Dante’s Purgatorio – Canto 30

The great mystical procession has come to a stop directly opposite where Dante and his two companions stand. Those ahead of the chariot expectantly turn around to face it now, waiting for someone to appear there. A hundred angels rise up from the chariot showering roses, and from within that rain of flowers the veiled figure of Beatrice appears. Dante senses that it is she and turns around to tell Virgil, but Virgil disappeared the moment Beatrice arrived. Dante is grief-stricken, but his grief is made worse when Beatrice sternly calls out his name and proceeds to dress him down for having abandoned her after she died.

            When the great candlesticks leading the procession stopped – they were like those stars in the heavens that guide us – everyone else stopped. Then the ones following directly behind those lights turned around to face the chariot; and one of them, as though sent from Heaven, sang Veni, sponsa, de Libano, three times, and all the others followed him in singing. And as all the blest will rise up from their tombs at the sound of the final trumpet, singing Alleluias with their new bodies, so there above that glorious chariot a hundred heavenly spirits rose up ad vocem tanti senis, shouting together: Benedictus qui venis! while sending up a rain of flowers into the air, Manibus, O, date lelia plenis!

            Just before sunrise, I have watched the entire eastern horizon turn rose in color as the early morning mists allow one to look unguarded at the rising sun. So now, within that rain of flowers that flew up from those angels’ hands and then fluttered down upon the chariot, there appeared a lady. Her white veil was crowned with olive leaves, her cloak was green, and her gown was the color of living flame.

            Let me tell you now, though many years had passed since I stood before her, trembling and stunned by her beauty, within my spirit I was again prostrate before the power of her love. And no sooner was I struck again by that high virtue I had known as a young man, than I turned to my left with the confidence of a frightened child as though to its mother, saying to my dear Virgil: “There isn’t a single drop of blood within me that doesn’t tremble now. I know the signs of this ancient flame.” But … Virgil was gone! There we were, left without him. Virgil, my sweet father! It was you to whom I entrusted my soul that I might find salvation. Nothing in this paradise around me, lost by our ancient mother, could now keep my face, once washed in the dew far below, dry from the tears I now shed.

            “Dante! Though Virgil had left you, do not weep. Soon you will weep from another wound. But do not weep yet.” I turned around quickly when I heard my name called. Like an admiral who, whether in the bow or the stern, watches and encourages his men working on nearby ships, so I saw standing at the chariot’s left rail the lady who appeared amid that downpour of angels’ flowers, looking at me from across the stream. Though I couldn’t get a clear view of her because of the veil that covered her head, crowned with Minerva’s leaves, I could sense her stern, regal stare as she continued to speak like someone who saves for the end their harshest words.

            “Look at me! Yes, look here. I am Beatrice! Have you finally decided to climb this mountain? Have you finally discovered that here one can be happy?”

            Hearing her address me like that, I lowered my head and focused on the stream there in front of me. But there was my shamed face looking back at me, so I looked at the grass. She was the angry mother, and in guilt I stood there before her like an abject child hearing her harsh words that weren’t yet gentle.

            It was the angels, then, who interceded with a Psalm, singing In te, Domine, speravi, though they stopped at pedes meos. As snow frozen atop the Apennines will melt quickly in the winds that blow hot from the south, just so were tears and sighs frozen within me until I heard the singing of those angels, whose music is tuned to the heavenly spheres. And when I felt the pity in what they sang – as though they said: “Dear Lady, why do you shame him like this?” – only then did my heart break the ice that held it firm and I burst forth with great cries of anguish.

            But still standing there in that chariot, unmoved, she addressed herself to those pitying angels: “Since you see by the light of the eternal day, nothing on earth can be hidden from your sight. So, my purpose in speaking to you is to make that man over there see the truth and grieve in measure with his guilt.

            “I tell you, there was never a man so fully endowed as a youth with the potential of God’s gifts as that one there; and if he had allowed them to grow fully within him, how fully would he have reaped their abundance. But the richer the soil, the more luxuriant the weeds that must be pulled to keep them from overtaking the garden. For a time, it was enough that he could look into my young eyes and find there the strength he needed to pursue his goals.

            “Then, after I passed from that life into the realm of Heaven, that man over there abandoned me and wandered after others. I became more beautiful, more virtuous, in that new life, but he loved me less and no longer took pleasure in me. As a result, he strayed from the path of truth in pursuit of lesser things, which can never give what they promise.

            “How many times I prayed for him, that he would be inspired in some way. But it was useless, he didn’t care anymore. Sad to say, he sank to such depths that, in the end, there was no way to save him except to make him travel through the kingdom of the damned in Hell. So, I went down into that realm, and with many tears pleaded with the one who, until just now, has been his guide.

            “Understand this: God’s highest laws would be rendered meaningless if that man crossed the Lethe here, and drank its sweet waters, without admitting his guilt and doing penance in tears.”