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Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Paradise
 
Canto XIV
 
 
ARGUMENT.—Solomon, who is one of the spirits in the inner circle, declares what the appearance of the blest will be after the resurrection of the body. Beatrice and Dante are translated into the fifth heaven, which is that of Mars; and here behold the souls of those, who had died fighting for the true faith, ranged in the sign of the cross, athwart which the spirits move to the sound of a melodious hymn.
 
 
FROM centre to the circle, and so back
From circle to the centre, water moves
In the round chalice, even as the blow
Impels it, inwardly, or from without.
Such was the image 1 glanced into my mind,        5
As the great spirit of Aquinum ceased;
And Beatrice, after him, her words
Resumed alternate: “Need there is (though yet
He tells it to you not in words, nor e’en
In thought) that he should fathom to its depth        10
Another mystery. Tell him, if the light,
Wherewith your substance blooms, shall stay with you
Eternally, as now; and, if it doth,
How, when 2 ye shall regain your visible forms,
The sight may without harm endure the change,        15
That also tell.” As those, who in a ring
Tread the light measure, in their fitful mirth
Raise loud the voice, and spring with gladder bound;
Thus, at the hearing of that pious suit,
The saintly circles, in their tourneying        20
And wondrous note, attested new delight.
  Whoso laments, that we must doff this garb
Of frail mortality, thenceforth to live
Immortally above; he hath not seen
The sweet refreshing of that heavenly shower. 3        25
  Him, who lives ever, and forever reigns
In mystic union of the three in one,
Unbounded, bounding all, each spirit thrice
Sang, with such melody, as, but to hear,
For highest merit were an ample meed.        30
And from the lesser orb the goodliest light, 4
With gentle voice and mild, such as perhaps
The Angel’s once to Mary, thus replied:
“Long as the joy of Paradise shall last,
Our love shall shine around that raiment, bright        35
As fervent; fervent as, in vision, blest;
And that as far, in blessedness, exceeding,
As it hath grace, beyond its virtue, great.
Our shape, regarmented with glorious weeds
Of saintly flesh, must, being thus entire,        40
Show yet more gracious. Therefore shall increase
Whate’er, of light, gratuitous imparts
The Supreme Good; light, ministering aid,
The better to disclose His glory; whence,
The vision needs increasing, must increase        45
The fervour, which it kindles; and that too
The ray, that comes from it. But as the gleed
Which gives out flame, yet in its whiteness shines
More livelily than that, and so preserves
Its proper semblance; thus this circling sphere        50
Of splendour shall to view less radiant seem,
Than shall our fleshly robe, which yonder earth
Now covers. Nor will such excess of light
O’erpower us, in corporeal organs made
Firm, and susceptible of all delight.”        55
  So ready and so cordial an “Amen”
Follow’d from either choir, as plainly spoke
Desire of their dead bodies; yet perchance
Not for themselves, but for their kindred dear,
Mothers and sires, and those whom best they loved,        60
Ere they were made imperishable flame.
  And lo! forthwith there rose up round about
A lustre, over that already there;
Of equal clearness, like the brightening up
Of the horizon. As at evening hour        65
Of twilight, new appearances through Heaven
Peer with faint glimmer, doubtfully descried;
So, there, new substances, methought, began
To rise in view beyond the other twain,
And wheeling, sweep their ampler circuit wide.        70
  O genuine glitter of eternal Beam!
With what a sudden whiteness did it flow,
O’erpowering vision in me. But so fair,
So passing lovely, Beatrice show’d,
Mind cannot follow it, nor words express        75
Her infinite sweetness. Thence mine eyes regain’d
Power to look up; and I beheld myself,
Sole with my lady, to more lofty bliss 5
Translated: for the star, with warmer smile
Impurpled, well denoted our ascent.        80
  With all the heart, and with that tongue which speaks
The same in all, an holocaust I made
To God, befitting the new grace vouchsafed.
And from my bosom had not yet upsteam’d
The fuming of that incense, when I knew        85
The rite accepted. With such mighty sheen
And mantling crimson, in two listed rays
The splendours shot before me, that I cried,
“God of Sabaoth! that dost prank them thus!”
  As leads the galaxy from pole to pole,        90
Distinguish’d into greater lights and less,
Its pathway, which the wisest fail to spell;
So thickly studded, in the depth of Mars,
Those rays described the venerable sign,
That quadrants in the round conjoining frame.        95
  Here memory mocks the toil of genius. Christ
Beam’d on that cross; and pattern fails me now.
But whoso takes his cross, and follows Christ,
Will pardon me for that I leave untold,
When in the flecker’d dawning he shall spy        100
The glitterance of Christ. From horn to horn,
And ’tween the summit and the base, did move
Lights, scintillating, as they met and pass’d.
Thus oft are seen with ever-changeful glance,
Straight or athwart, now rapid and now slow,        105
The atomies of bodies, long or short,
To move along the sunbeam, whose slant line
Checkers the shadow interposed by art
Against the noontide heat. And as the chime
Of minstrel music, dulcimer, and harp        110
With many strings, a pleasant dinning makes
To him, who heareth not distinct the note;
So from the lights, which there appear’d to me,
Gather’d along the cross a melody,
That, indistinctly heard, with ravishment        115
Possess’d me. Yet I mark’d it was a hymn
Of lofty praises; for there came to me
“Arise,” and “Conquer,” as to one who hears
And comprehends not. Me such ecstasy
O’ercame, that never, till that hour, was thing        120
That held me in so sweet imprisonment.
  Perhaps my saying overbold appears,
Accounting less the pleasure of those eyes,
Whereon to look fulfilleth all desire.
But he, who is aware those living seals        125
Of every beauty work with quicker force,
The higher they are risen; and that there
I had not turn’d me to them; he may well
Excuse me that, whereof in my excuse
I do accuse me, and may own my truth;        130
That holy pleasure here not yet reveal’d
Which grows in transport as we mount aloof.
 
Note 1. The voice of Thomas Aquinas proceeding from the circle to the centre; and that of Beatrice, from the centre to the circle. [back]
Note 2. “When.” When ye shall be again clothed with your bodies at the resurrection. [back]
Note 3. That effusion of beatific light. [back]
Note 4. “The goodliest light.” Solomon. [back]
Note 5. “To more lofty bliss.” To the planet Mars. [back]
 

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