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.

Return to Florilegium

Drop me an email

Visit my LiveJournal