My Dante, tend nel mezzo del cammin
Forgotten bulbs your times again unearth;
Your gift to see a flowering unforeseen,
To rake the soil for Europe’s lush rebirth.
A rich pre-modern mind allows you mix
Rife thoughts retrieved with things so up-to-date
In science, art or purse and politics,
The cosmos in your seedbed city-state.
You’re lily-signed Firenze’s exiled son—
Why is that place assailed by so much strife?—
Who’ll name and face dead figures one by one,
Descending and ascending afterlife.
By conscious metaphor and fact combined
You parallel the purpose of God’s mind.
Ah yes, the middle of the way and yet
Recall the years I yearned, a troubadour
For Beatrice since Mayday when we met
One fateful moment in 1284.
I break new ground and graft a Comedy—
I’m politician, poet-citizen;
Though love can shape a tongue in Tuscany,
I end an exile, never home again.
With Virgil I will climb hell’s deepest ice
To reach the doorway of the dead and weep
Till Beatrice unknotting nerves in me
Redeems my guilt and, braving paradise,
I dare allow my sacred poem to leap
From where we are to where we’re made to be.
You’re polymath and eager pioneer
Who doubling back becomes a daring scout,
Defining our modernity’s frontier
By summing up what somehow opens out.
A fluke of birth, a lucky floruit,
As banished and uncoddled by soft fame,
You blame defectors’ sham and counterfeit;
Unhampered your cold hell will name and shame.
But more! As certain as the second thief,
This day in paradise you too are shown
The smile whose warmth unzips the lily’s leaf,
The light eternal in itself alone.
You’re stretching still my mind and my desire
To walk our daring God of love’s high wire.
But seven centuries beyond my theme,
You’ve chosen to pursue the selfsame path
And summing up an era work the seam
Between the modern and its aftermath.
You’ve climbed from hell to heaven’s vertigo.
I’ll be your guide! Though dazzled in that gaze,
Allow flawed words their spill and overflow,
For God delights in lily-gilding praise.
Imagine all we’ve done or left undone,
Our broken longings longing still for more,
Completed in the glory of one glance
And, as both stars and atoms dance and dance,
Our lives unreel around one loving core
Where all our wills and all desires are one.