The Northern Way

Song and Legend From the Middle Ages

Italian Literature

Page 7

The eastern clime all roseate; and the sky

Opposed, one deep and beautiful serene;

And the sun's face so shaded, and with mists

Attemper'd, at his rising, that the eye

Long while endured the sight: thus, in a cloud

Of flowers, that from those hands angelic rose,

And down within and outside of the car

Fell showering, in white veil with olive wreathed,

A virgin in my view appear'd, beneath

Green mantle, robed in hue of living flame:

And o'er my spirit, that so long a time

Had from her presence felt no shuddering dread,

Albeit mine eyes discern'd her not, there moved

A hidden virtue from her, at whose touch

The power of ancient love was strong within me.


Upon the chariot's same edge still she stood,

Immovable; and thus address'd her words:

"I shape mine answer, for his ear intended,

Who there stands weeping; (27) that the sorrow now

May equal the transgression. Not alone

Through operation of the mighty orbs,

That mark each seed to some predestined aim,

As with aspect or fortunate or ill

The constellations meet; but through benign

Largess of heavenly graces, which rain down

From such a height as mocks our vision, this man

Was, in the freshness of his being, such,

So gifted virtually, that in him

All better habits wonderously had thrived.

The more of kindly strength is in the soil,

So much doth evil seed and lack of culture

Mar it the more, and make it run to wildness.

These looks sometime upheld him; for I showed

My youthful eyes, and led him by their light

In upright walking. Soon as I had reach'd

The threshold of my second age, and changed

My mortal for immortal; then he left me,

And gave himself to others. When from flesh

To spirit I had risen, and increase

Of beauty and of virtue circled me,

I was less dear to him, and valued less.

His steps were turn'd into deceitful ways,

Following false images of good, that make

No promise perfect. Nor availed me aught

To sue for inspirations, with the which.

I, both in dreams of night, and otherwise,

Did call him back; of them, so little reck'd him.

Such depth he fell, that all device was short

Of his preserving, save that he should view

The children of perdition. To this end

I visited the purlieus of the dead:

And one, who hath conducted him thus high,

Received my supplications urged with weeping.

It were a breaking of God's high decree,

If Lethe should be past, and such food (28) tasted,

Without the cost of some repentant tear."

The third part of the Divine Comedy is the vision of Paradise. Dante's Paradise is divided into ten heavens, or spheres. Through these in succession the poet is conducted by Beatrice, until in the tenth heaven, or the Empyrean, he comes into the visible presence of God.

I. The Visible Presence.

From the Paradiso.

O eternal beam!

(Whose height what reach of mortal thought may soar?)

Yield me again some little particle

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

The record sound in this unequal strain.


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,

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.


In that abyss

Of radiance, clear and lofty, seem'd, methought,

Three orbs of triple hue, (29) clipt in one bound:

And, from another, one reflected seem'd,

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!


27. Who there stands weeping. Dante.  (back)

28. Such food. The oblivion of sins.   (back)

29. Three orbs of triple hue. The Trinity.  (back)

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