The Refining Fire

Over my suppliant hands entwined, I leaned
just staring at the fire, imagining
bodies of human beings and seen burn.
And both my trusted guides now turned to me.
And the Virgil spoke, to say: ‘My dearest son,
here may be agony but never death.
Remember this! Remember! And if I
led you to safety on Geryon’s back,
what will I do when now so close to God?
Believe this. And be sure. Where you to stay
a thousand years or more wombed in this fire,
you’d not been made the balder by one hair.
And if, perhaps, you think I’m tricking you,
approach the fire and reassure yourself,
trying with your own hands your garments hem.
Have done, I say, have done with fearfulness.
Turn this way. Come and enter safely in!’
But I, against all conscience, stood stock still.
And when he saw me stiff and obstinate,
he said, I little troubled: ‘Look my son,
between Beatrice and you there is just this wall….’
Ahead of me, he went to meet the fire,
and begged that Statius, who had walked the road
so long between us, now take up the rear.
And, once within, I could have flung myself ‒
The heat that fire produced was measureless ‒
or coolness, in a vat of boiling glass.
To strengthen me, my sweetest father spoke,
as on he went, of Beatrice always,
saying, it seems I see her eyes already.’
and, guiding us, a voice sang from beyond.
So we, attending only to that voice,
came out and saw where now we could ascend.
‘Venite, benedicti Patris mei!’
sounded with in what little light there was.
This overcame me and I could not look.

(Dante Alighieri The Divine Comedy, II Purgatorio, lines 16−32 and 46−60)

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What Is Passion?

And I, in the midst of all this circling horror,
began, “Teacher, what are these sounds I hear?
What souls are these so overwhelmed by grief?”

And he to me: “This wretched state of being
is the fate of those sad souls who lived a life
but lived it with no blame and with no praise.

They are mixed with that repulsive choir of angels
neither faithful nor unfaithful to their God,
who undecided stood but for themselves.

Heaven, to keep its beauty, cast them out,
but even Hell itself would not receive the
for fear the damned might glory over them.”

And I. “Master, what torments do they suffer
that force them to lament so bitterly?”
He answered: “I will tell you in few words:

these wretches have no hope of truly dying,
and this blind life they lead is so abject
it makes them envy every other fate.

The world will not record their having been there;
Heaven’s mercy and its justice turn from them.
Let’s not discuss them; look and pass them by…”

~Dante Alighieri, from The Divine Comedy

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