Waves Crashing on the Shore

The first 30 verses of Paradiso 13 are again devoted to the mystical dance of the two concentric circles of wise men. They are, like the analogous verses that open Paradiso 12, very rhetorically complex. In this instance, rather than the multi-layered comparison to a double rainbow that we found in Paradiso 12, Dante treats us to a multi-layered address to the reader.

Paradiso is no less devoted to realism than Inferno and Purgatorio. In the third cantica, the poet has a harder task, not because the reality that his realism is attempting to represent is less real (if anything it is “more real” for we have reached the ground of all reality), but because it is more abstract.

The reality that Dante wants to represent in Paradiso is less a reality of persons, places, and things, and more a reality of ideas. We could call the realism of Paradiso a “conceptual realism”; certainly it is a realism that is struggling to represent ideas—not the people and landscapes of Inferno and Purgatorio. Dante’s attempt to be faithful to reality, in other words, takes him to the mimesis of ideas.

We could think of what has happened as our having entered a physics classroom. What is taught in this classroom regards the real, but it seems less “realistic” to most students/readers. I discuss this divergence between reality and perception/representation of reality in my essay “Dante and Reality/Dante and Realism (Paradiso),” where I also make an analogy between the goal of Paradiso and the goal of a book like physicist Stephen Hawking’s A Brief History of Time.

In this physics classroom that we have entered, the addresses to the reader take on a different tone. Knowing well that the path ahead will offer few of those blandishments of realism that readers crave (or better: few of the types of realism that readers crave), Dante begins Paradiso 2 with the stern warning to turn back: read no further, he says, lest your ships be lost in the great watery deep far from the comforts and safety of shore.

The multi-layered address to the reader that opens Paradiso 13 takes a different tack. To the reader who has persevered and reached the heaven of the sun, Dante now gives homework: a lesson in how to conceptualize and hold onto the reality that he is here representing.

Dante now gives the reader a task of visualization which is in effect a lesson in how to apply conceptual or geometric realism, how to make realistic the non-realistic (which is of course not the same as the non-real).

In order to visualize the twenty-four souls dancing around him, the reader must imagine stars: first fifteen stars of the first magnitude, followed by the seven stars of Ursa Major, followed by the two brightest stars of Ursa Minor, thus reaching a total of twenty-four stars. Dante orders the reader to imagine—“Imagini”—and to do the work of holding the image in the mind:

Imagini, chi bene intender cupe
quel ch’i’ or vidi – e ritegna l’image,
mentre ch’io dico, come ferma rupe –,
quindici stelle che ’n diverse plage
lo ciel avvivan di tanto sereno
che soperchia de l’aere ogne compage;
imagini quel carro a cu’ il seno
basta del nostro cielo e notte e giorno,
si ch’al volger del temo non vien meno;
imagini la bocca di quel corno
che si comincia in punta de lo stelo
a cui la prima rota va dintorno . . .               (Par. 13.1-12)
Let him imagine, who would rightly seize
what I saw now—and let him while I speak
retain that image like a steadfast rock—
in heaven’s different parts, those fifteen stars
that quicken heaven with such radiance
as to undo the air’s opacities;
let him imagine, too, that Wain which stays
within our heaven’s bosom night and day,
so that its turning never leaves our sight;   
let him imagine those two stars that form
the mouth of that Horn which begins atop 
the axle round which the first wheel revolves . . .

In the above passage the reader is commanded to do the work of imagination—the work of giving plasticity and realism to what Dante saw—with three imperatives (“imagini”) and with a series of precise mental instructions for visualization. These are in effect instructions for self-entertainment, in the etymological sense of the word (entertainment is from tenere, the Latin verb “to hold”): Dante is teaching us how to visualize in our minds and then hold onto the abstract verities that he is describing.

The reader must hold onto the first image as though to a firm rock: “e ritegna l’image, / mentre ch’io dico, come ferma rupe” (let him while I speak retain that image like a steadfast rock [Par. 13.2-3]). The poet on his side of the collaboration proceeds to unfold the second image and then the third. If the reader can hold the sequential images in her/his mind simultaneously, then s/he has an opportunity to create the composite image, still but a shadow of what Dante saw: “avrà quasi l’ombra de la vera / costellazione” (and he will have a shadow—as it were—of the true constellation [Par. 13.19-20]).

In Paradiso 13.31 Saint Thomas breaks the silence and begins to speak again, noting that one of Dante’s two dubbi is still unresolved. Thomas dealt with “u’ ben s’impingua” from Paradiso 10.96 in his explanation that the Dominicans used to fatten before they began to stray, an explanation found in the coda on the decadence of the Dominicans in Paradiso 11. He has not yet dealt with Dante’s perplexity about “non surse il secondo” from Paradiso 10.114.

The question is: How can the fifth light of the first circle—Solomon—be the wisest of men? Would not Adam and Christ be more worthy of that honor? Thomas says he will explain in such a way that Dante’s belief and Thomas’ speech will be equally true, and he says this by using the metaphor of the circle and its center: “e vedrai il tuo credere e ’l mio dire / nel vero farsi come centro in tondo” (you will see: truth centers both my speech and your belief, just like a circle’s center [Par. 13.50-51]).

The imagery here is that which governs this heaven: just as the beliefs of wise men who held such disparate philosophical views on earth now meet at the truth as in the center of a circle, so Dante’s belief and Thomas’s explanation will meet at the truth “come centro in tondo” (51).

As we have seen Dante do previously in Paradiso, a distinction is introduced in order to allow two different positions to be reconciled. The distinction that Thomas will eventually introduce is that of “regal prudenza” (regal prudence [Par. 13.104]), or kingly wisdom: the wisdom that befits a king. In other words, it turns out that Thomas was not speaking of absolute wisdom when he referred in Paradiso 10 to Solomon as the wisest of men, but to a specific kind of wisdom, that which is appropriate to kings.

Dante’s intellectual procedure here is similar to that which he follows in Paradiso 4, when Beatrice introduces the distinction between absolute will and conditioned will.

Having made this distinction (“Con questa distinzion prendi ’l mio detto” in Par. 13.109), Thomas draws out the social implications of his practice, critiquing those fools who do not distinguish and rush to make hasty judgments. With this critique of non-philosophers who don’t engage in truly rigorous thought, the canto draws to its end.

But in jumping to Thomas’s application of the solvent of logical distinction, I have skipped this canto’s molten core. In between enunciating Dante’s second dubbio and promising to answer it, and then supplying the distinction that allows him to answer it, Thomas gives voice, in Paradiso 13.52-87, to one of the great creation discourses of the Paradiso. This discourse links back to the passages on creation in Paradiso 1, 2, and 7, and looks forward to the creation discourse of Paradiso 29. It is both theologically fundamental and extraordinarily beautiful.

Technically, Thomas brings in the issue of creation in order to let Dante know that he is in fact correct in his assumption that of all created beings Christ and Adam are the most perfect. The technical pretext allows Dante to turn to the magnificent spectacle of the one becoming many while somehow still remaining eternally one:

Ciò che non more e ciò che può morire
non è se non splendor di quella idea
che partorisce, amando, il nostro Sire;
ché quella viva luce che sì mea
dal suo lucente, che non si disuna
da lui né da l’amor ch’a lor s’intrea,
per sua bontate il suo raggiare aduna,
quasi specchiato, in nove sussistenze,
etternalmente rimanendosi una.                  (Par. 13.52-60)
Both that which never dies and that which dies
are only the reflected light of that
Idea which our Sire, with Love, begets;
because the living Light that pours out so
from Its bright Source that It does not disjoin
from It or from the Love intrined with them,
through Its own goodness gathers up Its rays
within nine essences, as in a mirror,
Itself eternally remaining One.

We note in the above verses the two rehearsals of the Trinity:

  • “quella idea [the Son] / che partorisce, amando [the Holy Spirit], il nostro Sire [the Father]” (53-54)
  • “quella viva luce [the Son] che si mea / dal suo lucente, che non si disuna / da lui [the Father] né da l’amor [the Holy Spirit] ch’a lor s’intrea” (55-57)

We note, too, the performance of the Trinity in the play of the rhyme words: “disuna” (to un-one itself), “s’intrea” (to en-three itself), “aduna” (make one), and “una” (one).

In conclusion, let us consider ”Ciò che non more e ciò che può morire” (52), which means, literally, “That which does not die and that which can die”, in other words “all created beings” or “all living things”.

“Ciò che non more” (“that which does not die”) embraces those created beings that are created directly by God, those things that, in the creation discourse of Paradiso 7, are created “sanza mezzo”, without the mediation of the heavens: “ciò che da lei sanza mezzo distilla” (Par. 7.67). We recall from Paradiso 7 that those beings that are created without mediation, immediately by God, are gifted with immortality.

“Ciò che può morire” (“that which can die”) refers to those created beings that are created through the mediation of the heavens. These are the things that, in the language of Paradiso 7, will come to corruption and last but little: “venire a corruzione, e durar poco” (Par. 7.126).

If we listen to the sound and the rhythm of “Ciò che non more e ciò che può morire”—if we say the verse out loud—we hear the vibration of being and creation as presented by Dante in Paradiso 13: we hear the sound and the rhythm of the waves crashing on the shore of the great sea of being itself.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: “Dante and Reality/Dante and Realism (Paradiso),” SpazioFilosofico, numero 8 (2013): 199-208 (link); The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 9, “The Heaven of the Sun as a Meditation on Narrative.”

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 13: Waves Crashing on the Shore.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-13/

About the Commento

1Imagini, chi bene intender cupe
2quel ch’i’ or vidi—e ritegna l’image,
3mentre ch’io dico, come ferma rupe—,

4quindici stelle che ’n diverse plage
5lo ciel avvivan di tanto sereno
6che soperchia de l’aere ogne compage;

7imagini quel carro a cu’ il seno
8basta del nostro cielo e notte e giorno,
9sì ch’al volger del temo non vien meno;

10imagini la bocca di quel corno
11che si comincia in punta de lo stelo
12a cui la prima rota va dintorno,

13aver fatto di sé due segni in cielo,
14qual fece la figliuola di Minoi
15allora che sentì di morte il gelo;

16e l’un ne l’altro aver li raggi suoi,
17e amendue girarsi per maniera
18che l’uno andasse al primo e l’altro al poi;

19e avrà quasi l’ombra de la vera
20costellazione e de la doppia danza
21che circulava il punto dov’ io era:

22poi ch’è tanto di là da nostra usanza,
23quanto di là dal mover de la Chiana
24si move il ciel che tutti li altri avanza.

25Lì si cantò non Bacco, non Peana,
26ma tre persone in divina natura,
27e in una persona essa e l’umana.

28Compié ’l cantare e ’l volger sua misura;
29e attesersi a noi quei santi lumi,
30felicitando sé di cura in cura.

31Ruppe il silenzio ne’ concordi numi
32poscia la luce in che mirabil vita
33del poverel di Dio narrata fumi,

34e disse: «Quando l’una paglia è trita,
35quando la sua semenza è già riposta,
36a batter l’altra dolce amor m’invita.

37Tu credi che nel petto onde la costa
38si trasse per formar la bella guancia
39il cui palato a tutto ’l mondo costa,

40e in quel che, forato da la lancia,
41e prima e poscia tanto sodisfece,
42che d’ogne colpa vince la bilancia,

43quantunque a la natura umana lece
44aver di lume, tutto fosse infuso
45da quel valor che l’uno e l’altro fece;

46e però miri a ciò ch’io dissi suso,
47quando narrai che non ebbe ’l secondo
48lo ben che ne la quinta luce è chiuso.

49Or apri li occhi a quel ch’io ti rispondo,
50e vedräi il tuo credere e ’l mio dire
51nel vero farsi come centro in tondo.

52Ciò che non more e ciò che può morire
53non è se non splendor di quella idea
54che partorisce, amando, il nostro Sire;

55ché quella viva luce che sì mea
56dal suo lucente, che non si disuna
57da lui né da l’amor ch’a lor s’intrea,

58per sua bontate il suo raggiare aduna,
59quasi specchiato, in nove sussistenze,
60etternalmente rimanendosi una.

61Quindi discende a l’ultime potenze
62giù d’atto in atto, tanto divenendo,
63che più non fa che brevi contingenze;

64e queste contingenze essere intendo
65le cose generate, che produce
66con seme e sanza seme il ciel movendo.

67La cera di costoro e chi la duce
68non sta d’un modo; e però sotto ’l segno
69idëale poi più e men traluce.

70Ond’ elli avvien ch’un medesimo legno,
71secondo specie, meglio e peggio frutta;
72e voi nascete con diverso ingegno.

73Se fosse a punto la cera dedutta
74e fosse il cielo in sua virtù supprema,
75la luce del suggel parrebbe tutta;

76ma la natura la dà sempre scema,
77similemente operando a l’artista
78ch’a l’abito de l’arte ha man che trema.

79Però se ’l caldo amor la chiara vista
80de la prima virtù dispone e segna,
81tutta la perfezion quivi s’acquista.

82Così fu fatta già la terra degna
83di tutta l’animal perfezïone;
84così fu fatta la Vergine pregna;

85sì ch’io commendo tua oppinïone,
86che l’umana natura mai non fue
87né fia qual fu in quelle due persone.

88Or s’i’ non procedesse avanti piùe,
89‘Dunque, come costui fu sanza pare?’
90comincerebber le parole tue.

91Ma perché paia ben ciò che non pare,
92pensa chi era, e la cagion che ’l mosse,
93quando fu detto “Chiedi”, a dimandare.

94Non ho parlato sì, che tu non posse
95ben veder ch’el fu re, che chiese senno
96acciò che re sufficïente fosse;

97non per sapere il numero in che enno
98li motor di qua sù, o se necesse
99con contingente mai necesse fenno;

100non si est dare primum motum esse,
101o se del mezzo cerchio far si puote
102trïangol sì ch’un retto non avesse.

103Onde, se ciò ch’io dissi e questo note,
104regal prudenza è quel vedere impari
105in che lo stral di mia intenzion percuote;

106e se al “surse” drizzi li occhi chiari,
107vedrai aver solamente respetto
108ai regi, che son molti, e ’ buon son rari.

109Con questa distinzion prendi ’l mio detto;
110e così puote star con quel che credi
111del primo padre e del nostro Diletto.

112E questo ti sia sempre piombo a’ piedi,
113per farti mover lento com’ uom lasso
114e al sì e al no che tu non vedi:

115ché quelli è tra li stolti bene a basso,
116che sanza distinzione afferma e nega
117ne l’un così come ne l’altro passo;

118perch’ elli ’ncontra che più volte piega
119l’oppinïon corrente in falsa parte,
120e poi l’affetto l’intelletto lega.

121Vie più che ’ndarno da riva si parte,
122perché non torna tal qual e’ si move,
123chi pesca per lo vero e non ha l’arte.

124E di ciò sono al mondo aperte prove
125Parmenide, Melisso e Brisso e molti,
126li quali andaro e non sapëan dove;

127sì fé Sabellio e Arrio e quelli stolti
128che furon come spade a le Scritture
129in render torti li diritti volti.

130Non sien le genti, ancor, troppo sicure
131a giudicar, sì come quei che stima
132le biade in campo pria che sien mature;

133ch’i’ ho veduto tutto ’l verno prima
134lo prun mostrarsi rigido e feroce,
135poscia portar la rosa in su la cima;

136e legno vidi già dritto e veloce
137correr lo mar per tutto suo cammino,
138perire al fine a l’intrar de la foce.

139Non creda donna Berta e ser Martino,
140per vedere un furare, altro offerere,
141vederli dentro al consiglio divino;

142ché quel può surgere, e quel può cadere».

Let him imagine, who would rightly seize
what I saw now—and let him while I speak
retain that image like a steadfast rock—

in heaven’s different parts, those fifteen stars
that quicken heaven with such radiance
as to undo the air’s opacities;

let him imagine, too, that Wain which stays
within our heaven’s bosom night and day,
so that its turning never leaves our sight;

let him imagine those two stars that form
the mouth of that Horn which begins atop
the axle round which the first wheel revolves;

then see these join to form two signs in heaven—
just like the constellation that was shaped
by Minos’ daughter when she felt death’s chill—

two signs with corresponding radii,
revolving so that one sign moves in one
direction, and the other in a second;

and he will have a shadow—as it were—
of the true constellation, the double dance
that circled round the point where I was standing:

a shadow—since its truth exceeds our senses,
just as the swiftest of all heavens is
more swift than the Chiana’s sluggishness.

They sang no Bacchus there, they sang no Paean,
but sang three Persons in the divine nature,
and in one Person the divine and human.

The singing and the dance fulfilled their measure;
and then those holy lights gave heed to us,
rejoicing as they turned from task to task.

The silence of the blessed fellowship
was broken by the very light from which
I heard the wondrous life of God’s poor man;

that light said: “Since one stalk is threshed, and since
its grain is in the granary already,
sweet love leads me to thresh the other stalk.

You think that any light which human nature
can rightfully possess was all infused
by that Force which had shaped both of these two:

the one out of whose chest was drawn the rib
from which was formed the lovely cheek whose palate
was then to prove so costly to the world;

and One whose chest was transfixed by the lance,
who satisfied all past and future sins,
outweighing them upon the scales of justice.

Therefore you wondered at my words when I—
before—said that no other ever vied
with that great soul enclosed in the fifth light.

Now let your eyes hold fast to my reply,
and you will see: truth centers both my speech
and your belief, just like a circle’s center.

Both that which never dies and that which dies
are only the reflected light of that
Idea which our Sire, with Love, begets;

because the living Light that pours out so
from Its bright Source that It does not disjoin
from It or from the Love intrined with them,

through Its own goodness gathers up Its rays
within nine essences, as in a mirror,
Itself eternally remaining One.

From there, from act to act, light then descends
down to the last potentialities,
where it is such that it engenders nothing

but brief contingent things, by which I mean
the generated things the moving heavens
bring into being, with or without seed.

The wax of such things and what shapes that wax
are not immutable; and thus, beneath
Idea’s stamp, light shines through more or less.

Thus it can be that, in the selfsame species,
some trees bear better fruit and some bear worse,
and men are born with different temperaments.

For were the wax appropriately readied,
and were the heaven’s power at its height,
the brightness of the seal would show completely;

but Nature always works defectively—
she passes on that light much like an artist
who knows his craft but has a hand that trembles.

Yet where the ardent Love prepares and stamps
the lucid Vision of the primal Power,
a being then acquires complete perfection.

In that way, earth was once made worthy of
the full perfection of a living being;
thus was the Virgin made to be with child.

So that I do approve of the opinion
you hold: that human nature never was
nor shall be what it was in those two persons.

Now if I said no more beyond this point,
your words might well begin, ‘How is it, then,
with your assertion of his matchless vision?’

But so that the obscure can be made plain,
consider who he was, what was the cause
of his request when he was told, ‘Do ask.’

My words did not prevent your seeing clearly
that it was as a king that he had asked
for wisdom that would serve his royal task—

and not to know the number of the angels
on high or, if combined with a contingent,
necesse ever can produce necesse,

or si est dare primum motum esse,
or if, within a semicircle, one
can draw a triangle with no right angle.

Thus, if you note both what I said and say,
by ‘matchless vision’ it is kingly prudence
my arrow of intention means to strike;

and if you turn clear eyes to that word ‘rose,’
you’ll see that it referred to kings alone—
kings, who are many, and the good are rare.

Take what I said with this distinction then;
in that way it accords with what you thought
of the first father and of our Beloved.

And let this weigh as lead to slow your steps,
to make you move as would a weary man
to yes or no when you do not see clearly:

whether he would affirm or would deny,
he who decides without distinguishing
must be among the most obtuse of men;

opinion—hasty—often can incline
to the wrong side, and then affection for
one’s own opinion binds, confines the mind.

Far worse than uselessly he leaves the shore
(more full of error than he was before)
who fishes for the truth but lacks the art.

Of this, Parmenides, Melissus, Bryson,
are clear proofs to the world, and many others
who went their way but knew not where it went;

so did Sabellius and Arius
and other fools—like concave blades that mirror—
who rendered crooked the straight face of Scriptures.

So, too, let men not be too confident
in judging—witness those who, in the field,
would count the ears before the corn is ripe;

for I have seen, all winter through, the brier
display itself as stiff and obstinate,
and later, on its summit, bear the rose;

and once I saw a ship sail straight and swift
through all its voyaging across the sea,
then perish at the end, at harbor entry.

Let not Dame Bertha or Master Martin think
that they have shared God’s Counsel when they see
one rob and see another who donates:

the last may fall, the other may be saved.”

LET him imagine, who would well conceive
What now I saw, and let him while I speak
Retain the image as a steadfast rock,

The fifteen stars, that in their divers regions
The sky enliven with a light so great
That it transcends all clusters of the air;

Let him the Wain imagine unto which
Our vault of heaven sufficeth night and day,
So that in turning of its pole it fails not;

Let him the mouth imagine of the horn
That in the point beginneth of the axis
Round about which the primal wheel revolves,emdash

To have fashioned of themselves two signs in heaven,
Like unto that which Minos’ daughter made,
The moment when she felt the frost of death;

And one to have its rays within the other,
And both to whirl themselves in such a manner
That one should forward go, the other backward;

And he will have some shadowing forth of that
True constellation and the double dance
That circled round the point at which I was;

Because it is as much beyond our wont,
As swifter than the motion of the Chiana
Moveth the heaven that all the rest outspeeds.

There sang they neither Bacchus, nor Apollo,
But in the divine nature Persons three,
And in one person the divine and human.

The singing and the dance fulfilled their measure,
And unto us those holy lights gave need,
Growing in happiness from care to care.

Then broke the silence of those saints concordant
The light in which the admirable life
Of God’s own mendicant was told to me,

And said: “Now that one straw is trodden out
Now that its seed is garnered up already,
Sweet love invites me to thresh out the other.

Into that bosom, thou believest, whence
Was drawn the rib to form the beauteous cheek
Whose taste to all the world is costing dear,

And into that which, by the lance transfixed,
Before and since, such satisfaction made
That it weighs down the balance of all sin,

Whate’er of light it has to human nature
Been lawful to possess was all infused
By the same power that both of them created;

And hence at what I said above dost wonder,
When I narrated that no second had
The good which in the fifth light is enclosed.

Now ope thine eyes to what I answer thee,
And thou shalt see thy creed and my discourse
Fit in the truth as centre in a circle.

That which can die, and that which dieth not,
Are nothing but the splendour of the idea
Which by his love our Lord brings into being

Because that living Light, which from its fount
Effulgent flows, so that it disunites not
From Him nor from the Love in them intrined,

Through its own goodness reunites its rays
In nine subsistences, as in a mirror,
Itself eternally remaining One.

Thence it descends to the last potencies,
Downward from act to act becoming such
That only brief contingencies it makes;

And these contingencies I hold to be
Things generated, which the heaven produces
By its own motion, with seed and without.

Neither their wax, nor that which tempers it,
Remains immutable, and hence beneath
The ideal signet more and less shines through;

Therefore it happens, that the selfsame tree
After its kind bears worse and better fruit,
And ye are born with characters diverse.

If in perfection tempered were the wax,
And were the heaven in its supremest virtue,
The brilliance of the seal would all appear;

But nature gives it evermore deficient,
In the like manner working as the artist,
Who has the skill of art and hand that trembles.

If then the fervent Love, the Vision clear,
Of primal Virtue do dispose and seal,
Perfection absolute is there acquired.

Thus was of old the earth created worthy
Of all and every animal perfection;
And thus the Virgin was impregnate made;

So that thine own opinion I commend,
That human nature never yet has been,
Nor will be, what it was in, those two persons.

Now if no farther forth I should proceed,
‘ Then in what way was he without a peer ?’
Would be the first beginning of thy words.

But, that may well appear what now appears not,
Think who he was, and what occasion moved him
To make request, when it was told him, ‘ Ask.’

I’ve not so spoken that thou canst not see
Clearly he was a king who asked for wisdom,
That he might be sufficiently a king;

‘Twas not to know the number in which are
The motors here above, or if _necesse_
With a contingent e’er _necesse_ make,

_Non si est dare primum motum esse,_
Or if in semicircle can be made
Triangle so that it have no right angle.

Whence, if thou notest this and what I said,
A regal prudence is that peerless seeing
In which the shaft of my intention strikes

And if on ‘ rose ‘ thou turnest thy clear eyes,
Thou’lt see that it has reference alone
To kings who’re many, and the good are rare.

With this distinction take thou what I said,
And thus it can consist with thy belief
Of the first father and of our Delight.

And lead shall this be always to thy feet,
To make thee, like a weary man, move slowly
Both to the Yes and No thou seest not;

For very low among the fools is he
Who affirms without distinction, or denies,
As well in one as in the other case;

Because it happens that full often bends
Current opinion in the false direction,
And then the feelings bind the intellect.

Far more than uselessly he leaves the shore,
(Since he returneth not the same he went,)
Who fishes for the truth, and has no skill;

And in the world proofs manifest thereof
Parmenides, Melissus, Brissus are,
And many who went on and knew not whither;

Thus did Sabellius, Arius, and those fools
Who have been even as swords unto the Scriptures
In rendering distorted their straight faces.

Nor yet shall people be too confident
In judging, even as he is who doth count
The corn in field or ever it be ripe.

For I have seen all winter long the thorn
First show itself intractable and fierce,
And after bear the rose upon its top;

And I have seen a ship direct and swift
Run o’er the sea throughout its course entire,
To perish at the harbour’s mouth at last.

Let not Dame Bertha nor Ser Martin think,
Seeing one steal, another offering make,
To see them in the arbitrament divine;

For one may rise, and fall the other may.”

Let him imagine, who would rightly seize
what I saw now—and let him while I speak
retain that image like a steadfast rock—

in heaven’s different parts, those fifteen stars
that quicken heaven with such radiance
as to undo the air’s opacities;

let him imagine, too, that Wain which stays
within our heaven’s bosom night and day,
so that its turning never leaves our sight;

let him imagine those two stars that form
the mouth of that Horn which begins atop
the axle round which the first wheel revolves;

then see these join to form two signs in heaven—
just like the constellation that was shaped
by Minos’ daughter when she felt death’s chill—

two signs with corresponding radii,
revolving so that one sign moves in one
direction, and the other in a second;

and he will have a shadow—as it were—
of the true constellation, the double dance
that circled round the point where I was standing:

a shadow—since its truth exceeds our senses,
just as the swiftest of all heavens is
more swift than the Chiana’s sluggishness.

They sang no Bacchus there, they sang no Paean,
but sang three Persons in the divine nature,
and in one Person the divine and human.

The singing and the dance fulfilled their measure;
and then those holy lights gave heed to us,
rejoicing as they turned from task to task.

The silence of the blessed fellowship
was broken by the very light from which
I heard the wondrous life of God’s poor man;

that light said: “Since one stalk is threshed, and since
its grain is in the granary already,
sweet love leads me to thresh the other stalk.

You think that any light which human nature
can rightfully possess was all infused
by that Force which had shaped both of these two:

the one out of whose chest was drawn the rib
from which was formed the lovely cheek whose palate
was then to prove so costly to the world;

and One whose chest was transfixed by the lance,
who satisfied all past and future sins,
outweighing them upon the scales of justice.

Therefore you wondered at my words when I—
before—said that no other ever vied
with that great soul enclosed in the fifth light.

Now let your eyes hold fast to my reply,
and you will see: truth centers both my speech
and your belief, just like a circle’s center.

Both that which never dies and that which dies
are only the reflected light of that
Idea which our Sire, with Love, begets;

because the living Light that pours out so
from Its bright Source that It does not disjoin
from It or from the Love intrined with them,

through Its own goodness gathers up Its rays
within nine essences, as in a mirror,
Itself eternally remaining One.

From there, from act to act, light then descends
down to the last potentialities,
where it is such that it engenders nothing

but brief contingent things, by which I mean
the generated things the moving heavens
bring into being, with or without seed.

The wax of such things and what shapes that wax
are not immutable; and thus, beneath
Idea’s stamp, light shines through more or less.

Thus it can be that, in the selfsame species,
some trees bear better fruit and some bear worse,
and men are born with different temperaments.

For were the wax appropriately readied,
and were the heaven’s power at its height,
the brightness of the seal would show completely;

but Nature always works defectively—
she passes on that light much like an artist
who knows his craft but has a hand that trembles.

Yet where the ardent Love prepares and stamps
the lucid Vision of the primal Power,
a being then acquires complete perfection.

In that way, earth was once made worthy of
the full perfection of a living being;
thus was the Virgin made to be with child.

So that I do approve of the opinion
you hold: that human nature never was
nor shall be what it was in those two persons.

Now if I said no more beyond this point,
your words might well begin, ‘How is it, then,
with your assertion of his matchless vision?’

But so that the obscure can be made plain,
consider who he was, what was the cause
of his request when he was told, ‘Do ask.’

My words did not prevent your seeing clearly
that it was as a king that he had asked
for wisdom that would serve his royal task—

and not to know the number of the angels
on high or, if combined with a contingent,
necesse ever can produce necesse,

or si est dare primum motum esse,
or if, within a semicircle, one
can draw a triangle with no right angle.

Thus, if you note both what I said and say,
by ‘matchless vision’ it is kingly prudence
my arrow of intention means to strike;

and if you turn clear eyes to that word ‘rose,’
you’ll see that it referred to kings alone—
kings, who are many, and the good are rare.

Take what I said with this distinction then;
in that way it accords with what you thought
of the first father and of our Beloved.

And let this weigh as lead to slow your steps,
to make you move as would a weary man
to yes or no when you do not see clearly:

whether he would affirm or would deny,
he who decides without distinguishing
must be among the most obtuse of men;

opinion—hasty—often can incline
to the wrong side, and then affection for
one’s own opinion binds, confines the mind.

Far worse than uselessly he leaves the shore
(more full of error than he was before)
who fishes for the truth but lacks the art.

Of this, Parmenides, Melissus, Bryson,
are clear proofs to the world, and many others
who went their way but knew not where it went;

so did Sabellius and Arius
and other fools—like concave blades that mirror—
who rendered crooked the straight face of Scriptures.

So, too, let men not be too confident
in judging—witness those who, in the field,
would count the ears before the corn is ripe;

for I have seen, all winter through, the brier
display itself as stiff and obstinate,
and later, on its summit, bear the rose;

and once I saw a ship sail straight and swift
through all its voyaging across the sea,
then perish at the end, at harbor entry.

Let not Dame Bertha or Master Martin think
that they have shared God’s Counsel when they see
one rob and see another who donates:

the last may fall, the other may be saved.”

LET him imagine, who would well conceive
What now I saw, and let him while I speak
Retain the image as a steadfast rock,

The fifteen stars, that in their divers regions
The sky enliven with a light so great
That it transcends all clusters of the air;

Let him the Wain imagine unto which
Our vault of heaven sufficeth night and day,
So that in turning of its pole it fails not;

Let him the mouth imagine of the horn
That in the point beginneth of the axis
Round about which the primal wheel revolves,emdash

To have fashioned of themselves two signs in heaven,
Like unto that which Minos’ daughter made,
The moment when she felt the frost of death;

And one to have its rays within the other,
And both to whirl themselves in such a manner
That one should forward go, the other backward;

And he will have some shadowing forth of that
True constellation and the double dance
That circled round the point at which I was;

Because it is as much beyond our wont,
As swifter than the motion of the Chiana
Moveth the heaven that all the rest outspeeds.

There sang they neither Bacchus, nor Apollo,
But in the divine nature Persons three,
And in one person the divine and human.

The singing and the dance fulfilled their measure,
And unto us those holy lights gave need,
Growing in happiness from care to care.

Then broke the silence of those saints concordant
The light in which the admirable life
Of God’s own mendicant was told to me,

And said: “Now that one straw is trodden out
Now that its seed is garnered up already,
Sweet love invites me to thresh out the other.

Into that bosom, thou believest, whence
Was drawn the rib to form the beauteous cheek
Whose taste to all the world is costing dear,

And into that which, by the lance transfixed,
Before and since, such satisfaction made
That it weighs down the balance of all sin,

Whate’er of light it has to human nature
Been lawful to possess was all infused
By the same power that both of them created;

And hence at what I said above dost wonder,
When I narrated that no second had
The good which in the fifth light is enclosed.

Now ope thine eyes to what I answer thee,
And thou shalt see thy creed and my discourse
Fit in the truth as centre in a circle.

That which can die, and that which dieth not,
Are nothing but the splendour of the idea
Which by his love our Lord brings into being

Because that living Light, which from its fount
Effulgent flows, so that it disunites not
From Him nor from the Love in them intrined,

Through its own goodness reunites its rays
In nine subsistences, as in a mirror,
Itself eternally remaining One.

Thence it descends to the last potencies,
Downward from act to act becoming such
That only brief contingencies it makes;

And these contingencies I hold to be
Things generated, which the heaven produces
By its own motion, with seed and without.

Neither their wax, nor that which tempers it,
Remains immutable, and hence beneath
The ideal signet more and less shines through;

Therefore it happens, that the selfsame tree
After its kind bears worse and better fruit,
And ye are born with characters diverse.

If in perfection tempered were the wax,
And were the heaven in its supremest virtue,
The brilliance of the seal would all appear;

But nature gives it evermore deficient,
In the like manner working as the artist,
Who has the skill of art and hand that trembles.

If then the fervent Love, the Vision clear,
Of primal Virtue do dispose and seal,
Perfection absolute is there acquired.

Thus was of old the earth created worthy
Of all and every animal perfection;
And thus the Virgin was impregnate made;

So that thine own opinion I commend,
That human nature never yet has been,
Nor will be, what it was in, those two persons.

Now if no farther forth I should proceed,
‘ Then in what way was he without a peer ?’
Would be the first beginning of thy words.

But, that may well appear what now appears not,
Think who he was, and what occasion moved him
To make request, when it was told him, ‘ Ask.’

I’ve not so spoken that thou canst not see
Clearly he was a king who asked for wisdom,
That he might be sufficiently a king;

‘Twas not to know the number in which are
The motors here above, or if _necesse_
With a contingent e’er _necesse_ make,

_Non si est dare primum motum esse,_
Or if in semicircle can be made
Triangle so that it have no right angle.

Whence, if thou notest this and what I said,
A regal prudence is that peerless seeing
In which the shaft of my intention strikes

And if on ‘ rose ‘ thou turnest thy clear eyes,
Thou’lt see that it has reference alone
To kings who’re many, and the good are rare.

With this distinction take thou what I said,
And thus it can consist with thy belief
Of the first father and of our Delight.

And lead shall this be always to thy feet,
To make thee, like a weary man, move slowly
Both to the Yes and No thou seest not;

For very low among the fools is he
Who affirms without distinction, or denies,
As well in one as in the other case;

Because it happens that full often bends
Current opinion in the false direction,
And then the feelings bind the intellect.

Far more than uselessly he leaves the shore,
(Since he returneth not the same he went,)
Who fishes for the truth, and has no skill;

And in the world proofs manifest thereof
Parmenides, Melissus, Brissus are,
And many who went on and knew not whither;

Thus did Sabellius, Arius, and those fools
Who have been even as swords unto the Scriptures
In rendering distorted their straight faces.

Nor yet shall people be too confident
In judging, even as he is who doth count
The corn in field or ever it be ripe.

For I have seen all winter long the thorn
First show itself intractable and fierce,
And after bear the rose upon its top;

And I have seen a ship direct and swift
Run o’er the sea throughout its course entire,
To perish at the harbour’s mouth at last.

Let not Dame Bertha nor Ser Martin think,
Seeing one steal, another offering make,
To see them in the arbitrament divine;

For one may rise, and fall the other may.”