The Purgatory of Saint Patrick

Pedro Calderón de la Barca

(From Act II. Scene IV.)

Translated by Denis Florence M’Carthy


KING.  Pause, O Patrick! thou art going

To a dark and dismal spot,—

Where the midday sun hath not

Ever entered bright and glowing,—

Where no living thing is growing,

Shunned at once by man and brute.

Cease then from thy vain endeavor,

For that rugged path was never

Trodden by a human foot!

  PHILIP.  We for many a lengthened year,

Who have lived here from our youth,

Never dared to learn the truth

Of the secrets hidden here:

For the entrance did appear

Terror-guarded, as to make

Even the bravest bosom chill!

None have ever crossed this hill,

Or this dark mysterious lake.

  KING.  And the only sound we heard,

Borne the troubled wind along,

Was the sad funereal song

Of some lone nocturnal bird.

  PHILIP.  Do not persist to enter here.

  PATRICK.  Let not fear disturb your breasts,—

’T is a heavenly treasure rests

In this cavern.

  KING.        What is fear?

Could the wild volcano wake

Any feeling of the name?

No; although the central flame

Rushed thereout, and lightnings brake

From the heaven’s disjointed sphere,—

Though the covered earth were brown

With the smoke and fire rained down,

Yet my soul were proof to fear.



    POLONIA.  Stay! unhappy people, stay!

  Daring, wild, and indiscreet,

  Pass not in with erring feet,—

  Ruin lieth in the way!

From myself, with hurried footsteps, flying,

  I have sought this wilderness profound:

  Where the pure bright summer beam is dying

  In the shadow of this hill oak-crowned,—

  That at length as in its dark grave lying,

  Never more could my offence be found;

  Here I seek a brief repose from strife,

  Shutting out the angry waves of life,—

Not a guide had hostile fate decreed me,

  As I dared upon my path to stray,

  Vain the hand that would attempt to lead me,

  Through the tangled wildness of the way;

  From the terror yet I have not freed me,—

  From the admiration and dismay,

  Which were wakened by this mountain’s gloom,

  And the hidden wonders of its womb;

See this rock (that it has not descended

  O’er the vale a miracle appears!)

  Still it hangs as it has hung suspended,

  Threatening ruin for unnumbered years;

  In the mountain’s caverned jaws extended

  Still it lieth,—checks and interferes

  With the breath that from this cave escapes,

  Wherewith the melancholy mountain gapes:

By these cypress-trees, in terror speeding

  Through the lips of severed rocks, I strayed,

  There I saw a monstrous neck receding,

  Deep and dark and noisome in the shade,

  Though little life the sunless air was breeding,

  Some useless plants about the entrance played

  Of that vast space,—the horror and affright

  Of day, and dwelling of the frozen night:

I entered there to try and make my dwelling

  Within the cave: but here my accents fail,

  My troubled voice, against my will rebelling,

  Doth interrupt so terrible a tale:

  What novel horror, all the past excelling,

  Mast I relate to you, with cheeks all pale,

  Without cold terror on my bosom seizing,

  And even my voice, my breath, my action freezing?

But scarce had I o’ercome my hesitation,

  And gone within the cavern’s vaults profound,

  When I heard such shrieks of lamentation,

  Screams of grief that shook the walls around,—

  Curses, blasphemy, and desperation;

  Crimes avowed that would even Hell astound,—

  Which the Heavens, determined not to hear,

  Had placed within this prison dark and drear.

Let him come who doubts what I am telling,—

  Let him bravely enter who denies,—

  Soon his ears shall hear the dreadful yelling,

  Soon the horrors gleam, before his eyes,—

  But for me I feel my bosom swelling,

  And my tongue grow silent with surprise:

  I must cease,—for it is wrong, I feel,

  Heaven’s most wondrous secrets to reveal.

    PATRICK.  This cave, Egerio, which you see, concealeth

  Many mysteries of life and death,

  Not for him whose hardened bosom feeleth

  Naught of true repentance or true faith.

  But he who freely enters, who revealeth

  All his sins with penitential breath,

  Shall endure his purgatory then,

  And return forgiven back again.

*        *        *        *        *

    POLONIA.                Attend!—

This darksome lake doth all surround

  Yon hill that cleaves the heavens’ deep blue,—

  Across whose level wave, by you,

  An easy pathway may be found;

  And in the middle of the isle

  A convent’s sacred walls beneath the sunlight smile;

Some holy monks inhabit there,

  And for this task alone they live,

  With pious zeal to freely give

  The helping hand, the strengthening prayer,—

  Confession, and the Sacred Mass,

  And every pious aid to all who thither pass,

Telling them what they first must do

  Before they dare presume to go,

  Alive, within the realm of woe.

*        *        *        *        *

No one accompanied can pass

  Across the bosom of this lake.

  But each a little bark must take

  And try alone the rippling glass,

  Being in that most trying strait

  The lord of his own deeds, the master of his fate.

Come where within a secret cave

  Beside the shore the boat doth lie,

  And, trusting in the Lord on high,

  Embark upon the crystal wave

  Of this remote and lonely sea.


Main Location:

Co. Donegal, Ireland