The Divine Comedy: Paradise, by Dante Alighieri

CANTO IV

Between two kinds of food, both equally

Remote and tempting, first a man might die

Of hunger, ere he one could freely choose.

E’en so would stand a lamb between the maw

Of two fierce wolves, in dread of both alike:

E’en so between two deer a dog would stand,

Wherefore, if I was silent, fault nor praise

I to myself impute, by equal doubts

Held in suspense, since of necessity

It happen’d. Silent was I, yet desire

Was painted in my looks; and thus I spake

My wish more earnestly than language could.

As Daniel, when the haughty king he freed

From ire, that spurr’d him on to deeds unjust

And violent; so look’d Beatrice then.

“Well I discern,” she thus her words address’d,

“How contrary desires each way constrain thee,

So that thy anxious thought is in itself

Bound up and stifled, nor breathes freely forth.

Thou arguest; if the good intent remain;

What reason that another’s violence

Should stint the measure of my fair desert?

“Cause too thou findst for doubt, in that it seems,

That spirits to the stars, as Plato deem’d,

Return. These are the questions which thy will

Urge equally; and therefore I the first

Of that will treat which hath the more of gall.

Of seraphim he who is most ensky’d,

Moses and Samuel, and either John,

Choose which thou wilt, nor even Mary’s self,

Have not in any other heav’n their seats,

Than have those spirits which so late thou saw’st;

Nor more or fewer years exist; but all

Make the first circle beauteous, diversely

Partaking of sweet life, as more or less

Afflation of eternal bliss pervades them.

Here were they shown thee, not that fate assigns

This for their sphere, but for a sign to thee

Of that celestial furthest from the height.

Thus needs, that ye may apprehend, we speak:

Since from things sensible alone ye learn

That, which digested rightly after turns

To intellectual. For no other cause

The scripture, condescending graciously

To your perception, hands and feet to God

Attributes, nor so means: and holy church

Doth represent with human countenance

Gabriel, and Michael, and him who made

Tobias whole. Unlike what here thou seest,

The judgment of Timaeus, who affirms

Each soul restor’d to its particular star,

Believing it to have been taken thence,

When nature gave it to inform her mold:

Since to appearance his intention is

E’en what his words declare: or else to shun

Derision, haply thus he hath disguis’d

His true opinion. If his meaning be,

That to the influencing of these orbs revert

The honour and the blame in human acts,

Perchance he doth not wholly miss the truth.

This principle, not understood aright,

Erewhile perverted well nigh all the world;

So that it fell to fabled names of Jove,

And Mercury, and Mars. That other doubt,

Which moves thee, is less harmful; for it brings

No peril of removing thee from me.

“That, to the eye of man, our justice seems

Unjust, is argument for faith, and not

For heretic declension. To the end

This truth may stand more clearly in your view,

I will content thee even to thy wish

“If violence be, when that which suffers, nought

Consents to that which forceth, not for this

These spirits stood exculpate. For the will,

That will not, still survives unquench’d, and doth

As nature doth in fire, tho’ violence

Wrest it a thousand times; for, if it yield

Or more or less, so far it follows force.

And thus did these, whom they had power to seek

The hallow’d place again. In them, had will

Been perfect, such as once upon the bars

Held Laurence firm, or wrought in Scaevola

To his own hand remorseless, to the path,

Whence they were drawn, their steps had hasten’d back,

When liberty return’d: but in too few

Resolve so steadfast dwells. And by these words

If duly weigh’d, that argument is void,

Which oft might have perplex’d thee still. But now

Another question thwarts thee, which to solve

Might try thy patience without better aid.

I have, no doubt, instill’d into thy mind,

That blessed spirit may not lie; since near

The source of primal truth it dwells for aye:

And thou might’st after of Piccarda learn

That Constance held affection to the veil;

So that she seems to contradict me here.

Not seldom, brother, it hath chanc’d for men

To do what they had gladly left undone,

Yet to shun peril they have done amiss:

E’en as Alcmaeon, at his father’s suit

Slew his own mother, so made pitiless

Not to lose pity. On this point bethink thee,

That force and will are blended in such wise

As not to make the’ offence excusable.

Absolute will agrees not to the wrong,

That inasmuch as there is fear of woe

From non-compliance, it agrees. Of will

Thus absolute Piccarda spake, and I

Of th’ other; so that both have truly said.”

Such was the flow of that pure rill, that well’d

From forth the fountain of all truth; and such

The rest, that to my wond’ring thoughts I found.

“O thou of primal love the prime delight!

Goddess! “I straight reply’d, “whose lively words

Still shed new heat and vigour through my soul!

Affection fails me to requite thy grace

With equal sum of gratitude: be his

To recompense, who sees and can reward thee.

Well I discern, that by that truth alone

Enlighten’d, beyond which no truth may roam,

Our mind can satisfy her thirst to know:

Therein she resteth, e’en as in his lair

The wild beast, soon as she hath reach’d that bound,

And she hath power to reach it; else desire

Were given to no end. And thence doth doubt

Spring, like a shoot, around the stock of truth;

And it is nature which from height to height

On to the summit prompts us. This invites,

This doth assure me, lady, rev’rently

To ask thee of other truth, that yet

Is dark to me. I fain would know, if man

By other works well done may so supply

The failure of his vows, that in your scale

They lack not weight.” I spake; and on me straight

Beatrice look’d with eyes that shot forth sparks

Of love celestial in such copious stream,

That, virtue sinking in me overpower’d,

I turn’d, and downward bent confus’d my sight.

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