Verse > Anthologies > The World’s Best Poetry > Vol. IV. The Higher Life
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Bliss Carman, et al., eds.  The World’s Best Poetry.
Volume IV. The Higher Life.  1904.
 
VIII. Selections from “The Divine Comedy”
Sin and Redemption
Dante Alighieri (1265–1321)
 
Translated by Henry Francis Cary

Selections from “The Divine Comedy”
Paradise: Canto VII.

                    WHAT I have heard,
Is plain, thou say’st: but wherefore God this way
For our redemption chose, eludes my search.
  “Brother! no eye of man not perfected,
Nor fully ripened in the flame of love,        5
May fathom this decree. It is a mark,
In sooth, much aimed at, and but little kenned:
And I will therefore show thee why such way
Was worthiest. The celestial love, that spurns
All envying in its bounty, in itself        10
With such effulgence blazeth, as sends forth
All beauteous things eternal. What distils
Immediate thence, no end of being knows;
Bearing its seal immutably imprest.
Whatever thence immediate falls, is free,        15
Free wholly, uncontrollable by power
Of each thing new: by such conformity
More grateful to its author, whose bright beams,
Though all partake their shining, yet in those
Are liveliest, which resemble him the most.        20
These tokens of pre-eminence on man
Largely bestowed, if any of them fail,
He needs must forfeit his nobility,
No longer stainless. Sin alone is that,
Which doth disfranchise him, and make unlike        25
To the chief good; for that its light in him
Is darkened. And to dignity thus lost
Is no return; unless, where guilt makes void,
He for ill pleasure pay with equal pain.
Your nature, which entirely in its seed        30
Transgressed, from these distinctions fell, no less
Than from its state in Paradise; nor means
Found on recovery (search all methods out
As strictly as thou may) save one of these,
The only fords were left through which to wade:        35
Either, that God had of his courtesy
Released him merely; or else, man himself
For his own folly by himself atoned.
  “Fix now thine eye, intently as thou canst,
On the everlasting counsel; and explore,        40
Instructed by my words, the dread abyss.
  “Man in himself had ever lacked the means
Of satisfaction, for he could not stoop
Obeying, in humility so low,
As high, he, disobeying, thought to soar:        45
And, for this reason, he had vainly tried,
Out of his own sufficiency, to pay
The rigid satisfaction. Then behoved
That God should by his own ways lead him back
Unto the life, from whence he fell, restored:        50
By both his ways, I mean, or one alone.
But since the deed is ever prized the more,
The more the doer’s good intent appears;
Goodness celestial, whose broad signature
Is on the universe, of all its ways        55
To raise ye up, was fain to leave out none.
Nor aught so vast or so magnificent,
Either for him who gave or who received,
Between the last night and the primal day,
Was or can be. For God more bounty showed,        60
Giving himself to make man capable
Of his return to life, than had the terms
Been mere and unconditional release.
And for his justice, every method else
Were all too scant, had not the Son of God        65
Humbled himself to put on mortal flesh.”
 
 
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