Con-sort In The Sea With The Other Gods

The Commedia gets harder as you keep reading. Dante is quite explicit about the challenge he poses the reader in Paradiso: at the beginning of Paradiso 2, he tells the reader to turn back to shore, lest we get lost as we follow him onto the watery deep.

One of the complexities of reading the Commedia is that as we go forward the textuality becomes more seamless, less divisible into nice narrative blocks. If you look at the Appendix on canto beginnings and endings in The Undivine Comedy, you will get an idea of how much harder it is to mark formal transitions in the second and especially the third cantica. In general, “plot” gets harder and harder to pinpoint. At the same time, we should make an effort to look for moments of “plot” in order to orient ourselves in what Dante himself will call, in the next canto, the “pelago” (ocean) of his text.

The first terzina of the Paradiso encompasses “the paradox of più e meno” (see the title of Chapter 8 of The Undivine Comedy): the paradox of how “more” (“più”) and “less” (“meno”)—in other words, the reality of difference—can coexist with Oneness. I use “difference” as Dante uses it (“In astratto significa il ‘differire’ tra due o più elementi” [Fernando Salsano, Enciclopedia Dantesca, s.v. “differenza”]), and much as St. Thomas uses distinctio: “any type of non-identity between objects and things. Often called diversity or difference” (T. Gilby, Glossary, Summa Theologia, Blackfriars 1967, 8:164). In other words, as is apparent from the discussion of time and difference in Chapter 8 of The Undivine Comedy, my usage is essentially Aristotelian.

In the opening three lines of the last cantica Dante poses both the borderless unity of the “universe” (whose etymology precisely stresses oneness)[1] and the irreducible reality of difference:

La gloria di colui che tutto move
per l’universo penetra, e risplende
in una parte più e meno altrove. (Par. 1.1-3)
The glory of the One who moves all things
permeates the universe and glows
in one part more and in another less.

The theme of how oneness and difference coexist is the great theme of the Paradiso. This coexistence constitutes a paradox—the very paradox captured by Christian symbolism in the Trinity, which is both one and three.

At the beginning of Paradiso 1 we encounter the basic textual building blocks of Paradiso: moments of “plot” (what happened) are interspersed with the poet’s claims that he cannot recount what he saw (the “ineffability topos”) and with prayers/invocations for divine help in his arduous task.

These three narrative elements are immediately present. The second terzina introduces both plot (where the narrator was and what he saw: “fu’ io, e vidi cose” in Par. 1.5) and ineffability (“ridire / né sa né può” in Par. 1.5-6):

Nel ciel che più de la sua luce prende
fu’ io, e vidi cose che ridire
né sa né può chi di là sù discende . . . (Par. 1.4-6)
I was within the heaven that receives
more of His light; and I saw things that he
who from that height descends, forgets or cannot speak . . .

The third terzina potently reminds us that the journey we have been tracing in the Commedia is the journey of desire, and that it is the nearness of the goal that results in the failure of memory:

perché appressando sé al suo disire,
nostro intelletto si profonda tanto,
che dietro la memoria non può ire. (Par. 1.7-9)
for nearing its desired end,
our intellect sinks into an abyss
so deep that memory fails to follow it.

Prayers for help in this arduous poetic undertaking do not take long to follow. In Paradiso 1.15 we encounter the first of many prayers, in this instance to Apollo, to whom the poet turns for literal “in-spiration”: Dante uses the verb spirare here as he did in Purgatorio 24, where he defines himself as one who takes note when love breathes into him (“quando / Amor mi spira” [Purg. 24.52-53]).

The invocation to Apollo introduces as well the first of many Ovidian analogies in the Paradiso, the canticle where the great poet of change and transformation comes into his own. Here Dante refers gruesomely—reminding us of the linkage between vision and violence that I discussed with respect to the Ovidian dream of Purgatorio 9—to Apollo’s “unsheathing” of Marsyas from his body, in a kind of terrible ec-stasis:

Entra nel petto mio, e spira tue
sì come quando Marsia traesti
de la vagina de le membra sue. (Par. 1.19-21)
Enter into my breast; within me breathe
the very power you made manifest
when you drew Marsyas out from his limbs’ sheath.

The story-line as we left it in Purgatorio 33 is resumed in Paradiso 1.37, where a lengthy astronomical periphrasis alerts us to the fact that it is mid-day in purgatory when Beatrice looks up at the sun in verse 46; we note that Dante is “physically” still in purgatory at this point. The pilgrim imitates his guide, Beatrice, in verse 54 and looks up at the sun as well, which results in his seeing a doubling of light; he then looks back at Beatrice in verses 65-66.

This spiraling dialectic between Beatrice and everything else in paradise will be fundamental to how things “happen” in Paradiso: vision is triggered by the dynamic whereby Dante first follows Beatrice in looking upward, then looks back at her, then looks upward again, and so on.

What happens now as a result of looking at Beatrice (“Nel suo aspetto tal dentro mi fei”, “In watching her, within me I was changed” [67]) is that Dante experiences “trasumanar” (Par. 1.70): this extraordinary coinage, “tras” + “umanar” (a verb made from “umano”), signifies “to go beyond the human” and is typical of how Dante will describe the undescribable. He will make new language.

And he will use Ovid. Here the “essemplo” (example, analogy) given by Dante to help us understand what it is to experience trasumanar is that of the fisherman Glaucus, who plunges into the sea upon eating the metamorphic herb that makes him a sea-god:

Nel suo aspetto tal dentro mi fei,
qual si fé Glauco nel gustar de l’erba
che ’l fé consorto in mar de li altri dèi. (Par. 1.67-69)
In watching her, within me I was changed
as Glaucus changed, tasting the herb that made
him a companion of the other sea gods.

This is the point at which Dante “leaves” Purgatory and “goes to” Paradise. (You see what I mean about paying close attention to finding the “plot”.)

Does he go in the body or not in the body? St. Paul, Dante’s biblical model for raptus (again, see Purgatorio 9), states the question in this way:

Scio hominem in Christo ante annos quatuordecim, sive in corpore nescio, sive extra corpus nescio, Deus scit, raptum huiusmodi usque ad tertium caelum (2 Cor. 12:2)
I know a man in Christ who fourteen years ago (whether it was in the body or out of the body I do not know—God knows) was caught up to the third heaven.

Dante echoes St. Paul:

S’i’ era sol di me quel che creasti
novellamente, amor che ’l ciel governi,
tu ’l sai, che col tuo lume mi levasti. (Par. 1.73-75)
Whether I only was the part of me
that You created last, You—governing
the heavens—know: it was Your light that raised me.

Dante makes evident throughout the Commedia that he took his journey in the flesh. He is not here recanting but simply expressing his radical claim in the veiled and Pauline manner adopted by his biblical predecessor: “Dante is deliberately following his avowed and greatest model, St. Paul, whose ambiguity regarding the corporeality of his raptus did not prevent the early Church fathers from viewing it as a real event” (The Undivine Comedy, p. 148, and see Chapter 7 for this issue).

Dante does not understand what has occurred, and Beatrice explains: “Tu non se’ in terra, sì come tu credi” (You are not on the earth as you believe [Par. 1.91]). Her explanation only provokes more curiosity: how is it possible that he has risen above these light bodies, the spheres of air and fire (Par. 1.97-99)?

Frequently, the narrative rhythm of the Paradiso will involve the following dynamic. The pilgrim poses a question that could be answered locally and succinctly. Instead it is taken as an opportunity for the poet, in the voice of the pilgrim’s interlocutor, to take a deep breath, take a long step back, and deal with the explanation not at the local level but starting from first principles.

That dynamic now comes into play, as Beatrice takes Dante’s question as an opportunity to explain the order of the universe, how all created beings return to their individual “ports” in the “great sea of being”: “lo gran mar de l’essere” (Par. 1.113). According to this cosmic order, Dante’s rising is not remarkable; rather, it would be remarkable if he were not to rise, now that he is free of all impediment (Par. 1.139-40).

In The Undivine Comedy I discuss the surpassing difficulty of expressing unity and oneness and simultaneity through language, a medium that is differential and time-bound and linear. Already in this first canto of Paradiso we see some of Dante’s strategies. These strategies are, in that he is a writer, all ultimately linguistic and depend on a poetic virtuosity that he pushes to remarkable limits.

Dante has at his command singular resources of metaphoric language: only metaphor is able to placate the tension between the one and the many. The great ontological metaphor of the “gran mar de l’essere” in which the più and the meno of creation is all embraced, each at its own proper port, is an example of the kind of metaphoric language that Dante will use to express the oneness of creation.

The “gran mar de l’essere” was anticipated by the Ovidian example of Glaucus, who became “consorto in mar de li altri dèi” (consort in the sea of the other gods [Par. 1.69]). For Dante, the word “corsorte” has its full etymological sense of one who shares a destiny (“con” + “sorte” = destiny, from Latin “sors”). The sea is, for Glaucus too, the unifying medium that absorbs him and renders him similar to the other gods, their “con-sort” in the waters of being, alike them in his sorte, no longer different.

[1] Universe = “the whole world, cosmos,” from Old French univers (12c.), from Latin universum “the universe,” noun use of neuter of adj. universus “all together,” literally “turned into one,” from unus “one” + versus, past participle of vertere “to turn”.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy: Since the poem gets denser, and since my ability to cover what I want to cover diminishes as we progress, you will get a much bigger and better picture if you read the coordinated pages from The Undivine Comedy. In Chapter 8, “Problems in Paradise: The Mimesis of Time and the Paradox of più e meno”, pages 166-75 lay out general philosophical principles with respect to paradise and representation. The treatment of Paradiso 1 and Paradiso 2 begins on p. 176 and ends on p. 180. From then on The Undivine Comedy’s three chapters on Paradiso track the order of the canti quite closely.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 1: Con-sort In The Sea With The Other Gods.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-1/

About the Commento

1 La gloria di colui che tutto move
2 per l’universo penetra, e risplende
3 in una parte più e meno altrove.

4 Nel ciel che più de la sua luce prende
5 fu’ io, e vidi cose che ridire
6 né sa né può chi di là sù discende;

7 perché appressando sé al suo disire,
8 nostro intelletto si profonda tanto,
9 che dietro la memoria non può ire.

10 Veramente quant’ io del regno santo
11 ne la mia mente potei far tesoro,
12 sarà ora materia del mio canto.

13 O buono Appollo, a l’ultimo lavoro
14 fammi del tuo valor sì fatto vaso,
15 come dimandi a dar l’amato alloro.

16 Infino a qui l’un giogo di Parnaso
17 assai mi fu; ma or con amendue
18 m’è uopo intrar ne l’aringo rimaso.

19 Entra nel petto mio, e spira tue
20 sì come quando Marsïa traesti
21 de la vagina de le membra sue.

22 O divina virtù, se mi ti presti
23 tanto che l’ombra del beato regno
24 segnata nel mio capo io manifesti,

25 vedra’mi al piè del tuo diletto legno
26 venire, e coronarmi de le foglie
27 che la materia e tu mi farai degno.

28 Sì rade volte, padre, se ne coglie
29 per trïunfare o cesare o poeta,
30 colpa e vergogna de l’umane voglie,

31 che parturir letizia in su la lieta
32 delfica deïtà dovria la fronda
33 peneia, quando alcun di sé asseta.

34 Poca favilla gran fiamma seconda:
35 forse di retro a me con miglior voci
36 si pregherà perché Cirra risponda.

37 Surge ai mortali per diverse foci
38 la lucerna del mondo; ma da quella
39 che quattro cerchi giugne con tre croci,

40 con miglior corso e con migliore stella
41 esce congiunta, e la mondana cera
42 più a suo modo tempera e suggella.

43 Fatto avea di là mane e di qua sera
44 tal foce, e quasi tutto era là bianco
45 quello emisperio, e l’altra parte nera,

46 quando Beatrice in sul sinistro fianco
47 vidi rivolta e riguardar nel sole:
48 aquila sì non li s’affisse unquanco.

49 E sì come secondo raggio suole
50 uscir del primo e risalire in suso,
51 pur come pelegrin che tornar vuole,

52 così de l’atto suo, per li occhi infuso
53 ne l’imagine mia, il mio si fece,
54 e fissi li occhi al sole oltre nostr’ uso.

55 Molto è licito là, che qui non lece
56 a le nostre virtù, mercé del loco
57 fatto per proprio de l’umana spece.

58 Io nol soffersi molto, né sì poco,
59 ch’io nol vedessi sfavillar dintorno,
60 com’ ferro che bogliente esce del foco;

61 e di sùbito parve giorno a giorno
62 essere aggiunto, come quei che puote
63 avesse il ciel d’un altro sole addorno.

64 Beatrice tutta ne l’etterne rote
65 fissa con li occhi stava; e io in lei
66 le luci fissi, di là sù rimote.

67 Nel suo aspetto tal dentro mi fei,
68 qual si fé Glauco nel gustar de l’erba
69 che ’l fé consorto in mar de li altri dèi.

70 Trasumanar significar per verba
71 non si poria; però l’essemplo basti
72 a cui esperïenza grazia serba.

73 S’i’ era sol di me quel che creasti
74 novellamente, amor che ’l ciel governi,
75 tu ’l sai, che col tuo lume mi levasti.

76 Quando la rota che tu sempiterni
77 desiderato, a sé mi fece atteso
78 con l’armonia che temperi e discerni,

79 parvemi tanto allor del cielo acceso
80 de la fiamma del sol, che pioggia o fiume
81 lago non fece alcun tanto disteso.

82 La novità del suono e ’l grande lume
83 di lor cagion m’accesero un disio
84 mai non sentito di cotanto acume.

85 Ond’ ella, che vedea me sì com’ io,
86 a quïetarmi l’animo commosso,
87 pria ch’io a dimandar, la bocca aprio,

88 e cominciò: «Tu stesso ti fai grosso
89 col falso imaginar, sì che non vedi
90 ciò che vedresti se l’avessi scosso.

91 Tu non se’ in terra, sì come tu credi;
92 ma folgore, fuggendo il proprio sito,
93 non corse come tu ch’ad esso riedi».

94 S’io fui del primo dubbio disvestito
95 per le sorrise parolette brevi,
96 dentro ad un nuovo più fu’ inretito,

97 e dissi: «Già contento requïevi
98 di grande ammirazion; ma ora ammiro
99 com’ io trascenda questi corpi levi».

100 Ond’ ella, appresso d’un pïo sospiro,
101 li occhi drizzò ver’ me con quel sembiante
102 che madre fa sovra figlio deliro,

103 e cominciò: «Le cose tutte quante
104 hanno ordine tra loro, e questo è forma
105 che l’universo a Dio fa simigliante.

106 Qui veggion l’alte creature l’orma
107 de l’etterno valore, il qual è fine
108 al quale è fatta la toccata norma.

109 Ne l’ordine ch’io dico sono accline
110 tutte nature, per diverse sorti,
111 più al principio loro e men vicine;

112 onde si muovono a diversi porti
113 per lo gran mar de l’essere, e ciascuna
114 con istinto a lei dato che la porti.

115 Questi ne porta il foco inver’ la luna;
116 questi ne’ cor mortali è permotore;
117 questi la terra in sé stringe e aduna;

118 né pur le creature che son fore
119 d’intelligenza quest’ arco saetta
120 ma quelle c’hanno intelletto e amore.

121 La provedenza, che cotanto assetta,
122 del suo lume fa ’l ciel sempre quïeto
123 nel qual si volge quel c’ha maggior fretta;

124 e ora lì, come a sito decreto,
125 cen porta la virtù di quella corda
126 che ciò che scocca drizza in segno lieto.

127 Vero è che, come forma non s’accorda
128 molte fïate a l’intenzion de l’arte,
129 perch’ a risponder la materia è sorda,

130 così da questo corso si diparte
131 talor la creatura, c’ha podere
132 di piegar, così pinta, in altra parte;

133 e sì come veder si può cadere
134 foco di nube, sì l’impeto primo
135 l’atterra torto da falso piacere.

136 Non dei più ammirar, se bene stimo,
137 lo tuo salir, se non come d’un rivo
138 se d’alto monte scende giuso ad imo.

139 Maraviglia sarebbe in te se, privo
140 d’impedimento, giù ti fossi assiso,
141 com’ a terra quïete in foco vivo».

142 Quinci rivolse inver’ lo cielo il viso.

The glory of the One who moves all things
permeates the universe and glows
in one part more and in another less.

I was within the heaven that receives
more of His light; and I saw things that he
who from that height descends, forgets or can

not speak; for nearing its desired end,
our intellect sinks into an abyss
so deep that memory fails to follow it.

Nevertheless, as much as I, within
my mind, could treasure of the holy kingdom
shall now become the matter of my song.

O good Apollo, for this final task
make me the vessel of your excellence,
what you, to merit your loved laurel, ask.

Until this point, one of Parnassus’ peaks
sufficed for me; but now I face the test
the agon that is left; I need both crests.

Enter into my breast; within me breathe
the very power you made manifest
when you drew Marsyas out from his limbs’ sheath.

O godly force, if you so lend yourself
to me, that I might show the shadow of
the blessed realm inscribed within my mind,

then you would see me underneath the tree
you love; there I shall take as crown the leaves
of which my theme and you shall make me worthy.

So seldom, father, are those garlands gathered
for triumph of a ruler or a poet—
a sign of fault or shame in human wills—

that when Peneian branches can incite
someone to long and thirst for them, delight
must fill the happy Delphic deity.

Great fire can follow a small spark: there may
be better voices after me to pray
to Cyrrha’s god for aid—that he may answer.

The lantern of the world approaches mortals
by varied paths; but on that way which links
four circles with three crosses, it emerges

joined to a better constellation and
along a better course, and it can temper
and stamp the world’s wax more in its own manner.

Its entry from that point of the horizon
brought morning there and evening here; almost
all of that hemisphere was white—while ours

was dark—when I saw Beatrice turn round
and left, that she might see the sun; no eagle
has ever stared so steadily at it.

And as a second ray will issue from the
first and reascend, much like a pilgrim
who seeks his home again, so on her action,

fed by my eyes to my imagination,
my action drew, and on the sun I set
my sight more than we usually do.

More is permitted to our powers there
than is permitted here, by virtue of
that place, made for mankind as its true home.

I did not bear it long, but not so briefly
as not to see it sparkling round about,
like molten iron emerging from the fire;

and suddenly it seemed that day had been
added to day, as if the One who can
had graced the heavens with a second sun.

The eyes of Beatrice were all intent
on the eternal circles; from the sun,
I turned aside; I set my eyes on her.

In watching her, within me I was changed
as Glaucus changed, tasting the herb that made
him a companion of the other sea gods.

Passing beyond the human cannot be
worded; let Glaucus serve as simile—
until grace grant you the experience.

Whether I only was the part of me
that You created last, You—governing
the heavens—know: it was Your light that raised me.

When that wheel which You make eternal through
the heavens’ longing for You drew me with
the harmony You temper and distinguish,

the fire of the sun then seemed to me
to kindle so much of the sky, that rain
or river never formed so broad a lake.

The newness of the sound and the great light
incited me to learn their cause—I was
more keen than I had ever been before.

And she who read me as I read myself,
to quiet the commotion in my mind,
opened her lips before I opened mine

to ask, and she began: “You make yourself
obtuse with false imagining; you can
not see what you would see if you dispelled it.

You are not on the earth as you believe;
but lightning, flying from its own abode,
is less swift than you are, returning home.”

While I was freed from my first doubt by these
brief words she smiled to me, I was yet caught
in new perplexity. I said: “I was

content already; after such great wonder,
I rested. But again I wonder how
my body rises past these lighter bodies.”

At which, after a sigh of pity, she
settled her eyes on me with the same look
a mother casts upon a raving child,

and she began: “All things, among themselves,
possess an order; and this order is
the form that makes the universe like God.

Here do the higher beings see the imprint
of the Eternal Worth, which is the end
to which the pattern I have mentioned tends.

Within that order, every nature has
its bent, according to a different station,
nearer or less near to its origin.

Therefore, these natures move to different ports
across the mighty sea of being, each
given the impulse that will bear it on.

This impulse carries fire to the moon;
this is the motive force in mortal creatures;
this binds the earth together, makes it one.

Not only does the shaft shot from this bow
strike creatures lacking intellect, but those
who have intelligence, and who can love.

The Providence that has arrayed all this
forever quiets—with Its light—that heaven
in which the swiftest of the spheres revolves;

to there, as toward a destined place, we now
are carried by the power of the bow
that always aims its shaft at a glad mark.

Yet it is true that, even as a shape
may, often, not accord with art’s intent,
since matter may be unresponsive, deaf,

so, from this course, the creature strays at times
because he has the power, once impelled,
to swerve elsewhere; as lightning from a cloud

is seen to fall, so does the first impulse,
when man has been diverted by false pleasure,
turn him toward earth. You should—if I am right—

not feel more marvel at your climbing than
you would were you considering a stream
that from a mountain’s height falls to its base.

It would be cause for wonder in you if,
no longer hindered, you remained below,
as if, on earth, a living flame stood still.”

Then she again turned her gaze heavenward.

THE glory of Him who moveth everything
Doth penetrate the universe, and shine
In one part more and in another less.

Within that heaven which most his light receives
Was I, and things beheld which to repeat
Nor knows, nor can, who from above descends;

Because in drawing near to its desire
Our intellect ingulphs itself so far,
That after it the memory cannot go.

Truly whatever of the holy realm
I had the power to treasure in my mind
Shall now become the subject of my song.

O good Apollo, for this last emprise
Make of me such a vessel of thy power
As giving the beloved laurel asks!

One summit of Parnassus hitherto
Has been enough for me, but now with both
I needs must enter the arena left.

Enter into my bosom, thou, and breathe
As at the time when Marsyas thou didst draw
Out of the scabbard of those limbs of his.

O power divine, lend’st thou thyself to me
So that the shadow of the blessed realm
Stamped in my brain I can make manifest,

Thou’lt see me come unto thy darling tree,
And crown myself thereafter with those leaves
Of which the theme and thou shall make me worthy.

So seldom, Father, do we gather them
For triumph or of Caesar or of Poet,
(The fault and shame of human inclinations,)

That the Peneian foliage should bring forth
Joy to the joyous Delphic deity,
When any one it makes to thirst for it.

A little spark is followed by great flame;
Perchance with better voices after me
Shall prayer be made that Cyrrha may respond!

To mortal men by passages diverse
Uprises the world’s lamp; but by that one
Which circles four uniteth with three crosses,

With better course and with a better star
Conjoined it issues, and the mundane wax
Tempers and stamps more after its own fashion.

Almost that passage had made morning there
And evening here, and there was wholly white
That hemisphere, and black the other part,

When Beatrice towards the left—hand side
I saw turned round, and gazing at the sun;
Never did eagle fasten so upon it!

And even as a second ray is wont
To issue from the first and reascend,
Like to a pilgrim who would fain return,

Thus of her action, through the eyes infused
In my imagination, mine I made,
And sunward fixed mine eyes beyond our wont.

There much is lawful which is here unlawful
Unto our powers, by virtue of the place
Made for the human species as its own.

Not long I bore it, nor so little while
But I beheld it sparkle round about
Like iron that comes molten from the fire;

And suddenly it seemed that day to day
Was added, as if He who has the power
Had with another sun the heaven adorned.

With eyes upon the everlasting wheels
Stood Beatrice all intent, and I, on her
Fixing my vision from above removed,

Such at her aspect inwardly became
As Glaucus, tasting of the herb that made him
Peer of the other gods beneath the sea.

To represent transhumanise in words
Impossible were; the example, then, suffice
Him for whom Grace the experience reserves.

If I was merely what of me thou newly
Createdst, Love who governest the heaven,
Thou knowest, who didst lift me with thy light!

When now the wheel, which thou dost make eternal
Desiring thee, made me attentive to it
By harmony thou dost modulate and measure,

Then seemed to me so much of heaven enkindled
By the sun’s flame, that neither rain nor river
E’er made a lake so widely spread abroad.

The newness of the sound and the great light
Kindled in me a longing for their cause,
Never before with such acuteness felt;

Whence she, who saw me as I saw myself,
To quiet in me my perturbed mind,
Opened her mouth, ere I did mine to ask,

And she began: “Thou makest thyself so dull
With false imagining, that thou seest not
What thou wouldst see if thou hadst shaken it

Thou art not upon earth, as thou believest;
But lightning, fleeing its appropriate site,
Ne’er ran as thou, who thitherward returnest.”

If of my former doubt I was divested
By these brief little words more smiled than spoken,
I in a new one was the more ensnared;

And said: “Already did I rest content
From great amazement; but am now amazed
In what way I transcend these bodies light.”

Whereupon she, after a pitying sigh,
Her eyes directed tow’rds me with that look
A mother casts on a delirious child;

And she began: “All things whate’er they be
Have order among themselves, and this is form,
That makes the universe resemble God.

Here do the higher creatures see the footprints
Of the Eternal Power, which is the end
Whereto is made the law already mentioned.

In the order that I speak of are inclined
All natures, by their destinies diverse,
More or less near unto their origin;

Hence they move onward unto ports diverse
O’er the great sea of being; and each one
With instinct given it which bears it on.

This bears away the fire towards the moon;
This is in mortal hearts the motive power
This binds together and unites the earth.

Nor only the created things that are
Without intelligence this bow shoots forth,
But those that have both intellect and love.

The Providence that regulates all this
Makes with its light the heaven forever quiet,
Wherein that turns which has the greatest haste.

And thither now, as to a site decreed,
Bears us away the virtue of that cord
Which aims its arrows at a joyous mark.

True is it, that as oftentimes the form
Accords not with the intention of the art,
Because in answering is matter deaf,

So likewise from this course doth deviate
Sometimes the creature, who the power possesses,
Though thus impelled, to swerve some other way,

(In the same wise as one may see the fire
Fall from a cloud,) if the first impetus
Earthward is wrested by some false delight.

Thou shouldst not wonder more, if well I judge,
At thine ascent, than at a rivulet
From some high mount descending to the lowland.

Marvel it would be in thee, if deprived
Of hindrance, thou wert seated down below,
As if on earth the living fire were quiet.”

Thereat she heavenward turned again her face.

The glory of the One who moves all things
permeates the universe and glows
in one part more and in another less.

I was within the heaven that receives
more of His light; and I saw things that he
who from that height descends, forgets or can

not speak; for nearing its desired end,
our intellect sinks into an abyss
so deep that memory fails to follow it.

Nevertheless, as much as I, within
my mind, could treasure of the holy kingdom
shall now become the matter of my song.

O good Apollo, for this final task
make me the vessel of your excellence,
what you, to merit your loved laurel, ask.

Until this point, one of Parnassus’ peaks
sufficed for me; but now I face the test
the agon that is left; I need both crests.

Enter into my breast; within me breathe
the very power you made manifest
when you drew Marsyas out from his limbs’ sheath.

O godly force, if you so lend yourself
to me, that I might show the shadow of
the blessed realm inscribed within my mind,

then you would see me underneath the tree
you love; there I shall take as crown the leaves
of which my theme and you shall make me worthy.

So seldom, father, are those garlands gathered
for triumph of a ruler or a poet—
a sign of fault or shame in human wills—

that when Peneian branches can incite
someone to long and thirst for them, delight
must fill the happy Delphic deity.

Great fire can follow a small spark: there may
be better voices after me to pray
to Cyrrha’s god for aid—that he may answer.

The lantern of the world approaches mortals
by varied paths; but on that way which links
four circles with three crosses, it emerges

joined to a better constellation and
along a better course, and it can temper
and stamp the world’s wax more in its own manner.

Its entry from that point of the horizon
brought morning there and evening here; almost
all of that hemisphere was white—while ours

was dark—when I saw Beatrice turn round
and left, that she might see the sun; no eagle
has ever stared so steadily at it.

And as a second ray will issue from the
first and reascend, much like a pilgrim
who seeks his home again, so on her action,

fed by my eyes to my imagination,
my action drew, and on the sun I set
my sight more than we usually do.

More is permitted to our powers there
than is permitted here, by virtue of
that place, made for mankind as its true home.

I did not bear it long, but not so briefly
as not to see it sparkling round about,
like molten iron emerging from the fire;

and suddenly it seemed that day had been
added to day, as if the One who can
had graced the heavens with a second sun.

The eyes of Beatrice were all intent
on the eternal circles; from the sun,
I turned aside; I set my eyes on her.

In watching her, within me I was changed
as Glaucus changed, tasting the herb that made
him a companion of the other sea gods.

Passing beyond the human cannot be
worded; let Glaucus serve as simile—
until grace grant you the experience.

Whether I only was the part of me
that You created last, You—governing
the heavens—know: it was Your light that raised me.

When that wheel which You make eternal through
the heavens’ longing for You drew me with
the harmony You temper and distinguish,

the fire of the sun then seemed to me
to kindle so much of the sky, that rain
or river never formed so broad a lake.

The newness of the sound and the great light
incited me to learn their cause—I was
more keen than I had ever been before.

And she who read me as I read myself,
to quiet the commotion in my mind,
opened her lips before I opened mine

to ask, and she began: “You make yourself
obtuse with false imagining; you can
not see what you would see if you dispelled it.

You are not on the earth as you believe;
but lightning, flying from its own abode,
is less swift than you are, returning home.”

While I was freed from my first doubt by these
brief words she smiled to me, I was yet caught
in new perplexity. I said: “I was

content already; after such great wonder,
I rested. But again I wonder how
my body rises past these lighter bodies.”

At which, after a sigh of pity, she
settled her eyes on me with the same look
a mother casts upon a raving child,

and she began: “All things, among themselves,
possess an order; and this order is
the form that makes the universe like God.

Here do the higher beings see the imprint
of the Eternal Worth, which is the end
to which the pattern I have mentioned tends.

Within that order, every nature has
its bent, according to a different station,
nearer or less near to its origin.

Therefore, these natures move to different ports
across the mighty sea of being, each
given the impulse that will bear it on.

This impulse carries fire to the moon;
this is the motive force in mortal creatures;
this binds the earth together, makes it one.

Not only does the shaft shot from this bow
strike creatures lacking intellect, but those
who have intelligence, and who can love.

The Providence that has arrayed all this
forever quiets—with Its light—that heaven
in which the swiftest of the spheres revolves;

to there, as toward a destined place, we now
are carried by the power of the bow
that always aims its shaft at a glad mark.

Yet it is true that, even as a shape
may, often, not accord with art’s intent,
since matter may be unresponsive, deaf,

so, from this course, the creature strays at times
because he has the power, once impelled,
to swerve elsewhere; as lightning from a cloud

is seen to fall, so does the first impulse,
when man has been diverted by false pleasure,
turn him toward earth. You should—if I am right—

not feel more marvel at your climbing than
you would were you considering a stream
that from a mountain’s height falls to its base.

It would be cause for wonder in you if,
no longer hindered, you remained below,
as if, on earth, a living flame stood still.”

Then she again turned her gaze heavenward.

THE glory of Him who moveth everything
Doth penetrate the universe, and shine
In one part more and in another less.

Within that heaven which most his light receives
Was I, and things beheld which to repeat
Nor knows, nor can, who from above descends;

Because in drawing near to its desire
Our intellect ingulphs itself so far,
That after it the memory cannot go.

Truly whatever of the holy realm
I had the power to treasure in my mind
Shall now become the subject of my song.

O good Apollo, for this last emprise
Make of me such a vessel of thy power
As giving the beloved laurel asks!

One summit of Parnassus hitherto
Has been enough for me, but now with both
I needs must enter the arena left.

Enter into my bosom, thou, and breathe
As at the time when Marsyas thou didst draw
Out of the scabbard of those limbs of his.

O power divine, lend’st thou thyself to me
So that the shadow of the blessed realm
Stamped in my brain I can make manifest,

Thou’lt see me come unto thy darling tree,
And crown myself thereafter with those leaves
Of which the theme and thou shall make me worthy.

So seldom, Father, do we gather them
For triumph or of Caesar or of Poet,
(The fault and shame of human inclinations,)

That the Peneian foliage should bring forth
Joy to the joyous Delphic deity,
When any one it makes to thirst for it.

A little spark is followed by great flame;
Perchance with better voices after me
Shall prayer be made that Cyrrha may respond!

To mortal men by passages diverse
Uprises the world’s lamp; but by that one
Which circles four uniteth with three crosses,

With better course and with a better star
Conjoined it issues, and the mundane wax
Tempers and stamps more after its own fashion.

Almost that passage had made morning there
And evening here, and there was wholly white
That hemisphere, and black the other part,

When Beatrice towards the left—hand side
I saw turned round, and gazing at the sun;
Never did eagle fasten so upon it!

And even as a second ray is wont
To issue from the first and reascend,
Like to a pilgrim who would fain return,

Thus of her action, through the eyes infused
In my imagination, mine I made,
And sunward fixed mine eyes beyond our wont.

There much is lawful which is here unlawful
Unto our powers, by virtue of the place
Made for the human species as its own.

Not long I bore it, nor so little while
But I beheld it sparkle round about
Like iron that comes molten from the fire;

And suddenly it seemed that day to day
Was added, as if He who has the power
Had with another sun the heaven adorned.

With eyes upon the everlasting wheels
Stood Beatrice all intent, and I, on her
Fixing my vision from above removed,

Such at her aspect inwardly became
As Glaucus, tasting of the herb that made him
Peer of the other gods beneath the sea.

To represent transhumanise in words
Impossible were; the example, then, suffice
Him for whom Grace the experience reserves.

If I was merely what of me thou newly
Createdst, Love who governest the heaven,
Thou knowest, who didst lift me with thy light!

When now the wheel, which thou dost make eternal
Desiring thee, made me attentive to it
By harmony thou dost modulate and measure,

Then seemed to me so much of heaven enkindled
By the sun’s flame, that neither rain nor river
E’er made a lake so widely spread abroad.

The newness of the sound and the great light
Kindled in me a longing for their cause,
Never before with such acuteness felt;

Whence she, who saw me as I saw myself,
To quiet in me my perturbed mind,
Opened her mouth, ere I did mine to ask,

And she began: “Thou makest thyself so dull
With false imagining, that thou seest not
What thou wouldst see if thou hadst shaken it

Thou art not upon earth, as thou believest;
But lightning, fleeing its appropriate site,
Ne’er ran as thou, who thitherward returnest.”

If of my former doubt I was divested
By these brief little words more smiled than spoken,
I in a new one was the more ensnared;

And said: “Already did I rest content
From great amazement; but am now amazed
In what way I transcend these bodies light.”

Whereupon she, after a pitying sigh,
Her eyes directed tow’rds me with that look
A mother casts on a delirious child;

And she began: “All things whate’er they be
Have order among themselves, and this is form,
That makes the universe resemble God.

Here do the higher creatures see the footprints
Of the Eternal Power, which is the end
Whereto is made the law already mentioned.

In the order that I speak of are inclined
All natures, by their destinies diverse,
More or less near unto their origin;

Hence they move onward unto ports diverse
O’er the great sea of being; and each one
With instinct given it which bears it on.

This bears away the fire towards the moon;
This is in mortal hearts the motive power
This binds together and unites the earth.

Nor only the created things that are
Without intelligence this bow shoots forth,
But those that have both intellect and love.

The Providence that regulates all this
Makes with its light the heaven forever quiet,
Wherein that turns which has the greatest haste.

And thither now, as to a site decreed,
Bears us away the virtue of that cord
Which aims its arrows at a joyous mark.

True is it, that as oftentimes the form
Accords not with the intention of the art,
Because in answering is matter deaf,

So likewise from this course doth deviate
Sometimes the creature, who the power possesses,
Though thus impelled, to swerve some other way,

(In the same wise as one may see the fire
Fall from a cloud,) if the first impetus
Earthward is wrested by some false delight.

Thou shouldst not wonder more, if well I judge,
At thine ascent, than at a rivulet
From some high mount descending to the lowland.

Marvel it would be in thee, if deprived
Of hindrance, thou wert seated down below,
As if on earth the living fire were quiet.”

Thereat she heavenward turned again her face.