the sky :
Di tutte parti saettava il giorno
Lo sol ch' avea con le saette conte
Di mezzo '1 ciel cacciato 1 Capricorno. Purg. 2. 1
But light in general is his special and chosen
source of poetic beauty. No poet that we know has
shown such singular sensibility to its varied appear-
ances has shown that he felt it in itself the cause of
a distinct and peculiar pleasure, delighting the eye
apart from form, as music delights the ear apart from
words, and capable, like music, of definite character,
of endless variety, and infinite meanings. He must
have studied and dwelt upon it like music. His mind
is charged with its effects and combinations, and they
are rendered with a force, a brevity, a precision, a
heedlessness and unconsciousness of ornament, an
indifference to circumstance and detail ; they flash
out with a spontaneous readiness, a suitableness and
felicity, which show the familiarity and grasp given
only by daily observation, daily thought, daily
And the sun's face so shrouded at its rise,
And temper'd by the mists which overhung,
That I could gaze on it with stcdfast eyes. WKIOHT.
1 On every side the sun shot forth the day,
And had already with his arrows bright
From the mid-heaven chased Capricorn away. Ibid,
pleasure. Light everywhere in the sky and earth
and sea in the star, the flame, the lamp, the gem
broken in the water, reflected from the mirror, trans-
mitted pure through the glass, or coloured through
the edge of the fractured emerald dimmed in the
mist, the halo, the deep water streaming through
the rent cloud, glowing in the coal, quivering in the
lightning, flashing in the topaz and the ruby, veiled
behind the pure alabaster, mellowed and clouding
itself in the pearl light contrasted with shadow
shading off and copying itself in the double rainbow,
like voice and echo light seen within light, as voice
discerned within voice, " guando una b ferrw, t V altra
va e riede" the brighter "nestling" itself in the
fainter the purer set off on the less clear, "come
perla in bianca fronte " light in the human eye *nd
face, displaying, figuring, and confounded with its
expressions light blended with joy in the eye :
Come letizia in pupilla viva ;
and in the smile :
Vincendo me col lume <T un Borriso ;
joy lending its expression to light :
Quivi la donna mia vidi si lieta
Che piu lucente se ne ft il pianeta.
E se la Stella si cambio, e rite,
Qual mi fee' io ; Parad. O. 1
light from every source, and in all its shapes, illu-
minates, irradiates, gives its glory to the Commedia.
The remembrance of our "serene life" beneath the
" fair stars " keeps up continually the gloom of the
Inferno. Light, such as we see it and recognise it,
the light of morning and evening growing and fading,
takes off from the unearthliness of the Purgatorio;
peopled, as it is, by the undying, who, though suffer-
ing for sin, can sin no more, it is thus made like our
familiar world, made to touch our sympathies as an
image of our own purification in the flesh. And
when he rises beyond the regions of earthly day,
light, simple, unalloyed, unshadowed, eternal, lifts the
creations of his thought above all affinity to time and
matter; light never fails him, as the expression of
the gradations of bliss ; never reappears the same,
never refuses the new shapes of his invention, never
becomes confused or dim, though it is seldom thrown
into distinct figure, and still more seldom coloured.
1 Entered within the precincts of the light,
I saw my guide's fair countenance possest
With joy so great, the planet glow'd more bright
And if the very star a smile displayed,
Well might I smile to change by nature prone,
And varying still with each impression aide. WKIOIIT.
Only once, that we remember, is the thought of colour
forced on us ; when the bright joy of heaven suffers
change and eclipse, and deepens into red at the
sacrilege of men. 1
Yet his eye is everywhere, not confined to the
beauty or character of the sky and its lights. His
range of observation and largeness of interest prevent
that line of imagery, which is his peculiar instrument
and predilection, from becoming, in spite of its
brightness and variety, dreamy and monotonous;
prevent it from arming against itself sympathies
which it does not touch. He has watched with
equal attention, and draws with not less power, the
occurrences and sights of Italian country life; the
summer whirlwind sweeping over the plain " dinanzi
polveroso va superbo " (Inf. 9) ; the rain-storm of the
Apennines (Purg. 5); the peasant's alternations of
feeling in spring :
In quella parte del giovinetto anno
Che 1 sole i crin sotto 1' Aquario tempra,
E gii le notti al mezzo dl sen vanno ;
Quando la brina in su la terra assempra
L' imagine di sua sorella bianca,
Ma poco dura alia sua penna tempra,
Lo villanello a cui la roba manca
Si leva e guarda, e vede la campagna
Biancheggiar tutta ; ond 'ei si batte 1' anca ;
1 Parad. 27.
Ritorna a casa, e qua e la si lagna
Come 1 tapin che non sa che si faccia :
Poi riede e la speranza ringavagna
Veggendo 1 mondo aver cangiata faccia
In poco d' ora, e prende il suo vincastro
fuor le pecorelle a pascer caccia : Inf. 24. 1
the manner in which sheep come out from the fold :
Come le pecorelle escon del chiuso
A una a due a tre, e V altre stanno,
Timidftte atterrando F occhio e' I mutn ;
E rid che fa la prima, e V altre /anno,
Addottandon a lei t' ella i arretta
Semplici e quete, e lo 'mperchb non sanno :
Si vid' io muover a venir la testa
Di quella mandria fortunata allotta,
1 In the new year, when Sol his tresses gay
Dips in Aquarius, and the tardy night
Divides her empire with the lengthening day
When o'er the earth the hoar-frost pure and bright
Assumes the image of her sister white,
Then quickly melts before the genial light
The rustic, now exhausted his supply,
Rises betimes looks out and sees the land
All white around, whereat he strikes his thigh-
Turns back and grieving wanders here and there,
Like one disconsolate and at a stand ;
Then issues forth, forgetting his despair,
For lo 1 the face of nature he beholds
Changed on a sudden takes his crook again,
And drives his flock to pasture from the folds. WRIGHT.
Pudica in faccia e nelP andare onesta.
Come color dinanzi vider rotta
La luce ....
Ristaro, e trasser se indietro alquanto,
E tutti gli altri che veniano appresso,
Non sappiendo il perche,fero altrettanto. Purg. 3. 1
So with the beautiful picture of the goats upon
the mountain, chewing the cud in the noontide heat
and stillness, and the goatherd, resting on his staff
and watching them a picture which no traveller
among the mountains of Italy or Greece can have
missed, or have forgotten :
Quali si fanno ruminando manse
Le capre, state rapide e proterve
Sopra le rime avanti cbe sien pranse,
1 And e'en as sheep forth issue from the fold,
By one, by two, by three while all the rest
Stand timid, and to earth their noses hold ;
And what the leader doth, they also do,
If chance she stop, behind her closely prest
Simple and still not knowing why : e'en so
I saw the leaders of this favoured race
Now move, now pause, as their advance they made,
Modest in look, and dignified in pace.
When intercepted on my right they found
The solar rays .
They paused and somewhat back their steps withdrew ;
And all the others who behind them came,
Not knowing why, fell back some paces too. WEIGHT.
Tacite al ombra mentre che 'I tol ferve,
Guardate dal pastor che 'n su la verga
Poggiato a' e, e lor poggiato serve. Pun/. 27. 1
So again, with his recollections of cities : the crowd,
running together to hear news (Purg. 2), or pressing
after the winner of the game (Purg. 6); the blind
men at the church doors, or following their guide
through the throng (Purg. 13, 16); the friars walk-
ing along in silence, one behind another :
Taciti, soli, e senza compagnia
N' andavam, V tm dinanzi, e F altro dopo
Come ifrati minor vanno per via, Inf. 23. 8
He turns to account in his poem, the pomp and
clamour of the host taking the field (Inf. 22) ; the
devices of heraldry ; the answering chimes of morning
bells over the city ; 8 the inventions and appliances
1 Like goats that having over the crags pursued
Their wanton sports, now, quiet pass the time
In ruminating sated with their food,
Beneath the shade, while glows the sun on high
Watched by the goatherd with unceasing can,
As on his staff he leans, with watchful eye. WRIGHT.
1 Silent, apart, companionless we went,
The one before, the other close behind,
Like friars minor on their journey bent Ibid.
3 Indi come orologio che ne chiatni
Nell" ora che la sposa di Dio surge
A mattinar lo sposo perche 1' ami,
of art, the wheels within wheels of clocks (Parad. 24),
the many-coloured carpets of the East (Inf. 17);
music and dancing the organ and voice in church :
Voce mista al dolce suono
Che or d or no s' intendon le parole, Purg. 9. 1
the lute and voice in the chamber (Parad. 20) ; the
Che 1' ana parte e 1' altra tira ed urge
Tin tin sonando con si dolce nota
Che '1 ben disposto spirto d' amor turge ;
Cosi vid' io la gloriosa ruota
Muoversi e render voce a voce, in tempra
Ed in dolcezza ch' esser non pu6 nota
Se non cola dove '1 gioir a' insempra. Parad. 10.
Then, like a clock that summons us away,
What time the spouse of God at matin hour
Hastes to her husband, for his love to pray,
And one part urges on the other, sounding
Tin Tin in notes so sweet, that by its power
The soul is thrilled, with pious love abounding ;
So I beheld the glorious circle move ;
And with such sweet accord and harmony
Take up the song of praise, as none may prove,
Save where is joy through all eternity.
1 As when the organ on some holy day
Blends with the voices of the sacred choir,
Which now swell loud, now melting die away. WEIGHT
[More correctly rendered by Dean Plumptre :
Such impress as it oft is wont to take,
When men their singing with the organ share,
For now were heard, now not, the wordt they spake.]
dancers preparing to begin, 1 or waiting to catch a
new strain. 2 Or, again, the images of domestic life,
the mother's ways to her child, reserved and reprov-
ing " che al figlio par superba " or cheering him
with her voice, or watching him compassionately in
the wandering of fever :
Ond' ella, appresso d' un pio sospiro
Qli occhi drizz6 ver me, con quel sembiante
Che inadre fa sopra figliuol deliro. Parad, 1.'
Nor is he less observant of the more delicate pheno-
mena of mind, in its inward workings, and its con-
nection with the body. The play of features, the
involuntary gestures and attitudes of the passions,
1 E come surge, e va, ed entra in ballo
Vergine lieta, sol per fame onore
Alia novizia, e non per alcun fallo. Parad. 25.
And as a virgin, rising joyously,
Enters the dance, bent only on improving
The nuptial welcome not through vanity.
* Donne mi parver, non da ballo sciolte,
Ma At s' arrestin tacite ascoltando
Fin che le nuove note hanno ricnlte.Ibid. 10.
Ladies they teemed, not from the dance set free,
But pausing for new notes, with fond desire,
Until they catch them, listening silently. WBIOBT.
1 With pitying sigh her eyes on me were thrown ;
And hers was like a mother's gaze, intent
Upon the face of her delirious son.
172 , DANTE
the power of eye over eye, of hand upon hand, the
charm of voice and expression, of musical sounds
even when not understood feelings, sensations, and
states of mind which have a name, and others, equally
numerous and equally common, which have none
these, often so fugitive, so shifting, so baffling and
intangible, are expressed with a directness, a sim-
plicity, a sense of truth at once broad and refined,
which seized at once on the congenial mind of his
countrymen, and pointed out to them the road which
they have followed in art, unapproached as yet by
any competitors. 1
1 For instance : thoughts upon thoughts, ending in sleep and
Nuovo pensier dentro de me si mise,
Dal qual piu altri nacqucro e divcrsi :
E tanto d 1 uno in altro vaneggiai
Che gli occhi per vaghezza ricopersi,
E 'I pensamento in sogno trasmutai. Purg. 18.
New thought was sadden waked within my breast,
Whence other thoughts of different kind arose :
And I so wandered on from theme to theme,
Mine eyes at last in rapture lost I close,
And change my meditation for a dream. WIUGHT.
sleep stealing off when broken by light :
Come si frange il son no, ore di butto
Nuova luce percuote '1 viso cliiuso,
ChefraUo guizzapria che muoja lutlo. Purg. 17.
As when a sudden and o'erpowering light,
And he has anticipated the latest schools of
modern poetry, by making not merely nature, but
Strikes oar closed eyes, and breaks upon our sleep,
Quivering a moment ere it takes its Sight.
the shock of sudden awakening :
Come al lume acuto si disonna,
lo sveglialo cii> che vede abborre,
81 nescia e la subita rigilia,
Finche la stimativa nol soccorre. Farad. 28.
And as through fervour of the piercing light
Is broken through the slumber of the night,
And the awakened one hates what he sees
(So lost to sense of all around he is,
Till judgment re-illume his faculties).
uneaty feelings produced by siyht or representation of something
Come per sostentar solajo o tetto
Per mensola talvolta una figura
Si vede giunger le ginocchia al petto,
La qualfa del non ver vera rancura
Nascer a chi la vede; cosl fatti
Vid 1 io color. Purg. 10.
As to support a roof or ceiling, oft
A figure doth a bracket's place supply,
The knees up-gathered to the breast aloft
The unreal pain excites compassion true
In him who sees it ; such when I explore
These forms minutely, they appear to view.
science tributary to a poetry with whose general aim
and spirit it has little in common tributary in its
blushing in innocent sympathy for others :
E come donna onesta che pcnnanc
Di se sicura, e per V altnd fallenza
Pure ascoltando timida si fane:
Cosl Beatrice trasmut6 sembianza. Parad. 27.
And like a modest damsel, who not fearing
In her own self, yet wears a timid mien,
The story of another's shame but hearing ;
Such change the look of Beatrice displayed.
asking and answering by looks only :
Volsi gli ocelli agli occhi al signor mio ;
Ond' flli in' assentl con lieto cenno
Ci6 che chiedea la vista del disio. Ibid. 19.
I bent my eyes on those of my dear lord,
Who to the strong desire that mine expressed
Rendered with joyful look a kind accord.
^catching the effect of words :
Posto avea fine al suo ragionamento
L' alto dottore, ad attento guardava
Nella mia vista s' io parea con ten to.
Ed io, cui nuova sole ancor frugava,
Di fuor taceva e dentro dicea : forse
Lo troppo dimandar ch' io fo, li grava.
Ma quel padre verace, che s' accorse
Del timido voler che non s' apriva,
Parlando, di parlare ardir mi porse. Purg. 18
His reasoning ended, my exalted guide
Attentively surveyed my countenance
To see if I were fully satisfied.
exact forms, even in its technicalities. He speaks of
the Mediterranean Sea, not merely as a historian, or
And I, by further cravings now possest,
Spake not aloud, but said within : " Perchance
He by my constant questions is oppressed."
But that true father, who at once perceived
The timid wish I had not dared to tell,
Soon by his speech my fear to speak relieved.
Dante betraying Virgits presence to Statins, by his involuntary
Volser Virgil io a me queste parole
Con viso che tacendo dicea : "taci ;"
Ma non pu6 tutto la virtu che vuole ;
Che riso e pianto son tanto seguaci
Alia passion da cho ciascun si spicca,
Che men seguon voler ne' piit veraci.
lopur sorriti, come f uom ch' ammicca:
Perche V ombra si tacque, riguardommi
Negli occhi ove 'I sembiante piit rificca.
E se tanto lavoro in bene assommi,
Disse, perche la faccia tua testeso
Un lampeggiar a' un riao dimostrommi T Purg. 21.
These words made Virgil torn to where I stood,
With look that silent said : " B silent thou ;"
But Virtue cannot all that Virtue would ;
For in the wake of passion, smile and tear
So closely follow, that they least allow
The will to govern is the most sincere.
I smiled as one who winks : whereat the shade
Refrained from words, and fastened on mine eye,
In which more clearly is the soul pourtrayed.
an observer of its storms or its smiles, but as a
geologist; 1 of light, not merely in its beautiful
Success, he said, reward thy good intent,
As these inform me, from thy features why
The lightning of a smile was lately sent. W BIGHT.
smiles and words together :
Per le sorrise parolette brevi. Farad. 1.
Those brief words accompanied with smiles. CAKY.
eye meeting eye :
Gli occhi ritorsi avanti
Dritti nel lume della dolce guida
Che sorridendo ardea negli occhi santL farad. 3.
Called back mine eyes anon
Full on the orbs of my loved guide directed,
Which, as she smiled, with holy lustre shone, WBIG in.
Come si vcde qui alcuna volta
L' affetto nella vista, a' ello e tanto
Che da lui sia tutta 1' anima tolta :
Cosl nel fiammeggiar del fulgor santo
A cui mi volsi, couobbi la voglia
In lui di ragionarmi ancore alquanto. Parad. 18.
And as sometimes, in this our mortal state,
We see affection pictured in the eyes,
Of power the soul entire to captivate.
So, in the effulgence of that holy Same
To which I turned, an ardent wish I saw
With me a further intercourse to claim. WRIGHT.
gentleness of voice :
E cominciommi a dir soave e piana
Con angelica voce in sua favella. Inf. 2.
1 7xi mayyior valle, in che 1' acqua si spandi. Parad. 9.
appearances, but in its natural laws. 1 There is a
charm, an imaginative charm to him, not merely in
And on mine ear in her own accents fell
Tones soft and sweet of angel harmony. WRIGHT.
E come agli occhi miei si fe* piu bella,
Cos! con voce piu dolce e soave,
Ma non con questa moderns favella,
Dissemi ; farad. 16.
And brighter as it grew before mine eyes,
So with a voice more soft and sweetly faint
(But not with that now used of modern guise)
It answered Ibid.
Te lucis ante si divotamente
Le usci di bocca e con si dolce note,
Che fece me a me uscir di mente.
E 1' altre poi dolcemcntc e divote
Seguitar lei per tutto 1' inno intero,
Avendo gli occhi alle superne ruote. Purg. 8.
Te lucis anU with such deep devotion
Forth issued from her lips in notes so soft,
My soul was ravished with intense emotion.
Meanwhile the others, sweetly and devout,
Keeping their eyes upon the wheels aloft
Accompanied her voice the hymn throughout
chanting blended with th sound of the organ : Purg. 9. Vid
supra, p. 151.
1 E.g. Purg. 15.
1 78 DANTE
the sensible magnificence of the heavens, "in their
silence, and light, and watchfulness," but in the system
voices in concert :
E come in voce voce si discerne
Quando una eferma, e 'I altra va e riede. Parad. 8.
And as distinctly voice from voice we hear,
When, one sustained, the other comes and goes.
attitudes and gestures: e.g. Beatrice addressing him :
Con atto e voce di spedito duce. Parad. 30.
With gesture and with look commanding, she
Sordello eyeing the travellers :
Venimmo a lei : o anima Lombards,
Come ti stavi altera e disdcgnosa,
E nel muover degli occhi onesta e tarda.
Ella non ci diceva alcuna cosa,
Ma lasciavane gir, solo guardando,
A guisa di leon quando si posa. Purg. 6.
To him advanced we. What disdain and pride,
O Lombard soul, thy countenance bespoke !
Thine eyes, how moved they, slow and dignified
To us the spirit not a word addressed,
Letting us pass, and deigning but a look
Like to a lion, when he lies at rest. WRIGHT.
the angel moving "dry-shod" over the Stygian pool:
Dal volto rimovea quell' aer grasso
Menando la sinistra innanzi spesso,
E sol di quell' angoscia parea lasso.
Ben m' accorsi ch' egli era del ciel messo,
E volsimi al maestro ; e quei fe' segno
of Ptolemy and the theories of astrology; and he
delights to interweave the poetry of feeling and of
the outward sense with the grandeur so far as he
knew it of order, proportion, measured magnitudes,
the relations of abstract forces, displayed on such a
scene as the material universe, as if he wished to show
that imagination in its boldest flight was not afraid of
the company of the clear and subtle intellect
Indeed the real never daunts him. It is his
leading principle of poetic composition, to draw out
of things the poetry which is latent in them, either
Ch' io stcssi cheto ed inchinassi ed esso.
Ahi quanto mi parea pien di disdegno.
Poi si rivolse per la strada lorda,
E non fe' motto a noi, ma fe, sembiante
D* uomo cui altra cura strings e morde
Che quella di colui che gli e davante. lit/. 9.
The heavy air he from his visage cleared,
Waving the left hand oft his face before,
And weary with that single toil appeared.
Heaven's messenger he was, I plainly saw,
And to the master turned : whereat he straight
Made sign that I should bend in silent awe.
Ah I what disdain, me thought, his looks disclosed.
Then back he turned along the filthy shore,
Nor spoke a word ; but seemed like one tormented
By other care and other trouble more
Than by the thought of him within his view. WRIGHT.
essentially, or as they are portions, images, or reflexes
of something greater not to invest them with a
poetical semblance, by means of words which bring
with them poetical associations, and have received a
general poetical stamp. Dante has few of those
indirect charms which flow from the subtle structure
and refined graces of language none of that ex-
quisitely-fitted and self-sustained mechanism of choice
words of the Greeks none of that tempered and
majestic amplitude of diction, which clothes, like the
folds of a royal robe, the thoughts of the Latins none
of that abundant play of fancy and sentiment, soft or
grand, in which the later Italian poets delighted.
Words with him are used sparingly, never in play
never because they carry with them poetical recollec-
tions never for their own sake ; but because they
are instruments which will give the deepest, clearest^
sharpest stamp of that image which the poet's mind,
piercing to the very heart of his subject, or seizing
the characteristic feature which to other men's eyes
is confused and lost among others accidental and
common, draws forth in severe and living truth.
Words will not always bend themselves to his
demands on them; they make him often uncouth,
abrupt, obscure. But he is too much in earnest to
heed uncouthness ; and his power over language is
too great to allow uncertainty as to what he means.
to be other than occasional. Nor is he a stranger to
the utmost sweetness and melody of language. But
it appears, unsought for and unlaboured, the spon-
taneous and inevitable obedience of the tongue and
pen to the impressions of the mind ; as grace and
beauty, of themselves, " command and guide the eye "
of the painter, who thinks not of his hand but of
them. All is in character with the absorbed and
serious earnestness which pervades the poem ; there
is no toying, no ornament, that a man in earnest
might not throw into his words ; whether in single
images, or in pictures, like that of the Meadow of the
Heroes (Inf. 4), or the angel appearing in hell to
guide the poet through the burning city (Inf. 9) or
in histories, like those of Count Ugolino, or the life
of St Francis (Parad. 11) or in the dramatic scenes
like the meeting of the poets Sordello and Virgil
(Purg. 6), or that one, unequalled in beauty, where
Dante himself, after years of forgetfulness and sin,
sees Beatrice in glory, and hears his name, never but
once pronounced during the vision, from her lips. 1
1 Io vidi gUt nel cominciar del giorno
La parte oriental tutta rosata,
E 1* altro ciel di bel sereno adorno,
E la faccia del sol nasccre ombrata,
81 cbe per temperanza di vapori
L* occhio lo sostenea lunga fiata ;
Coal dentro una nuvola di fiori,
But this, or any other array of scenes and images,
might be matched from poets of a far lower order
Che dalle mani angeliche saliva,
E ricadeva giu dentro e di fuori,
Sovra candido vel cinta d* oliva
Donna m' apparve sotto verde manto
Vestita di color di fiamraa viva.
E lo spirito mio, che gia cotanto
Tempo era stato che alia sua presenza
Non era di stupor, tremando, affranto.