Virgil washes the stains

Virgil Washes the Stains of Hell from Dante’s Face with Dew

from Canto 1 of Dante’s Purgatorio
Ei comincio: ‘Seguisci li miei passi…’

And he began to say, ‘Keep close, my son,

    let’s turn round now, for if we go on this way

    the level loses height and slopes down to low ground.’

The hour for matins had begun to flee

    before the dawn’s advance, while from this distance off

    I recognised the shimmering of the sea.

We wandered along the lonely plain

    like someone who searches for the road he’s lost

    and feels, until he finds it, his efforts are in vain.

When we’d arrived where the dew can resist

    the sun, and because it’s always cool there,

    it evaporates slowly, its dampness persists,

my maestro outstretched his hands with gentle care

    spread open on the fresh grass of the place,

    while I, of his purpose well aware,

held up my tear-stained face to him, unbidden;

    he wiped and brought my true colour to light,

    that hue which Hell had hidden.

photograph: Point of Ness, Stromness, Orkney, May