The Divine Comedy: Paradise, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO XIII

Let him, who would conceive what now I saw,

Imagine (and retain the image firm,

As mountain rock, the whilst he hears me speak),

Of stars fifteen, from midst the ethereal host

Selected, that, with lively ray serene,

O’ercome the massiest air: thereto imagine

The wain, that, in the bosom of our sky,

Spins ever on its axle night and day,

With the bright summit of that horn which swells

Due from the pole, round which the first wheel rolls,

T’ have rang’d themselves in fashion of two signs

In heav’n, such as Ariadne made,

When death’s chill seized her; and that one of them

Did compass in the other’s beam; and both

In such sort whirl around, that each should tend

With opposite motion and, conceiving thus,

Of that true constellation, and the dance

Twofold, that circled me, he shall attain

As ’t were the shadow; for things there as much

Surpass our usage, as the swiftest heav’n

Is swifter than the Chiana. There was sung

No Bacchus, and no Io Paean, but

Three Persons in the Godhead, and in one

Substance that nature and the human join’d.

The song fulfill’d its measure; and to us

Those saintly lights attended, happier made

At each new minist’ring. Then silence brake,

Amid th’ accordant sons of Deity,

That luminary, in which the wondrous life

Of the meek man of God was told to me;

And thus it spake: “One ear o’ th’ harvest thresh’d,

And its grain safely stor’d, sweet charity

Invites me with the other to like toil.

“Thou know’st, that in the bosom, whence the rib

Was ta’en to fashion that fair cheek, whose taste

All the world pays for, and in that, which pierc’d

By the keen lance, both after and before

Such satisfaction offer’d, as outweighs

Each evil in the scale, whate’er of light

To human nature is allow’d, must all

Have by his virtue been infus’d, who form’d

Both one and other: and thou thence admir’st

In that I told thee, of beatitudes

A second, there is none, to his enclos’d

In the fifth radiance. Open now thine eyes

To what I answer thee; and thou shalt see

Thy deeming and my saying meet in truth,

As centre in the round. That which dies not,

And that which can die, are but each the beam

Of that idea, which our Soverign Sire

Engendereth loving; for that lively light,

Which passeth from his brightness; not disjoin’d

From him, nor from his love triune with them,

Doth, through his bounty, congregate itself,

Mirror’d, as ’t were in new existences,

Itself unalterable and ever one.

“Descending hence unto the lowest powers,

Its energy so sinks, at last it makes

But brief contingencies: for so I name

Things generated, which the heav’nly orbs

Moving, with seed or without seed, produce.

Their wax, and that which molds it, differ much:

And thence with lustre, more or less, it shows

Th’ ideal stamp impress: so that one tree

According to his kind, hath better fruit,

And worse: and, at your birth, ye, mortal men,

Are in your talents various. Were the wax

Molded with nice exactness, and the heav’n

In its disposing influence supreme,

The lustre of the seal should be complete:

But nature renders it imperfect ever,

Resembling thus the artist in her work,

Whose faultering hand is faithless to his skill.

Howe’er, if love itself dispose, and mark

The primal virtue, kindling with bright view,

There all perfection is vouchsafed; and such

The clay was made, accomplish’d with each gift,

That life can teem with; such the burden fill’d

The virgin’s bosom: so that I commend

Thy judgment, that the human nature ne’er

Was or can be, such as in them it was.

“Did I advance no further than this point,

‘How then had he no peer?’ thou might’st reply.

But, that what now appears not, may appear

Right plainly, ponder, who he was, and what

(When he was bidden ‘Ask’ ), the motive sway’d

To his requesting. I have spoken thus,

That thou mayst see, he was a king, who ask’d

For wisdom, to the end he might be king

Sufficient: not the number to search out

Of the celestial movers; or to know,

If necessary with contingent e’er

Have made necessity; or whether that

Be granted, that first motion is; or if

Of the mid circle can, by art, be made

Triangle with each corner, blunt or sharp.

“Whence, noting that, which I have said, and this,

Thou kingly prudence and that ken mayst learn,

At which the dart of my intention aims.

And, marking clearly, that I told thee, ‘Risen,’

Thou shalt discern it only hath respect

To kings, of whom are many, and the good

Are rare. With this distinction take my words;

And they may well consist with that which thou

Of the first human father dost believe,

And of our well-beloved. And let this

Henceforth be led unto thy feet, to make

Thee slow in motion, as a weary man,

Both to the ‘yea’ and to the ‘nay’ thou seest not.

For he among the fools is down full low,

Whose affirmation, or denial, is

Without distinction, in each case alike

Since it befalls, that in most instances

Current opinion leads to false: and then

Affection bends the judgment to her ply.

“Much more than vainly doth he loose from shore,

Since he returns not such as he set forth,

Who fishes for the truth and wanteth skill.

And open proofs of this unto the world

Have been afforded in Parmenides,

Melissus, Bryso, and the crowd beside,

Who journey’d on, and knew not whither: so did

Sabellius, Arius, and the other fools,

Who, like to scymitars, reflected back

The scripture-image, by distortion marr’d.

“Let not the people be too swift to judge,

As one who reckons on the blades in field,

Or ere the crop be ripe. For I have seen

The thorn frown rudely all the winter long

And after bear the rose upon its top;

And bark, that all the way across the sea

Ran straight and speedy, perish at the last,

E’en in the haven’s mouth seeing one steal,

Another brine, his offering to the priest,

Let not Dame Birtha and Sir Martin thence

Into heav’n’s counsels deem that they can pry:

For one of these may rise, the other fall.”

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Last updated Friday, March 7, 2014 at 15:58