The Divine Comedy: Paradise, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO XXXIII

“O virgin mother, daughter of thy Son,

Created beings all in lowliness

Surpassing, as in height, above them all,

Term by th’ eternal counsel pre-ordain’d,

Ennobler of thy nature, so advanc’d

In thee, that its great Maker did not scorn,

Himself, in his own work enclos’d to dwell!

For in thy womb rekindling shone the love

Reveal’d, whose genial influence makes now

This flower to germin in eternal peace!

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

To thee for aidance, fain would have desire

Fly without wings. Nor only him who asks,

Thy bounty succours, but doth freely oft

Forerun the asking. Whatsoe’er may be

Of excellence in creature, pity mild,

Relenting mercy, large munificence,

Are all combin’d 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

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

Each cloud of his mortality away;

That on the sovran pleasure he may gaze.

This also I entreat of thee, O queen!

Who canst do what thou wilt! that in him thou

Wouldst after all he hath beheld, preserve

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 heav’n with love and awe regards,

Fix’d on the suitor, witness’d, how benign

She looks on pious pray’rs: then fasten’d they

On th’ 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,

The ardour of my wish (for so behooved),

Ended within me. Beck’ning smil’d 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,

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,

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 ’t were, away; and yet the sense of sweet,

That sprang from it, still trickles in my heart.

Thus in the sun-thaw is the snow unseal’d;

Thus in the winds on flitting leaves was lost

The Sybil’s sentence. 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.

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

Hover’d the brink of dread infinitude.

O grace! unenvying of thy boon! that gav’st

Boldness to fix so earnestly my ken

On th’ everlasting splendour, that I look’d,

While sight was unconsum’d, and, in that depth,

Saw in one volume clasp’d of love, whatever

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

The universal form: for that whenever

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

To that emprize, that first made Neptune wonder

At Argo’s shadow darkening on his flood.

With fixed heed, suspense and motionless,

Wond’ring I gaz’d; and admiration still

Was kindled, as I gaz’d. It may not be,

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

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 chang’d (that ever as at first remain’d)

But that my vision quickening, in that sole

Appearance, still new miracles descry’d,

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:

And, from another, one reflected seem’d,

As rainbow is from rainbow: and the third

Seem’d fire, breath’d equally from both. Oh speech

How feeble and how faint art thou, to give

Conception birth! Yet this to what I saw

Is less than little. Oh eternal light!

Sole in thyself that dwellst; and of thyself

Sole understood, past, present, or to come!

Thou smiledst; on that circling, which in thee

Seem’d as reflected splendour, while I mus’d;

For I therein, methought, in its own hue

Beheld our image painted: steadfastly

I therefore por’d upon the view. As one

Who vers’d in geometric lore, would fain

Measure the circle; and, though pondering long

And deeply, that beginning, which he needs,

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 plac’d: but the flight was not for my wing;

Had not a flash darted athwart my mind,

And in the spleen unfolded what it sought.

Here vigour fail’d the tow’ring fantasy:

But yet the will roll’d onward, like a wheel

In even motion, by the Love impell’d,

That moves the sun in heav’n and all the stars.

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