No 13 - Spring/Summer 1999
It was an hour when the climb could allow
no delay, for the sun had left the meridian
ring to Taurus, as night had to Scorpio,
so, as a person does who makes his way
without stopping, whatever he sees before him,
if the spur of necessity pierces him,
that was how we went into the passage,
one after the other, starting up the stairs
that are too narrow for climbers to go in pairs.
And as a fledgling stork raises a wing,
wanting to fly and not venturing
to leave the nest, and lowers it again,
so I was, with the wanting to question
lighted and put out again, reaching
the point of someone about to say something.
My gentle father did not refrain,
for all the haste of our steps, from saying, “Loose
the arrow of speech that you have drawn to the iron.”
Then I opened my mouth confidently
and said first, “How is it they can become thin
where the need of nourishment touches no one?”
“If you recall how Heleager
was consumed with the consuming of a burning
log,” he said, “you will find the taste of it better,
and if you think of the way, however
you move, your image moves in a mirror
what seems hard to you would resist you no longer.
But so that you may find rest in your desire
here is Statius, on whom I call, begging
him now to be your healer where you are sore.”
“If I open to him the eternal
vision,” Statius answered, “in the presence of you
my excuse is that I cannot refuse you.”
Then he began, “Son, if your mind attends
to my words, and takes them in, they will
shed light for you on how this is possible.
Perfect blood, which the thirsty veins never
drink, remains as it was before
like food that you take away from the table.
It acquires in the heart power to inform
all of the human members, like that blood
that flows into the members to become them.
Further digested, it descends to where
it is better not to speak of, and falls from there
into another’s blood in a natural vessel.
There the one makes the other welcome,
the one disposed to undergo, and the other
to act, because of the perfect place it is pressed from.
And when the second has joined with the first, it begins
to function: first it coagulates, then quickens
the matter to which it has given consistency.
When the active virtue has turned into a soul
like that of a plant, except that the former
is on the way, the latter already at the shore,
it works on into seeing and feeling
like a sea-fungus, then goes on forming
organs for the faculties it germinates.
Now, my son, it unfurls, now it extends
that virtue which is from the begetter’s
heart, where nature provides for all the members.
But how it turns from being an animal into
being a child you cannot see yet; that is the point
that once misled someone wiser than you,
so that in his teaching he separated
the functioning intelligence from the soul,
because he could see no organ in charge of it.
Open your breast to the truth you are about
to hear, and know that, once the articulate
form of the brain is perfect in the embryo
the prime mover turns to it rejoicing
over such art of nature, breathing
into it a new spirit filled with virtue
that draws into its own substance what
it finds active there, and makes a single soul
that lives and feels and revolves in its own orbit.
And so that what I say may seem less strange
to you, think how the sun’s heat becomes wine
when it combines with the juice that flows from the vine.
When Lachesis has no more flax, the soul is set
free of the flesh, and it takes with it
its latent self, human and divine.
All the other faculties remain mute,
but memory, intelligence and will are far
sharper in acting than they were before.
It does not stay, but of itself it falls
in a way to marvel at, to one shore or the other,
and for the first time knows its own way there.
As soon as the place closes around it there
the formative power radiates about it
as, and as far as, in the living members.
And as the air when it is heavy with rain
comes to be adorned with many colours
by reflecting in itself rays that are another’s
so the neighbouring air turns into
the form imprinted on it by that virtue
of the soul which, at the time, is remaining there,
and then, in a way like that which makes the flame
follow the fire wherever it may go,
the spirit follows after the new form.
Then, as that is how it derives its appearance,
it is called a shade, and for every sense
it then develops organs, even for sight.
So we come to speech and so to smiling,
so we make the tears and the sighing
that you may have heard around the mountain.
As desire and the other affections
move us, the shade takes on its appearance;
this is how what you marvelled at happens.”
And now we had arrived at the last torment
and we had turned to the right hand
and on another care we were intent.
Here the bank sends flames shooting outward
and the edge of the terrace sends a blast upward
that throws it back and shields from it a pathway
so that we had to follow the open side,
one by one, and on one side I was afraid
of the fire, and on the other, of falling.
My leader said, “This is a place where
one must keep a tight rein on the eyes
for it would be easy to take a false step here.”
God of the highest mercy I heard singing
then within the heart of the great burning,
which also, no less, made me want to turn,
and I saw spirits walking in the flame,
so that I went on, dividing my sight between
them and my own steps, from time to time.
After they had sung to the end of that hymn
they shouted, “I know not a man,” and then
softly started to sing the hymn again.
When it was finished, afterward they shouted
“Diana kept to the woods and drove out
Helice, who had felt the poison of Venus.”
Then they went back to singing and then calling out
about wives and husbands who had kept chaste,
as virtue and marriage say they must.
And I think this custom is enough for them
all through the time the fire is burning them;
with such treatment and such nourishment
must the wound come to be healed at last.
- 10th Muse
- Angel Exhaust
- Blithe Spirit
- Brando's hat
- Brittle Star
- Cannon's Mouth, The
- Coffee House, The
- Dream Catcher
- Floating Bear, The
- French Literary Review, The
- Frogmore Papers, The
- Global Tapestry
- Grosseteste Review
- Homeless Diamonds
- Interpreter's House, The
- Journal, The
- Lamport Court
- London Magazine, The
- Modern Poetry in Translation
- Monkey Kettle
- Neon Highway
- New Welsh Review
- North, The
- Obsessed with pipework
- Oxford Poetry
- Painted, spoken
- Paper, The
- Pen Pusher Magazine
- Poetry Cornwall
- Poetry London
- Poetry London (1951)
- Poetry Nation
- Poetry Review, The
- Poetry Salzburg Review
- Poetry Scotland
- Poetry Wales
- Private Tutor
- Purple Patch
- Rain Dog
- Reach Poetry
- Review, The
- Rialto, The
- Second Aeon
- Seventh Quarry, The
- Smiths Knoll
- Strange Faeces
- Tabla Book of New Verse, The
- Tolling Elves
- Ugly Tree, The
- Wolf, The
- Yellow Crane, The