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The Beatific City

Slumbering, the ache awakes in heart and mind
and grows and feverishly spreads its unkind
tentacles throughout its sorry host:
 Myself; with this affliction and this boast:
A holy icon to my weary soul is shown.
Her silken face of untouched glory, one
untainted and untainting, beyond all
radiance is shining with my heart in thrall.
Delicate, unhindered fall the golden bonds
which bind my heart of treachery and shifting sands.
Would that such terrible and goodly cords unite
me to our God in sweet constraint and divinize
a misery ungodly otherwise.


She is Imperial Rome and Jerusalem;
she is Sarras; she is bright Byzantium,
and I, though citizen of those cities which take
their glory from their heavenly twins, choose to slake
my thirst at bitter founts instead of her sweet waters.
Remains there then a hope for one who barters
such clear disclosure of Venus’ countenance
for such a measly and uneven recompense?
Still, I have one quick and confident defense
against inquisitors, infernal or divine:
All our carnal pleasures are windows through which shine
the beams of eternal beauty, bent though they be.
Refracted light’s still light, to one who can barely see.


Popes and emperors alike find rest in her cool shades
and elbows rub with citizens whose mundane trades
are no less glorious for want of crozier gold
or purple finery.  High Trojan born from old
through strong Aeneas’ will and lately born anew
through Petrine toil and God’s grace.  Rome, Rome!  What mighty few
have fallen in her streets, martyrs to our common faith?
The church’s home is in her eyes: she is the church’s home;
her breath’s the scent of commerce; her laugh’s the voice of Rome.
Senators and cardinals consensus find within
her swift tranquility; the holy colleges begin
their sessions with her blessing.  Stateliest city!
Rome is Beatrice.  Rome rhymes Christianity.


The Law is the geometry of God, given
to uncircumferenced men, who must needs be shriven
by Him who is the Law’s Circumference.  Both images
are enthroned within her breast whose nobles and sages
have blessed the world.  The Law, enthroned and en-templed there
has gone out to the world to make the unfair fair,
the crooked, straight.  Straight: the line of her stone-etched hair;
the sacred Law’s seen in her shoulder, her straight spine,
in the cubed city descending, in the bread and new wine.
Jerusalem’s walls are her bare arms outstretched,
Boundary line ‘twixt earth and heaven, bless’d and wretched.
In her the sacrifice is done: in Beatrice,
in Jerusalem where gods die and betrayal is a kiss.


Logres’ bear reigns still in the high estate of her brow:
Arthur, Britain’s raptured hope, who, resting now
will return, bearing with him the high love of Sarras.
Sarras, pride of Avalon; Sarras by the sea,
where the pelican nests and bleeds maternally.
In Sarras’ slender waist, centermost and lovely
echoes of that high romance are covertly
shown: Elayne, Iseult and Arthur’s queen, her stately
form translates.  The white marble spires of that northerly
city stroke heaven’s bosom: Babel sanctified.
Gold steeples there bear wooden crosses, dignified
by proximity to that on which was crucified
Sarras’ high prince.  His blood suffices to claim his bride.


Byzantium, built firmly astride the Bosphorus,
east and west, two-natured, like the doctrine a chorus
of saints undertook to define there at Chalcedon.
In her lies the mystery: the sphinx and the gryphon,
the virgin-born god in hypostatic union,
rightly parsed and defined to safeguard the elect.
Byzantion, Constantinople, new Rome.
Roman order, Greek culture: two natures at home
in her without confusion; clarity in all;
clarity in Beatrice; Beatrice in all.
As she is herself, so is she Beauty; two-natured
image of the deity, mirror of the city,
perfect sentence, paragon of lucidity.


She is Imperial Rome and Jerusalem;
she is Sarras; she is bright Byzantium.
A guide to the City her mortal form reveals:
feet stepping with urban speed; hands serving beggars’ meals;
her arms two-score towers raise; legs marshal cadence beat;
her deeper mysteries are Its mysteries’ seat.
The City is Beatrice in mortar and stone;
the City is the bride, betrothed to He who alone
discerns the blood from the mortar, the brick from the bone.
Balm to eyes unaccustomed to heaven’s searing light
applied liberally, serves not to dim the sight
but to train it to see through the Feminine City
to beauty’s core: Bridegroom, King and Masculinity.

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