A Dialogue In Purgatory

A poem by William Vaughn Moody

Poi disse un altro.... "Io son Buonconte:
Giovanna o altri non ha di me cura;
Per ch' io vo tra costor con bassa fronte."

Seguito il terzo spirito al secondo,
"Ricorditi di me, che son la Pia;
Siena mi fe, disfecemi Maremma.
Salsi colui che inannellata pria
Disposata m' avea colla sua gemma."

PURGATORIO, CANTO V.


I

BUONCONTE

Sister, the sun has ceased to shine;
By companies of twain and trine
Stars gather; from the sea
The moon comes momently.

On all the roads that ring our hill
The sighing and the hymns are still:
It is our time to gain
Strength for to-morrow's pain.

Yet still your eyes are wholly bent
Upon the way that Virgil went,
Following Sordello's sign,
With the dark Florentine.

Night now has barred their upward track:
There where the mountain-side folds back
And in the Vale of Flowers
The Princes count their hours

Those three friends sit in the clear starlight
With the green-clad angels left and right,--
Soul made by wakeful soul
More earnest for the goal.

So let us, sister, though our place
Is barren of that Valley's grace,
Sit hand in hand, till we
Seem rich as those friends be.


II

LA PIA

Brother, 't were sweet your hand to feel
In mine; it would a little heal
The shame that makes me poor,
And dumb at the heart's core.

But where our spirits felt Love's dearth,
Down on the green and pleasant earth,
Remains the fleshly shell,
Love's garment tangible.

So now our hands have naught to say:
Heart unto heart some other way
Must utter forth its pain,
Must glee or comfort gain.

Ah, no! For souls like you and me
Some comfort waits, but never glee:
Not yours the young men's singing
In Heaven, at the bride-bringing;

Not mine, beside God's living waters,
Dance of the marriageable daughters,
The laughter and the ease
Beneath His summer trees.


III

BUONCONTE

In fair Arezzo's halls and bowers
My Giovanna speeds her hours
Delicately, nor cares
To shorten by her prayers

My days upon this mount of ruth:
If those who come from earth speak sooth,
Though still I call and call,
She does not heed at all.

And if aright your words I read
At Dante's passing, he you wed
Dipped from the drains of Hell
The marriage hydromel.

O therefore, while the moon intense
Holds yonder dreaming sea suspense,
And round the shadowy coasts
Gather the wistful ghosts,

Let us sit quiet all the night,
And wonder, wonder on the light
Worn by those spirits fair
Whom Love has not left bare.


IV

LA PIA

Even as theirs, the chance was mine
To meet and mate beneath Love's sign,
To feel in soul and sense
The solemn influence

Which, breathed upon a man or maid,
Maketh forever unafraid,
Though life with death unite
That spirit to affright,--

Which lifts the changèd heart high up,
As the priest lifts the changèd cup,
Boldens the feet to pace
Before God's proving face.

O just a thought beyond the blue
The wings of the dove yearned down and through!
Even now I hear and hear
How near they were, how near!

I murmur not. Rightly disgraced,
The weak hand stretched abroad in haste
For gifts barely allowed
The tacit, strong, and proud.

But therefore was I so intent
To watch where Dante onward went
With the Roman spirit pure
And the grave troubadour,

Because my mind was busy then
With the loves that wait those gentle men:
Cunizza one; and one
Bice, above the sun;

And for the other, more and less
Than woman's near-felt tenderness,
A million voices dim
Praising him, praising him.


V

BUONCONTE

The waves that wash this mountain's base
Were crimson in the sun's low rays,
When, singing high and fast,
An angel downward passed,

To bid some patient soul arise
And make it fair for Paradise;
And upward, so attended,
That soul its journey wended;

Yet you, who in these lower rings
Wait for the coming of such wings,
Turned not your eyes to view
Whether they came for you,

But watched, but watched great Virgil stayed
Greeting Sordello's couchant shade,
Which to salute him rose
Like lion from its pose;

While humbly by those lords of song
Stood he whose living limbs are strong
To mount where Mary's bliss
Is shed on Beatrice.

On him your gaze was fastened, more
Than on those great names Mantua bore;
Your eyes hold the distress
Still, of that wistfulness.

Yea, fit he seemed much love to rouse!
His pilgrim lips and iron brows
Grew like a woman's, dim,
While you held speech with him;

And troubled came his mortal breath
The while I told him of my death;
His looks were changed and wan
When Virgil led him on.


VI

LA PIA

E'er since Casella came this morn,
Newly o'er yonder ocean borne,
Bound upward for the choir
Who purge themselves in fire,

And from that meinie he was of
Stayed backward at my cry of love,
To speak awhile with me
Of life and Tuscany,

And, parting, told us how e'er day
Was done, Dante would come this way,
With mortal feet, to find
His sweetheart, sky-enshrined,--

E'er since Casella spoke such news
My heart has lain in a golden muse,
Picturing him and her,
What starry ones they were.

And now the moon sheds its compassion
O'er the hushed mount, I try to fashion
The manner of their meeting,
Their few first words of greeting.

O well for them, with claspèd hands,
Unshamed amid the heavenly bands!
They hear no pitying pair
Of old-time lovers there

Look down and say in an undertone,
"This latest-come, who comes alone,
Was still alone on earth,
And lonely from his birth."

Nor feel a sudden whisper mar
God's weather, "Dost thou see the scar
That spirit hideth so?
Who dealt her such a blow

"That God can hardly wipe it out?"
And answer, "She gave love, no doubt,
To one who saw not fit
To set much store by it."

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