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