depended on killing animals. Status in the community depended on one's prowess at slaughter. The weather was awful and all useful people focused upon what needed to happen in order to go on living: killing animals without mercy. And then there were the shamans. Very strange people, shamans. They told stories about the animals. They told stories in which the animals spoke and played tricks on other animals and even upon humans. In some of the really weird tales, the animals created the heavens and the earth. Shamans confused the order of things by treating hapless, voiceless food as respectable entities. It's hard not to imagine that hunters held shamans in utter contempt for assigning such value to what lay at the bottom of the food chain (as it were). We might imagine the shaman living at the edge of the tribe, sharing space with the dogs the hunters had recently considered allowing to help track prey. For a reason that's very difficult to understand, hunters tolerated the shamans, their useless stories and their probable insanity.

Today it is almost impossible to understand this fact in any way.

Monday, January 27, 2014

Inferno II: Savage

Gustave Doré plate for Inferno II
Continuing erasure poems based on Longfellow's translation of Inferno....


Animals that are on earth,
likewise of woe,
now assist me!
Guide me
unto the world

Upon that dark hillside,
upon the desert slope,
through terror I have risen
that I may be consoled
in presence of this burning,
at this impediment that
stands foe of all 
so swift to escape their woe.

unto thee I came as
that wild beast.
Nocturnal chill
whitens my heart 

With these words 
I now go,

Inferno: Canto II, Longfellow, tr.

Day was departing, and the embrowned air   Released the animals that are on earth   From their fatigues; and I the only one  Made myself ready to sustain the war,   Both of the way and likewise of the woe,   Which memory that errs not shall retrace.  O Muses, O high genius, now assist me!   O memory, that didst write down what I saw,   Here thy nobility shall be manifest!  And I began: "Poet, who guidest me,   Regard my manhood, if it be sufficient,   Ere to the arduous pass thou dost confide me.  Thou sayest, that of Silvius the parent,   While yet corruptible, unto the world   Immortal went, and was there bodily.  But if the adversary of all evil   Was courteous, thinking of the high effect   That issue would from him, and who, and what,  To men of intellect unmeet it seems not;   For he was of great Rome, and of her empire   In the empyreal heaven as father chosen;  The which and what, wishing to speak the truth,   Were stablished as the holy place, wherein   Sits the successor of the greatest Peter.  Upon this journey, whence thou givest him vaunt,   Things did he hear, which the occasion were   Both of his victory and the papal mantle.  Thither went afterwards the Chosen Vessel,   To bring back comfort thence unto that Faith,   Which of salvation's way is the beginning.  But I, why thither come, or who concedes it?   I not Aeneas am, I am not Paul,   Nor I, nor others, think me worthy of it.  Therefore, if I resign myself to come,   I fear the coming may be ill-advised;   Thou'rt wise, and knowest better than I speak."  And as he is, who unwills what he willed,   And by new thoughts doth his intention change,   So that from his design he quite withdraws,  Such I became, upon that dark hillside,   Because, in thinking, I consumed the emprise,   Which was so very prompt in the beginning.  "If I have well thy language understood,"   Replied that shade of the Magnanimous,   "Thy soul attainted is with cowardice,  Which many times a man encumbers so,   It turns him back from honoured enterprise,   As false sight doth a beast, when he is shy.  That thou mayst free thee from this apprehension,   I'll tell thee why I came, and what I heard   At the first moment when I grieved for thee.  Among those was I who are in suspense,   And a fair, saintly Lady called to me   In such wise, I besought her to command me.  Her eyes where shining brighter than the Star;   And she began to say, gentle and low,   With voice angelical, in her own language:  'O spirit courteous of Mantua,   Of whom the fame still in the world endures,   And shall endure, long-lasting as the world;  A friend of mine, and not the friend of fortune,   Upon the desert slope is so impeded   Upon his way, that he has turned through terror,  And may, I fear, already be so lost,   That I too late have risen to his succour,   From that which I have heard of him in Heaven.  Bestir thee now, and with thy speech ornate,   And with what needful is for his release,   Assist him so, that I may be consoled.  Beatrice am I, who do bid thee go;   I come from there, where I would fain return;   Love moved me, which compelleth me to speak.  When I shall be in presence of my Lord,   Full often will I praise thee unto him.'   Then paused she, and thereafter I began:  'O Lady of virtue, thou alone through whom   The human race exceedeth all contained   Within the heaven that has the lesser circles,  So grateful unto me is thy commandment,   To obey, if 'twere already done, were late;   No farther need'st thou ope to me thy wish.  But the cause tell me why thou dost not shun   The here descending down into this centre,   From the vast place thou burnest to return to.'  'Since thou wouldst fain so inwardly discern,   Briefly will I relate,' she answered me,   'Why I am not afraid to enter here.  Of those things only should one be afraid   Which have the power of doing others harm;   Of the rest, no; because they are not fearful.  God in his mercy such created me   That misery of yours attains me not,   Nor any flame assails me of this burning.  A gentle Lady is in Heaven, who grieves   At this impediment, to which I send thee,   So that stern judgment there above is broken.  In her entreaty she besought Lucia,   And said, "Thy faithful one now stands in need   Of thee, and unto thee I recommend him."  Lucia, foe of all that cruel is,   Hastened away, and came unto the place   Where I was sitting with the ancient Rachel.  "Beatrice" said she, "the true praise of God,   Why succourest thou not him, who loved thee so,   For thee he issued from the vulgar herd?  Dost thou not hear the pity of his plaint?   Dost thou not see the death that combats him   Beside that flood, where ocean has no vaunt?"  Never were persons in the world so swift   To work their weal and to escape their woe,   As I, after such words as these were uttered,  Came hither downward from my blessed seat,   Confiding in thy dignified discourse,   Which honours thee, and those who've listened to it.'  After she thus had spoken unto me,   Weeping, her shining eyes she turned away;   Whereby she made me swifter in my coming;  And unto thee I came, as she desired;   I have delivered thee from that wild beast,   Which barred the beautiful mountain's short ascent.  What is it, then?  Why, why dost thou delay?   Why is such baseness bedded in thy heart?   Daring and hardihood why hast thou not,  Seeing that three such Ladies benedight   Are caring for thee in the court of Heaven,   And so much good my speech doth promise thee?"  Even as the flowerets, by nocturnal chill,   Bowed down and closed, when the sun whitens them,   Uplift themselves all open on their stems;  Such I became with my exhausted strength,   And such good courage to my heart there coursed,   That I began, like an intrepid person:  "O she compassionate, who succoured me,   And courteous thou, who hast obeyed so soon   The words of truth which she addressed to thee!  Thou hast my heart so with desire disposed   To the adventure, with these words of thine,   That to my first intent I have returned.  Now go, for one sole will is in us both,   Thou Leader, and thou Lord, and Master thou."   Thus said I to him; and when he had moved,  I entered on the deep and savage way.