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Dante Alighieri (1265–1321).  The Divine Comedy.
The Harvard Classics.  1909–14.
 
Paradise
 
Canto XXXIII
 
 
ARGUMENT.—St. Bernard supplicates the Virgin Mary that Dante may have grace given him to contemplate the brightness of the Divine Majesty, which is accordingly granted; and Dante then himself prays to God for ability to show forth some part of the celestial glory in his writings. Lastly, he is admitted to a glimpse of the great mystery; the Trinity, and the Union of Man with God.
 
 
“O VIRGIN MOTHER, daughter of thy Son!
Created beings all in lowliness
Surpassing, as in height above them all;
Term by the eternal counsel pre-ordain’d;
Ennobler of thy nature, so advanced        5
In thee, that its great Maker did not scorn,
To make Himself his own creation;
For in thy womb rekindling shone the love
Reveal’d, whose genial influence makes now
This flower to germin in eternal peace:        10
Here thou to us, of charity and love,
Art, as the noon-day torch; and art, beneath,
To mortal men, of hope a living spring.
So mighty art thou, Lady, and so great,
That he, who grace desireth, and comes not        15
To thee for aidance, fain would have desire
Fly without wings. Not only him, who asks,
Thy bounty succours; but doth freely oft
Forerun the asking. Whatsoe’er may be
Of excellence in creature, pity mild,        20
Relenting mercy, large munificence,
Are all combined in thee. Here kneeleth one,
Who of all spirits hath review’d the state,
From the world’s lowest gap unto this height.
Suppliant to thee he kneels, imploring grace        25
For virtue yet more high, to lift his ken
Toward the bliss supreme. And I, who ne’er
Coveted sight, more fondly, for myself,
Than now for him, my prayers to thee prefer,
(And pray they be not scant), that thou wouldst drive        30
Each cloud of his mortality away,
Through thine own prayers, that on the sovran joy
Unveil’d he gaze. This yet, I pray thee, Queen,
Who canst do what thou wilt; that in him thou
Wouldst, after all he hath beheld, preserve        35
Affection sound, and human passions quell.
Lo! where, with Beatrice, many a saint
Stretch their clasp’d hands, in furtherance of my suit.”
  The eyes, that Heaven with love and awe regards,
Fix’d on the suitor, witness’d, how benign        40
She looks on pious prayers: then fasten’d they
On the everlasting light, wherein no eye
Of creature, as may well be thought, so far
Can travel inward. I, meanwhile, who drew
Near to the limit, where all wishes end,        45
The ardour of my wish (for so behoved)
Ended within me. Beckoning smiled the sage,
That I should look aloft: but, ere he bade,
Already of myself aloft I look’d;
For visual strength, refining more and more,        50
Bare me into the ray authentical
Of sovran light. Thenceforward, what I saw,
Was not for words to speak, nor memory’s self
To stand against such outrage on her skill.
  As one, who from a dream awaken’d, straight,        55
All he hath seen forgets; yet still retains
Impression of the feeling in his dream;
E’en such am I: for all the vision dies,
As ’twere, away; and yet the sense of sweet,
That sprang from it, still trickles in my heart.        60
Thus in the sun-thaw is the snow unseal’d;
Thus in the winds on flitting leaves was lost
The Sibyl’s sentence. O eternal beam! [soar?]
(Whose height what reach of mortal thought may
Yield me again some little particle        65
Of what Thou then appearedst; give my tongue
Power, but to leave one sparkle of Thy glory,
Unto the race to come, that shall not lose
Thy triumph wholly, if Thou waken aught
Of memory in me, and endure to hear        70
The record sound in this unequal strain.
  Such keenness from the living ray I met,
That, if mine eyes had turn’d away, methinks,
I had been lost; but, so embolden’d, on
I pass’d, as I remember, till my view        75
Hover’d the brink of dread infinitude.
  O grace, unenvying of Thy boon! that gavest
Boldness to fix so earnestly my ken
On the everlasting splendour, that I look’d,
While sight was unconsumed, and, in that depth,        80
Saw in one volume clasp’d of love, whate’er
The universe unfolds; all properties
Of substance and of accident, beheld,
Compounded, yet one individual light
The whole. And of such bond methinks I saw        85
The universal form; for that whene’er
I do but speak of it, my soul dilates
Beyond her proper self; and, till I speak,
One moment seems a longer lethargy,
Than five-and-twenty ages had appear’d        90
To that emprize, that first made Neptune wonder
At Argo’s shadow darkening on his flood.
  With fixed heed, suspense and motionless,
Wondering I gazed; and admiration still
Was kindled as I gazed. It may not be,        95
That one, who looks upon that light, can turn
To other object, willingly, his view.
For all the good, that will may covet, there
Is summ’d; and all, elsewhere defective found,
Complete. My tongue shall utter now, no more        100
E’en what remembrance keeps, than could the babe’s
That yet is moisten’d at his mother’s breast.
Not that the semblance of the living light
Was changed, (that ever as at first remain’d),
But that my vision quickening, in that sole        105
Appearance, still new miracles descried,
And toil’d me with the change. In that abyss
Of radiance, clear and lofty, seem’d, methought,
Three orbs of triple hue, clipt in one bound: 1
And, from another, one reflected seem’d,        110
As rainbow is from rainbow: and the third
Seem’d fire, breathed equally from both. O speech!
How feeble and how faint art thou, to give
Conception birth. Yet this to what I saw
Is less than little. O eternal Light!        115
Sole in Thyself that dwell’st; and of Thyself
Sole understood, past, present, or to come;
Thou smiledst, on that circling, 2 which in Thee
Seem’d as reflected splendour, while I mused;
For I therein, methought, in its own hue        120
Beheld our image painted: steadfastly
I therefore pored upon the view. As one,
Who versed in geometric lore, would fain
Measure the circle; and, though pondering long
And deeply, that beginning, which he needs,        125
Finds not: e’en such was I, intent to scan
The novel wonder, and trace out the form,
How to the circle fitted, and therein
How placed: but the flight was not for my wing;
Had not a flash darted athwart my mind,        130
And, in the spleen, unfolded what it sought.
  Here vigour fail’d the towering fantasy:
But yet the will roll’d onward, like a wheel
In even motion, by the Love impell’d,
That moves the sun in Heaven and all the stars.        135
 
Note 1. “Three orbs of triple hue, clipt in one bound.” The Trinity. This passage may be compared to what Plato, in his second Epistle, enigmatically says of a first, second, and third, and of the impossibility that the human soul should attain to what it desires to know of them, by means of anything akin to itself. [back]
Note 2. “That circling.” The second of the circles, “Light of Light,” in which he dimly beheld the mystery of the Incarnation. [back]
 

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