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Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Paradise
 
Canto XXIII
 
 
ARGUMENT.—He sees Christ triumphing with his Church. The Saviour ascends followed by his Virgin Mother. The others remain with St. Peter.
 
 
E’EN as the bird, who midst the leafy bower
Has, in her nest, sat darkling through the night,
With her sweet brood; impatient to descry
Their wished looks, and to bring home their food,
In the fond quest unconscious of her toil:        5
She, of the time prevenient, on the spray,
That overhangs their couch, with wakeful gaze
Expects the sun; nor ever, till the dawn,
Removeth from the east her eager ken:
So stood the dame erect, and bent her glance        10
Wistfully on that region, 1 where the sun
Abateth most his speed; that, seeing her
Suspense and wondering, I became as one,
In whom desire is waken’d, and the hope
Of somewhat new to come fills with delight.        15
  Short space ensued; I was not held, I say,
Long in expectance, when I saw the Heaven
Wax more and more resplendent; and, “Behold,”
Cried Beatrice, “the triumphal hosts
Of Christ, and all the harvest gather’d in,        20
Made ripe by these revolving spheres.” Meseem’d,
That, while she spake, her image all did burn;
And in her eyes such fulness was of joy,
As I am fain to pass unconstrued by.
  As in the calm full moon, when Trivia 2 smiles,        25
In peerless beauty, ’mid the eternal nymphs, 3
That paint through all its gulfs the blue profound;
In bright pre-eminence so saw I there
O’er million lamps a Sun, from whom all drew
Their radiance, as from ours the starry train:        30
And, through the living light, so lustrous glow’d
The substance, that my ken endured it not.
  O Beatrice! sweet and precious guide,
Who cheer’d me with her comfortable words:
“Against the virtue, that o’erpowereth thee,        35
Avails not to resist. Here is the Might, 4
And here the Wisdom, which did open lay
The path, that had been yearned for so long,
Betwixt the Heaven and earth.” Like to the fire,
That, in a cloud imprison’d, doth break out        40
Expansive, so that from its womb enlarged,
It falleth against nature to the ground;
Thus, in that heavenly banqueting, my soul
Outgrew herself; and, in the transport lost,
Holds now remembrance none of what she was.        45
  “Ope thou thine eyes, and mark me: thou hast seen
Things, that empower thee to sustain my smile.”
  I was as one, when a forgotten dream
Doth come across him, and he strives in vain
To shape it in his fantasy again:        50
Whenas that gracious boon was proffer’d me,
Which never may be cancel’d from the book
Wherein the past is written. Now were all
Those tongues to sound, that have, on sweetest milk
Of Polyhymnia and her sisters, fed        55
And fatten’d; not with all their help to boot,
Unto the thousandth parcel of the truth,
My song might shadow forth that saintly smile,
How merely, in her saintly looks, it wrought.
And, with such figuring of Paradise,        60
The sacred strain must leap, like one that meets
A sudden interruption to his road.
But he, who thinks how ponderous the theme,
And that ’tis laid upon a mortal shoulder,
May pardon, if it tremble with the burden.        65
The track, our venturous keel must furrow, brooks
No unribb’d pinnace, no self-sparing pilot.
  “Why doth my face,” said Beatrice, “thus
Enamour thee, as that thou dost not turn
Unto the beautiful garden, blossoming        70
Beneath the rays of Christ? Here is the Rose, 5
Wherein the Word Divine was made incarnate;
And here the lilies,.. 6 by whose odour known
The way of life was follow’d.” Prompt I heard
Her bidding, and encounter’d once again        75
The strife of aching vision. As, erewhile, [cloud,
Through glance of sun-light, stream’d through broken
Mine eyes a flower-besprinkled mead have seen;
Though veil’d themselves in shade: so saw I there
Legions of splendours, on whom burning rays        80
Shed lightnings from above; yet saw I not
The fountain whence they flow’d. O gracious Virtue
Thou, whose broad stamp is on them, higher up
Thou didst exalt Thy glory, 7 to give room
To my o’erlabour’d sight; when at the name        85
Of that fair flower, 8 whom duly I invoke
Both morn and eve, my soul with all her might
Collected, on the goodliest ardour fix’d.
And, as the bright dimensions of the star
In Heaven excelling, as once here on earth,        90
Were, in my eye-balls livelily pourtray’d;
Lo! from within the sky a cresset 9 fell,
Circling in fashion of a diadem;
And girt the star; and, hovering, round it wheel’d.
  Whatever melody sounds sweetest here,        95
And draws the spirit most onto itself,
Might seem a rent cloud, when it grates the thunder;
Compared unto the sounding of that lyre, 10
Wherewith the goodliest sapphire, 11 that inlays
The floor of Heaven was crown’d. “Angelic Love        100
I am, who thus with hovering flight enwheel
The lofty rapture from that womb inspired,
Where our desire did dwell: and round thee so,
Lady of Heaven! will hover; long as thou
Thy Son shalt follow, and diviner joy        105
Shall from thy presence gild the highest sphere.”
  Such close was to the circling melody:
And, as it ended, all the other lights
Took up the strain, and echoed Mary’s name.
  The robe, 12 that with its regal folds enwraps        110
The world, and with the nearer breath of God
Doth burn and quiver, held so far retired
Its inner hem and skirting over us,
That yet no glimmer of its majesty
Had stream’d unto me: therefore were mine eyes        115
Unequal to pursue the crowned flame, 13
That towering rose, and sought the seed 14 it bore.
And like to babe, that stretches forth its arms
For every eagerness toward the breast,
After the milk is taken; so outstretch’d        120
Their wavy summits all the fervent band,
Through zealous love to Mary: then, in view,
There halted; and “Regina Cœli” 15 sang
So sweetly, the delight hath left me never.
  Oh! what o’erflowing plenty is up-piled        125
In those rich-laden coffers, 16 which below
Sow’d the good seed, whose harvest now they keep.
Here are the treasures tasted, that with tears
Were in the Babylonian exile 17 won,
When gold had fail’d them. Here, in synod high        130
Of ancient council with the new convened,
Under the Son of Mary and of God,
Victorious he 18 his mighty triumph holds,
To whom the keys of glory were assign’d.
 
Note 1. “That region.” Toward the south, where the course of the sun appears less rapid, than when he is in the east or the west. [back]
Note 2. “Trivia.” A name of Diana. [back]
Note 3. “The eternal nymphs.” The stars. Those starry nymphs which dance about the pole. Drummond Sonnet. [back]
Note 4. “The Might.” Our Saviour. [back]
Note 5. “The rose.” The Virgin Mary, who is termed by the Church, “Rosa Mystica.” “I was exalted like a palm-tree in Engaddi, and as a rose-plant in Jericho.”—Ecclesiasticus, xxiv. 14. [back]
Note 6. “The lilies.” The Apostles. “And give ye a sweet savour as frankincense, and flourish as a lily.”—Ecclesiasticus, xxxix. 14. [back]
Note 7. “Thou didst exalt thy glory.” The divine light retired upward, to render the eyes of Dante more capable of enduring the spectacle which now presented itself. [back]
Note 8.
        “———the name
Of that fair flower.”
The name of the Virgin. [back]
Note 9. “A cresset.” The angel Gabriel. [back]
Note 10. “That lyre.” By synecdoche, the lyre is put for the angel. [back]
Note 11. The Virgin. [back]
Note 12. “The robe.” The ninth heaven, the primum mobile, that enfolds and moves the eight lower heavens. [back]
Note 13. “The crowned flame.” The Virgin, with the angel hovering over her. [back]
Note 14. “The seed.” Our Saviour. [back]
Note 15. “Regina Cœli.” “The beginning of an anthem, sung by the Church at Easter, in honor of Our Lady.” [back]
Note 16. “Those rich-laden coffers.” Those spirits, who, having sown the seed of good works on earth, now contain the fruit of their pious endeavors. [back]
Note 17. “In the Babylonian exile.” During their abode in this world. [back]
Note 18. “He.” St. Peter, with the other holy men of the Old and New Testaments. [back]
 

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