Pier della Vigna’s real confession

The Wood of the Self-Murderers: The Harpies and the Suicides, c. 1824–7. William Blake, Tate. A scene from the Divine Comedy: Dante and Virgil discover Pietro’s body encased in a tree.

Ingiusto fece me contra me giusto. My deed made me unjust against my own just self. I am the one who wrote this, or am I the one who did this? Who cares? I am both actor and observer, and you, reader, are not in a position to tell. You never will be. They keep marvelling over the beauty of my words. Or do they admire my courage? After all, I was master of my own will. Yes, I am where you think I am, but I am proud of it. They speak of paranoia, and circularity, and lovelessness, but, goodness, how did I love the silence at the end of so much noise. How could it be lovelessness when I loved it so much? Despair? Perhaps, but also justification. Did I hear you say self-justification? Perhaps you’re right, but since you weren’t there, what do you really know? I hope you’re not judging me. Hopelessness? I don’t think so. Have you looked closely at my words? Did you notice anything odd? They’ve judged me most severely. They said: ‘Pier della Vigna was a talker, a sophist, a master of words but a lord over nothing, not even over himself. Look again, what do you see? Ingiusto, giusto, me, me. Are you starting to see it? They call it a chiasmus, my words shaped like the letter X, those know-nothings, those scholars. To them it’s the confession of my guilt, but to me it’s redemption. I have hope, you know. They’ve allowed me, through high decree, to utter these words and pass them on to you. Why do you think this is? It’s my cross, don’t you think? io fei gibetto a me de le mie case, I made, of my own house, my gallows place. That wasn’t me. Someone else said this, but they added it to my own record. These know-nothings were right, though. The X, the cross of my words was the gibbet of my self-sacrifice. How can I be where you think I am, when my body has been turned, not into a tree to be plucked by harpies, but into a wooden cross, to bleed to Judgement Day. Do you remember the Dream of the Rood, the confession of that other tree who was before me? It wasn’t much different, was it? They ask why Statius, a suicide like me, is out there, while I am here below. But am I really? How can I be, when you’re already starting to feel pity for me, to caress my branches, to water my roots and chase the harpies away? In thinking I lost myself, I was found, and I can already see the first blossom in my bloodied bough.

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