Leaving behind those pre-occupied souls
I proceeded with my guide towards a strain
Less sweet than the hymns of old
The others sang; I paused and would complain
To Virgil, who ascended at my side
Save that his visage mirrored my own brain
The voices sang a melody too sickly to abide
And as we approached, I made out
Lyrics more insipid than any I'd ever tried.
When we came within sign, I gave a shout
To the souls standing clustered under the trees
Hoping to hear what they were all about,
But also hoping that their song would cease
And indeed, they stopped to make their welcome known:
"Greetings, y'all! Introduce yourselves, please?"
"I am one who, by divine grace, and not alone
Passes living though this region en route to bliss,
Inquiring for what fault you here atone.
"This my guide, a shade in all things only remiss
In attaining salvation; but do relate
To what purpose this terrace exists?"
One of their number, which was indeed great,
Stepped forward, seeming eager to converse with me
And pass the time of a lengthy wait.
"We are those who, in our lives, failed to see
The fitness of things, and are lacking still
A sense of the way things ought to be
Done. We are detained here, in this spot, until
Having longer endured such things by design,
Our taste is refined in accordance with divine will."
Another interjected, "We'd offer you some wine,
But we have only waxy paper cups, inept."
And indeed, Virgil recalled when he would recline
At symposia, feasting, talking and drinking wine kept
In great amphorae, red and black, and diluted;
Myself, I reflected on days when I would accept
The goblets of precious metals, imminently suited
To hold the precious ruby liquid, whether tendered
For salvation's sake or by a host well-reputed
For hospitality, and we refused. Curiosity was engendered
On my part, and, I rather thought, on Virgil's as well
About these shades who to this odd fate surrendered:
Far more frivolous than the justice of hell,
Or even the other terraces we'd traversed.
"If I might ask, are there any who would tell
What sort of life they lived which dictated this perverse
Choice of crockery, as well as the hymn we heard
You sing earlier, with its banal doggerel verse."
Another figure stepped forth, emerging from the herd,
And remarked, "Abbess I was during my life, and
Sought in my actions to incarnate the Word
Of the Gospels and my order, offering a hand
To those in need. However, through an excess of zeal
And an absence of tact, many found it difficult to stand
Accepting help from a Church so unable to feel
For the lowly who seek divine grace on earth there."
Another spoke, saying, "I tried to stamp out the appeal
Of imagery in the church, demonizing others' prayers
And destroying the beautiful in my iconoclastic fervor
Unable to see that in God's image we share
And that God is both a creator and a preserver,
And that ugliness is no virtue to be sought
When it does nothing at all for the observer.
This is the sort of thing that, in my life, I wrought."
Virgil would continue, but one last shade drew me aside
To speak: "One last story to relate, I thought
For you have been a poet, yes? And this Virgil by your side?
I started out much the same, glorifying the good,
But when my youthfulness ideals did subside,
I wrote scurrilous tracts from what little I understood,
Abandoning sense and reason to write with venomed pen
Simple, twisted allegories exemplifying what I thought should
Be and what dreadful things should come to pass when
Any disagreed with me. Offensive to any reader of sense!
My distortions and heavy-handedness offended then
Not only human but divine reason; and since
I learned no better, my name would mean nothing to you."
His words echoed in my mind as we moved hence,
With that thought, ascending Mount Purgatory anew.
I offer my sincerest apologies to the English language for torturing it so, and promise never to write poetry again unless it is assigned.