David Melville
Purgatory

                ‘Ma Virgilio n’avea lasciati sceemi –
               But Virgil had left us, he was no longer there –’

               – from Canto XXX, in which the pagan Virgil
               must return to the underworld having led Dante to heaven

Wince not for Virgil solemn on his march
from heaven, the ramble and stumble down slope,
last rays on his neck, and judgment’s gap a stark

crack in the earth; inferno without hope.
Behind him, pilgrim Dante soars to joy
in folds of pure light: angelic throats

whose music rings in blissful, holy voice,
with all existence one vast dream in song.
Yet Dante shall slip down again, psalm destroyed,

bereft of Beatrice, his dead love gone.
At last each poet comes to know the fruits
of paradise are rarely tasted long:

Though saints and lovers sing devoted truths,
artists’ souls ever sink back to earth.