Translated by Rev. H.F. Cary, M.A.
His glory, by whose might all things are mov'd, Pierces the universe, and in one part Sheds more resplendence, elsewhere less. In heav'n, That largeliest of his light partakes, was I, Witness of things, which to relate again Surpasseth power of him who comes from thence; For that, so near approaching its desire Our intellect is to such depth absorb'd, That memory cannot follow. Nathless all, That in my thoughts I of that sacred realm Could store, shall now be matter of my song.
Benign Apollo! this last labour aid, And make me such a vessel of thy worth, As thy own laurel claims of me belov'd. Thus far hath one of steep Parnassus' brows Suffic'd me; henceforth there is need of both For my remaining enterprise Do thou Enter into my bosom, and there breathe So, as when Marsyas by thy hand was dragg'd Forth from his limbs unsheath'd. O power divine! If thou to me of shine impart so much, That of that happy realm the shadow'd form Trac'd in my thoughts I may set forth to view, Thou shalt behold me of thy favour'd tree Come to the foot, and crown myself with leaves; For to that honour thou, and my high theme Will fit me. If but seldom, mighty Sire! To grace his triumph gathers thence a wreath Caesar or bard (more shame for human wills Deprav'd) joy to the Delphic god must spring From the Pierian foliage, when one breast Is with such thirst inspir'd. From a small spark Great flame hath risen: after me perchance Others with better voice may pray, and gain From the Cirrhaean city answer kind.
Through diver passages, the world's bright lamp Rises to mortals, but through that which joins Four circles with the threefold cross, in best Course, and in happiest constellation set He comes, and to the worldly wax best gives Its temper and impression. Morning there, Here eve was by almost such passage made; And whiteness had o'erspread that hemisphere, Blackness the other part; when to the left I saw Beatrice turn'd, and on the sun Gazing, as never eagle fix'd his ken. As from the first a second beam is wont To issue, and reflected upwards rise, E'en as a pilgrim bent on his return, So of her act, that through the eyesight pass'd Into my fancy, mine was form'd; and straight, Beyond our mortal wont, I fix'd mine eyes Upon the sun. Much is allowed us there, That here exceeds our pow'r; thanks to the place Made for the dwelling of the human kind
I suffer'd it not long, and yet so long That I beheld it bick'ring sparks around, As iron that comes boiling from the fire. And suddenly upon the day appear'd A day new-ris'n, as he, who hath the power, Had with another sun bedeck'd the sky.
Her eyes fast fix'd on the eternal wheels, Beatrice stood unmov'd; and I with ken Fix'd upon her, from upward gaze remov'd At her aspect, such inwardly became As Glaucus, when he tasted of the herb, That made him peer among the ocean gods; Words may not tell of that transhuman change: And therefore let the example serve, though weak, For those whom grace hath better proof in store
If I were only what thou didst create, Then newly, Love! by whom the heav'n is rul'd, Thou know'st, who by thy light didst bear me up. Whenas the wheel which thou dost ever guide, Desired Spirit! with its harmony Temper'd of thee and measur'd, charm'd mine ear, Then seem'd to me so much of heav'n to blaze With the sun's flame, that rain or flood ne'er made A lake so broad. The newness of the sound, And that great light, inflam'd me with desire, Keener than e'er was felt, to know their cause.
Whence she who saw me, clearly as myself, To calm my troubled mind, before I ask'd, Open'd her lips, and gracious thus began: "With false imagination thou thyself Mak'st dull, so that thou seest not the thing, Which thou hadst seen, had that been shaken off. Thou art not on the earth as thou believ'st; For light'ning scap'd from its own proper place Ne'er ran, as thou hast hither now return'd."
Although divested of my first-rais'd doubt, By those brief words, accompanied with smiles, Yet in new doubt was I entangled more, And said: "Already satisfied, I rest From admiration deep, but now admire How I above those lighter bodies rise."
Whence, after utt'rance of a piteous sigh, She tow'rds me bent her eyes, with such a look, As on her frenzied child a mother casts; Then thus began: "Among themselves all things Have order; and from hence the form, which makes The universe resemble God. In this The higher creatures see the printed steps Of that eternal worth, which is the end Whither the line is drawn. All natures lean, In this their order, diversely, some more, Some less approaching to their primal source. Thus they to different havens are mov'd on Through the vast sea of being, and each one With instinct giv'n, that bears it in its course; This to the lunar sphere directs the fire, This prompts the hearts of mortal animals, This the brute earth together knits, and binds. Nor only creatures, void of intellect, Are aim'd at by this bow; but even those, That have intelligence and love, are pierc'd. That Providence, who so well orders all, With her own light makes ever calm the heaven, In which the substance, that hath greatest speed, Is turn'd: and thither now, as to our seat Predestin'd, we are carried by the force Of that strong cord, that never looses dart, But at fair aim and glad. Yet is it true, That as ofttimes but ill accords the form To the design of art, through sluggishness Of unreplying matter, so this course Is sometimes quitted by the creature, who Hath power, directed thus, to bend elsewhere; As from a cloud the fire is seen to fall, From its original impulse warp'd, to earth, By vicious fondness. Thou no more admire Thy soaring, (if I rightly deem,) than lapse Of torrent downwards from a mountain's height. There would in thee for wonder be more cause, If, free of hind'rance, thou hadst fix'd thyself Below, like fire unmoving on the earth."
So said, she turn'd toward the heav'n her face.
All ye, who in small bark have following sail'd, Eager to listen, on the advent'rous track Of my proud keel, that singing cuts its way, Backward return with speed, and your own shores Revisit, nor put out to open sea, Where losing me, perchance ye may remain Bewilder'd in deep maze. The way I pass Ne'er yet was run: Minerva breathes the gale, Apollo guides me, and another Nine To my rapt sight the arctic beams reveal. Ye other few, who have outstretch'd the neck. Timely for food of angels, on which here They live, yet never know satiety, Through the deep brine ye fearless may put out Your vessel, marking, well the furrow broad Before you in the wave, that on both sides Equal returns. Those, glorious, who pass'd o'er To Colchos, wonder'd not as ye will do, When they saw Jason following the plough.
The increate perpetual thirst, that draws Toward the realm of God's own form, bore us Swift almost as the heaven ye behold.
Beatrice upward gaz'd, and I on her, And in such space as on the notch a dart Is plac'd, then loosen'd flies, I saw myself Arriv'd, where wond'rous thing engag'd my sight. Whence she, to whom no work of mine was hid, Turning to me, with aspect glad as fair, Bespake me: "Gratefully direct thy mind To God, through whom to this first star we come."
Me seem'd as if a cloud had cover'd us, Translucent, solid, firm, and polish'd bright, Like adamant, which the sun's beam had smit Within itself the ever-during pearl Receiv'd us, as the wave a ray of light Receives, and rests unbroken. If I then Was of corporeal frame, and it transcend Our weaker thought, how one dimension thus Another could endure, which needs must be If body enter body, how much more Must the desire inflame us to behold That essence, which discovers by what means God and our nature join'd! There will be seen That which we hold through faith, not shown by proof, But in itself intelligibly plain, E'en as the truth that man at first believes.
I answered: "Lady! I with thoughts devout, Such as I best can frame, give thanks to Him, Who hath remov'd me from the mortal world. But tell, I pray thee, whence the gloomy spots Upon this body, which below on earth Give rise to talk of Cain in fabling quaint?"
She somewhat smil'd, then spake: "If mortals err In their opinion, when the key of sense Unlocks not, surely wonder's weapon keen Ought not to pierce thee; since thou find'st, the wings Of reason to pursue the senses' flight Are short. But what thy own thought is, declare."
Then I: "What various here above appears, Is caus'd, I deem, by bodies dense or rare."
She then resum'd: "Thou certainly wilt see In falsehood thy belief o'erwhelm'd, if well Thou listen to the arguments, which I Shall bring to face it. The eighth sphere displays Numberless lights, the which in kind and size May be remark'd of different aspects; If rare or dense of that were cause alone, One single virtue then would be in all, Alike distributed, or more, or less. Different virtues needs must be the fruits Of formal principles, and these, save one, Will by thy reasoning be destroy'd. Beside, If rarity were of that dusk the cause, Which thou inquirest, either in some part That planet must throughout be void, nor fed With its own matter; or, as bodies share Their fat and leanness, in like manner this Must in its volume change the leaves. The first, If it were true, had through the sun's eclipse Been manifested, by transparency Of light, as through aught rare beside effus'd. But this is not. Therefore remains to see The other cause: and if the other fall, Erroneous so must prove what seem'd to thee. If not from side to side this rarity Pass through, there needs must be a limit, whence Its contrary no further lets it pass. And hence the beam, that from without proceeds, Must be pour'd back, as colour comes, through glass Reflected, which behind it lead conceals. Now wilt thou say, that there of murkier hue Than in the other part the ray is shown, By being thence refracted farther back. From this perplexity will free thee soon Experience, if thereof thou trial make, The fountain whence your arts derive their streame. Three mirrors shalt thou take, and two remove From thee alike, and more remote the third. Betwixt the former pair, shall meet thine eyes; Then turn'd toward them, cause behind thy back A light to stand, that on the three shall shine, And thus reflected come to thee from all. Though that beheld most distant do not stretch A space so ample, yet in brightness thou Will own it equaling the rest. But now, As under snow the ground, if the warm ray Smites it, remains dismantled of the hue And cold, that cover'd it before, so thee, Dismantled in thy mind, I will inform With light so lively, that the tremulous beam Shall quiver where it falls. Within the heaven, Where peace divine inhabits, circles round A body, in whose virtue dies the being Of all that it contains. The following heaven, That hath so many lights, this being divides, Through different essences, from it distinct, And yet contain'd within it. The other orbs Their separate distinctions variously Dispose, for their own seed and produce apt. Thus do these organs of the world proceed, As thou beholdest now, from step to step, Their influences from above deriving, And thence transmitting downwards. Mark me well, How through this passage to the truth I ford, The truth thou lov'st, that thou henceforth alone, May'st know to keep the shallows, safe, untold.
"The virtue and motion of the sacred orbs, As mallet by the workman's hand, must needs By blessed movers be inspir'd. This heaven, Made beauteous by so many luminaries, From the deep spirit, that moves its circling sphere, Its image takes an impress as a seal: And as the soul, that dwells within your dust, Through members different, yet together form'd, In different pow'rs resolves itself; e'en so The intellectual efficacy unfolds Its goodness multiplied throughout the stars; On its own unity revolving still. Different virtue compact different Makes with the precious body it enlivens, With which it knits, as life in you is knit. From its original nature full of joy, The virtue mingled through the body shines, As joy through pupil of the living eye. From hence proceeds, that which from light to light Seems different, and not from dense or rare. This is the formal cause, that generates Proportion'd to its power, the dusk or clear."