Dante and Beatrice

“ AND art thou well assured,” the Presence said,
“ Thy spirit can outlive the fell assault
Of all the fierce, unsleeping, raving powers of ill ?
Bethink thee of the perils of that voyage
Into the dark, beneath the starless cope
Of the eternal blackness ; o’er the waves
Of sunless oceans, rolling to no moon,
No parent orb, their slug and stagnant floods.
And worse thou ’lt meet upon the Stygian land:
Fierce dragons lurking in the ruptured cliff,
The lion couching at the rocky spring,
Wild deserts show’red upon with fiery rain,
The baleful upas dropping from above
Its milky venom ; adders at thy heels,
And terrors at thy side, above, beneath,
Till thine own shadow is a thing imbued
With woe and horror. And within, meanwhile,
Is wilder storm : for at the scent and heat
Of their own lusts, the devils in thy soul,
Now sleeping, will arise erect and strong;
Will hurl pale Conscience trembling from its seat,
Put out the eyes of Truth, strike Reason down,
And drive thee, like a feather on the blast,
Into the abyss of eternal pain.”
Then Alighieri answered, slow and grave:
“Yea, thou dear being, I would enter there
Were that dark land and sea a thousand times
More dark and drear, more seared with nether fire,
More thickly bristling with unpitying fiends, .
For in thy love I trust, who art my guide
And my protector. Woman though thou wert
In this grub life, envestured though thou wert
With wormy earth, as I that speak still am,
Yet thou art stronger in thy risen worth
Than the earth-shaking armies of a king ;
Art greater, naked, in thy sphere of flame,
To bind or loose than ever tonsured pope,
His girdle heavy with the keys of doom.
When night is starless, do thou be my star ;
When Truth is blinded, Conscience stricken down,
And I am sieged without and racked within
By banded fiends, do thou my Conscience be,
My Truth, my Reason, light unto my feet,
To my heart courage, to my threatened head A brassy buckler, to my trembling hand
A sword of sheafèd flame. Such power resides
In thee, bright love beam from the face of God.
And when my being’s core is wrung with pain,
And the thick must’ring cloud of demon wings
Blots out all light, all hope, within my mind,
Do thou but hold this hand and smooth this brow,
Blood-beaded with the anguish of the soul,
And I ’ll not cry till that dark hour be past.
Yea, I will enter ; for the only good
This life can yield us is the rounded gem
Of perfect Wisdom, though it still exude
From tortured souls, as oysters weep the pearl,
Being gnawed upon the heartstrings by the worm.
Yea, I will even walk the floor of Hell,
While thou engirdest me with thy sinless wing.
One smile from thee empowers my naked hands
To rive this gnarlèd life-tree of the world,
And rend its horrid entrails. Yea, now, see,
I kneel, great angel: bless me ere I go. ”
Walter Kelly.