Reference > Fiction > Nonfiction > Warner, et al., eds. > The Library

C.D. Warner, et al., comp.  The Library of the World’s Best Literature.
An Anthology in Thirty Volumes.  1917.
From the ‘Divine Comedy’
By Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)
Translation of Charles Eliot Norton

The Entrance on the Journey through the Eternal World
  [Dante, astray in a wood, reaches the foot of a hill which he begins to ascend; he is hindered by three beasts; he turns back and is met by Virgil, who proposes to guide him into the eternal world.]

MIDWAY upon the road of our life I found myself within a dark wood, for the right way had been missed. Ah! how hard a thing it is to tell what this wild and rough and dense wood was, which in thought renews the fear! So bitter is it that death is little more. But in order to treat of the good that I found, I will tell of the other things that I saw there. I cannot well recount how I entered it, so full was I of slumber at that point where I abandoned the true way. But after I had arrived at the foot of a hill, where that valley ended which had pierced my heart with fear, I looked on high and saw its shoulders clothed already with the rays of the planet 1 that leads men aright along every path. Then was the fear a little quieted which in the lake of my heart had lasted through the night that I passed so piteously. And even as one who, with spent breath, issued out of the sea upon the shore, turns to the perilous water and gazes, so did my soul, which still was flying, turn back to look again upon the pass which never had a living person left.  1
  After I had rested a little my weary body, I took my way again along the desert slope, so that the firm foot was always the lower. And lo! almost at the beginning of the steep a she-leopard, light and very nimble, which was covered with a spotted coat. And she did not move from before my face, nay, rather hindered so my road that to return I oftentimes had turned.  2
  The time was at the beginning of the morning, and the Sun was mounting upward with those stars that were with him when Love Divine first set in motion those beautiful things; 2 so that the hour of the time and the sweet season were occasion of good hope to me concerning that wild beast with the dappled skin. But not so that the sight which appeared to me of a lion did not give me fear. He seemed to be coming against me, with head high and with ravening hunger, so that it seemed that the air was affrighted at him. And a she-wolf, who with all cravings seemed laden in her meagreness, and already had made folk to live forlorn,—she caused me so much heaviness, with the fear that came from sight of her, that I lost hope of the height. 3 And such as he is who gains willingly, and the time arrives that makes him lose, who in all his thoughts weeps and is sad,—such made me the beast without repose that, coming on against me, little by little was pushing me back thither where the Sun is silent.  3
  While I was falling back to the low place, before mine eyes appeared one who through long silence seemed faint-voiced. When I saw him in the great desert, “Have pity on me!” I cried to him, “whatso thou art, or shade or real man.” He answered me:—“Not man; man once I was, and my parents were Lombards, and Mantuans by country both. I was born sub Julio, though late, and I lived at Rome under the good Augustus, in the time of the false and lying gods. Poet was I, and sang of that just son of Anchises who came from Troy after proud Ilion had been burned. But thou, why returnest thou to so great annoy? Why dost thou not ascend the delectable mountain which is the source and cause of every joy?” “Art thou then that Virgil and that fount which poureth forth so large a stream of speech?” replied I to him with bashful front: “O honor and light of the other poets! may the long study avail me, and the great love, which have made me search thy volume! Thou art my master and my author; thou alone art he from whom I took the fair style that has done me honor. Behold the beast because of which I turned; help me against her, famous sage, for she makes my veins and pulses tremble.” “Thee it behoves to hold another course,” he replied when he saw me weeping, “if thou wishest to escape from this savage place: for this beast, because of which thou criest out, lets not any one pass along her way, but so hinders him that she kills him; and she has a nature so malign and evil that she never sates her greedy will, and after food is hungrier than before. Many are the animals with which she wives, and there shall be more yet, till the hound shall come that will make her die of grief…. He shall hunt her through every town till he shall have set her back in hell, there whence envy first sent her forth. Wherefore I think and deem it for thy best that thou follow me, and I will be thy guide and will lead thee hence through the eternal place where thou shalt hear the despairing shrieks, shalt see the ancient spirits woful who each proclaim the second death. And then thou shalt see those who are contented in the fire, because they hope to come, whenever it may be, to the blessed folk; to whom if thou wilt thereafter ascend, there shall be a soul more worthy than I for that. With her I will leave thee at my departure; for that Emperor who reigneth thereabove, because I was rebellious to his law, wills not that into his city any one should come through me. In all parts he governs and there he reigns: there is his city and his lofty seat. O happy he whom thereto he elects!” And I to him:—“Poet, I beseech thee by that God whom thou didst not know, in order that I may escape this ill and worse, that thou lead me thither where thou now hast said, so that I may see the gate of St. Peter, and those whom thou makest so afflicted.”  4
  Then he moved on, and I behind him kept.  5
The Entrance on the Journey through the Eternal World, Continued
  [Dante, doubtful of his own powers, is discouraged. Virgil cheers him by telling him that he has been sent to his aid by a blessed Spirit from Heaven. Dante casts off fear, and the poets proceed.]

THE DAY was going, and the dusky air was taking the living things that are on earth from their fatigues, and I alone was preparing to sustain the war alike of the road, and of the woe which the mind that errs not shall retrace. O Muses, O lofty genius, now assist me! O mind that didst inscribe that which I saw, here shall thy nobility appear! I began:—
  “Poet, that guidest me, consider my virtue, if it be sufficient, ere to the deep pass thou trustest me. Thou sayest that the parent of Silvius while still corruptible went to the immortal world and was there in the body. Wherefore if the Adversary of every ill was then courteous, thinking on the high effect that should proceed from him, and on the Who and the What, 4 it seemeth not unmeet to a man of understanding; for in the empyreal heaven he had been chosen for father of revered Rome and of her empire; both which (to say truth indeed) were ordained for the holy place where the successor of the greater Peter has his seat. Through this going, whereof thou givest him vaunt, he learned things which were the cause of his victory and of the papal mantle! Afterward the Chosen Vessel went thither to bring thence comfort to that faith which is the beginning of the way of salvation. But I, why go I thither? or who concedes it? I am not Æneas, I am not Paul; me worthy of this, neither I nor others think; wherefore if I give myself up to go, I fear lest the going may be mad. Thou art wise, thou understandest better than I speak.”  7
  And as is he who unwills what he willed, and because of new thoughts changes his design, so that he quite withdraws from beginning, such I became on that dark hillside; wherefore in my thought I abandoned the enterprise which had been so hasty in its beginning.  8
  “If I have rightly understood thy speech,” replied that shade of the magnanimous one, “thy soul is hurt by cowardice, which oftentimes encumbers a man so that it turns him back from honorable enterprise, as false seeing doth a beast when it is startled. In order that thou loose thee from this fear I will tell thee wherefore I have come, and what I heard at the first moment that I grieved for thee. I was among those who are suspended, 5 and a Lady called me, so blessed and beautiful that I besought her to command. Her eyes were more lucent than the star, and she began to speak to me sweet and low, with angelic voice, in her own tongue:—‘O courteous Mantuan soul! of whom the fame yet lasts in the world, and shall last so long as the world endures, a friend of mine and not of fortune is upon the desert hillside, so hindered on his road that he has turned for fear; and I am afraid, through that which I have heard of him in heaven, lest he already be so astray that I may have risen late to his succor. Now do thou move, and with thy speech ornate, and with whatever is needful for his deliverance, assist him so that I may be consoled for him. I am Beatrice who make thee go. I come from a place whither I desire to return. Love moved me, and makes me speak. When I shall be before my Lord, I will commend thee often to him.’ Then she was silent, and thereon I began:—‘O Lady of Virtue, thou alone through whom the human race surpasses all contained within that heaven which has the smallest circles! 6 so pleasing unto me is thy command that to obey it, were it already done, were slow to me. Thou hast no need further to open unto me thy will; but tell me the cause why thou guardest not thyself from descending down here into this centre, from the ample place whither thou burnest to return.’ ‘Since thou wishest to know so inwardly, I will tell thee briefly,’ she replied to me, ‘wherefore I am not afraid to come here within. One ought to be afraid of those things only that have power to do another harm; of other things not, for they are not fearful. I am made by God, thanks be to him, such that your misery touches me not, nor does the flame of this burning assail me. A gentle Lady is in heaven who hath pity for this hindrance whereto I send thee, so that stern judgment there above she breaks. She summoned Lucia in her request, and said, “Thy faithful one now hath need of thee, and unto thee I commend him.” Lucia, 7 the foe of every cruel one, rose and came to the place where I was, seated with the ancient Rachael. She said:—“Beatrice, true praise of God, why dost thou not succor him who so loved thee that for thee he came forth from the vulgar throng? Dost thou not hear the pity of his plaint? Dost thou not see the death that combats him beside the stream whereof the sea hath no vaunt?” In the world never were persons swift to seek their good, and to fly their harm, as I, after these words were uttered, came here below, from my blessed seat, putting my trust in thy upright speech, which honors thee and them who have heard it.’ After she had said this to me, weeping she turned her lucent eyes, whereby she made me more speedy in coming. And I came to thee as she willed. Thee have I delivered from that wild beast that took from thee the short ascent of the beautiful mountain. What is it then? Why, why dost thou hold back? why dost thou harbor such cowardice in thy heart? why hast thou not daring and boldness, since three blessed Ladies care for thee in the court of Heaven, and my speech pledges thee such good?”  9
  As flowerets, bent and closed by the chill of night, after the sun shines on them straighten themselves all open on their stem, so my weak virtue became, and such good daring hastened to my heart that I began like one enfranchised:—“O compassionate she who succored! and thou courteous who didst speedily obey the true words that she addressed to thee! Thou by thy words hast so disposed my heart with desire of going, that I have returned unto my first intent. Go on now, for one sole will is in us both: thou leader, thou Lord, and thou Master.” Thus I said to him; and when he had moved on, I entered along the deep and savage road.  10
The Punishment of Carnal Sinners
  [The Second Circle, that of Carnal Sinners.—Minos.—Shades renowned of old.—Francesca da Rimini.]

THUS I descended from the first circle down into the second, which girdles less space, and so much more woe that it goads to wailing. There abides Minos horribly, and snarls; he examines the sins at the entrance; he judges, and he sends according as he entwines himself. I mean that when the miscreant spirit comes there before him, it confesses itself wholly, and that discerner of sins sees what place of Hell is for it; he girdles himself with his tail so many times as the degrees he wills it should be sent down. Always before him stand many of them. They go, in turn, each to the judgment; they speak, and hear, and then are whirled below.
  “O thou that comest to the woful inn,” said Minos to me, when he saw me, leaving the act of so great an office, “beware how thou enterest, and to whom thou intrustest thyself; let not the amplitude of the entrance deceive thee.” And my Leader to him, “Why then dost thou cry out? Hinder not his fated going; thus is it willed there where is power to do that which is willed; and ask thou no more.”  12
  Now the woful notes begin to make themselves heard; now am I come where much lamentation smites me. I had come into a place mute of all light, that bellows as the sea does in a tempest, if it be combated by opposing winds. The infernal hurricane that never rests carries along the spirits with its rapine; whirling and smiting it molests them. When they arrive before its rushing blast, here are shrieks, and bewailing, and lamenting; here they blaspheme the power Divine. I understood that to such torment are condemned the carnal sinners who subject reason unto lust. And as their wings bear along the starlings in the cold season in a troop large and full, so that blast the evil spirits; hither, thither, down, up, it carries them; no hope ever comforts them, not of repose, but even of less pain.  13
  And as the cranes go singing their lays, making in air a long line of themselves, so saw I come, uttering wails, shades borne along by the aforesaid strife. Wherefore I said, “Master, who are those folk whom the black air so castigates?” “The first of these of whom thou wishest to have knowledge,” said he to me then, “was empress of many tongues. To the vice of luxury was she so abandoned that lust she made licit in her law, to take away the blame she had incurred. She is Semiramis, of whom it is read that she succeeded Ninus and had been his spouse; she held the land which the Soldan rules. The other is she who, for love, slew herself and broke faith to the ashes of Sichæus. Next is Cleopatra, the luxurious. See Helen, for whom so long a time of ill revolved; and see the great Achilles, who at the end fought with love. See Paris, Tristan—” and more than a thousand shades he showed me with his finger, and named them whom love had parted from our life.  14
  After I had heard my Teacher name the dames of eld and the cavaliers, pity overcame me, and I was well-nigh bewildered. I began, “Poet, willingly would I speak with those two that go together, and seem to be so light upon the wind.” And he to me, “Thou shalt see when they shall be nearer to us, and do thou then pray them by that love which leads them, and they will come.” Soon as the wind sways them toward us I lifted my voice: “O weary souls, come speak to us, if One forbid it not.”  15
  As doves, called by desire, with wings open and steady, fly through the air to their sweet nest, borne by their will, these issued from the troop where Dido is, coming to us through the malign air, so strong was the compassionate cry:—  16
  “O living creature, gracious and benign, that goest through the lurid air visiting us who stained the world blood-red,—if the King of the universe were a friend we would pray him for thy peace, since thou hast pity on our perverse ill. Of what it pleases thee to hear, and what to speak, we will hear and we will speak to you, while the wind, as now, is hushed for us. The city where I was born sits upon the sea-shore, where the Po, with his followers, descends to have peace. Love, that on gentle heart quickly lays hold, seized him for the fair person that was taken from me, and the mode still hurts me. Love, which absolves no loved one from loving, seized me for the pleasing of him so strongly that, as thou seest, it does not even now abandon me. Love brought us to one death. Caina waits him who quenched our life.” These words were borne to us from them.  17
  Soon as I had heard those injured souls I bowed my face, and held it down, until the Poet said to me, “What art thou thinking?” When I replied, I began:—“Alas! how many sweet thoughts, how great desire, led these unto the woful pass.” Then I turned me again to them, and I spoke, and began, “Francesca, thy torments make me sad and piteous to weeping. But tell me, at the time of the sweet sighs by what and how did love concede to you to know the dubious desires?” And she to me, “There is no greater woe than in misery to remember the happy time, and that thy Teacher knows. But if to know the first root of our love thou hast so great a longing, I will do like one who weeps and tells.  18
  “We were reading one day, for delight, of Lancelot, how love constrained him. We were alone and without any suspicion. Many times that reading made us lift our eyes, and took the color from our faces, but only one point was that which overcame us. When we read of the longed-for smile being kissed by such a lover, this one, who never from me shall be divided, kissed my mouth all trembling. Galahaut 8 was the book, and he who wrote it. That day we read in it no farther.”  19
  While one spirit said this, the other was weeping so that through pity I swooned as if I had been dying, and fell as a dead body falls.  20
The Final Purgation
  [Seventh Ledge: the Lustful.—Passage through the flames.—Stairway in the rock.—Night upon the stairs.—Dream of Dante.—Morning.—Ascent to the Earthly Paradise.—Last words of Virgil.]

AS when he darts forth his first rays there where his Maker shed his blood (Ebro falling under the lofty Scales, and the waves in the Ganges scorched by noon), so the sun was now standing; so that the day was departing, when the glad Angel of God appeared to us. 9 Outside the flame he was standing on the bank, and was singing “Beati mundo corde” [Blessed are the pure in heart], in a voice far more living than ours: then, “No one goes further, ye holy souls, if first the fire sting not; enter into it, and to the song beyond be ye not deaf,” he said to us, when we were near him. Whereat I became such, when I heard him, as is he who in the pit is put. 10 With hands clasped upwards, I stretched forward, looking at the fire, and imagining vividly human bodies I had once seen burnt. The good Escorts turned toward me, and Virgil said to me, “My son, here may be torment, but not death. Bethink thee! bethink thee! and if I even upon Geryon guided thee safe, what shall I do now that I am nearer God? Believe for certain that if within the belly of this flame thou shouldst stand full a thousand years, it could not make thee bald of one hair. And if thou perchance believest that I deceive thee, draw near to it, and make trial for thyself with thine own hands on the hem of thy garments. Put aside now, put aside every fear; turn hitherward, and come on secure.”
  And I still motionless and against conscience!  22
  When he saw me still stand motionless and obdurate, he said, disturbed a little, “Now see, son, between Beatrice and thee is this wall.”  23
  As at the name of Thisbe, Pyramus, at point of death, opened his eyelids and looked at her, what time the mulberry became vermilion, so, my obduracy becoming softened, I turned me to the wise Leader, hearing the name that in my memory is ever welling up. Whereat he nodded his head, and said, “How! do we want to stay on this side?” Then he smiled as one doth at a child who is conquered by an apple.  24
  Then within the fire he set himself before me, praying Statius that he would come behind, who previously, on the long road, had divided us. When I was in, into boiling glass I would have thrown myself to cool me, so without measure was the burning there. My sweet Father, to encourage me, went talking ever of Beatrice, saying, “I seem already to see her eyes.”  25
  A voice was guiding us, which was singing on the other side, and we, ever attentive to it, came forth there where was the ascent. “Venite, benedicti Patris mei” [Come, ye blessed of my Father], sounded within a light that was there such that it overcame me, and I could not look on it. “The sun departs,” it added, “and the evening comes; tarry not, but hasten your steps so long as the west grows not dark.”  26
  The way mounted straight, through the rock, in such direction that I cut off in front of me the rays of the sun which was already low. And of few stairs had we made essay ere, by the vanishing of the shadow, both I and my Sages perceived behind us the setting of the sun. And before the horizon in all its immense regions had become of one aspect, and night had all her dispensations, each of us made of a stair his bed; for the nature of the mountain took from us the power more than the delight of ascending.  27
  As goats, who have been swift and wayward on the peaks ere they are fed, become tranquil as they ruminate, silent in the shade while the sun is hot, watched by the herdsman, who on his staff is leaning and leaning guards them; and as the shepherd, who lodges out of doors, passes the night beside his quiet flock, watching that the wild beast may not scatter it: such were we all three then, I like a goat, and they like shepherds, hemmed in on this side and on that by the high rock. Little of the outside could there appear, but through that little I saw the stars both brighter and larger than their wont. Thus ruminating, and thus gazing upon them, sleep overcame me, sleep which oft before a deed be done knows news thereof.  28
  At the hour, I think, when from the east on the mountain first beamed Cytherea, who with fire of love seems always burning, I seemed in dream to see a lady, young and beautiful, going through a meadow gathering flowers, and singing; she was saying, “Let him know, whoso asks my name, that I am Leah, and I go moving my fair hands around to make myself a garland. To please me at the glass here I adorn me, but my sister Rachel never withdraws from her mirror, and sits all day. She is as fain to look with her fair eyes as I to adorn me with my hands. Her seeing, and me doing, satisfies.” 11  29
  And now before the splendors which precede the dawn, and rise the more grateful unto pilgrims as in returning they lodge less remote, 12 the shadows fled away on every side, and my sleep with them; whereupon I rose, seeing my great Masters already risen. “That pleasant apple which through so many branches the care of mortals goes seeking, to-day shall put in peace thy hungerings.” Virgil used words such as these toward me, and never were there gifts which could be equal in pleasure to these. Such wish upon wish came to me to be above, that at every step thereafter I felt the feathers growing for my flight.  30
  When beneath us all the stairway had been run, and we were on the topmost step, Virgil fixed his eyes on me, and said, “The temporal fire and the eternal thou hast seen, son, and art come to a place where of myself no further onward I discern. I have brought thee here with understanding and with art: thine own pleasure now take thou for guide; forth art thou from the steep ways, forth art thou from the narrow. See there the sun, which on thy front doth shine; see the young grass, the flowers, the shrubs, which here the earth of itself alone produces. Until rejoicing come the beautiful eyes which weeping made me come to thee, thou canst sit down and thou canst go among them. Expect no more or word or sign from me. Free, upright, and sane is thine own free will, and it would be wrong not to act according to its pleasure; wherefore thee over thyself I crown and mitre.”  31
The Meeting with His Lady in the Earthly Paradise
  [Beatrice appears.—Departure of Virgil.—Reproof of Dante by Beatrice.—Confession of Dante.—Passage of Lethe.—Unveiling of Beatrice.]

WHEN the septentrion of the first heaven, 13 which never setting knew, nor rising, nor veil of other cloud than sin,—and which was making every one there acquainted with his duty, as the lower 14 makes whoever turns the helm to come to port,—stopped still, the truthful people who had come first between the griffon and it, turned to the chariot as to their peace, and one of them, as if sent from heaven, singing, cried thrice, “Veni, sponsa, de Libano” [Come with me from Lebanon, my spouse], and all the others after.
  As the blessed at the last trump will arise swiftly, each from his tomb, singing Hallelujah with recovered voice, so upon the divine chariot, ad vocem tanti senis [at the voice of so great an elder], rose up a hundred ministers and messengers of life eternal. All were saying, “Benedictus, qui venis” [Blessed thou that comest], and, scattering flowers above and around, “Manibus o date lilia plenis” [Oh, give lilies with full hands]. 15  33
  I have seen ere now at the beginning of the day the eastern region all rosy, while the rest of the heaven was beautiful with fair clear sky; and the face of the sun rise shaded, so that through the tempering of vapors the eye sustained it a long while. Thus within a cloud of flowers, which from the angelic hands was ascending, and falling down again within and without, a lady, with olive wreath above a white veil, appeared to me, robed with the color of living flame beneath a green mantle. 16 And my spirit that now for so long a time had not been broken down, trembling with amazement at her presence, without having more knowledge by the eyes, through occult virtue that proceeded from her, felt the great potency of ancient love.  34
  Soon as upon my sight the lofty virtue smote, which already had transfixed me ere I was out of boyhood, I turned me to the left with the confidence with which the little child runs to his mother when he is frightened, or when he is troubled, to say to Virgil, “Less than a drachm of blood remains in me that doth not tremble; I recognize the signals of the ancient flame,” 17—but Virgil had left us deprived of himself; Virgil, sweetest Father, Virgil, to whom I for my salvation gave me. Nor did all which the ancient mother lost 18 avail unto my cheeks, cleansed with dew, 19 that they should not turn dark again with tears.  35
  “Dante, though Virgil be gone away, weep not yet, for it behoves thee to weep by another sword.”  36
  Like an admiral who, on poop or on prow, comes to see the people that are serving on the other ships, and encourages them to do well, upon the left border of the chariot—when I turned me at the sound of my own name, which of necessity is registered here—I saw the Lady, who had first appeared to me veiled beneath the angelic festival, directing her eyes toward me across the stream; although the veil which descended from her head, circled by the leaf of Minerva, did not allow her to appear distinctly. Royally, still haughty in her mien, she went on, as one who speaks and keeps back his warmest speech: “Look at me well: I am indeed, I am indeed Beatrice. How hast thou deigned to approach the mountain? Didst thou know that man is happy here?” My eyes fell down into the clear fount; but seeing myself in it I drew them to the grass, such great shame burdened my brow. As to the son the mother seems proud, so she seemed to me; for somewhat bitter tasteth the savor of stern pity.  37
  She was silent, and the angels sang of a sudden, “In te, Domine, speravi” [In thee, O Lord, do I put my trust]; 20 but beyond “pedes meos” [my feet] they did not pass. Even as the snow, among the living rafters upon the back of Italy, is congealed, blown, and packed by Slavonian winds, then melting trickles through itself, if only the land that loses shadow 21 breathe so that it seems a fire that melts the candle: so was I without tears and sighs before the song of those who time their notes after the notes of the eternal circles. But when I heard in their sweet accords their compassion for me, more than if they had said, “Lady, why dost thou so confound him?” the ice that was bound tight around my heart became breath and water, and with anguish poured from my breast through my mouth and eyes.  38
  She, still standing motionless on the aforesaid side of the chariot, then turned her words to those pious 22 beings thus:—“Ye watch in the eternal day, so that nor night nor slumber robs from you one step the world may make along its ways; wherefore my reply is with greater care, that he who is weeping yonder may understand me, so that fault and grief may be of one measure. Not only through the working of the great wheels, 23 which direct every seed to some end according as the stars are its companions, but through largess of divine graces, which have for their rain vapors so lofty that our sight goes not near thereto,—this man was such in his new life, virtually, that every right habit would have made admirable proof in him. But so much the more malign and more savage becomes the land ill-sown and untilled, as it has more of good terrestrial vigor. Some time did I sustain him with my face; showing my youthful eyes to him, I led him with me turned in right direction. So soon as I was upon the threshold of my second age, and had changed life, this one took himself from me, and gave himself to others. When from flesh to spirit I had ascended, and beauty and virtue were increased in me, I was less dear and less pleasing to him; and he turned his steps along a way not true, following false images of good, which pay no promise in full. Nor did it avail me to win by entreaty 24 inspirations with which, both in dream and otherwise, I called him back; so little did he heed them. So low he fell that all means for his salvation were already short, save showing him the lost people. 25 For this I visited the gate of the dead, and to him, who has conducted him up hither, my prayers were borne with weeping. The high decree of God would be broken, if Lethe should be passed, and such viands should be tasted without any scot of repentance which may pour forth tears.  39
  “O thou who art on the further side of the sacred river,” turning her speech with the point to me, which only by the edge had seemed to me keen, she began anew, going on without delay, “say, say if this be true: to so great an accusation it behoves that thine own confession be conjoined.” My power was so confused that my voice moved, and became extinct before it could be released by its organs. A little she bore it; then she said, “What thinkest thou? Reply to me; for the sad memories in thee are not yet injured by the water.” 26 Confusion and fear together mingled forced such a “Yes” from my mouth that the eyes were needed for the understanding of it.  40
  As a crossbow breaks its cord and its bow when it shoots with too great tension, and with less force the shaft hits the mark, so did I burst under that heavy load, pouring forth tears and sighs, and the voice slackened along its passage. Whereupon she to me:—“Within those desires of mine 27 that were leading thee to love the Good beyond which there is nothing whereto man may aspire, what trenches running traverse, or what chains didst thou find, for which thou wert obliged thus to abandon the hope of passing onward? And what enticements, or what advantages on the brow of the others 28 were displayed, for which thou wert obliged to court them?” After the drawing of a bitter sigh, hardly had I the voice that answered, and the lips with difficulty gave it form. Weeping, I said, “The present things with their false pleasure turned my steps soon as your face was hidden.” And she:—“Hadst thou been silent, or hadst thou denied that which thou dost confess, thy fault would be not less noted, by such a Judge is it known. But when the accusation of the sin bursts from one’s own cheek, in our court the wheel turns itself back against the edge. But yet, that thou mayst now bear shame for thy error, and that another time, hearing the Sirens, thou mayst be stronger, lay aside the seed of weeping and listen; so shalt thou hear how in opposite direction my buried flesh ought to have moved thee. Never did nature or art present to thee pleasure such as the fair limbs wherein I was inclosed; and they are scattered in earth. And if the supreme pleasure thus failed thee through my death, what mortal things ought then to have drawn thee into its desire? Forsooth thou oughtest, at the first arrow of things deceitful, to have risen up, following me who was no longer such. Nor should thy wings have weighed thee downward to await more blows, either girl or other vanity of so brief a use. The young little bird awaits two or three; but before the eyes of the full-fledged the net is spread in vain, the arrow shot.”  41
  As children, ashamed, dumb, with eyes upon the ground, stand listening and conscience-stricken and repentant, so was I standing. And she said, “Since through hearing thou art grieved, lift up thy beard and thou shalt receive more grief in seeing.” With less resistance is a sturdy oak uprooted by a native wind, or by one from the land of Iarbas, 29 than I raised up my chin at her command; and when by the beard she asked for my eyes, truly I recognized the venom of the argument. 30 And as my face stretched upward, my sight perceived that those primal creatures were resting from their strewing, and my eyes, still little assured, saw Beatrice turned toward the animal that is only one person in two natures. Beneath her veil and beyond the stream she seemed to me more to surpass her ancient self, than she surpassed the others here when she was here. So pricked me there the nettle of repentance, that of all other things the one which most turned me aside unto its love became most hostile to me. 31  42
  Such contrition stung my heart that I fell overcome; and what I then became she knows who afforded me the cause.  43
  Then, when my heart restored my outward faculties, I saw above me the lady whom I had found alone, 32 and she was saying, “Hold me, hold me.” She had drawn me into the stream up to the throat, and dragging me behind was moving upon the water light as a shuttle. When I was near the blessed shore, “Asperges me” 33 I heard so sweetly that I cannot remember it, far less can write it. The beautiful lady opened her arms, clasped my head, and plunged me in where it behoved that I should swallow the water. Then she took me, and, thus bathed, brought me within the dance of the four beautiful ones, 34 and each of them covered me with her arm. “Here we are nymphs, and in heaven we are stars; ere Beatrice had descended to the world we were ordained unto her for her handmaids. We will lead thee to her eyes; but in the joyous light which is within them, the three yonder 35 who deeper gaze shall make keen thine own.” Thus singing they began; and then to the breast of the griffon they led me with them, where Beatrice was standing turned toward us. They said, “See that thou sparest not thy sight: we have placed thee before the emeralds whence Love of old drew his arrows upon thee.” A thousand desires hotter than flame bound my eyes to the relucent eyes which only upon the griffon were standing fixed. As the sun in a mirror, not otherwise, the twofold animal was gleaming therewithin, now with one, now with another mode. 36 Think, Reader, if I marveled when I saw the thing stand quiet in itself, while in its image it was transmuting itself.  44
  While, full of amazement and glad, my soul was tasting that food which, sating of itself, causes hunger for itself, the other three, showing themselves in their bearing of loftier order, came forward dancing to their angelic melody. “Turn, Beatrice, turn thy holy eyes,” was their song, “upon thy faithful one, who to see thee has taken so many steps. For grace do us the grace that thou unveil to him thy mouth, so that he may discern the second beauty which thou concealest.”  45
  O splendor of living light eternal! Who hath become so pallid under the shadow of Parnassus, or hath so drunk at its cistern, that he would not seem to have his mind incumbered, trying to represent thee as thou didst appear there where in harmony the heaven overshadows thee, when in the open air thou didst thyself disclose?  46
The Beatific Vision
  [Dante, having been brought by Beatrice to Paradise in the Empyrean, is left by her in charge of St. Bernard, while she takes her place among the blessed.—Prayer of St. Bernard to the Virgin.—Her intercession.—The vision of God.—The end of desire.]

“VIRGIN MOTHER, daughter of thine own Son, humble and exalted more than any creature, fixed term of the eternal counsel, thou art she who didst so ennoble human nature that its own Maker disdained not to become His own making. Within thy womb was rekindled the love through whose warmth this flower has thus blossomed in the eternal peace. Here thou art to us the noonday torch of charity, and below, among mortals, thou art the living fount of hope. Lady, thou art so great, and so availest, that whoso wishes grace, and has not recourse to thee, wishes his desire to fly without wings. Thy benignity not only succors him who asks, but oftentimes freely foreruns the asking. In thee mercy, in thee pity, in thee magnificence, in thee whatever of goodness is in any creature, are united. Now doth this man, who, from the lowest abyss of the universe, far even as here, has seen one by one the lives of spirits, supplicate thee, through grace, for virtue such that he may be able with his eyes to uplift himself higher toward the Ultimate Salvation. And I, who never for my own vision burned more than I do for his, proffer to thee all my prayers, and pray that they be not scant, that with thy prayers thou wouldst dissipate for him every cloud of his mortality, so that the Supreme Pleasure may be displayed to him. Further I pray thee, Queen, who canst what so thou wilt, that, after so great a vision, thou wouldst preserve his affections sound. May thy guardianship vanquish human impulses. Behold Beatrice with all the blessed for my prayers clasp their hands to thee.”
  The eyes beloved and revered by God, fixed on the speaker, showed to us how pleasing unto her are devout prayers. Then to the Eternal Light were they directed, on which it is not to be believed that eye so clear is turned by any creature.  48
  And I, who to the end of all desires was approaching, even as I ought, ended within myself the ardor of my longings. Bernard was beckoning to me, and was smiling, that I should look upward; but I was already, of my own accord, such as he wished; for my sight, becoming pure, was entering more and more through the radiance of the lofty Light which of itself is true. 37  49
  Thenceforward my vision was greater than our speech, which yields to such a sight, and the memory yields to such excess.  50
  As is he who dreaming sees, and after the dream the passion remains imprinted, and the rest returns not to the mind, such am I; for my vision almost wholly fails, while the sweetness that was born of it yet distills within my heart. Thus the snow is by the sun unsealed; thus on the wind, in the light leaves, was lost the saying of the Sibyl.  51
  O Supreme Light, that so high upliftest Thyself from mortal conceptions, re-lend a little to my mind of what Thou didst appear, and make my tongue so powerful that it may be able to leave one single spark of Thy glory for the future people; for by returning somewhat to my memory and by sounding a little in these verses, more of Thy victory shall be conceived.  52
  I think that by the keenness of the living ray which I endured, I should have been dazzled if my eyes had been averted from it. And it comes to my mind that for this reason I was the more hardy to sustain so much, that I joined my look unto the Infinite Goodness.  53
  O abundant Grace, whereby I presumed to fix my eyes through the Eternal Light so far that there I consummated my vision!  54
  In its depth I saw that whatsoever is dispersed through the universe is there included, bound with love in one volume; substance and accidents and their modes, fused together, as it were, in such wise, that that of which I speak is one simple Light. The universal form of this knot 38 I believe that I saw, because in saying this I feel that I more abundantly rejoice. One instant only is greater oblivion for me than five-and-twenty centuries to the emprise which made Neptune wonder at the shadow of Argo. 39  55
  Thus my mind, wholly rapt, was gazing fixed, motionless, and intent, and ever with gazing grew enkindled. In that Light one becomes such that it is impossible he should ever consent to turn himself from it for other sight; because the Good which is the object of the will is all collected in it, and outside of it that is defective which is perfect there.  56
  Now will my speech be shorter even in respect to that which I remember, than an infant’s who still bathes his tongue at the breast. Not because more than one simple semblance was in the Living Light wherein I was gazing, which is always such as it was before; but through my sight, which was growing strong in me as I looked, one sole appearance, as I myself changed, was altering itself to me.  57
  Within the profound and clear subsistence of the lofty Light appeared to me three circles of three colors and of one dimension; and one appeared reflected by the other, as Iris by Iris, and the third appeared fire which from the one and from the other is equally breathed forth.  58
  O how short is the telling, and how feeble toward my conception! and this toward what I saw is such that it suffices not to call it little.  59
  O Light Eternal, that sole dwellest in Thyself, sole understandest Thyself, and, by Thyself understood and understanding, lovest and smilest on Thyself! That circle, which, thus conceived, appeared in Thee as a reflected light, being somewhile regarded by my eyes, seemed to me depicted within itself, of its own very color, by our effigy, wherefore my sight was wholly set upon it. As is the geometer who wholly applies himself to measure the circle, and finds not by thinking that principle of which he is in need, such was I at that new sight. I wished to see how the image accorded with the circle, and how it has its place therein; but my own wings were not for this, had it not been that my mind was smitten by a flash in which its wish came. 40  60
  To my high fantasy here power failed; but now my desire and my will, like a wheel which evenly is moved, the Love was turning which moves the Sun and the other stars. 41  61
Note 1. The sun,—a planet according to the Ptolemaic astronomy. [back]
Note 2. It was a common belief that the spring was the season of the creation. [back]
Note 3. These three beasts typify the division of sins into those of incontinence, of violence, and of fraud. [back]
Note 4. Who he was and What should result. [back]
Note 5. In Limbo, neither in hell nor in heaven. [back]
Note 6. The heaven of the Moon, the nearest to Earth of the nine concentric Heavens. [back]
Note 7. The type of illuminating grace. [back]
Note 8. It was Galahaut who, in the Romance, prevailed on Guinevere to give a kiss to Lancelot. [back]
Note 9. When it is sunrise at Jerusalem it is midnight in Spain, midday at the Ganges, and sunset in Purgatory. [back]
Note 10. To be buried alive. [back]
Note 11. Leah and Rachel are respectively the types of the virtuous active and contemplative life. [back]
Note 12. As they come nearer home. [back]
Note 13. In the preceding canto a mystic procession, symbolizing the Old and New Dispensation, has appeared in the Earthly Paradise. At its head were seven candlesticks, symbols of the sevenfold spirit of the Lord; it was followed by personages representing the truthful books of the Old Testament, and these by the chariot of the Church drawn by a griffon, who in his double form, half eagle and half lion, represented Christ in his double nature, human and divine. [back]
Note 14. The lower septentrion, the seven stars of the Great Bear. [back]
Note 15. Words from the Æneid (vi. 884), sung by the angels. [back]
Note 16. The olive is the symbol of wisdom and of peace; the three colors are those of Faith, Charity and Hope. [back]
Note 17. Words from the Æneid, iv. 23. [back]
Note 18. All the joy and beauty of Paradise which Eve lost, and which were now surrounding Dante. [back]
Note 19. When he had entered Purgatory. [back]
Note 20. The words are from Psalm xxxi., verses 1 to 8. [back]
Note 21. If the wind blow from Africa. [back]
Note 22. Both devout and piteous. [back]
Note 23. Through the influences of the circling heavens. [back]
Note 24. From divine grace. [back]
Note 25. In Hell. [back]
Note 26. Not yet obliterated by the waters of Lethe. [back]
Note 27. Inspired by me. [back]
Note 28. Other objects of desire. [back]
Note 29. Numidia, of which Iarbas was king. [back]
Note 30. The beard being the sign of manhood, which should be accompanied by wisdom. [back]
Note 31. The one which by its attractions most diverted me from Beatrice. [back]
Note 32. A solitary lady whom he had met on first entering the Earthly Paradise, and who had accompanied him thus far. [back]
Note 33. The first words of the 7th verse of the 51st Psalm: “Purge me with hyssop, and I shall be clean; wash me, and I shall be whiter than snow.” [back]
Note 34. The four cardinal virtues. [back]
Note 35. The three evangelic virtues. [back]
Note 36. Now with the divine, now with the human. [back]
Note 37. Light in its essence; all other light is derived from it. [back]
Note 38. This union of substance and accident. [back]
Note 39. So overwhelming was the vision that the memory could not retain it completely even for an instant. [back]
Note 40. The wish to see the mystery of the union of the two natures, the divine and human in Christ. [back]
Note 41. That Love which makes sun and stars revolve was giving a concordant revolution to my desire and my will. [back]

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