One essence I believe, so one and trine They bear conjunction both with ‘sunt’ and ‘est.’
With the profound condition and divine Which now I touch upon, doth stamp my mind Ofttimes the doctrine evangelical.
This the beginning is, this is the spark Which afterwards dilates to vivid flame, And, like a star in heaven, is sparkling in me.”
Even as a lord who hears what pleaseth him His servant straight embraces, gratulating For the good news as soon as he is silent;
So, giving me its benediction, singing, Three times encircled me, when I was silent, The apostolic light, at whose command
I spoken had, in speaking I so pleased him.
Paradiso: Canto XXV
If e’er it happen that the Poem Sacred, To which both heaven and earth have set their hand, So that it many a year hath made me lean,
O’ercome the cruelty that bars me out From the fair sheepfold, where a lamb I slumbered, An enemy to the wolves that war upon it,
With other voice forthwith, with other fleece Poet will I return, and at my font
Baptismal will I take the laurel crown;
Because into the Faith that maketh known All souls to God there entered I, and then Peter for her sake thus my brow encircled.
Thereafterward towards us moved a light Out of that band whence issued the first-fruits Which of his vicars Christ behind him left,
And then my Lady, full of ecstasy,
Said unto me: “Look, look! behold the Baron For whom below Galicia is frequented.”
In the same way as, when a dove alights Near his companion, both of them pour forth, Circling about and murmuring, their affection,
So one beheld I by the other grand
Prince glorified to be with welcome greeted, Lauding the food that there above is eaten.
But when their gratulations were complete, Silently ‘coram me’ each one stood still, So incandescent it o’ercame my sight.
Smiling thereafterwards, said Beatrice: “Illustrious life, by whom the benefactions Of our Basilica have been described,
Make Hope resound within this altitude; Thou knowest as oft thou dost personify it As Jesus to the three gave greater clearness.”–
“Lift up thy head, and make thyself assured; For what comes hither from the mortal world Must needs be ripened in our radiance.”
This comfort came to me from the second fire; Wherefore mine eyes I lifted to the hills, Which bent them down before with too great weight.
“Since, through his grace, our Emperor wills that thou Shouldst find thee face to face, before thy death, In the most secret chamber, with his Counts,
So that, the truth beholden of this court, Hope, which below there rightfully enamours, Thereby thou strengthen in thyself and others,
Say what it is, and how is flowering with it Thy mind, and say from whence it came to thee.” Thus did the second light again continue.
And the Compassionate, who piloted
The plumage of my wings in such high flight, Did in reply anticipate me thus:
“No child whatever the Church Militant Of greater hope possesses, as is written In that Sun which irradiates all our band;
Therefore it is conceded him from Egypt To come into Jerusalem to see,
Or ever yet his warfare be completed.
The two remaining points, that not for knowledge Have been demanded, but that he report
How much this virtue unto thee is pleasing,
To him I leave; for hard he will not find them, Nor of self-praise; and let him answer them; And may the grace of God in this assist him!”
As a disciple, who his teacher follows, Ready and willing, where he is expert,
That his proficiency may be displayed,
“Hope,” said I, “is the certain expectation Of future glory, which is the effect
Of grace divine and merit precedent.
From many stars this light comes unto me; But he instilled it first into my heart Who was chief singer unto the chief captain.
‘Sperent in te,’ in the high Theody
He sayeth, ‘those who know thy name;’ and who Knoweth it not, if he my faith possess?
Thou didst instil me, then, with his instilling In the Epistle, so that I am full,
And upon others rain again your rain.”
While I was speaking, in the living bosom Of that combustion quivered an effulgence, Sudden and frequent, in the guise of lightning;
Then breathed: “The love wherewith I am inflamed Towards the virtue still which followed me Unto the palm and issue of the field,
Wills that I breathe to thee that thou delight In her; and grateful to me is thy telling Whatever things Hope promises to thee.”
And I: “The ancient Scriptures and the new The mark establish, and this shows it me, Of all the souls whom God hath made his friends.
Isaiah saith, that each one garmented In his own land shall be with twofold garments, And his own land is this delightful life.
Thy brother, too, far more explicitly, There where he treateth of the robes of white, This revelation manifests to us.”
And first, and near the ending of these words, “Sperent in te” from over us was heard, To which responsive answered all the carols.
Thereafterward a light among them brightened, So that, if Cancer one such crystal had, Winter would have a month of one sole day.
And as uprises, goes, and enters the dance A winsome maiden, only to do honour
To the new bride, and not from any failing,
Even thus did I behold the brightened splendour Approach the two, who in a wheel revolved As was beseeming to their ardent love.
Into the song and music there it entered; And fixed on them my Lady kept her look, Even as a bride silent and motionless.
“This is the one who lay upon the breast Of him our Pelican; and this is he
To the great office from the cross elected.”
My Lady thus; but therefore none the more Did move her sight from its attentive gaze Before or afterward these words of hers.
Even as a man who gazes, and endeavours To see the eclipsing of the sun a little, And who, by seeing, sightless doth become,
So I became before that latest fire,
While it was said, “Why dost thou daze thyself To see a thing which here hath no existence?
Earth in the earth my body is, and shall be With all the others there, until our number With the eternal proposition tallies.
With the two garments in the blessed cloister Are the two lights alone that have ascended: And this shalt thou take back into your world.”
And at this utterance the flaming circle Grew quiet, with the dulcet intermingling Of sound that by the trinal breath was made,
As to escape from danger or fatigue
The oars that erst were in the water beaten Are all suspended at a whistle’s sound.
Ah, how much in my mind was I disturbed, When I turned round to look on Beatrice, That her I could not see, although I was
Close at her side and in the Happy World!
Paradiso: Canto XXVI
While I was doubting for my vision quenched, Out of the flame refulgent that had quenched it Issued a breathing, that attentive made me,
Saying: “While thou recoverest the sense Of seeing which in me thou hast consumed, ‘Tis well that speaking thou shouldst compensate it.
Begin then, and declare to what thy soul Is aimed, and count it for a certainty, Sight is in thee bewildered and not dead;
Because the Lady, who through this divine Region conducteth thee, has in her look The power the hand of Ananias had.”
I said: “As pleaseth her, or soon or late Let the cure come to eyes that portals were When she with fire I ever burn with entered.
The Good, that gives contentment to this Court, The Alpha and Omega is of all
The writing that love reads me low or loud.”
The selfsame voice, that taken had from me The terror of the sudden dazzlement,
To speak still farther put it in my thought;
And said: “In verity with finer sieve Behoveth thee to sift; thee it behoveth To say who aimed thy bow at such a target.”
And I: “By philosophic arguments,
And by authority that hence descends, Such love must needs imprint itself in me;
For Good, so far as good, when comprehended Doth straight enkindle love, and so much greater As more of goodness in itself it holds;
Then to that Essence (whose is such advantage That every good which out of it is found Is nothing but a ray of its own light)
More than elsewhither must the mind be moved Of every one, in loving, who discerns
The truth in which this evidence is founded.
Such truth he to my intellect reveals Who demonstrates to me the primal love
Of all the sempiternal substances.
The voice reveals it of the truthful Author, Who says to Moses, speaking of Himself, ‘I will make all my goodness pass before thee.’
Thou too revealest it to me, beginning The loud Evangel, that proclaims the secret Of heaven to earth above all other edict.”
And I heard say: “By human intellect
And by authority concordant with it, Of all thy loves reserve for God the highest.
But say again if other cords thou feelest, Draw thee towards Him, that thou mayst proclaim With how many teeth this love is biting thee.”
The holy purpose of the Eagle of Christ Not latent was, nay, rather I perceived Whither he fain would my profession lead.
Therefore I recommenced: “All of those bites Which have the power to turn the heart to God Unto my charity have been concurrent.
The being of the world, and my own being, The death which He endured that I may live, And that which all the faithful hope, as I do,
With the forementioned vivid consciousness Have drawn me from the sea of love perverse, And of the right have placed me on the shore.
The leaves, wherewith embowered is all the garden Of the Eternal Gardener, do I love
As much as he has granted them of good.”
As soon as I had ceased, a song most sweet Throughout the heaven resounded, and my Lady Said with the others, “Holy, holy, holy!”
And as at some keen light one wakes from sleep By reason of the visual spirit that runs Unto the splendour passed from coat to coat,
And he who wakes abhorreth what he sees, So all unconscious is his sudden waking, Until the judgment cometh to his aid,
So from before mine eyes did Beatrice Chase every mote with radiance of her own, That cast its light a thousand miles and more.
Whence better after than before I saw, And in a kind of wonderment I asked
About a fourth light that I saw with us.
And said my Lady: “There within those rays Gazes upon its Maker the first soul
That ever the first virtue did create.”
Even as the bough that downward bends its top At transit of the wind, and then is lifted By its own virtue, which inclines it upward,
Likewise did I, the while that she was speaking, Being amazed, and then I was made bold
By a desire to speak wherewith I burned.
And I began: “O apple, that mature
Alone hast been produced, O ancient father, To whom each wife is daughter and daughter-in-law,
Devoutly as I can I supplicate thee
That thou wouldst speak to me; thou seest my wish; And I, to hear thee quickly, speak it not.”
Sometimes an animal, when covered, struggles So that his impulse needs must be apparent, By reason of the wrappage following it;
And in like manner the primeval soul
Made clear to me athwart its covering How jubilant it was to give me pleasure.
Then breathed: “Without thy uttering it to me, Thine inclination better I discern
Than thou whatever thing is surest to thee;
For I behold it in the truthful mirror, That of Himself all things parhelion makes, And none makes Him parhelion of itself.
Thou fain wouldst hear how long ago God placed me Within the lofty garden, where this Lady Unto so long a stairway thee disposed.
And how long to mine eyes it was a pleasure, And of the great disdain the proper cause, And the language that I used and that I made.
Now, son of mine, the tasting of the tree Not in itself was cause of so great exile, But solely the o’erstepping of the bounds.
There, whence thy Lady moved Virgilius, Four thousand and three hundred and two circuits Made by the sun, this Council I desired;
And him I saw return to all the lights Of his highway nine hundred times and thirty, Whilst I upon the earth was tarrying.
The language that I spake was quite extinct Before that in the work interminable
The people under Nimrod were employed;
For nevermore result of reasoning
(Because of human pleasure that doth change, Obedient to the heavens) was durable.
A natural action is it that man speaks; But whether thus or thus, doth nature leave To your own art, as seemeth best to you.
Ere I descended to the infernal anguish, ‘El’ was on earth the name of the Chief Good, From whom comes all the joy that wraps me round
‘Eli’ he then was called, and that is proper, Because the use of men is like a leaf
On bough, which goeth and another cometh.
Upon the mount that highest o’er the wave Rises was I, in life or pure or sinful, From the first hour to that which is the second,
As the sun changes quadrant, to the sixth.”
Paradiso: Canto XXVII
“Glory be to the Father, to the Son,
And Holy Ghost!” all Paradise began, So that the melody inebriate made me.
What I beheld seemed unto me a smile
Of the universe; for my inebriation Found entrance through the hearing and the sight.
O joy! O gladness inexpressible!
O perfect life of love and peacefulness! O riches without hankering secure!
Before mine eyes were standing the four torches Enkindled, and the one that first had come Began to make itself more luminous;
And even such in semblance it became
As Jupiter would become, if he and Mars Were birds, and they should interchange their feathers.
That Providence, which here distributeth Season and service, in the blessed choir Had silence upon every side imposed.
When I heard say: “If I my colour change, Marvel not at it; for while I am speaking Thou shalt behold all these their colour change.
He who usurps upon the earth my place, My place, my place, which vacant has become Before the presence of the Son of God,
Has of my cemetery made a sewer
Of blood and stench, whereby the Perverse One, Who fell from here, below there is appeased!”
With the same colour which, through sun adverse, Painteth the clouds at evening or at morn, Beheld I then the whole of heaven suffused.
And as a modest woman, who abides
Sure of herself, and at another’s failing, From listening only, timorous becomes,
Even thus did Beatrice change countenance; And I believe in heaven was such eclipse, When suffered the supreme Omnipotence;
Thereafterward proceeded forth his words With voice so much transmuted from itself, The very countenance was not more changed.
“The spouse of Christ has never nurtured been On blood of mine, of Linus and of Cletus, To be made use of in acquest of gold;
But in acquest of this delightful life Sixtus and Pius, Urban and Calixtus,
After much lamentation, shed their blood.
Our purpose was not, that on the right hand Of our successors should in part be seated The Christian folk, in part upon the other;
Nor that the keys which were to me confided Should e’er become the escutcheon on a banner, That should wage war on those who are baptized;
Nor I be made the figure of a seal
To privileges venal and mendacious, Whereat I often redden and flash with fire.
In garb of shepherds the rapacious wolves Are seen from here above o’er all the pastures! O wrath of God, why dost thou slumber still?
To drink our blood the Caorsines and Gascons Are making ready. O thou good beginning, Unto how vile an end must thou needs fall!
But the high Providence, that with Scipio At Rome the glory of the world defended, Will speedily bring aid, as I conceive;
And thou, my son, who by thy mortal weight Shalt down return again, open thy mouth; What I conceal not, do not thou conceal.”
As with its frozen vapours downward falls In flakes our atmosphere, what time the horn Of the celestial Goat doth touch the sun,
Upward in such array saw I the ether
Become, and flaked with the triumphant vapours, Which there together with us had remained.
My sight was following up their semblances, And followed till the medium, by excess, The passing farther onward took from it;
Whereat the Lady, who beheld me freed From gazing upward, said to me: “Cast down Thy sight, and see how far thou art turned round.”
Since the first time that I had downward looked, I saw that I had moved through the whole arc Which the first climate makes from midst to end;
So that I saw the mad track of Ulysses Past Gades, and this side, well nigh the shore Whereon became Europa a sweet burden.
And of this threshing-floor the site to me Were more unveiled, but the sun was proceeding Under my feet, a sign and more removed.
My mind enamoured, which is dallying
At all times with my Lady, to bring back To her mine eyes was more than ever ardent.
And if or Art or Nature has made bait To catch the eyes and so possess the mind, In human flesh or in its portraiture,
All joined together would appear as nought To the divine delight which shone upon me When to her smiling face I turned me round.
The virtue that her look endowed me with From the fair nest of Leda tore me forth, And up into the swiftest heaven impelled me.
Its parts exceeding full of life and lofty Are all so uniform, I cannot say
Which Beatrice selected for my place.
But she, who was aware of my desire,
Began, the while she smiled so joyously That God seemed in her countenance to rejoice:
“The nature of that motion, which keeps quiet The centre and all the rest about it moves, From hence begins as from its starting point.
And in this heaven there is no other Where Than in the Mind Divine, wherein is kindled The love that turns it, and the power it rains.
Within a circle light and love embrace it, Even as this doth the others, and that precinct He who encircles it alone controls.
Its motion is not by another meted,
But all the others measured are by this, As ten is by the half and by the fifth.
And in what manner time in such a pot May have its roots, and in the rest its leaves, Now unto thee can manifest be made.
O Covetousness, that mortals dost ingulf Beneath thee so, that no one hath the power Of drawing back his eyes from out thy waves!
Full fairly blossoms in mankind the will; But the uninterrupted rain converts
Into abortive wildings the true plums.
Fidelity and innocence are found
Only in children; afterwards they both Take flight or e’er the cheeks with down are covered.
One, while he prattles still, observes the fasts, Who, when his tongue is loosed, forthwith devours Whatever food under whatever moon;
Another, while he prattles, loves and listens Unto his mother, who when speech is perfect Forthwith desires to see her in her grave.
Even thus is swarthy made the skin so white In its first aspect of the daughter fair Of him who brings the morn, and leaves the night.
Thou, that it may not be a marvel to thee, Think that on earth there is no one who governs; Whence goes astray the human family.
Ere January be unwintered wholly
By the centesimal on earth neglected, Shall these supernal circles roar so loud
The tempest that has been so long awaited Shall whirl the poops about where are the prows; So that the fleet shall run its course direct,
And the true fruit shall follow on the flower.”
Paradiso: Canto XXVIII
After the truth against the present life Of miserable mortals was unfolded
By her who doth imparadise my mind,
As in a looking-glass a taper’s flame He sees who from behind is lighted by it, Before he has it in his sight or thought,
And turns him round to see if so the glass Tell him the truth, and sees that it accords Therewith as doth a music with its metre,
In similar wise my memory recollecteth That I did, looking into those fair eyes, Of which Love made the springes to ensnare me.
And as I turned me round, and mine were touched By that which is apparent in that volume, Whenever on its gyre we gaze intent,
A point beheld I, that was raying out Light so acute, the sight which it enkindles Must close perforce before such great acuteness.
And whatsoever star seems smallest here Would seem to be a moon, if placed beside it. As one star with another star is placed.
Perhaps at such a distance as appears A halo cincturing the light that paints it, When densest is the vapour that sustains it,
Thus distant round the point a circle of fire So swiftly whirled, that it would have surpassed Whatever motion soonest girds the world;
And this was by another circumcinct,
That by a third, the third then by a fourth, By a fifth the fourth, and then by a sixth the fifth;
The seventh followed thereupon in width So ample now, that Juno’s messenger
Entire would be too narrow to contain it.
Even so the eighth and ninth; and every one More slowly moved, according as it was
In number distant farther from the first.
And that one had its flame most crystalline From which less distant was the stainless spark, I think because more with its truth imbued.
My Lady, who in my anxiety
Beheld me much perplexed, said: “From that point Dependent is the heaven and nature all.
Behold that circle most conjoined to it, And know thou, that its motion is so swift Through burning love whereby it is spurred on.”
And I to her: “If the world were arranged In the order which I see in yonder wheels, What’s set before me would have satisfied me;
But in the world of sense we can perceive That evermore the circles are diviner
As they are from the centre more remote
Wherefore if my desire is to be ended In this miraculous and angelic temple,
That has for confines only love and light,
To hear behoves me still how the example And the exemplar go not in one fashion, Since for myself in vain I contemplate it.”
“If thine own fingers unto such a knot Be insufficient, it is no great wonder, So hard hath it become for want of trying.”
My Lady thus; then said she: “Do thou take What I shall tell thee, if thou wouldst be sated, And exercise on that thy subtlety.
The circles corporal are wide and narrow According to the more or less of virtue Which is distributed through all their parts.
The greater goodness works the greater weal, The greater weal the greater body holds, If perfect equally are all its parts.
Therefore this one which sweeps along with it The universe sublime, doth correspond
Unto the circle which most loves and knows.
On which account, if thou unto the virtue Apply thy measure, not to the appearance Of substances that unto thee seem round,
Thou wilt behold a marvellous agreement, Of more to greater, and of less to smaller, In every heaven, with its Intelligence.”
Even as remaineth splendid and serene The hemisphere of air, when Boreas
Is blowing from that cheek where he is mildest,
Because is purified and resolved the rack That erst disturbed it, till the welkin laughs With all the beauties of its pageantry;
Thus did I likewise, after that my Lady Had me provided with her clear response, And like a star in heaven the truth was seen.
And soon as to a stop her words had come, Not otherwise does iron scintillate
When molten, than those circles scintillated.
Their coruscation all the sparks repeated, And they so many were, their number makes More millions than the doubling of the chess.
I heard them sing hosanna choir by choir To the fixed point which holds them at the ‘Ubi,’ And ever will, where they have ever been.
And she, who saw the dubious meditations Within my mind, “The primal circles,” said, “Have shown thee Seraphim and Cherubim.
Thus rapidly they follow their own bonds, To be as like the point as most they can, And can as far as they are high in vision.
Those other Loves, that round about them go, Thrones of the countenance divine are called, Because they terminate the primal Triad.
And thou shouldst know that they all have delight As much as their own vision penetrates
The Truth, in which all intellect finds rest.
From this it may be seen how blessedness Is founded in the faculty which sees,
And not in that which loves, and follows next;
And of this seeing merit is the measure, Which is brought forth by grace, and by good will; Thus on from grade to grade doth it proceed.
The second Triad, which is germinating In such wise in this sempiternal spring, That no nocturnal Aries despoils,
Perpetually hosanna warbles forth
With threefold melody, that sounds in three Orders of joy, with which it is intrined.
The three Divine are in this hierarchy, First the Dominions, and the Virtues next; And the third order is that of the Powers.
Then in the dances twain penultimate
The Principalities and Archangels wheel; The last is wholly of angelic sports.
These orders upward all of them are gazing, And downward so prevail, that unto God
They all attracted are and all attract.
And Dionysius with so great desire
To contemplate these Orders set himself, He named them and distinguished them as I do.
But Gregory afterwards dissented from him; Wherefore, as soon as he unclosed his eyes Within this heaven, he at himself did smile.
And if so much of secret truth a mortal Proffered on earth, I would not have thee marvel, For he who saw it here revealed it to him,
With much more of the truth about these circles.”
Paradiso: Canto XXIX
At what time both the children of Latona, Surmounted by the Ram and by the Scales, Together make a zone of the horizon,
As long as from the time the zenith holds them In equipoise, till from that girdle both Changing their hemisphere disturb the balance,
So long, her face depicted with a smile, Did Beatrice keep silence while she gazed Fixedly at the point which had o’ercome me.
Then she began: “I say, and I ask not What thou dost wish to hear, for I have seen it Where centres every When and every ‘Ubi.’
Not to acquire some good unto himself, Which is impossible, but that his splendour In its resplendency may say, ‘Subsisto,’
In his eternity outside of time,
Outside all other limits, as it pleased him, Into new Loves the Eternal Love unfolded.
Nor as if torpid did he lie before;
For neither after nor before proceeded The going forth of God upon these waters.
Matter and Form unmingled and conjoined Came into being that had no defect,
E’en as three arrows from a three-stringed bow.
And as in glass, in amber, or in crystal A sunbeam flashes so, that from its coming To its full being is no interval,
So from its Lord did the triform effect Ray forth into its being all together,
Without discrimination of beginning.
Order was con-created and constructed In substances, and summit of the world
Were those wherein the pure act was produced.
Pure potentiality held the lowest part; Midway bound potentiality with act
Such bond that it shall never be unbound.
Jerome has written unto you of angels Created a long lapse of centuries
Or ever yet the other world was made;
But written is this truth in many places By writers of the Holy Ghost, and thou
Shalt see it, if thou lookest well thereat.
And even reason seeth it somewhat,
For it would not concede that for so long Could be the motors without their perfection.
Now dost thou know both where and when these Loves Created were, and how; so that extinct
In thy desire already are three fires.
Nor could one reach, in counting, unto twenty So swiftly, as a portion of these angels Disturbed the subject of your elements.
The rest remained, and they began this art Which thou discernest, with so great delight That never from their circling do they cease.
The occasion of the fall was the accursed Presumption of that One, whom thou hast seen By all the burden of the world constrained.
Those whom thou here beholdest modest were To recognise themselves as of that goodness Which made them apt for so much understanding;
On which account their vision was exalted By the enlightening grace and their own merit, So that they have a full and steadfast will.
I would not have thee doubt, but certain be, ‘Tis meritorious to receive this grace, According as the affection opens to it.
Now round about in this consistory
Much mayst thou contemplate, if these my words Be gathered up, without all further aid.
But since upon the earth, throughout your schools, They teach that such is the angelic nature That it doth hear, and recollect, and will,
More will I say, that thou mayst see unmixed The truth that is confounded there below, Equivocating in such like prelections.
These substances, since in God’s countenance They jocund were, turned not away their sight From that wherefrom not anything is hidden;
Hence they have not their vision intercepted By object new, and hence they do not need To recollect, through interrupted thought.
So that below, not sleeping, people dream, Believing they speak truth, and not believing; And in the last is greater sin and shame.
Below you do not journey by one path
Philosophising; so transporteth you Love of appearance and the thought thereof.
And even this above here is endured
With less disdain, than when is set aside The Holy Writ, or when it is distorted.
They think not there how much of blood it costs To sow it in the world, and how he pleases Who in humility keeps close to it.
Each striveth for appearance, and doth make His own inventions; and these treated are By preachers, and the Evangel holds its peace.
One sayeth that the moon did backward turn, In the Passion of Christ, and interpose herself So that the sunlight reached not down below;
And lies; for of its own accord the light Hid itself; whence to Spaniards and to Indians, As to the Jews, did such eclipse respond.
Florence has not so many Lapi and Bindi As fables such as these, that every year Are shouted from the pulpit back and forth,
In such wise that the lambs, who do not know, Come back from pasture fed upon the wind, And not to see the harm doth not excuse them.
Christ did not to his first disciples say, ‘Go forth, and to the world preach idle tales,’ But unto them a true foundation gave;
And this so loudly sounded from their lips, That, in the warfare to enkindle Faith, They made of the Evangel shields and lances.
Now men go forth with jests and drolleries To preach, and if but well the people laugh, The hood puffs out, and nothing more is asked.
But in the cowl there nestles such a bird, That, if the common people were to see it, They would perceive what pardons they confide in,
For which so great on earth has grown the folly, That, without proof of any testimony,
To each indulgence they would flock together.
By this Saint Anthony his pig doth fatten, And many others, who are worse than pigs, Paying in money without mark of coinage.
But since we have digressed abundantly, Turn back thine eyes forthwith to the right path, So that the way be shortened with the time.
This nature doth so multiply itself
In numbers, that there never yet was speech Nor mortal fancy that can go so far.
And if thou notest that which is revealed By Daniel, thou wilt see that in his thousands Number determinate is kept concealed.
The primal light, that all irradiates it, By modes as many is received therein,
As are the splendours wherewith it is mated.
Hence, inasmuch as on the act conceptive The affection followeth, of love the sweetness Therein diversely fervid is or tepid.
The height behold now and the amplitude Of the eternal power, since it hath made Itself so many mirrors, where ’tis broken,
One in itself remaining as before.”
Paradiso: Canto XXX
Perchance six thousand miles remote from us Is glowing the sixth hour, and now this world Inclines its shadow almost to a level,
When the mid-heaven begins to make itself So deep to us, that here and there a star Ceases to shine so far down as this depth,
And as advances bright exceedingly
The handmaid of the sun, the heaven is closed Light after light to the most beautiful;
Not otherwise the Triumph, which for ever Plays round about the point that vanquished me, Seeming enclosed by what itself encloses,
Little by little from my vision faded; Whereat to turn mine eyes on Beatrice
My seeing nothing and my love constrained me.
If what has hitherto been said of her Were all concluded in a single praise,
Scant would it be to serve the present turn.
Not only does the beauty I beheld
Transcend ourselves, but truly I believe Its Maker only may enjoy it all.
Vanquished do I confess me by this passage More than by problem of his theme was ever O’ercome the comic or the tragic poet;
For as the sun the sight that trembles most, Even so the memory of that sweet smile
My mind depriveth of its very self.
From the first day that I beheld her face In this life, to the moment of this look, The sequence of my song has ne’er been severed;
But now perforce this sequence must desist From following her beauty with my verse, As every artist at his uttermost.
Such as I leave her to a greater fame Than any of my trumpet, which is bringing Its arduous matter to a final close,
With voice and gesture of a perfect leader She recommenced: “We from the greatest body Have issued to the heaven that is pure light;
Light intellectual replete with love, Love of true good replete with ecstasy, Ecstasy that transcendeth every sweetness.
Here shalt thou see the one host and the other Of Paradise, and one in the same aspects Which at the final judgment thou shalt see.”
Even as a sudden lightning that disperses The visual spirits, so that it deprives The eye of impress from the strongest objects,
Thus round about me flashed a living light, And left me swathed around with such a veil Of its effulgence, that I nothing saw.
“Ever the Love which quieteth this heaven Welcomes into itself with such salute,
To make the candle ready for its flame.”
No sooner had within me these brief words An entrance found, than I perceived myself To be uplifted over my own power,
And I with vision new rekindled me,
Such that no light whatever is so pure But that mine eyes were fortified against it.
And light I saw in fashion of a river Fulvid with its effulgence, ‘twixt two banks Depicted with an admirable Spring.
Out of this river issued living sparks, And on all sides sank down into the flowers, Like unto rubies that are set in gold;
And then, as if inebriate with the odours, They plunged again into the wondrous torrent, And as one entered issued forth another.
“The high desire, that now inflames and moves thee To have intelligence of what thou seest, Pleaseth me all the more, the more it swells.
But of this water it behoves thee drink Before so great a thirst in thee be slaked.” Thus said to me the sunshine of mine eyes;
And added: “The river and the topazes Going in and out, and the laughing of the herbage, Are of their truth foreshadowing prefaces;
Not that these things are difficult in themselves, But the deficiency is on thy side,
For yet thou hast not vision so exalted.”
There is no babe that leaps so suddenly With face towards the milk, if he awake Much later than his usual custom is,
As I did, that I might make better mirrors Still of mine eyes, down stooping to the wave Which flows that we therein be better made.
And even as the penthouse of mine eyelids Drank of it, it forthwith appeared to me Out of its length to be transformed to round.
Then as a folk who have been under masks Seem other than before, if they divest
The semblance not their own they disappeared in,
Thus into greater pomp were changed for me The flowerets and the sparks, so that I saw Both of the Courts of Heaven made manifest.
O splendour of God! by means of which I saw The lofty triumph of the realm veracious, Give me the power to say how it I saw!
There is a light above, which visible Makes the Creator unto every creature,
Who only in beholding Him has peace,
And it expands itself in circular form To such extent, that its circumference
Would be too large a girdle for the sun.
The semblance of it is all made of rays Reflected from the top of Primal Motion, Which takes therefrom vitality and power.
And as a hill in water at its base
Mirrors itself, as if to see its beauty When affluent most in verdure and in flowers,
So, ranged aloft all round about the light, Mirrored I saw in more ranks than a thousand All who above there have from us returned.
And if the lowest row collect within it So great a light, how vast the amplitude Is of this Rose in its extremest leaves!
My vision in the vastness and the height Lost not itself, but comprehended all
The quantity and quality of that gladness.
There near and far nor add nor take away; For there where God immediately doth govern, The natural law in naught is relevant.
Into the yellow of the Rose Eternal
That spreads, and multiplies, and breathes an odour Of praise unto the ever-vernal Sun,
As one who silent is and fain would speak, Me Beatrice drew on, and said: “Behold
Of the white stoles how vast the convent is!
Behold how vast the circuit of our city! Behold our seats so filled to overflowing, That here henceforward are few people wanting!
On that great throne whereon thine eyes are fixed For the crown’s sake already placed upon it, Before thou suppest at this wedding feast
Shall sit the soul (that is to be Augustus On earth) of noble Henry, who shall come To redress Italy ere she be ready.
Blind covetousness, that casts its spell upon you, Has made you like unto the little child, Who dies of hunger and drives off the nurse.
And in the sacred forum then shall be A Prefect such, that openly or covert
On the same road he will not walk with him.
But long of God he will not be endured In holy office; he shall be thrust down Where Simon Magus is for his deserts,
And make him of Alagna lower go!”
Paradiso: Canto XXXI
In fashion then as of a snow-white rose Displayed itself to me the saintly host, Whom Christ in his own blood had made his bride,
But the other host, that flying sees and sings The glory of Him who doth enamour it,
And the goodness that created it so noble,
Even as a swarm of bees, that sinks in flowers One moment, and the next returns again
To where its labour is to sweetness turned,
Sank into the great flower, that is adorned With leaves so many, and thence reascended To where its love abideth evermore.
Their faces had they all of living flame, And wings of gold, and all the rest so white No snow unto that limit doth attain.
From bench to bench, into the flower descending, They carried something of the peace and ardour Which by the fanning of their flanks they won.
Nor did the interposing ‘twixt the flower And what was o’er it of such plenitude
Of flying shapes impede the sight and splendour;
Because the light divine so penetrates The universe, according to its merit,
That naught can be an obstacle against it.
This realm secure and full of gladsomeness, Crowded with ancient people and with modern, Unto one mark had all its look and love.
O Trinal Light, that in a single star Sparkling upon their sight so satisfies them, Look down upon our tempest here below!
If the barbarians, coming from some region That every day by Helice is covered,
Revolving with her son whom she delights in,
Beholding Rome and all her noble works, Were wonder-struck, what time the Lateran Above all mortal things was eminent,–
I who to the divine had from the human, From time unto eternity, had come,
From Florence to a people just and sane,
With what amazement must I have been filled! Truly between this and the joy, it was
My pleasure not to hear, and to be mute.
And as a pilgrim who delighteth him
In gazing round the temple of his vow, And hopes some day to retell how it was,
So through the living light my way pursuing Directed I mine eyes o’er all the ranks, Now up, now down, and now all round about.
Faces I saw of charity persuasive,
Embellished by His light and their own smile, And attitudes adorned with every grace.
The general form of Paradise already
My glance had comprehended as a whole, In no part hitherto remaining fixed,
And round I turned me with rekindled wish My Lady to interrogate of things
Concerning which my mind was in suspense.
One thing I meant, another answered me; I thought I should see Beatrice, and saw An Old Man habited like the glorious people.
O’erflowing was he in his eyes and cheeks With joy benign, in attitude of pity
As to a tender father is becoming.
And “She, where is she?” instantly I said; Whence he: “To put an end to thy desire, Me Beatrice hath sent from mine own place.
And if thou lookest up to the third round Of the first rank, again shalt thou behold her Upon the throne her merits have assigned her.”
Without reply I lifted up mine eyes,
And saw her, as she made herself a crown Reflecting from herself the eternal rays.
Not from that region which the highest thunders Is any mortal eye so far removed,
In whatsoever sea it deepest sinks,
As there from Beatrice my sight; but this Was nothing unto me; because her image
Descended not to me by medium blurred.
“O Lady, thou in whom my hope is strong, And who for my salvation didst endure
In Hell to leave the imprint of thy feet,
Of whatsoever things I have beheld,
As coming from thy power and from thy goodness I recognise the virtue and the grace.
Thou from a slave hast brought me unto freedom, By all those ways, by all the expedients, Whereby thou hadst the power of doing it.
Preserve towards me thy magnificence, So that this soul of mine, which thou hast healed, Pleasing to thee be loosened from the body.”
Thus I implored; and she, so far away, Smiled, as it seemed, and looked once more at me; Then unto the eternal fountain turned.
And said the Old Man holy: “That thou mayst Accomplish perfectly thy journeying,
Whereunto prayer and holy love have sent me,
Fly with thine eyes all round about this garden; For seeing it will discipline thy sight Farther to mount along the ray divine.
And she, the Queen of Heaven, for whom I burn Wholly with love, will grant us every grace, Because that I her faithful Bernard am.”
As he who peradventure from Croatia
Cometh to gaze at our Veronica,
Who through its ancient fame is never sated,
But says in thought, the while it is displayed, “My Lord, Christ Jesus, God of very God, Now was your semblance made like unto this?”
Even such was I while gazing at the living Charity of the man, who in this world
By contemplation tasted of that peace.
“Thou son of grace, this jocund life,” began he, “Will not be known to thee by keeping ever Thine eyes below here on the lowest place;
But mark the circles to the most remote, Until thou shalt behold enthroned the Queen To whom this realm is subject and devoted.”
I lifted up mine eyes, and as at morn The oriental part of the horizon
Surpasses that wherein the sun goes down,
Thus, as if going with mine eyes from vale To mount, I saw a part in the remoteness Surpass in splendour all the other front.
And even as there where we await the pole That Phaeton drove badly, blazes more
The light, and is on either side diminished,
So likewise that pacific oriflamme
Gleamed brightest in the centre, and each side In equal measure did the flame abate.
And at that centre, with their wings expanded, More than a thousand jubilant Angels saw I, Each differing in effulgence and in kind.
I saw there at their sports and at their songs A beauty smiling, which the gladness was Within the eyes of all the other saints;
And if I had in speaking as much wealth As in imagining, I should not dare
To attempt the smallest part of its delight.
Bernard, as soon as he beheld mine eyes Fixed and intent upon its fervid fervour, His own with such affection turned to her
That it made mine more ardent to behold.
Paradiso: Canto XXXII
Absorbed in his delight, that contemplator Assumed the willing office of a teacher, And gave beginning to these holy words:
“The wound that Mary closed up and anointed, She at her feet who is so beautiful,
She is the one who opened it and pierced it.
Within that order which the third seats make Is seated Rachel, lower than the other, With Beatrice, in manner as thou seest.
Sarah, Rebecca, Judith, and her who was Ancestress of the Singer, who for dole
Of the misdeed said, ‘Miserere mei,’
Canst thou behold from seat to seat descending Down in gradation, as with each one’s name I through the Rose go down from leaf to leaf.
And downward from the seventh row, even as Above the same, succeed the Hebrew women, Dividing all the tresses of the flower;
Because, according to the view which Faith In Christ had taken, these are the partition By which the sacred stairways are divided.
Upon this side, where perfect is the flower With each one of its petals, seated are Those who believed in Christ who was to come.
Upon the other side, where intersected With vacant spaces are the semicircles, Are those who looked to Christ already come.
And as, upon this side, the glorious seat Of the Lady of Heaven, and the other seats Below it, such a great division make,
So opposite doth that of the great John, Who, ever holy, desert and martyrdom
Endured, and afterwards two years in Hell.
And under him thus to divide were chosen Francis, and Benedict, and Augustine,
And down to us the rest from round to round.
Behold now the high providence divine; For one and other aspect of the Faith
In equal measure shall this garden fill.
And know that downward from that rank which cleaves Midway the sequence of the two divisions, Not by their proper merit are they seated;
But by another’s under fixed conditions; For these are spirits one and all assoiled Before they any true election had.
Well canst thou recognise it in their faces, And also in their voices puerile,
If thou regard them well and hearken to them.
Now doubtest thou, and doubting thou art silent; But I will loosen for thee the strong bond In which thy subtile fancies hold thee fast.
Within the amplitude of this domain
No casual point can possibly find place, No more than sadness can, or thirst, or hunger;
For by eternal law has been established Whatever thou beholdest, so that closely The ring is fitted to the finger here.
And therefore are these people, festinate Unto true life, not ‘sine causa’ here
More and less excellent among themselves.
The King, by means of whom this realm reposes In so great love and in so great delight That no will ventureth to ask for more,
In his own joyous aspect every mind
Creating, at his pleasure dowers with grace Diversely; and let here the effect suffice.
And this is clearly and expressly noted For you in Holy Scripture, in those twins Who in their mother had their anger roused.
According to the colour of the hair,
Therefore, with such a grace the light supreme Consenteth that they worthily be crowned.
Without, then, any merit of their deeds, Stationed are they in different gradations, Differing only in their first acuteness.
‘Tis true that in the early centuries, With innocence, to work out their salvation Sufficient was the faith of parents only.
After the earlier ages were completed, Behoved it that the males by circumcision Unto their innocent wings should virtue add;
But after that the time of grace had come Without the baptism absolute of Christ, Such innocence below there was retained.
Look now into the face that unto Christ Hath most resemblance; for its brightness only Is able to prepare thee to see Christ.”
On her did I behold so great a gladness Rain down, borne onward in the holy minds Created through that altitude to fly,
That whatsoever I had seen before
Did not suspend me in such admiration, Nor show me such similitude of God.
And the same Love that first descended there, “Ave Maria, gratia plena,” singing,
In front of her his wings expanded wide.
Unto the canticle divine responded
From every part the court beatified, So that each sight became serener for it.
“O holy father, who for me endurest
To be below here, leaving the sweet place In which thou sittest by eternal lot,
Who is the Angel that with so much joy Into the eyes is looking of our Queen,
Enamoured so that he seems made of fire?”
Thus I again recourse had to the teaching Of that one who delighted him in Mary
As doth the star of morning in the sun.
And he to me: “Such gallantry and grace As there can be in Angel and in soul,
All is in him; and thus we fain would have it;
Because he is the one who bore the palm Down unto Mary, when the Son of God
To take our burden on himself decreed.
But now come onward with thine eyes, as I Speaking shall go, and note the great patricians Of this most just and merciful of empires.
Those two that sit above there most enrapture As being very near unto Augusta,
Are as it were the two roots of this Rose.
He who upon the left is near her placed The father is, by whose audacious taste The human species so much bitter tastes.
Upon the right thou seest that ancient father Of Holy Church, into whose keeping Christ The keys committed of this lovely flower.
And he who all the evil days beheld,
Before his death, of her the beauteous bride Who with the spear and with the nails was won,
Beside him sits, and by the other rests That leader under whom on manna lived
The people ingrate, fickle, and stiff-necked.
Opposite Peter seest thou Anna seated, So well content to look upon her daughter, Her eyes she moves not while she sings Hosanna.
And opposite the eldest household father Lucia sits, she who thy Lady moved
When to rush downward thou didst bend thy brows.
But since the moments of thy vision fly, Here will we make full stop, as a good tailor Who makes the gown according to his cloth,
And unto the first Love will turn our eyes, That looking upon Him thou penetrate
As far as possible through his effulgence.
Truly, lest peradventure thou recede, Moving thy wings believing to advance,
By prayer behoves it that grace be obtained;
Grace from that one who has the power to aid thee; And thou shalt follow me with thy affection That from my words thy heart turn not aside.”
And he began this holy orison.
Paradiso: Canto XXXIII
“Thou Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son, Humble and high beyond all other creature, The limit fixed of the eternal counsel,
Thou art the one who such nobility
To human nature gave, that its Creator Did not disdain to make himself its creature.
Within thy womb rekindled was the love, By heat of which in the eternal peace
After such wise this flower has germinated.
Here unto us thou art a noonday torch Of charity, and below there among mortals Thou art the living fountain-head of hope.
Lady, thou art so great, and so prevailing, That he who wishes grace, nor runs to thee, His aspirations without wings would fly.
Not only thy benignity gives succour
To him who asketh it, but oftentimes Forerunneth of its own accord the asking.
In thee compassion is, in thee is pity, In thee magnificence; in thee unites
Whate’er of goodness is in any creature.
Now doth this man, who from the lowest depth Of the universe as far as here has seen One after one the spiritual lives,
Supplicate thee through grace for so much power That with his eyes he may uplift himself Higher towards the uttermost salvation.
And I, who never burned for my own seeing More than I do for his, all of my prayers Proffer to thee, and pray they come not short,
That thou wouldst scatter from him every cloud Of his mortality so with thy prayers,
That the Chief Pleasure be to him displayed.
Still farther do I pray thee, Queen, who canst Whate’er thou wilt, that sound thou mayst preserve After so great a vision his affections.
Let thy protection conquer human movements; See Beatrice and all the blessed ones
My prayers to second clasp their hands to thee!”
The eyes beloved and revered of God,
Fastened upon the speaker, showed to us How grateful unto her are prayers devout;
Then unto the Eternal Light they turned, On which it is not credible could be
By any creature bent an eye so clear.
And I, who to the end of all desires
Was now approaching, even as I ought The ardour of desire within me ended.
Bernard was beckoning unto me, and smiling, That I should upward look; but I already Was of my own accord such as he wished;
Because my sight, becoming purified,
Was entering more and more into the ray Of the High Light which of itself is true.
From that time forward what I saw was greater Than our discourse, that to such vision yields, And yields the memory unto such excess.
Even as he is who seeth in a dream,
And after dreaming the imprinted passion Remains, and to his mind the rest returns not,
Even such am I, for almost utterly
Ceases my vision, and distilleth yet Within my heart the sweetness born of it;
Even thus the snow is in the sun unsealed, Even thus upon the wind in the light leaves Were the soothsayings of the Sibyl lost.
O Light Supreme, that dost so far uplift thee From the conceits of mortals, to my mind Of what thou didst appear re-lend a little,
And make my tongue of so great puissance, That but a single sparkle of thy glory
It may bequeath unto the future people;
For by returning to my memory somewhat, And by a little sounding in these verses, More of thy victory shall be conceived!
I think the keenness of the living ray Which I endured would have bewildered me, If but mine eyes had been averted from it;
And I remember that I was more bold
On this account to bear, so that I joined My aspect with the Glory Infinite.
O grace abundant, by which I presumed To fix my sight upon the Light Eternal, So that the seeing I consumed therein!
I saw that in its depth far down is lying Bound up with love together in one volume, What through the universe in leaves is scattered;
Substance, and accident, and their operations, All interfused together in such wise
That what I speak of is one simple light.
The universal fashion of this knot
Methinks I saw, since more abundantly In saying this I feel that I rejoice.
One moment is more lethargy to me,
Than five and twenty centuries to the emprise That startled Neptune with the shade of Argo!
My mind in this wise wholly in suspense, Steadfast, immovable, attentive gazed,
And evermore with gazing grew enkindled.
In presence of that light one such becomes, That to withdraw therefrom for other prospect It is impossible he e’er consent;
Because the good, which object is of will, Is gathered all in this, and out of it
That is defective which is perfect there.
Shorter henceforward will my language fall Of what I yet remember, than an infant’s Who still his tongue doth moisten at the breast.
Not because more than one unmingled semblance Was in the living light on which I looked, For it is always what it was before;
But through the sight, that fortified itself In me by looking, one appearance only
To me was ever changing as I changed.
Within the deep and luminous subsistence Of the High Light appeared to me three circles, Of threefold colour and of one dimension,
And by the second seemed the first reflected As Iris is by Iris, and the third
Seemed fire that equally from both is breathed.
O how all speech is feeble and falls short Of my conceit, and this to what I saw
Is such, ’tis not enough to call it little!
O Light Eterne, sole in thyself that dwellest, Sole knowest thyself, and, known unto thyself And knowing, lovest and smilest on thyself!
That circulation, which being thus conceived Appeared in thee as a reflected light,
When somewhat contemplated by mine eyes,
Within itself, of its own very colour Seemed to me painted with our effigy,
Wherefore my sight was all absorbed therein.
As the geometrician, who endeavours
To square the circle, and discovers not, By taking thought, the principle he wants,
Even such was I at that new apparition; I wished to see how the image to the circle Conformed itself, and how it there finds place;
But my own wings were not enough for this, Had it not been that then my mind there smote A flash of lightning, wherein came its wish.
Here vigour failed the lofty fantasy: But now was turning my desire and will, Even as a wheel that equally is moved,
The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.
SIX SONNETS ON DANTE’S DIVINE COMEDY
BY HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW (1807-1882)
Oft have I seen at some cathedral door A laborer, pausing in the dust and heat, Lay down his burden, and with reverent feet Enter, and cross himself, and on the floor Kneel to repeat his paternoster o’er;
Far off the noises of the world retreat; The loud vociferations of the street
Become an undistinguishable roar.
So, as I enter here from day to day, And leave my burden at this minster gate, Kneeling in prayer, and not ashamed to pray, The tumult of the time disconsolate
To inarticulate murmurs dies away, While the eternal ages watch and wait.
How strange the sculptures that adorn these towers! This crowd of statues, in whose folded sleeves Birds build their nests; while canopied with leaves Parvis and portal bloom like trellised bowers, And the vast minster seems a cross of flowers! But fiends and dragons on the gargoyled eaves Watch the dead Christ between the living thieves, And, underneath, the traitor Judas lowers! Ah! from what agonies of heart and brain, What exultations trampling on despair,
What tenderness, what tears, what hate of wrong, What passionate outcry of a soul in pain, Uprose this poem of the earth and air,
This mediaeval miracle of song!
I enter, and I see thee in the gloom
Of the long aisles, O poet saturnine! And strive to make my steps keep pace with thine. The air is filled with some unknown perfume; The congregation of the dead make room
For thee to pass; the votive tapers shine; Like rooks that haunt Ravenna’s groves of pine, The hovering echoes fly from tomb to tomb. From the confessionals I hear arise
Rehearsals of forgotten tragedies, And lamentations from the crypts below
And then a voice celestial that begins With the pathetic words, “Although your sins As scarlet be,” and ends with “as the snow.”
With snow-white veil, and garments as of flame, She stands before thee, who so long ago Filled thy young heart with passion and the woe From which thy song in all its splendors came; And while with stern rebuke she speaks thy name, The ice about thy heart melts as the snow On mountain heights, and in swift overflow Comes gushing from thy lips in sobs of shame. Thou makest full confession; and a gleam As of the dawn on some dark forest cast, Seems on thy lifted forehead to increase; Lethe and Eunoe–the remembered dream
And the forgotten sorrow–bring at last That perfect pardon which is perfect peace.
I Lift mine eyes, and all the windows blaze With forms of saints and holy men who died, Here martyred and hereafter glorified;
And the great Rose upon its leaves displays Christ’s Triumph, and the angelic roundelays, With splendor upon splendor multiplied; And Beatrice again at Dante’s side
No more rebukes, but smiles her words of praise. And then the organ sounds, and unseen choirs Sing the old Latin hymns of peace and love And benedictions of the Holy Ghost;
And the melodious bells among the spires O’er all the house-tops and through heaven above Proclaim the elevation of the Host!
O star of morning and of liberty!
O bringer of the light, whose splendor shines Above the darkness of the Apennines,
Forerunner of the day that is to be! The voices of the city and the sea,
The voices of the mountains and the pines, Repeat thy song, till the familiar lines Are footpaths for the thought of Italy! Thy fame is blown abroad from all the heights, Through all the nations; and a sound is heard, As of a mighty wind, and men devout,
Strangers of Rome, and the new proselytes, In their own language hear thy wondrous word, And many are amazed and many doubt.
‘Ich habe unter meinen Papieren ein Blatt gefunden, wo ich die Baukunst eine erstarrte Musik nenne.’ (Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 1829 March 23)
I found Dante in a bar. The Poet had indeed lost the True Way to be found reduced to party chatter in a Capitol Hill basement, but I had found him at last. I must have been drinking in the Dark Tavern of Error, for I did not even realize I had begun the dolorous path followed by many since the Poet’s journey of A.D. 1300. Actually no one spoke a word about Dante or his Divine Comedy, rather I heard a second-hand Goethe call architecture “frozen music.” Soon I took my second step through the gate to a people lost; this time on a more respectable occasion–a lecture at the Catholic University of America. Clio, the muse of history, must have been aiding Prof. Schumacher that evening, because it sustained my full three-hour attention, even after I had just presented an all-night project. There I heard of a most astonishing Italian translation of ‘la Divina Commedia’ di Dante Alighieri. An Italian architect, Giuseppi Terragni, had translated the Comedy into the ‘Danteum,’ a projected stone and glass monument to Poet and Poem near the Basilica of Maxentius in Rome.
Do not look for the Danteum in the Eternal City. In true Dantean form, politics stood in the way of its construction in 1938. Ironically this literature-inspired building can itself most easily be found in book form. Reading this book I remembered Goethe’s quote about frozen music. Did Terragni try to freeze Dante’s medieval miracle of song? Certainly a cold-poem seems artistically repulsive. Unflattering comparisons to the lake of Cocytus spring to mind too. While I cannot read Italian, I can read some German. After locating the original quotation I discovered that ‘frozen’ is a problematic (though common) translation of Goethe’s original ‘erstarrte.’ The verb ‘erstarren’ more properly means ‘to solidify’ or ‘to stiffen.’ This suggests a chemical reaction in which the art does not necessarily chill in the transformation. Nor can simple thawing yield the original work. Like a chemical reaction it requires an artistic catalyst, a muse. Indeed the Danteum is not a physical translation of the Poem. Terragni thought it inappropriate to translate the Comedy literally into a non-literary work. The Danteum would not be a stage set, rather Terragni generated his design from the Comedy’s structure, not its finishes.
The poem is divided into three canticles of thirty-three cantos each, plus one extra in the first, the Inferno, making a total of one hundred cantos. Each canto is composed of three-line tercets, the first and third lines rhyme, the second line rhymes with the beginning of the next tercet, establishing a kind of overlap, reflected in the overlapping motif of the Danteum design. Dante’s realms are further subdivided: the Inferno is composed of nine levels, the vestibule makes a tenth. Purgatory has seven terraces, plus two ledges in an ante-purgatory; adding these to the Earthly Paradise yields ten zones. Paradise is composed of nine heavens; Empyrean makes the tenth. In the Inferno, sinners are organized by three vices–Incontinence, Violence, and Fraud–and further subdivided by the seven deadly sins. In Purgatory, penance is ordered on the basis of three types of natural love. Paradise is organized on the basis of three types of Divine Love, and further subdivided according to the three theological and four cardinal virtues. (Thomas Schumacher, “The Danteum,”
Princeton Architectural Press, 1993)
By translating the structure, Terragni could then layer the literal and the spiritual meanings of the Poem without allowing either to dominate. These layers of meaning are native to the Divine Comedy as they are native to much medieval literature, although modern readers and tourists may not be so familiar with them. They are literal, allegorical, moral, and anagogical. I offer you St. Thomas of Aquinas’ definition of these last three as they relate to Sacred Scripture:
. . .this spiritual sense has a threefold division. . .so far as the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law, there is the allegorical sense; so far as the things done in Christ, or so far as the things which signify Christ, are types of what we ought to do, there is the moral sense. But so far as they signify what relates to eternal glory, there is the anagogical sense. (Summa Theologica I, 1, 10)