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Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Paradise
 
Canto I
 
 
ARGUMENT.—The Poet ascends with Beatrice toward the first heaven; and is, by her, resolved of certain doubts which arise in his mind.
 
 
HIS glory, by whose might all things are moved,
Pierces the universe, and in one part
Sheds more resplendence, elsewhere less. In
That largeliest of His light partakes, was I, [Heaven
Witness of things, which, to relate again,        5
Surpasseth power of him who comes from thence;
For that, so near approaching its desire,
Out intellect is to such depth absorb’d,
That memory cannot follow. Nathless all,
That in my thoughts I of that sacred realm        10
Could store, shall now be matter of my song.
  Benign Apollo! this last labour aid;
And make me such a vessel of thy worth,
As thy own laurel claims, of me beloved.
Thus far 1 hath one of steep Parnassus’ brows        15
Sufficed me; henceforth, there is need of both
For my remaining enterprise. Do thou 2
Enter into my bosom, and there breathe
So, as when Marsyas by thy hand was dragg’d
Forth from his limbs, unsheathed. O power divine!        20
If thou to me of thine impart so much,
That of that happy realm the shadow’d form
Traced in my thoughts I may set forth to view;
Thou shalt behold me of thy favour’d tree
Come to the foot, and crown myself with leaves:        25
For to that honour thou, and my high theme
Will fit me. If but seldom, mighty Sire!
To grace his triumph, gathers thence a wreath
Cæsar, or bard, (more shame for human wills
Depraved), joy to the Delphic god must spring        30
From the Peneian foliage, when one breast
Is with such thirst inspired. From a small spark
Great flame hath risen: after me, perchance,
Others with better voice may pray, and gain,
From the Cyrrhæan city, answer kind.        35
  Through divers passages, the world’s bright lamp
Rises to mortals; but through that 3 which joins
Four circles with the threefold cross, in best
Course, and in happiest constellation 4 set,
He comes; and, to the worldly wax, best gives        40
Its temper and impression. Morning there, 5
Here eve was well-nigh by such passage made;
And whiteness had o’erspread that hemisphere,
Blackness the other part; when to the left 6
I saw Beatrice turn’d, and on the sun        45
Gazing, as never eagle fix’d his ken.
As from the first a second beam is wont
To issue, and reflected upward rise,
Even as a pilgrim bent on his return;
So of her act, that through the eyesight pass’d        50
Into my fancy, mine was form’d: and straight,
Beyond our mortal wont, I fix’d mine eyes
Upon the sun. Much is allow’d us there,
That here exceeds our power; thanks to the place
Made for the dwelling of the human kind.        55
  I suffer’d it not long; and yet so long,
That I beheld it bickering sparks around,
As iron that comes boiling from the fire.
And suddenly upon the day appear’d
A day new-risen; as he, who hath the power,        60
Had with another sun bedeck’d the sky.
  Her eyes fast fix’d on the eternal wheels,
Beatrice stood unmoved; and I with ken
Fix’d upon her, from upward gaze removed,
At her aspect, such inwardly became        65
As Glaucus, when he tasted of the herb
That made him peer among the ocean gods:
Words may not tell of that trans-human change;
And therefore let the example serve, though weak,
For those whom grace hath better proof in store.        70
  If I were only what thou didst create,
Then newly, Love! by whom the Heaven is ruled;
Thou know’st, who by Thy light didst bear me up.
Whenas the wheel which Thou dost ever guide,
Desired Spirit! with its harmony,        75
Temper’d of Thee and measured, charm’d mine ear,
Then seem’d to me so much of Heaven to blaze
With the sun’s flame, that rain or flood ne’er made
A lake so broad. The newness of the sound,
And that great light, inflamed me with desire,        80
Keener than e’er was felt, to know their cause.
  Whence she, who saw me, clearly as myself,
To calm my troubled mind, before I ask’d,
Open’d her lips, and gracious thus began:
“With false imagination thou thyself        85
Makest dull; so that thou seest not the thing,
Which thou hadst seen, had that been shaken off.
Thou art not on the earth as thou believest;
For lightning, scaped from its own proper place,
Ne’er ran, as thou has hither now return’d.”        90
  Although divested of my first-raised doubt
By those brief words accompanied with smiles,
Yet in new doubt was I entangled more,
And said: “Already satisfied, I rest
From admiration deep; but now admire        95
How I above those lighter bodies rise.”
  Whence, after utterance of a piteous sigh,
She toward me bent her eyes, with such a look,
As on her frenzied child a mother casts;
Then thus began: “Among themselves all things        100
Have order; and from hence the form, 7 which makes
The universe resemble God. In this
The higher creatures see the printed steps
Of that eternal worth, which is the end
Whither the line is drawn. 8 All natures lean,        105
In this their order, diversely; some more,
Some less approaching to their primal source.
Thus they to different havens are moved on
Through the vast sea of being, and each one
With instinct given, that bears it in its course:        110
This to the lunar sphere directs the fire;
This moves the hearts of mortal animals;
This the brute earth together knits, and binds.
Nor only creatures, void of intellect,
Are aim’d at by this bow; but even those,        115
That have intelligence and love, are pierced.
That Providence, who so well orders all,
With her own light makes ever calm the Heaven, 9
In which the substance, that hath greatest speed, 10
Is turn’d: and thither now, as to our seat        120
Predestined, we are carried by the force
Of that strong cord, that never looses dart
But at fair aim and glad. Yet is it true,
That as, oft-times, but ill accords the form
To the design of art, through sluggishness        125
Or unreplying matter; so this course
Is sometimes quitted by the creature, who
Hath power, directed thus, to bend elsewhere;
As from a cloud the fire is seen to fall,
From its original impulse warp’d, to earth,        130
By vitious fondness. Thou no more admire
Thy soaring (if I rightly deem) that lapse
Of torrent downward from a mountain’s height.
There would in thee for wonder be more cause,
If, free of hindrance, thou hadst stay’d below,        135
As living fire unmoved upon the earth.”
  So said, she turn’d toward the Heaven her face.
 
Note 1. “Thus far.” He appears to mean nothing more than that this part of his poem will require a greater exertion of his powers than the former. [back]
Note 2. “Do thou.” Make me thine instrument; and, through me, utter such sound as when thou didst contend with Marsyas. [back]
Note 3. “Where the four circles, the horizon, the zodiac, the equator, and the equinoctial colure join; the last three intersecting each other so as to form three crosses, as may be seen in the armillary sphere.” [back]
Note 4. Aries. Some understand the planet Venus by the “migliore stella.” [back]
Note 5. “Morning there.” It was morning where he then was, and about eventide on the earth. [back]
Note 6. “To the left.” Being in the opposite hemisphere to ours, Beatrice, that she may behold the rising sun, turns herself to the left. [back]
Note 7. This order it is, that gives to the universe the form of unity, and therefore resemblance to God. [back]
Note 8. All things, as they have their beginning from the Supreme Being, so are they referred to Him  gain. [back]
Note 9. “The Heaven.” The empyrean, which is always motionless. [back]
Note 10. “The substance, etc.” The primum mobile. [back]
 

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