Into a rowan rent I so began
The path to her whom I love and desire.
Well set was I, I thought, against the Liar,
While further in the labyrinth I ran.
Where led my way, was nowhere that I kan,
Though felt I touch of Hades cruel fire;
And when I knew not which way to retire,
Saw vision I of my divine woman.
Light cast she forth, the easier to tread,
Until came I to the infernal gate.
With her in mind, of will I have no dread,
For I with her, or here or there, be fate.
Belovèd soul, who shineth with virtue,
Doth comfort me with aid and vision true.
1. rowan rent: In classical mythology, the myrrh tree came into existence after Myrrha (mother of Adonis) was transformed into a tree to escape the shame of death after committing incest. Remarkably (for a myth, anyway), Myrrha gave birth to Adonis after taking the tree-shape. In the Aeneid, Aeneas must pluck boughs from a golden tree to gain entrance to Hades. In Celtic mythology, the rowan tree is a symbol of fertility, and in some myths the rowan is a smaller version of ‘mother Earth,’ who gave birth to all the other plant species. Dante finds the gate to Hell within a forest. I decided that I could play with these various situations enough to enter Hell the opposite way that Adonis (or the Celtic plant life) was born. A rent is a crack. Orphos here is granted the virtue of wisdom (the first of the seven virtues to be displayed in this section of the sequence, as a means to help strength Orphos while he is in Hell) by the vision/memory of Euredissa.
3. Liar: I believe this is the first reference to Hades as Satan, blurring the lines between the classical and Christian ruler of the underworld. Since it was standard Renaissance practice to mix the two spheres (with the classical stories often being examined as preconfigurations of Christian ones), it was hardly a stretch to ‘transform’ Hades into Satan.
5. kan: know.
8. “vision … woman.” In one sense, this is a reference to Beatrice’s arrival in Dante’s Paradiso to lead Dante into Heaven. It’s also a bit of a Spenserian deus ex machina to continue the narrative: in The Faerie Queene, King Arthur often appears out of nowhere to aid the protagonist of a given sub-narrative (for example, helping the Redcross Knight defeat the dragon in Book I). This idea is repeated in lines 13-14.