Our Bodies, Our Loves

The initial two-thirds of Paradiso 14, roughly speaking, comprise the last section devoted to the heaven of the sun. In Paradiso 14.82-84, Dante-pilgrim and his guide transition to the heaven of Mars.

The opening of Paradiso 14, “Dal centro al cerchio, e sì dal cerchio al centro” (1), beautifully recapitulates the dominant image of the heaven of wisdom: that of the wise men who are as points on the circumference of a cerchio, all equidistant from the truth at the centro.

In context, the verse is part of a passage in which the poet compares the speech patterns of Beatrice and St. Thomas to water circling in a vase:

Dal centro al cerchio, e sì dal cerchio al centro
movesi l’acqua in un ritondo vaso,
secondo ch’è percosso fuori o dentro:
ne la mia mente fé sùbito caso
questo ch’io dico, sì come si tacque
la gloriosa vita di Tommaso,
per la similitudine che nacque 
del suo parlare e di quel di Beatrice . . . (Par. 14.1-8)
From rim to center, center out to rim, 
so does the water move in a round vessel,
as it is struck without, or struck within. 
What I am saying fell most suddenly
into my mind, as soon as Thomas’s
glorious living flame fell silent, since 
between his speech and that of Beatrice,
a similarity was born.

The opening of Paradiso 14 is thus a simile—and note the hyper-literary word “similitudine” in verse 7, a hapax in the Commedia—that compares water moving from the circumference of a vase to its center and back again to waves of discourse, to currents of language. It is therefore a perfect mise-en-abyme of the heaven of the sun itself, whose intense meta-narrative focus I discuss in great detail in Chapter 9 of The Undivine Comedy.

Beatrice announces that Dante has another dubbio. He now wants to know about the resurrected body, its degree of luminosity, and how the eyes of the blessed will be able to tolerate it:

Diteli se la luce onde s’infiora
vostra sustanza, rimarrà con voi
etternalmente sì com’ell’è ora;
e se rimane, dite come, poi
che sarete visibili rifatti,
esser porà ch’al veder non vi nòi.        (Par. 14.13-18)
Do tell him if that light with which your soul
blossoms will stay with you eternally
even as it is now; and if it stays,
do tell him how, when you are once again
made visible, it will be possible
for you to see such light and not be harmed.

Before an answer is forthcoming, the souls sing together three times of the Trinity, expressed in chiasmic fashion as “Quell’uno e due e tre che sempre vive / e regna sempre in tre e ’n due e ’n uno” (That One and Two and Three who ever lives / and ever reigns in Three and Two and One [Par. 14.28-29]). The chiasmus can be visualized thus:

dante4

Solomon, described as the “brightest light in the smaller circle” (Par. 14.34-35), takes the task of answering the pilgrim’s question. This language, like the canto’s opening salvo, is recapitulatory with respect to the “events” of the heaven of the sun. The smaller circle is the first of the two concentric circles that now surround the pilgrim and Beatrice, the one that formed around them in Paradiso 10, and Solomon’s being the “brightest light” in the first circle takes us back to the pilgrim’s curiosity as to the reason for Solomon’s relative importance: a query that is embedded in the language of St. Thomas in Paradiso 10, expressed by St. Thomas in Paradiso 11, and answered by St. Thomas in Paradiso 13.

Solomon now speaks in “a modest voice”—perhaps, says Dante (it is quite magical, this “forse”), like the voice with which the angel spoke to Mary:

E io udi’ ne la luce più dia
del minor cerchio una voce modesta,
forse qual fu da l’angelo a Maria . . . (Par. 14.34-36)
And I could hear within the smaller circle’s
divinest light a modest voice (perhaps
much like the angel's voice in speech to Mary) . . .

This extraordinary moment, in which the poet conjures for himself and for us the quality of the angel Gabriel’s voice during the Annunciation, when the angel spoke to Mary in “una voce modesta” (Par. 14.35), is not only imaginatively resonant but rich with meaning. It reminds us of Christ’s birth, discussed in Paradiso 13 in the context of the most perfect of humans, Christ and Adam, and consequently introduces the topic of the resurrection of the body, the same flesh in which God became incarnate to be born as Christ.

Moreover, the allusion to the Annunciation, the moment in which the angel tells Mary that she will become a mother, prepares us for this canto’s later revelation about mothers and fathers and other beloveds.

The connection between our bodies and our loves is thus already implicit in the verses comparing Solomon’s vocal delivery to that of Gabriel at the Annunciation.

This connection will now be unpacked by Solomon, who explains to Dante that the brightness of a soul in heaven reflects the love that it feels, and that the soul’s love reflects the degree of vision allotted to it, an amount determined by its own merit plus the inscrutable quotient of grace:

La sua chiarezza séguita l’ardore; 
l’ardor la visione, e quella è tanta,
quant’ha di grazia sovra suo valore.  	(Par. 14.40-42)
Its brightness takes its measure from our ardor,
our ardor from our vision, which is measured 
by what grace each receives beyond his merit.

When the soul is dressed again in its glorified flesh—“carne” in verse 43—every feature of the above formula will be heightened, since (as we learned in Inferno 6 and Inferno 13), we are more perfect when our bodies and souls are united:

Come la carne gloriosa e santa
fia rivestita, la nostra persona
più grata fia per esser tutta quanta . . . 	(Par. 14.43-45)
When, glorified and sanctified, the flesh
is once again our dress, our persons shall,
in being all complete, please all the more . . .

Dante now reverses the order of verses 40-42, moving back from grace + merit to vision to love and thence to the light that shines forth from each soul:

per che s’accrescerà ciò che ne dona
di gratuito lume il sommo bene,
lume ch’a lui veder ne condiziona; 
onde la vision crescer convene, 
crescer l’ardor che di quella s’accende,
crescer lo raggio che da esso vene.	(Par. 14.46-51)
therefore, whatever light gratuitous
the Highest Good gives us will be enhanced—
the light that will allow us to see Him; 
that light will cause our vision to increase,
the ardor vision kindles to increase,
the brightness born of ardor to increase.

In this way he achieves another glorious chiasmus, as verses 40-51 effectively give us a “writ large” version of the uno/due/tre chiasmus in verses 28-29:
dante5

“chiarezza” depends on “ardore”
“ardore” depends on “visione”
“visione” depends on “grazia” plus “valore”
“gratuito lume” conditions “visione”
“visione” conditions “ardore”
“ardore” conditions “lo raggio”

At the thought of receiving their resurrected flesh, the souls of the wise men surrounding Dante and Beatrice call out “Amen”, overjoyed that they will be getting their bodies back. Dante specifies that they are happy not just for themselves, but because of their loved ones: their fathers and mothers (“mamme”) and others who were dear to them before they became eternal flames.

Very significant here is the nuance of causality that Dante suggests between the flesh and our ability to express and experience love. These blessed souls, not in the heaven consecrated to love but in the heaven consecrated to wisdom, show their “desire for their dead bodies” (Par. 14.63), and the poet opines that maybe (another magical “forse”) their desire is “not only for themselves”, but for their beloveds:

Tanto mi parver sùbiti e accorti
e l’uno e l’altro coro a dicer «Amme!»,
che ben mostrar disio d’i corpi morti:
forse non pur per lor, ma per le mamme,
per li padri e per li altri che fuor cari
anzi che fosser sempiterne fiamme.    (Par. 14.61-66)
One and the other choir seemed to me
so quick and keen to say “Amen” that they
showed clearly how they longed for their dead bodies—
not only for themselves, perhaps, but for
their mothers, fathers, and for others dear
to them before they were eternal flames.

This is the positive version of what we saw in negative form in Inferno 13. There we saw a disdain for the body that expresses itself ultimately in suicide; here we see a value placed on the body that extends into paradise, and an acknowledgement that love is an embodied experience.

The idea that love is an embodied experience is built into the story of the transcendent principle taking human form in order to be born as the son, not just of God, but, as we saw earlier, of Mary.

A third circle of souls now forms around the two that we have already encountered, thus completing the Trinitarian resonances of this heaven. These souls will not be named, and Dante transitions to the heaven of Mars in Paradiso 14.83-84.

The heaven of Mars feels very different, right from the start. It is ruddy in color, the color of blood; the language is colored as well, with a kind of military zeal; and the pilgrim is stunned by the sight of a celestial cross in which Christ is flashing: “’n quella croce lampeggiava Cristo” (Par. 14.104).

The ecstatic language includes the Paradiso’s second set of Cristo rhymes (the first was in Paradiso 12, in the life of Dominic) and extends to the end of Paradiso 14. This is the heaven of those who fight for Christ, and it has a martial quality that befits its name. To understand what Dante experienced, the reader too must pick up his cross and follow Christ: “ma chi prende sua croce e segue Cristo” (Par. 14.106).

There are very few crosses in the Commedia. Now that we have finally come upon a cross, and a context—the heaven of Mars—that genuinely reflects Crusade ideology, we are in a position to reflect upon the gross distortion of the attached image. This is the figure of “Dante” (a Crusader at the siege of Acre in 1181) as imagined in the recent video game, with a bloody cross sutured to his flesh.

dante6

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 9, “The Heaven of the Sun as a Meditation on Narrative.”

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 14: Our Bodies, Our Loves.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-14/

About the Commento

1Dal centro al cerchio, e sì dal cerchio al centro
2movesi l’acqua in un ritondo vaso,
3secondo ch’è percosso fuori o dentro:

4ne la mia mente fé sùbito caso
5questo ch’io dico, sì come si tacque
6la glorïosa vita di Tommaso,

7per la similitudine che nacque
8del suo parlare e di quel di Beatrice,
9a cui sì cominciar, dopo lui, piacque:

10«A costui fa mestieri, e nol vi dice
11né con la voce né pensando ancora,
12d’un altro vero andare a la radice.

13Diteli se la luce onde s’infiora
14vostra sustanza, rimarrà con voi
15etternalmente sì com’ ell’ è ora;

16e se rimane, dite come, poi
17che sarete visibili rifatti,
18esser porà ch’al veder non vi nòi».

19Come, da più letizia pinti e tratti,
20a la fïata quei che vanno a rota
21levan la voce e rallegrano li atti,

22così, a l’orazion pronta e divota,
23li santi cerchi mostrar nova gioia
24nel torneare e ne la mira nota.

25Qual si lamenta perché qui si moia
26per viver colà sù, non vide quive
27lo refrigerio de l’etterna ploia.

28Quell’ uno e due e tre che sempre vive
29e regna sempre in tre e ’n due e ’n uno,
30non circunscritto, e tutto circunscrive,

31tre volte era cantato da ciascuno
32di quelli spirti con tal melodia,
33ch’ad ogne merto saria giusto muno.

34E io udi’ ne la luce più dia
35del minor cerchio una voce modesta,
36forse qual fu da l’angelo a Maria,

37risponder: «Quanto fia lunga la festa
38di paradiso, tanto il nostro amore
39si raggerà dintorno cotal vesta.

40La sua chiarezza séguita l’ardore;
41l’ardor la visïone, e quella è tanta,
42quant’ ha di grazia sovra suo valore.

43Come la carne glorïosa e santa
44fia rivestita, la nostra persona
45più grata fia per esser tutta quanta;

46per che s’accrescerà ciò che ne dona
47di gratüito lume il sommo bene,
48lume ch’a lui veder ne condiziona;

49onde la visïon crescer convene,
50crescer l’ardor che di quella s’accende,
51crescer lo raggio che da esso vene.

52Ma sì come carbon che fiamma rende,
53e per vivo candor quella soverchia,
54sì che la sua parvenza si difende;

55così questo folgór che già ne cerchia
56fia vinto in apparenza da la carne
57che tutto dì la terra ricoperchia;

58né potrà tanta luce affaticarne:
59ché li organi del corpo saran forti
60a tutto ciò che potrà dilettarne».

61Tanto mi parver sùbiti e accorti
62e l’uno e l’altro coro a dicer «Amme!»,
63che ben mostrar disio d’i corpi morti:

64forse non pur per lor, ma per le mamme,
65per li padri e per li altri che fuor cari
66anzi che fosser sempiterne fiamme.

67Ed ecco intorno, di chiarezza pari,
68nascere un lustro sopra quel che v’era,
69per guisa d’orizzonte che rischiari.

70E sì come al salir di prima sera
71comincian per lo ciel nove parvenze,
72sì che la vista pare e non par vera,

73parvemi lì novelle sussistenze
74cominciare a vedere, e fare un giro
75di fuor da l’altre due circunferenze.

76Oh vero sfavillar del Santo Spiro!
77come si fece sùbito e candente
78a li occhi miei che, vinti, nol soffriro!

79Ma Bëatrice sì bella e ridente
80mi si mostrò, che tra quelle vedute
81si vuol lasciar che non seguir la mente.

82Quindi ripreser li occhi miei virtute
83a rilevarsi; e vidimi translato
84sol con mia donna in più alta salute.

85Ben m’accors’ io ch’io era più levato,
86per l’affocato riso de la stella,
87che mi parea più roggio che l’usato.

88Con tutto ’l core e con quella favella
89ch’è una in tutti, a Dio feci olocausto,
90qual conveniesi a la grazia novella.

91E non er’ anco del mio petto essausto
92l’ardor del sacrificio, ch’io conobbi
93esso litare stato accetto e fausto;

94ché con tanto lucore e tanto robbi
95m’apparvero splendor dentro a due raggi,
96ch’io dissi: «O Elïòs che sì li addobbi!».

97Come distinta da minori e maggi
98lumi biancheggia tra ’ poli del mondo
99Galassia sì, che fa dubbiar ben saggi;

100sì costellati facean nel profondo
101Marte quei raggi il venerabil segno
102che fan giunture di quadranti in tondo.

103Qui vince la memoria mia lo ’ngegno;
104ché quella croce lampeggiava Cristo,
105sì ch’io non so trovare essempro degno;

106ma chi prende sua croce e segue Cristo,
107ancor mi scuserà di quel ch’io lasso,
108vedendo in quell’ albor balenar Cristo.

109Di corno in corno e tra la cima e ’l basso
110si movien lumi, scintillando forte
111nel congiugnersi insieme e nel trapasso:

112così si veggion qui diritte e torte,
113veloci e tarde, rinovando vista,
114le minuzie d’i corpi, lunghe e corte,

115moversi per lo raggio onde si lista
116talvolta l’ombra che, per sua difesa,
117la gente con ingegno e arte acquista.

118E come giga e arpa, in tempra tesa
119di molte corde, fa dolce tintinno
120a tal da cui la nota non è intesa,

121così da’ lumi che lì m’apparinno
122s’accogliea per la croce una melode
123che mi rapiva, sanza intender l’inno.

124Ben m’accors’ io ch’elli era d’alte lode,
125però ch’a me venìa «Resurgi» e «Vinci»
126come a colui che non intende e ode.

127Ïo m’innamorava tanto quinci,
128che ’nfino a lì non fu alcuna cosa
129che mi legasse con sì dolci vinci.

130Forse la mia parola par troppo osa,
131posponendo il piacer de li occhi belli,
132ne’ quai mirando mio disio ha posa;

133ma chi s’avvede che i vivi suggelli
134d’ogne bellezza più fanno più suso,
135e ch’io non m’era lì rivolto a quelli,

136escusar puommi di quel ch’io m’accuso
137per escusarmi, e vedermi dir vero:
138ché ’l piacer santo non è qui dischiuso,

139perché si fa, montando, più sincero.

From rim to center, center out to rim,
so does the water move in a round vessel,
as it is struck without, or struck within.

What I am saying fell most suddenly
into my mind, as soon as Thomas’s
glorious living flame fell silent, since

between his speech and that of Beatrice,
a similarity was born. And she,
when he was done, was pleased to start with this:

“He does not tell you of it—not with speech
nor in his thoughts as yet—but this man needs
to reach the root of still another truth.

Do tell him if that light with which your soul
blossoms will stay with you eternally
even as it is now; and if it stays,

do tell him how, when you are once again
made visible, it will be possible
for you to see such light and not be harmed.”

As dancers in a ring, when drawn and driven
by greater gladness, lift at times their voices
and dance their dance with more exuberance,

so, when they heard that prompt, devout request,
the blessed circles showed new joyousness
in wheeling dance and in amazing song.

Whoever weeps because on earth we die
that we may live on high, has never seen
eternal showers that bring refreshment there.

That One and Two and Three who ever lives
and ever reigns in Three and Two and One,
not circumscribed and circumscribing all,

was sung three times by each and all those souls
with such a melody that it would be
appropriate reward for every merit.

And I could hear within the smaller circle’s
divinest light a modest voice (perhaps
much like the angel’s voice in speech to Mary)

reply: “As long as the festivity
of Paradise shall be, so long shall our
love radiate around us such a garment.

Its brightness takes its measure from our ardor,
our ardor from our vision, which is measured
by what grace each receives beyond his merit.

When, glorified and sanctified, the flesh
is once again our dress, our persons shall,
in being all complete, please all the more;

therefore, whatever light gratuitous
the Highest Good gives us will be enhanced—
the light that will allow us to see Him;

that light will cause our vision to increase,
the ardor vision kindles to increase,
the brightness born of ardor to increase.

Yet even as a coal engenders flame,
but with intenser glow outshines it, so
that in that flame the coal persists, it shows,

so will the brightness that envelops us
be then surpassed in visibility
by reborn flesh, which earth now covers up.

Nor will we tire when faced with such bright light,
for then the body’s organs will have force
enough for all in which we can delight.”

One and the other choir seemed to me
so quick and keen to say “Amen” that they
showed clearly how they longed for their dead bodies—

not only for themselves, perhaps, but for
their mothers, fathers, and for others dear
to them before they were eternal flames.

And—look!—beyond the light already there,
an added luster rose around those rings,
even as a horizon brightening.

And even as, at the approach of evening,
new lights begin to show along the sky,
so that the sight seems and does not seem real,

it seemed to me that I began to see
new spirits there, forming a ring beyond
the choirs with their two circumferences.

O the true sparkling of the Holy Ghost—
how rapid and how radiant before
my eyes that, overcome, could not sustain it!

But, smiling, Beatrice then showed to me
such loveliness—it must be left among
the visions that take flight from memory.

From this my eyes regained the strength to look
above again; I saw myself translated
to higher blessedness, alone with my

lady; and I was sure that I had risen
because the smiling star was red as fire—
beyond the customary red of Mars.

With all my heart and in that language which
is one for all, for this new grace I gave
to God my holocaust, appropriate.

Though in my breast that burning sacrifice
was not completed yet, I was aware
that it had been accepted and auspicious;

for splendors, in two rays, appeared to me,
so radiant and fiery that I said:
“O Helios, you who adorn them thus!”

As, graced with lesser and with larger lights
between the poles of the world, the Galaxy
gleams so that even sages are perplexed;

so, constellated in the depth of Mars,
those rays described the venerable sign
a circle’s quadrants form where they are joined.

And here my memory defeats my wit:
Christ’s flaming from that cross was such that I
can find no fit similitude for it.

But he who takes his cross and follows Christ
will pardon me again for my omission—
my seeing Christ flash forth undid my force.

Lights moved along that cross from horn to horn
and from the summit to the base, and as
they met and passed, they sparkled, radiant:

so, straight and slant and quick and slow, one sees
on earth the particles of bodies, long
and short, in shifting shapes, that move along

the ray of light that sometimes streaks across
the shade that men devise with skill and art
to serve as their defense against the sun.

And just as harp and viol, whose many chords
are tempered, taut, produce sweet harmony
although each single note is not distinct,

so, from the lights that then appeared to me,
out from that cross there spread a melody
that held me rapt, although I could not tell

what hymn it was. I knew it sang high praise,
since I heard “Rise” and “Conquer,” but I was
as one who hears but cannot seize the sense.

Yet I was so enchanted by the sound
that until then no thing had ever bound
me with such gentle bonds. My words may seem

presumptuous, as though I dared to deem
a lesser thing the lovely eyes that bring
to my desire, as it gazes, peace.

But he who notes that, in ascent, her eyes—
all beauty’s living seals—gain force, and notes
that I had not yet turned to them in Mars,

can then excuse me—just as I accuse
myself, thus to excuse myself—and see
that I speak truly: here her holy beauty

is not denied—ascent makes it more perfect.

FROM centre unto rim, from rim to centre,
In a round vase the water moves itself,
As from without ’tis struck or from within.

Into my mind upon a sudden dropped
What I am saying, at the moment when
Silent became the glorious life of Thomas,

Because of the resemblance that was born
Of his discourse and that of Beatrice,
Whom, after him, it pleased thus to begin:

“This man has need (and does not tell you so,
Nor with the voice, nor even in his thought)
Of going to the root of one truth more.

Declare unto him if the light wherewith
Blossoms your substance shall remain with you
Eternally the same that it is now;

And if it do remain, say in what manner,
After ye are again made visible,
It can be that it injure not your sight.’

As by a greater gladness urged and drawn
They who are dancing in a ring sometimes
Uplift their voices and their motions quicken;

So, at that orison devout and prompt,
The holy circles a new joy displayed
In their revolving and their wondrous song.

Whoso lamenteth him that here we die
That we may live above, has never there
Seen the refreshment of the eternal rain.

The One and Two and Three who ever liveth,
And reigneth ever in Three and Two and One,
Not circumscribed and all things circumscribing,

Three several times was chanted by each one
Among those spirits, with such melody
That for all merit it were just reward;

And, in the lustre most divine of all
The lesser ring, I heard a modest voice,
Such as perhaps the Angel’s was to Mary,

Answer: “As long as the festivity
Of Paradise shall be, so long our love
Shall radiate round about us such a vesture.

Its brightness is proportioned to the ardour,
The ardour to the vision; and the vision
Equals what grace it has above its worth.

When, glorious and sanctified, our flesh
Is reassumed, then shall our persons be
More pleasing by their being all complete;

For will increase whate’er bestows on us
Of light gratuitous the Good Supreme,
Light which enables us to look on Him;

Therefore the vision must perforce increase,
Increase the ardour which from that is kindled,
Increase the radiance which from this proceeds.

But even as a coal that sends forth flame,
And by its vivid whiteness overpowers it
So that its own appearance it maintains,

Thus the effulgence that surrounds us now
Shall be o’erpowered in aspect by the flesh,
Which still to—day the earth doth cover up;

Nor can so great a splendour weary us,
For strong will be the organs of the body
To everything which hath the power to please us.”

So sudden and alert appeared to me
Both one and the other choir to say Amen,
That well they showed desire for their dead bodies;

Nor sole for them perhaps, but for the mothers,
The fathers, and the rest who had been dear
Or ever they became eternal flames.

And lo! all round about of equal brightness
Arose a lustre over what was there,
Like an horizon that is clearing up.

And as at rise of early eve begin
Along the welkin new appearances,
So that the sight seems real and unreal,

It seemed to me that new subsistences
Began there to be seen, and make a circle
Outside the other two circumferences.

O very sparkling of the Holy Spirit,
How sudden and incandescent it became
Unto mine eyes that vanquished bore it not!

But Beatrice so beautiful and smiling
Appeared to me, that with the other sights
That followed not my memory I must leave her.

Then to uplift themselves mine eyes resumed
The power, and I beheld myself translated
To higher salvation with my Lady only.

Well was I ware that I was more uplifted
By the enkindled smiling of the star,
That seemed to me more ruddy than its wont.

With all my heart, and in that dialect
Which is the same in all, such holocaust
To God I made as the new grace beseemed;

And not yet from my bosom was exhausted
The ardour of sacrifice, before I knew
This offering was accepted and auspicious;

For with so great a lustre and so red
Splendours appeared to me in twofold rays,
I said: “O Helios who dost so adorn them!”

Even as distinct with less and greater lights
Glimmers between the two poles of the world
The Galaxy that maketh wise men doubt,

Thus constellated in the depths of Mars,
Those rays described the venerable sign
That quadrants joining in a circle make.

Here doth my memory overcome my genius;
For on that cross as levin gleamed forth Christ,
So that I cannot find ensample worthy;

But he who takes his cross and follows Christ
Again will pardon me what I omit,
Seeing in that aurora lighten Christ.

From horn to horn, and ‘twixt the top and base,
Lights were in motion, brightly scintillating
As they together met and passed each other;

Thus level and aslant and swift and slow
We here behold, renewing still the sight,
The particles of bodies long and short,

Across the sunbeam move, wherewith is listed
Sometimes the shade, which for their own defence
People with cunning and with art contrive.

And as a lute and harp, accordant strung
With many strings, a dulcet tinkling make
To him by whom the notes are not distinguished,

So from the lights that there to me appeared
Upgathered through the cross a melody,
Which rapt me, not distinguishing the hymn.

Well was I ware it was of lofty laud,
Because there came to me, “Arise and conquer!”
As unto him who hears and comprehends not.

So much enamoured I became therewith,
That until then there was not anything
That e’er had fettered me with such sweet bonds.

Perhaps my word appears somewhat too bold,
Postponing the delight of those fair eyes,
Into which gazing my desire has rest;

But who bethinks him that the living seals
Of every beauty grow in power ascending,
And that I there had not turned round to those,

Can me excuse, if I myself accuse
To excuse myself, and see that I speak truly:
For here the holy joy is not disclosed,

Because ascending it becomes more pure.

From rim to center, center out to rim,
so does the water move in a round vessel,
as it is struck without, or struck within.

What I am saying fell most suddenly
into my mind, as soon as Thomas’s
glorious living flame fell silent, since

between his speech and that of Beatrice,
a similarity was born. And she,
when he was done, was pleased to start with this:

“He does not tell you of it—not with speech
nor in his thoughts as yet—but this man needs
to reach the root of still another truth.

Do tell him if that light with which your soul
blossoms will stay with you eternally
even as it is now; and if it stays,

do tell him how, when you are once again
made visible, it will be possible
for you to see such light and not be harmed.”

As dancers in a ring, when drawn and driven
by greater gladness, lift at times their voices
and dance their dance with more exuberance,

so, when they heard that prompt, devout request,
the blessed circles showed new joyousness
in wheeling dance and in amazing song.

Whoever weeps because on earth we die
that we may live on high, has never seen
eternal showers that bring refreshment there.

That One and Two and Three who ever lives
and ever reigns in Three and Two and One,
not circumscribed and circumscribing all,

was sung three times by each and all those souls
with such a melody that it would be
appropriate reward for every merit.

And I could hear within the smaller circle’s
divinest light a modest voice (perhaps
much like the angel’s voice in speech to Mary)

reply: “As long as the festivity
of Paradise shall be, so long shall our
love radiate around us such a garment.

Its brightness takes its measure from our ardor,
our ardor from our vision, which is measured
by what grace each receives beyond his merit.

When, glorified and sanctified, the flesh
is once again our dress, our persons shall,
in being all complete, please all the more;

therefore, whatever light gratuitous
the Highest Good gives us will be enhanced—
the light that will allow us to see Him;

that light will cause our vision to increase,
the ardor vision kindles to increase,
the brightness born of ardor to increase.

Yet even as a coal engenders flame,
but with intenser glow outshines it, so
that in that flame the coal persists, it shows,

so will the brightness that envelops us
be then surpassed in visibility
by reborn flesh, which earth now covers up.

Nor will we tire when faced with such bright light,
for then the body’s organs will have force
enough for all in which we can delight.”

One and the other choir seemed to me
so quick and keen to say “Amen” that they
showed clearly how they longed for their dead bodies—

not only for themselves, perhaps, but for
their mothers, fathers, and for others dear
to them before they were eternal flames.

And—look!—beyond the light already there,
an added luster rose around those rings,
even as a horizon brightening.

And even as, at the approach of evening,
new lights begin to show along the sky,
so that the sight seems and does not seem real,

it seemed to me that I began to see
new spirits there, forming a ring beyond
the choirs with their two circumferences.

O the true sparkling of the Holy Ghost—
how rapid and how radiant before
my eyes that, overcome, could not sustain it!

But, smiling, Beatrice then showed to me
such loveliness—it must be left among
the visions that take flight from memory.

From this my eyes regained the strength to look
above again; I saw myself translated
to higher blessedness, alone with my

lady; and I was sure that I had risen
because the smiling star was red as fire—
beyond the customary red of Mars.

With all my heart and in that language which
is one for all, for this new grace I gave
to God my holocaust, appropriate.

Though in my breast that burning sacrifice
was not completed yet, I was aware
that it had been accepted and auspicious;

for splendors, in two rays, appeared to me,
so radiant and fiery that I said:
“O Helios, you who adorn them thus!”

As, graced with lesser and with larger lights
between the poles of the world, the Galaxy
gleams so that even sages are perplexed;

so, constellated in the depth of Mars,
those rays described the venerable sign
a circle’s quadrants form where they are joined.

And here my memory defeats my wit:
Christ’s flaming from that cross was such that I
can find no fit similitude for it.

But he who takes his cross and follows Christ
will pardon me again for my omission—
my seeing Christ flash forth undid my force.

Lights moved along that cross from horn to horn
and from the summit to the base, and as
they met and passed, they sparkled, radiant:

so, straight and slant and quick and slow, one sees
on earth the particles of bodies, long
and short, in shifting shapes, that move along

the ray of light that sometimes streaks across
the shade that men devise with skill and art
to serve as their defense against the sun.

And just as harp and viol, whose many chords
are tempered, taut, produce sweet harmony
although each single note is not distinct,

so, from the lights that then appeared to me,
out from that cross there spread a melody
that held me rapt, although I could not tell

what hymn it was. I knew it sang high praise,
since I heard “Rise” and “Conquer,” but I was
as one who hears but cannot seize the sense.

Yet I was so enchanted by the sound
that until then no thing had ever bound
me with such gentle bonds. My words may seem

presumptuous, as though I dared to deem
a lesser thing the lovely eyes that bring
to my desire, as it gazes, peace.

But he who notes that, in ascent, her eyes—
all beauty’s living seals—gain force, and notes
that I had not yet turned to them in Mars,

can then excuse me—just as I accuse
myself, thus to excuse myself—and see
that I speak truly: here her holy beauty

is not denied—ascent makes it more perfect.

FROM centre unto rim, from rim to centre,
In a round vase the water moves itself,
As from without ’tis struck or from within.

Into my mind upon a sudden dropped
What I am saying, at the moment when
Silent became the glorious life of Thomas,

Because of the resemblance that was born
Of his discourse and that of Beatrice,
Whom, after him, it pleased thus to begin:

“This man has need (and does not tell you so,
Nor with the voice, nor even in his thought)
Of going to the root of one truth more.

Declare unto him if the light wherewith
Blossoms your substance shall remain with you
Eternally the same that it is now;

And if it do remain, say in what manner,
After ye are again made visible,
It can be that it injure not your sight.’

As by a greater gladness urged and drawn
They who are dancing in a ring sometimes
Uplift their voices and their motions quicken;

So, at that orison devout and prompt,
The holy circles a new joy displayed
In their revolving and their wondrous song.

Whoso lamenteth him that here we die
That we may live above, has never there
Seen the refreshment of the eternal rain.

The One and Two and Three who ever liveth,
And reigneth ever in Three and Two and One,
Not circumscribed and all things circumscribing,

Three several times was chanted by each one
Among those spirits, with such melody
That for all merit it were just reward;

And, in the lustre most divine of all
The lesser ring, I heard a modest voice,
Such as perhaps the Angel’s was to Mary,

Answer: “As long as the festivity
Of Paradise shall be, so long our love
Shall radiate round about us such a vesture.

Its brightness is proportioned to the ardour,
The ardour to the vision; and the vision
Equals what grace it has above its worth.

When, glorious and sanctified, our flesh
Is reassumed, then shall our persons be
More pleasing by their being all complete;

For will increase whate’er bestows on us
Of light gratuitous the Good Supreme,
Light which enables us to look on Him;

Therefore the vision must perforce increase,
Increase the ardour which from that is kindled,
Increase the radiance which from this proceeds.

But even as a coal that sends forth flame,
And by its vivid whiteness overpowers it
So that its own appearance it maintains,

Thus the effulgence that surrounds us now
Shall be o’erpowered in aspect by the flesh,
Which still to—day the earth doth cover up;

Nor can so great a splendour weary us,
For strong will be the organs of the body
To everything which hath the power to please us.”

So sudden and alert appeared to me
Both one and the other choir to say Amen,
That well they showed desire for their dead bodies;

Nor sole for them perhaps, but for the mothers,
The fathers, and the rest who had been dear
Or ever they became eternal flames.

And lo! all round about of equal brightness
Arose a lustre over what was there,
Like an horizon that is clearing up.

And as at rise of early eve begin
Along the welkin new appearances,
So that the sight seems real and unreal,

It seemed to me that new subsistences
Began there to be seen, and make a circle
Outside the other two circumferences.

O very sparkling of the Holy Spirit,
How sudden and incandescent it became
Unto mine eyes that vanquished bore it not!

But Beatrice so beautiful and smiling
Appeared to me, that with the other sights
That followed not my memory I must leave her.

Then to uplift themselves mine eyes resumed
The power, and I beheld myself translated
To higher salvation with my Lady only.

Well was I ware that I was more uplifted
By the enkindled smiling of the star,
That seemed to me more ruddy than its wont.

With all my heart, and in that dialect
Which is the same in all, such holocaust
To God I made as the new grace beseemed;

And not yet from my bosom was exhausted
The ardour of sacrifice, before I knew
This offering was accepted and auspicious;

For with so great a lustre and so red
Splendours appeared to me in twofold rays,
I said: “O Helios who dost so adorn them!”

Even as distinct with less and greater lights
Glimmers between the two poles of the world
The Galaxy that maketh wise men doubt,

Thus constellated in the depths of Mars,
Those rays described the venerable sign
That quadrants joining in a circle make.

Here doth my memory overcome my genius;
For on that cross as levin gleamed forth Christ,
So that I cannot find ensample worthy;

But he who takes his cross and follows Christ
Again will pardon me what I omit,
Seeing in that aurora lighten Christ.

From horn to horn, and ‘twixt the top and base,
Lights were in motion, brightly scintillating
As they together met and passed each other;

Thus level and aslant and swift and slow
We here behold, renewing still the sight,
The particles of bodies long and short,

Across the sunbeam move, wherewith is listed
Sometimes the shade, which for their own defence
People with cunning and with art contrive.

And as a lute and harp, accordant strung
With many strings, a dulcet tinkling make
To him by whom the notes are not distinguished,

So from the lights that there to me appeared
Upgathered through the cross a melody,
Which rapt me, not distinguishing the hymn.

Well was I ware it was of lofty laud,
Because there came to me, “Arise and conquer!”
As unto him who hears and comprehends not.

So much enamoured I became therewith,
That until then there was not anything
That e’er had fettered me with such sweet bonds.

Perhaps my word appears somewhat too bold,
Postponing the delight of those fair eyes,
Into which gazing my desire has rest;

But who bethinks him that the living seals
Of every beauty grow in power ascending,
And that I there had not turned round to those,

Can me excuse, if I myself accuse
To excuse myself, and see that I speak truly:
For here the holy joy is not disclosed,

Because ascending it becomes more pure.