With this fourth poem in my Dante series we leave behind the dark and stifled atmosphere of the Inferno and contemplate the holy mountain of the Purgatorio. Here souls already bound for Paradise are enabled to purify, strengthen and re-order their capacity for love so as to be ready for the love and joy of Heaven when they get there. In this book Dante shows how friendship, love, poetry and art are all means whereby God prepares our souls for the great ascent.Dante fills Purgatorio with tributes to friends and poets who have helped him. I open my own ‘readers pilgrimage’ here with a tribute to the teacher who first showed me how to read Dante, thus giving me the gift of a lifetime. This poem first appeared at the front of my book Faith Hope and Poetry.
As always you can hear my poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play button’. I am grateful to Oliver Neale for the contemporary image that follows the poem.
4 De Magistro
I thank my God I have emerged at last,
blinking from Hell, to see these quiet stars
bewildered by the shadows that I cast.
You set me on this stair, in those rich hours
pacing your study, chanting poetry.
The Word in you revealed His quickening powers,
removed the daily veil, and let me see,
as sunlight played along your book-lined walls,
that words are windows onto mystery.
From Eden, whence the living fountain falls
in music, from the tower of ivory,
and from the hidden heart, He calls
in the language of Adam, creating memory
of unfallen speech. He sets creation
free from the carapace of history.
His image in us is Imagination,
His Spirit is a sacrifice of breath
upon the letters of His revelation.
In mid-most of the word-wood is a path
that leads back to the springs of truth in speech.
You showed it to me, kneeling on your hearth,
you showed me how my halting words might reach
to the mind’s Maker, to the source of Love,
and so you taught me what it means to teach.
Teaching, I have my ardours now to prove
climbing with joy the steps of Purgatory.
Teacher and pupil, both are on the move,
as fellow pilgrims on a needful journey.
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