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Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Paradise
 
Canto II
 
 
ARGUMENT.—Dante and his celestial guide enter the moon. The cause of the spots or shadows, which appear in that body, is explained to him.
 
 
ALL ye, who in small bark have following sail’d,
Eager to listen, on the adventurous track
Of my proud keel, that singing cuts her way,
Backward return with speed, and your own shores
Revisit; nor put out to open sea,        5
Where losing me, perchance ye may remain
Bewilder’d in deep maze. The way I pass,
Ne’er yet was run: Minerva breathes the gale;
Apollo guides me; and another Nine,
To my rapt sight, the arctic beams reveal.        10
Ye other few who have outstretch’d the neck
Timely for food of angels, on which here
They live, yet never know satiety;
Through the deep brine ye fearless may put out
Your vessel; marking well the furrow broad        15
Before you in the wave, that on both sides
Equal returns. Those, glorious, who pass’d o’er
To Colchis, wonder’d not as ye will do,
When they saw Jason following the plough.
  The increate perpetual thirst, that draws        20
Toward the realm of God’s own form, bore us
Swift almost as the Heaven ye behold.
  Beatrice upward gazed, and I on her;
And in such space as on the notch a dart
Is placed, then loosen’d flies, I saw myself        25
Arrived, where wonderous thing engaged my sight.
Whence she, to whom no care of mine was hid,
Turning to me, with aspect glad as fair,
Bespake me: “Gratefully direct thy mind
To God, through whom to this first star 1 we come.”        30
  Meseem’d as if a cloud had cover’d us,
Translucent, solid, firm, and polish’d bright,
Like adamant, which the sun’s beam had smit.
Within itself the ever-during pearl
Received us; as the wave a ray of light        35
Receives, and rests unbroken. If I then
Was of corporeal frame, and it transcend
Our weaker thought, how one dimension thus
Another could endure, which needs must be
If body enter body; how much more        40
Must the desire inflame us to behold
That Essence, which discovers by what means
God and our nature join’d! There will be seen
That, which we hold through faith; not shown by proof,
But in itself intelligibly plain,        45
E’en as the truth that man at first believes.
  I answer’d: “Lady! I with thoughts devout,
Such as I best can frame, give thanks to Him,
Who hath removed me from the mortal world.
But tell, I pray thee, whence the gloomy spots        50
Upon this body, which below on earth
Give rise to talk of Cain in fabling quaint?”
  She somewhat smiled, then spake: “If mortals err
In their opinion, when the key of sense
Unlocks not, surely wonder’s weapon keen        55
Ought not to pierce thee: since thou find’st, the wings
Of reason to pursue the senses’ flight
Are short. But what thy own thought is, declare.”
  Then I: “What various here above appears,
Is caused, I deem, by bodies dense or rare.”        60
  She then resumed: “Thou certainly wilt see
In falsehood thy belief o’erwhelm’d, if well
Thou listen to the arguments which I
Shall bring to face it. The eighth sphere displays
Numberless lights, the which, in kind and size,        65
May be remark’d of different aspects:
If rare or dense of that were cause alone,
One single virtue then would be in all;
Alike distributed, or more, or less.
Different virtues needs must be the fruits        70
Of formal principles; and these, save one,
Will by thy reasoning be destroy’d. Beside,
If rarity were of that dusk the cause,
Which thou inquirest, either in some part
That planet must throughout be void, nor fed        75
With its own matter; or, as bodies share
Their fat and leanness, in like manner this
Must in its volume change the leaves.  2 The first,
If it were true, had through the sun’s eclipse
Been manifested, by transparency        80
Of light, as through aught rare beside effused.
But this is not. Therefore remains to see
The other cause: and, if the other fall,
Erroneous so must prove what seem’d to thee.
If not from side to side this rarity        85
Pass through, there needs must be a limit, whence
Its contrary no further lets it pass.
And hence the beam, that from without proceeds,
Must be pour’d back; as colour comes, through glass
Reflected, which behind it lead conceals.        90
Now wilt thou say, that there of murkier hue,
Than, in the other part, the ray is shown,
By being thence refracted farther back.
From this perplexity will free thee soon
Experience, if thereof thou trial make,        95
The mountain whence your arts derive their streams.
Three mirrors shalt thou take, and two remove
From thee alike; and more remote the third,
Betwixt the former pair, shall meet thine eyes:
Then turn’d toward them, cause behind thy back        100
A light to stand, that on the three shall shine,
And thus reflected come to thee from all.
Though that, beheld most distant, do not stretch
A space so ample, yet in brightness thou
Wilt own it equaling the rest. But now,        105
As under snow the ground, if the warm ray
Smites it, remains dismantled of the hue
And cold, that cover’d it before; so thee,
Dismantled in thy mind, I will inform
With light so lively, that the tremulous beam        110
Shall quiver where it falls. Within the heaven, 3
Where peace divine inhabits, circles round
A body, in whose virtue lies the being
Of all that it contains. The following Heaven,
That hath so many lights, this being divides,        115
Through different essences, from it distinct,
And yet contain’d within it. The other orbs
Their separate distinctions variously
Dispose, for their own seed and produce apt.
Thus do these organs of the world proceed,        120
As thou beholdest now, from step to step;
Their influences from above deriving,
And thence transmitting downward. Mark me well;
How through this passage to the truth I ford,
The truth thou lovest; that thou henceforth, alone,        125
Mayst know to keep the shallows, safe, untold.
  “The virtue and motion of the sacred orbs,
As mallet by the workman’s hand, must needs
By blessed movers 4 be inspired. This Heaven, 5
Made beauteous by so many luminaries,        130
From the deep spirit, 6 that moves its circling sphere,
Its image takes and impress as a seal:
And as the soul, that dwells within your dust,
Through members different, yet together form’d,
In different powers resolves itself; e’en so        135
The intellectual efficacy unfolds
Its goodness multiplied throughout the stars;
On its own unity revolving still.
Different virtue 7 compact different
Makes with the precious body it enlivens,        140
With which it knits, as life in you is knit.
From its original nature full of joy,
The virtue mingled through the body shines,
As joy through pupil of the living eye.
From hence proceeds that which from light to light        145
Seems different, and not from dense or rare.
This is the formal cause, that generates,
Proportion’d to its power, the dusk or clear.”
 
Note 1. “This first star.” The moon. [back]
Note 2. “Change the leaves.” Would, like leaves of parchment, be darker in some parts than in others. [back]
Note 3. According to our Poet’s system, there are ten Heavens. The Heaven, “where peace divine inhabits,” is the empyrean; the body within it, that “circles round,” is the primum mobile; “the following Heaven,” that of the fixed stars; and “the other orbs” the seven lower Heavens, are Saturn, Jupiter, Mars, the Sun, Venus, Mercury, and the Moon. Thus Milton, “Paradise Lost” b. iii. 481. [back]
Note 4. “By blessed movers.” By Angels. [back]
Note 5. “This Heaven.” The Heaven of fixed stars. [back]
Note 6. “The deep spirit.” The moving Angel. [back]
Note 7. “Different virtue.” “There is one glory of the sun, and another glory of the moon, and another glory of the stars; for one star differeth from another star in glory.”—1 Cor. xv. 41 [back]
 

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