1265-1321 Dante Alighieri.

The Vision : or, Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, of Dante Alighieri online

. (page 24 of 37)
Online Library1265-1321 Dante AlighieriThe Vision : or, Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, of Dante Alighieri → online text (page 24 of 37)
Font size
QR-code for this ebook

" Those, in the eye who live the first and fifth,
Cause thee to marvel, in that thou behold'st
The region of the angels deck'd with them.
They quitted not their bodies, as thou deem'st, 95

Gentiles but Christians, in firm rooted faith,
This of the feet in future to be pierc'd.
That of feet nail'd already to the cross.
One from the barrier of the dark abyss.
Where never any with good will returns, 100


Came back unto his bones. Of lively hope

Such was the meed ; of lively hope, that wing'd

The prayers sent up to God for his release,

And ])Ut ])Ower into them to bend his will.

The i^dorious S])irit, of whom I s]>eak to thee, 105

A little while returning to the tlesh,

Believ'd in liim, who had the means to help,

And, in believing, nourish'd such a flame

Of holy love, that at the second death

He was made sharer in our gamesome mirth. 110

The other, through the riches of that grace,

VVhicli from so deep a fountain doth distil.

As never eye created saw its rising,

Plac'd all his love below on just and right :

Wherefore of grace God op'd in him the eye 115

To the redemption of mankind to come ;

"Wherein believing, he endur'd no more

The filth of paganism, and for their ways

Rebuk'd the stubborn nations. The three nymphs,

Whom at the right wheel thou bcheldst advancing, 120

Were sponsors for him more than thousand years

Before baptizing. O hoAv far remov'd,

P]-edestination ! is thy root from such.

As see not the First Cause entire : and ye,

O mortal men ! be wary how ye judge : 125

For we, who see our Maker, know not yet

The number of the chosen : and esteem

Such scantiness of knowledge our delight :

For all our good is in that primal good

Concentrate, and God's will and ours are one." 130

So, by that form divine, was giv'n to me
Sweet medicine to clear and strengthen sight,
And, as one handling skilfully the harp.
Attendant on some skilful songster's voice
Bids tlie chords vibrate, and thei'ein the song 135

Accpiires more pleasure ; so, the Avhilst it spake,
It doth remember me, that I beheld
Tlie pair of blessed luminaries move.
Like the accordant twinkling of two eyes.
Their beamy circlets, dancing to the sounds. 140



Again mine eyes were fix'd on Beatrice,
And Avilli mine eyes my soul, that in her looks
Found all contentment. Yet no smile she wore :
And, "Did I smile," quoth she, "thou wouldst be

Like Semele when into ashes turn'd : 5

For, mounting these eternal palace-stairs,
My beauty, which the loftier it climbs,
As thou hast noted, still doth kindle more.
So shines, that, were no temp'ring interpos'd,
Thy mortal puissance would from its rays 10

Shrink, as the leaf doth from the thunderbolt.
Into the seventh s])lendour are we wafted.
That underneath the burning lion's breast
Beams, in this hour, commingled with his might,
Thy mind be with thine eyes : and in tliem mirror'd 15
The shape, which in this mirror shall be shown."
Whoso can deem, how fondly I had fed
My sight upon her blissful countenance.
May know, when to new thoughts I chang'd, what joy
To do the bidding of my heav'nly guide: 20

In equal balance poising either weight.

Within the crystal, which records the name,
(As its remoter circle girds the world)
Of that lov'd monarch, in whose happy reign
Ko ill had power to harm, I saw rear'd up, 25

In colour like to sun-illumin'd gold.
A ladder, which my ken pursued in vain.
So lofty was the summit ; down whose steps
I saw the splendours in such multitude
Descending, ev'ry light in heav'n, methought, 30

Was shed thence. As the rooks, at dawn of day.
Bestirring them to dry their feathers chill.
Some s])eed their way a-field, and homeward some,
Keturning, cross their flight, while some abide
And wheel around their airy lodge ; so seem'd 35

That glitterance, wafted on alternate Aving,
As upon certain stair it met, and clash'd


Its shining. And one ling'rin<]f near us, wax'd
So brii^ht, that in my tliouii-ht I saitl : "The love,
Which this betokens me, admits no doubt." 40

Unwillingly from question I refrain,
To her, by whom my silence and my speech
Are oi'der'd, looking for a sign : whence the,
Who in the sight of Him, that seeth all,
Saw wherefore I was silent, promjited me 45

T' indulge the fervent wish ; and I began :
" I am not worthy, of my own desert,
That thou shouldst answer me ; but for her sake,
Who hath vouchsaf d my asking, spirit blest !
That in thy joy art shrouded ! say the cause, 50

Which bringeth thee so near : and wherefore, say,
Doth the sweet symphony of Paradise
Keep silence here, pervading with such sounds
Of rapt devotion ev'ry lower sphere ?"
" Mortal art thou in hearing as in sight ; " 55

Was the re])ly : " and what forbade the smile
Of Beatrice interrujits our song.
Only to yield thee gladness of my voice,
And of the light that vests me, I thus far
Descend these hallow'd steps : not that more love 60

Invites me ; for lo ! there aloft, as much
Or more of love is witness'd in those flames:
But such my lot by charity assign'd.
That makes us ready servants, as thou seest,
To execute the counsel of the Highest." 65

" That in this court," said I, " O sacred lamp !
Love no compulsion needs, but follows free
Th' eternal Providence, I well discern :
This harder find to deem, why of thy peers
Thou only to this office wert foredoom'd." 70

I had not ended, when, like rapid mill,
Upon its centre whirl'd the light ; and then
The love, that did inhabit there, replied :
" Splendour eternal, piercing through these folds.
Its virtue to my vision knits, and thus 7^

Supported, lifts me so above myself,
That on the sov'ran essence, which it wells from,

.')!() I'AllADISR.

I have flip power to gaze : and lionce tlie joy,

Whei-owitli I sparkle, equalling with my blaze

The keeniiL'bs of my sight. But not the soul, 80 !

That is in heav'n most lustrous, nor the seraph j

That hatli his eyes most fix'd on God, shall solve |

What thou hast ask'd : for in th' abyss it lies |

Of th' everlasting statute sunk so low, (

That no created ken may fatiiom it. 85

And, to the mortal world when thou return'st,

])e tliis reported ; that none henceforth dare \

Direct his footsteps to so dread a bourn. f

The mind, that here is radiant, on the earth

Is wrapt in mist. Look then if she may do, 90

Below, what passeth her ability, i

When she is ta'en to heav'n." By Avords like these i

Admonish'd, I the question urg'd no more; * \

And of the spirit humbly sued alone |

T' instruct me of its state. " 'Twixt either shore 95 1

Of Italy, nor distant from thy land,

A stony ridge ariseth, in such sort.

The thunder doth not lift his voice so high, |

They call it Catria : at whose foot a cell t

Is sacred to the lonely Eremite, 100

For worship set apart and holy rites."

A third time thus it spake ; then added : " There I

So firmly to God's service I adher'd, |

That with no costlier viands than the juice

Of olives, easily I pass'd the heats 105 [

Of summer and the Avinter frosts, content \

In heav'n-ward musings. Rich were the returns

And fertile, which that cloister once was us'd

To render to these heavens : now 't is fall'n

Into a waste so empty, that ere long llO

Detection must lay bare its vanity

Pietro Damiano there was I y-clept :

Pietro the sinner, Avhen before I dwelt

Beside the Adriatic, in the house

Of our blest Lady. Near upon my close 115

Of mortal life, through mucli im])ortuning

I was constraiu'd to wear the hat tliat still


From bad to worse it sliiftcd. — Cej)has came;
He came, who was the Holy S]>irit'8 vessel,
Bai-efoot and lean, eating their bread, as chanc'd, lliO
At the first table. Modern Sheplierd's need
Those who on either liand may pro]i and lead them,
So biii-ly are they grown : and from behind
Others to hoist them. Down tlie ])alfrey's sides
Spread their broad mantles, so as both the beasts 125
Are cover'd with one skin. patience ! thou
That lookst on this and doth endure so long."
I at those accents saw the splendours down
P^'rom step to step alight, and ^^■heel, and wax.
Each circuiting, more beautiful. Round tliis loO

They came, and stay'd them ; uttered them a shout
So loud, it hath no likeness here : nor I
Wist what it spake, so deaf'ning was the thunder.


Astounded, to the guardian of my steps

I turn'd me, like tlie child, who alway runs

Thither for succour, where he trusteth most,

And she was like the mother, who lier son

Beholding pale and breathless, with lier voice 5

Soothes him, and he is cheer'd ; for thus she spake.

Soothing me : Know'st not thou, thou art in heav'n?

And know'st not thou, whatever is in heav'n,

Is holy, and that nothing tliere is done

But is done zealoiisly and well ? Deem now, 10

What change in thee the song, and what my smile

Had wrought, since thus the shout had i)Ow'r to move

In which couldst thou have understood their prayers,
The vengeance were already known to thee.
Which thou must witness ere tliy mortal hour, 15

The sw^rd of heav'n is not in haste to smite,
Nor yet doth linger, save unto his seeming.
Who in desire or fear doth look for it.
But elsewhere now I bid thee turn thy view ;


So shalt thou many a famous spirit l)e]iokl." 20

Mine eyes directinu^, as she will'd, I saw

A liundred little spheres, that fairer grew

IJy interchange of splendour. I remain'd,

As one, who fearful of o'er-much presuming,

Abates in him the keenness of desire, 25

Nor dares to question, when amid those pearls,

One largest and niost lustrous onward drew.

That it might yielo contentment to my wish ;

And from within it these the sounds I heard.

" If thou, like me, beheldst the charity 30

That burns amongst us, what thy mind conceives,
Were utter'd. But that, ere the lofty bound
Thou reach, expectance may not weary thee,
I will make answer even to the thought,
"Which thou hast such respect of. In old days, 35

That mountain, at whose side Cassino rests,
Was on its height frequented by a race
Deceived and ill dispos'd : and I it was,
Who thither carried first the name of Him,
Who brought the soul-subliming truth to man. 40

And such a speeding grace shone over me.
That from their impious worship I reclaim'd
The dwellers round about, who with the world
Were in delusion lost. These other flames,
The spirits of men contemplative, were all 45

Enliven'd by that warmth, whose kindly force
Gives birth to flowers and fruits of holiness.
Here is Macarius ; Romoaldo here :
And here my brethren, who their steps refrain'd
Within the cloisters, and held firm their heart." 50

I answ'ring thus ; " Thy gentle words and kind,
And this the cheerful semblance, I behold
Not unobservant, beaming in ye all.
Have rais'd assurance in me, wakening it
Full-blossom'd in my bosom, as a rose 55

Before the sun, when the consummate flower
Has spread to utmost amplitude. Of thee
Therefore intreat I, father ! to declare
If I may gain such favour, as to gaze


Upon tliine image, by no covering veil'd." GO

" Brother! " he thus rejoinVl, " in tlie last spliere
Expect completion of tliy lofty aim,
For there on each desire comj^letion waits,
And there on mine : where every aim is found
Perfect, entire, and for fulfilment ripe. 65

There all things are as they liave ever been :
For s})ace is none to bound, nor pole divides,
Our ladder reaches even to that clime,
And so at giddy distance mocks thy view.
Thither the Patriarch Jacob saw it stretch 70

Its topmost round, when it appeared to him
With angels laden. But to mount it now
None lifts his foot from earth : and hence my rule
Is left a profitless stain upon the leaves ;
The walls, for abbey rear'd, turned into dens, 75

The cowls to sacks choak'd up with musty meal.
Foul usury doth not more lift itself
Against God's pleasure, than that fruit which makes
The hearts of monks so Avanton : for whate'er
Is in the church's keeping, all pertains. 80

To such, as sue for heav'n's sweet sake, and not
To those who in respect of kindred claim,
Or on more vile allowance. Mortal flesh
Is grown so dainty, good beginnings last not
From the oak's birth, unto the acorn's setting. 85

His convent Peter founded without gold
Or silver ; I with pray'rs and fasting mine ;
And Francis his in meek humility.
And if thou note the point, whence each proceeds,
Then look what it hath err'd to, thou shalt find 90

The white grown murky. Jordan was turn'd back ;
And a less wonder, then the refluent sea.
May at God's pleasure work amendment here."

So saying, to his assembly back he drew :
And they together cluster'd into one, 95

Then all roll'd i;pward like an eddying wind.

The sweet dame beckon'd me to follow them :
And, by that influence only, so ])revail'd
Over niv nature, that no natural motion,


Ascondincj or (Icscoudiiii; liorc below, 100

II:i(l, !is I inoiiiited, with my jjcnnon vied.

So, re.adcf, as my liope is to return
Unto the lioly triuin])h, for the whieh
I ol'ttimes wail my sins, and smite my breast.
Thou hadst been longer drawing out and thrusting 1U£
Thy finger in the fire, than I was, ere
The sign, that followeth Taurus, I beheld,
And cntcr'd its precinet. O glorious stars !

light impregnate Avith exceeding virtue !

"j^o whom whate'er of genius lifteth me 110

Above the vulgar, grateful I refer;

With ye the parent of all mortal life

Arose and set, when I did first inhale

The Tuscan air ; and afterward, when grace

Vouchsaf'd me entrance to the lofty wheel 115

That in its orb impels ye, fate decreed

My passage at your clime. To you my soul

Devoutly sighs, for virtue even now

To meet the hard emprize that draws me on.

" Thou art so near the sum of blessedness," 120

Said Beatrice, " that behoves thy ken
Be vigilant and clear. And, to this end,
Or even thou advance thee further, hence
Look doAvnward, and contemj)late, what a world
Already stretched under our feet there lies : 125

So as thy heart may, in its blithest mood.
Present itself to the triumphal throng.
Which through the' etherial concave comes rejoicing."

I straight obey'd ; and with mine eye return'd
Through all the seven spheres, and saw this globe 130
So })itiful of semblance, that j^erforce
It moved my smiles : and him in truth I liold
For wisest, who esteems it least : whose thoughts
Elsewhere are fix'd, him worthiest call and best.

1 saw the daughter of Latona shine 185
Without the shadow, whereof late I deem'd

'J'hat dense and rare Avere cause. Here I sustain'd

The visage, ITyjie-rion ! of thy sun ;

And mark'd, how near him with their circle, round


Move M:ua and Dione; here disccrn'd 1-10

Jove's tempering 'twixt his sire and son ; and hence

Their clianges and their various aspects

Distinctly scann'd. Nor might I not descry

Of all the seven, how bulky each, how swift ;

Nor of their several distances not learn, 145

Til is ]»ctty area (o'er the which we stride

So fiercely), as along the eternal twins

I wound my way, appear'd before me all,

Forth from the havens stretch'd unto the hills.

Then to the beauteous eyes mine eyes retura'd. 150


E'en as the bird, who midst the leafy bower

Has, in her nest, sat darkling through the night,

"With her sweet brood, impatient to descry

Their wished looks, and to bring home their food,

In the fond quest unconscious of her toil : 5

She, of the time prevenient, on the spray,

That overhangs their couch, with wakeful gaze

Expects the sun ; nor ever, till the dawn,

Removeth from the east her eager ken ;

So stood the dame erect, and bent her glance 10

Wistfully on that region, where the sun

Abateth most his speed ; that, seeing her

Suspense and Avand'ring, I became as one,

In whom desire is waken'd, and the hope

Of somewhat new to come fills Avith delight. 15

Short space ensued ; I was not held, I say,
Long in expectance, when I saw the heav'n
Wax more and more rcs;)lendent ; and, " Behold,"
Cried Beatrice, " the triumphal hosts

Of Christ, and all the harvest reap'd at length 20

Of thy ascending up these spheres." Meseem'd,
That, while she spake her image alLdid burn,
And in her eyes such fulness was of joy,
And I am fain to pass unconstrued by.

As in the calm full moon, when Tiivia smiles, 25



in peerless beauty, 'mid Ih' eternal nyniplis,

That paint througli all its grilj)lis the blue jn-ufound;

In bright pre-eminence so saw I there,

O'er million lam]is a sun, from whom all drew

Tiieir radiance, as from ours the starry train : 30

And through the li\ing light so lustrous glow'd

The substance, that my ken endur'd it not.

]ieatrice ! sweet and precious guide !
Who cheer'd me with her comfoitable words!
" Against the virtue, that o'erpow'reth thee, 35

I Avails not to resist. Here is the might, [

And here the wisdom, which did o])en lay i

The path, that had been yearned for so long, I

Betwixt the heav'n and earth." Like to the fire, \

\ That, in a cloud imprison'd doth break out 40

I Expansive, so that from its womb enlarg'd,
\ Itfalleth against nature to the ground;
j Thus in that heav'nly banqueting my soul
I Outgrew herself ; and, in the transport lost.
; Holds now remembrance none of what she was. 45

" Ope thou thine eyes, and mark me : thou hast seen
Things, that empower thee to sustain my smile."

1 was as one, when a forgotten dream
Doth come across him, and he strives in vain
To shape it in his fantasy again, 50

' Whenas that gracious boon was i)roffer'd me,
Which never may be cancel'd from the book.
Wherein the past is written. Now Avere all ^

Those tongues to sound, that have on sweetest milk i

Of Polyliymnia and her sisters fed 55

' And fatten'd, not with all their help to boot.
Unto the thousandth parcel of the truth,

I My song might shadow forth that saintly smile,

j How merely in her saintly looks it wrought.

' And with such figuring of Paradise 60

i; The sacred strain must leap, like one, that meets

|; A sudden interruption to his road.

i But he, who thinks how ponderous the theme,

j And that 't is lain upon a mortal shoulder,

• May pardon, if it tremble with the burden. 65


The track, our veiitrous keel imisl furrow, brooks
No unribbVi pinnace, no self-s])ariii;j^ pilot.

" Why doth my face," said l^eatrice, " thus
Enamour thee, as that tliou dost not turn
Unto the beautiful garden, blossoming 70

Beneath the rays of Christ? Here is the rose.
Wherein the word divine Avas made incarnate ;
And here the lilies, by whose odour known
The way of life was follow'd." Prompt I heard
Her bidding, and encounter once again 75

The strife of aching vision. As erewhile,
Through glance of sunlight, stream'd through broken

Mine ejes a flower-besprinkled mead have seen,
Though veil'd themselves in shade ; so saw I there
Legions of splendours, on whom burning rays 80

Shed lightnings from above, yet saw I not
The fountain whence they HoAv'd. O gracious virtue !
Thou, whose broad statnp is on them, higher up
Thou didst exalt thy glory to give room
To my o'erlabour'd sight : when at the name 85

Of that fair flower, whom duly I invoke
Both morn and eve, my soul, with all her might
Collected, on the goodliest ardour lix'd.
And, as the bright dimensions of the star
In heav'n excelling, as once here on earth 90

Were, in my eyeballs livelily portray'd,
Lo ! from within the sky a cresset fell,
Circling in fashion of a diadem.
And girt the star, and hov'ring round it Avheel'd.

Whatever melody sounds sweetest here, 95

And draws the spirit most unto itself,
Might seem a rent cloud when it grates the thunder,
Compar'd unto the sonnding of that lyre.
Wherewith the goodliest sa])pliire, that inlays
The floor of heav'n, Avas croAvn'd. "Angelic Love 100
I am, who tlius with hov'ring flight enwheel
The lofty rapture from that womb inspir'd,
Where. our desire did dwell : and I'ound thee so,
Lady of Heav'n! will hover; long as thou


Thy Son shalt folloAv, and diviner joy 105

Shall from thy ])resence gild the highest sphere."

Such close was to the circling melody :
And, as it ended, all the other lights
Took up the strain, and echoed Mary's name.

The robe, that with its regal folds enwraps 110

The world, and with the nearer breath of God
Doth burn and quiver, held so far retir'd
Its inner hem and skirting over us,
That yet no glimmer of its majesty

Had stream'd unto me : therefore were mine eyes 115
Unequal to pursue the crowned flame.
That rose and sought its natal seed of fire ;
And like to babe, that stretches foi'th its arras
For very eagerness towards the breast,
After the milk is taken ; so outstretch'd 120

Their wavy summits all the ferA^ent band.
Through zealous love to Mary : then in view
There halted, and " Regina Coeli " sang
So sweetly, the delight hath left me never.

O what o'erflowing plenty is up-pil'd 125

In those rich-laden coffers, which below
Sow'd the good seed, whose harvest now they keep.

Here are the treasures tasted, that with tears
Were in the Babylonian exile won,

When gold had fail'd them. Here in synod high 130
Of ancient council with the new conven'd,
Under the Son of Mary and of God,
Victorious he his mighty triumph holds,
To whom the keys of glory were assign'd.


" O YE ! in chosen fellowship advanc'd
To the great supper of the blessed Lamb,
Whereon who feeds hath every wish fulfill'd !
If to this man through God's grace be vouchsaf d
Foretaste of that, which from your table falls,
Or ever death his fated term prescribe ;



I Be ye not heedless of liis urgent Avill ;

But may some influence of yom* sacred dews
Sprinkle him. Of the fount ye alway di-ink,
Whence flows what most he craves." Beatrice spake, 10
And the rejoicing spirits, like to spheres
i On firm-set )>oles revolving, trail'd a blaze
I Of comet splendour ; and as wheels, that wind
5 Their circles in the horologe, so work
! The stated rounds, that to th' observant eye 15

I The first seems still, and, as it flew, the last ;
\ E'en thus their carols weaving variously,
I They by the measure pac'd, or swift, or slow,
I Made me to rate the riches of their joy.
i From that, which I did note in beauty most 20

[ Excelling, saw I issue forth a flame
■ So bright, as none was left more goodly there.
Round Beatrice thrice it wheel'd about,
With so divine a song, that fancy's ear
Records it not ; and the pen passeth on 25

And leaves a blank : for that our mortal sjieech,
Nor e'en the inward shaping of the brain.
Hath colours fine enough to trace such folds.
" O saintly sister mine ! thy prayer devout
Is with so vehement affectinn urg'd, 30

Thou dost unbind me from tliat beauteous sphere."
Such were the accents towards my lady breath'd
From that blest ardour, soon as it was stay'd :
To whom she thus : " O everlasting light
Of him, within Avhose mighty gi'asp our Lord 35

Did leave the keys, which of this wondrous bliss
lie bare below ! tent this man, as thou wilt.
With lighter probe or deep, touching the faith,
By the which thou didst on the billows Avalk.
If he in love, in hope, and in belief, 40

Be steadfast, is not hid from thee : for thou
Hast there thy ken, where all things are beheld
In liveliest portraiture. But since true faith
Has peopled this fair realm with citizens.
Meet is, that to exalt its glory more, 45

Thou in his audience shouldst thereof discourse."


Ijike to tl>e hacliclor, \\^\o arms himself,
And speaks not, till the master have pro|)os'd
The question, to a[)])rove, and not to end it ;
So I, in silence, arm'd me, M'hile she spake, 60

Summoning u]) each argument to aid ;
As was belioveful for such questioner,
And such profession : " As good Chistian onglit.
Declare tlice. What is faith ? " Whereat I rais'd
My forehead to the light, -wlience this had breath'd, 55
Tlien turn'd to Beatrice, and in her looks
A]>proval met, that from their inmost fount
I should unlock the waters. " May the grace,
That giveth me the captain of the church
For confessor," said I, " vouclisafe to me 60

A]>t utterance for my thouglits ! " then added : " Sire !
E'en as set down by the unerring style
Of thy dear brother, who with thee conspir'd
To bring Rome in unto the way of life.
Faith of things hop'd is substance, and the proof 65

Of things not seen'; and hei-ein doth consist
Methinks its essence," — " Rightly hast thou deem'd,"
Was answer'd : " if thou well discern, why first

Online Library1265-1321 Dante AlighieriThe Vision : or, Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise, of Dante Alighieri → online text (page 24 of 37)