Divine Sky-Writing

In the first half of Paradiso 18 we are still in the heaven of Mars with Cacciaguida; in verses 68-69 the pilgrim and Beatrice are received in the sixth heaven—the “stella / sesta”—and we are in the heaven of Jupiter. Hence, Paradiso 18 is a transitional canto like Paradiso 14 (where we began in the heaven of the sun and ended in the heaven of Mars).

In discussing the heaven of Mars I have stressed the “epic” features of the fifth heaven. It is a heaven that is saturated with the particular culture of Florence: clothes, sport, dowries, language, and shared stories of origins, as passed down by mothers to children. It is saturated with the history of Florence, embedded in all those family names, all those bloodlines. It is saturated with the geography of Florence, invoked in specific quartieri, porte, the ancient walls versus the newer walls.

The poet in this heaven therefore takes on the peculiarly epic work of the transmission and preservation of a specific people and their culture.

As discussed in the Introduction to Paradiso 16, its long catalogue of family names is an epic topos, comparable to the Iliad’s catalogue of ships (mediated through the Aeneid). Similarly, the poet’s desire to write in such a way that he will not be forgotten by “coloro / che questo tempo chiameranno antico” (those who call this time ancient [Par. 17.119-120]) is a typical trope of the epic poet.

And so in Paradiso 18 it is altogether appropriate that we should encounter real epic heroes—the protagonists of real epic poems.

These souls were of such great fame that their deeds would provide a rich theme for any poem:

spiriti son beati, che giù, prima
che venissero al ciel, fuor di gran voce,
sì ch’ogne musa ne sarebbe opima.  	(Par. 18.31-33)
are blessed souls that, down below, before 
they came to heaven, were so notable
that any poem would be enriched by them.

Thus, Cacciaguida names and singles out heroes of epic poems. They are: Joshua, Judas Maccabeus, Charlemagne, Roland, William of Orange, Renouard, Godfrey of Bouillon and Robert Guiscard.

A consideration of these heroes and their provenance is quite revealing. The first two are biblical heroes, Joshua and Judas Maccabeus. They are followed by the key heroes of Carolingian epic: the emperor Charlemagne himself (whence the word “Carolingian”), who lived from 742-814, and his most renowned paladin, historically Hruotlandus but Orlando in Italian and Roland in French, the hero of the Chanson de Roland. Then come Guillaume d’Orange, one of Charlemagne’s chief counselors and hero of the most extensive epic cycle of the Middle Ages, and Renouard, a legendary Saracen convert of Guillaume’s. The final two are Godfrey of Bouillon and Robert Guiscard. These are later heroes who fought against the Saracens, and many of their deeds or gestes continue the theme of Christian/Muslim conflict alluded to at the end of Paradiso 15.

Indeed, Godfrey of Bouillon (c. 1060 – 18 July 1100) was a medieval Frankish knight who was one of the leaders of the First Crusade from 1096 until his death. After the successful siege of Jerusalem in 1099, Godfrey became the first ruler of the Kingdom of Jerusalem. He is the hero of Torquato Tasso’s epic poem, Gerusalemme liberata (Jersusalem Delivered).

Later in this canto Dante invokes the “diva Pegasea” (Par. 18.82), a generic Muse who stands for the inspiration of poetry itself. Strikingly the poet reverses the dictum of Paradiso 16 regarding the death of cities, or at least attenuates it. The poetic Muse empowers genius, giving it glory and longevity—and at the same time confers these benefits on “cities and kingdoms” (84). It is to this Muse that the poet asks for the light to describe the figures that he saw in the heaven of Jupiter:

O diva Pegasea che li ’ngegni
fai gloriosi e rendili longevi,
ed essi teco le cittadi e ’ regni, 
illustrami di te, sì ch’io rilevi
le lor figure com’io l’ho concette:
paia tua possa in questi versi brevi!  	(Par. 18.82-87)
O godly Pegasea, you who give to genius
glory and long life, as it, through you,
gives these to kingdoms and to cities, 
give me your light that I may emphasize
these signs as I inscribed them in my mind:
your power—may it appear in these brief lines!

From the ruddy/bloody vehemence of the heaven of Mars, Dante moves to the candid whiteness and temperate affect of Jupiter: “lo candor de la temprata stella / sesta” (Par. 18.68-69). The heaven of Jupiter is the heaven of Justice—hence “temprata”, balanced, like the scales of Justice—and the souls here proclaim the centrality of justice in earthly governance. They do so with their very selves, obligingly forming a sentence of thirty-five letters for us and for the pilgrim to read. They thus confirm the identity of souls and signs, and further the conflation of life and text, as discussed vis-à-vis the principle of exemplarity announced by Cacciaguida at the end of the previous canto.

The souls of the heaven of Jupiter engage in a kind of divine sky-writing, taking the shape of letters for Dante to read. The letters spell the first verse of the Book of Wisdom, attributed to Solomon. Solomon, we recall, was the fifth soul of the first circle of the heaven of the sun, celebrated for his “prudenza regal”, the specific type of wisdom appropriate for a king. The verse cited in Paradiso 18 was considered a commandment for rulers: “DILIGITE IUSTITIAM QUI IUDICATIS TERRAM”—“Love justice you who rule the earth”.

The message written out by the souls is a solemn one, deeply connected with the Commedia’s serious theme of social justice, but the language here is light and airy: the souls are compared to birds, flying, singing, and moving about.

There is much stress on representational/painterly language used in this section of Paradiso 18, and a strong link between this divine sky-writing and the divine engravings on the terrace of pride in Purgatorio 10-12. In both cases God is highlighted as artist/fabbro.

The souls eventually settle on the final M, “on the “M of the fifth word”: “nell’emme del vocabol quinto” (Par. 18.94). This whole passage is full of grammatical and linguistic terminology and is an intense example of the hyper-literacy of the Commedia. The shape of the gothic M then transforms itself, its stem elongating to form the head and neck of a heraldic eagle (Par. 18.107). See below for a diagram that visualizes the transformation of gothic M into a heraldic eagle.

This is the eagle of justice, the “sacrosanto segno” of Paradiso 6 made visible. In the spirit of the words written in the sky by the souls, there will be much condemnation of bad rulers in this heaven. Rulers who did not “love justice” will be featured in an acrostic (another kind of visibile parlare) at the end of Paradiso 19.

Paradiso 18 ends with a ferociously sarcastic indictment of the Church and Pope John XXII, continuing the theme of writing and literacy that is so important in this canto. As compared to the divine sky-writing, which is written by God in history itself and cannot be cancelled, as compared even to human epic poets who do their best to keep the history of cities and families from being cancelled by time, John XXII writes only in order to cancel what he writes:

Ma tu che sol per cancellare scrivi,
pensa che Pietro e Paulo, che moriro 
per la vigna che guasti, ancor son vivi.  	(Par. 18.130-32)
But you who only write to then erase,
remember this: Peter and Paul, who died
to save the vines you spoil, are still alive.

The pope writes excommunications that he then commutes for money. He writes—deliberately and cynically—just to cancel what he wrote. Nothing could be further from the mandate of an epic poet.

dante3

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 6, “Re-Presenting What God Presented,” pp. 128-30, and pp. 137-40.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 18: Divine Sky-Writing.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-18/

About the Commento

1Già si godeva solo del suo verbo
2quello specchio beato, e io gustava
3lo mio, temprando col dolce l’acerbo;

4e quella donna ch’a Dio mi menava
5disse: «Muta pensier; pensa ch’i’ sono
6presso a colui ch’ogne torto disgrava».

7Io mi rivolsi a l’amoroso suono
8del mio conforto; e qual io allor vidi
9ne li occhi santi amor, qui l’abbandono:

10non perch’ io pur del mio parlar diffidi,
11ma per la mente che non può redire
12sovra sé tanto, s’altri non la guidi.

13Tanto poss’ io di quel punto ridire,
14che, rimirando lei, lo mio affetto
15libero fu da ogne altro disire,

16fin che ’l piacere etterno, che diretto
17raggiava in Bëatrice, dal bel viso
18mi contentava col secondo aspetto.

19Vincendo me col lume d’un sorriso,
20ella mi disse: «Volgiti e ascolta;
21ché non pur ne’ miei occhi è paradiso».

22Come si vede qui alcuna volta
23l’affetto ne la vista, s’elli è tanto,
24che da lui sia tutta l’anima tolta,

25così nel fiammeggiar del folgór santo,
26a ch’io mi volsi, conobbi la voglia
27in lui di ragionarmi ancora alquanto.

28El cominciò: «In questa quinta soglia
29de l’albero che vive de la cima
30e frutta sempre e mai non perde foglia,

31spiriti son beati, che giù, prima
32che venissero al ciel, fuor di gran voce,
33sì ch’ogne musa ne sarebbe opima.

34Però mira ne’ corni de la croce:
35quello ch’io nomerò, lì farà l’atto
36che fa in nube il suo foco veloce».

37Io vidi per la croce un lume tratto
38dal nomar Iosuè, com’ el si feo;
39né mi fu noto il dir prima che ’l fatto.

40E al nome de l’alto Macabeo
41vidi moversi un altro roteando,
42e letizia era ferza del paleo.

43Così per Carlo Magno e per Orlando
44due ne seguì lo mio attento sguardo,
45com’ occhio segue suo falcon volando.

46Poscia trasse Guiglielmo e Rinoardo
47e ’l duca Gottifredi la mia vista
48per quella croce, e Ruberto Guiscardo.

49Indi, tra l’altre luci mota e mista,
50mostrommi l’alma che m’avea parlato
51qual era tra i cantor del cielo artista.

52Io mi rivolsi dal mio destro lato
53per vedere in Beatrice il mio dovere,
54o per parlare o per atto, segnato;

55e vidi le sue luci tanto mere,
56tanto gioconde, che la sua sembianza
57vinceva li altri e l’ultimo solere.

58E come, per sentir più dilettanza
59bene operando, l’uom di giorno in giorno
60s’accorge che la sua virtute avanza,

61sì m’accors’ io che ’l mio girare intorno
62col cielo insieme avea cresciuto l’arco,
63veggendo quel miracol più addorno.

64E qual è ’l trasmutare in picciol varco
65di tempo in bianca donna, quando ’l volto
66suo si discarchi di vergogna il carco,

67tal fu ne li occhi miei, quando fui vòlto,
68per lo candor de la temprata stella
69sesta, che dentro a sé m’avea ricolto.

70Io vidi in quella giovïal facella
71lo sfavillar de l’amor che lì era
72segnare a li occhi miei nostra favella.

73E come augelli surti di rivera,
74quasi congratulando a lor pasture,
75fanno di sé or tonda or altra schiera,

76sì dentro ai lumi sante creature
77volitando cantavano, e faciensi
78or D, or I, or L in sue figure.

79Prima, cantando, a sua nota moviensi;
80poi, diventando l’un di questi segni,
81un poco s’arrestavano e taciensi.

82O diva Pegasëa che li ’ngegni
83fai glorïosi e rendili longevi,
84ed essi teco le cittadi e ’ regni,

85illustrami di te, sì ch’io rilevi
86le lor figure com’ io l’ho concette:
87paia tua possa in questi versi brevi!

88Mostrarsi dunque in cinque volte sette
89vocali e consonanti; e io notai
90le parti sì, come mi parver dette.

91‘DILIGITE IUSTITIAM’, primai
92fur verbo e nome di tutto ’l dipinto;
93‘QUI IUDICATIS TERRAM’, fur sezzai.

94Poscia ne l’emme del vocabol quinto
95rimasero ordinate; sì che Giove
96pareva argento lì d’oro distinto.

97E vidi scendere altre luci dove
98era il colmo de l’emme, e lì quetarsi
99cantando, credo, il ben ch’a sé le move.

100Poi, come nel percuoter d’i ciocchi arsi
101surgono innumerabili faville,
102onde li stolti sogliono agurarsi,

103resurger parver quindi più di mille
104luci e salir, qual assai e qual poco,
105sì come ’l sol che l’accende sortille;

106e quïetata ciascuna in suo loco,
107la testa e ’l collo d’un’aguglia vidi
108rappresentare a quel distinto foco.

109Quei che dipinge lì, non ha chi ’l guidi;
110ma esso guida, e da lui si rammenta
111quella virtù ch’è forma per li nidi.

112L’altra bëatitudo, che contenta
113pareva prima d’ingigliarsi a l’emme,
114con poco moto seguitò la ’mprenta.

115O dolce stella, quali e quante gemme
116mi dimostraro che nostra giustizia
117effetto sia del ciel che tu ingemme!

118Per ch’io prego la mente in che s’inizia
119tuo moto e tua virtute, che rimiri
120ond’ esce il fummo che ’l tuo raggio vizia;

121sì ch’un’altra fïata omai s’adiri
122del comperare e vender dentro al templo
123che si murò di segni e di martìri.

124O milizia del ciel cu’ io contemplo,
125adora per color che sono in terra
126tutti svïati dietro al malo essemplo!

127Già si solea con le spade far guerra;
128ma or si fa togliendo or qui or quivi
129lo pan che ’l pïo Padre a nessun serra.

130Ma tu che sol per cancellare scrivi,
131pensa che Pietro e Paulo, che moriro
132per la vigna che guasti, ancor son vivi.

133Ben puoi tu dire: «I’ ho fermo ’l disiro
134sì a colui che volle viver solo
135e che per salti fu tratto al martiro,

136ch’io non conosco il pescator né Polo».

By now that blessed mirror was delighting
in its own inner words; I, tasting mine,
was tempering the bitter with the sweet.

But she, the lady leading me to God,
said: “Shift your thoughts: remember—I am close
to Him who lightens every unjust hurt.”

Hearing the loving sound my solace spoke,
I turned. But here I have to leave untold
what love I saw within her holy eyes,

not just because I do not trust my speech,
but, too, because recall cannot retrieve
that much, unless Another is its guide.

This only—of that moment—can I tell:
that even as I gazed at her, my soul
was free from any other need as long

as the Eternal Loveliness that shone
on Beatrice directly, from her eyes,
contented me with the reflected light.

But, conquering my will with her smile’s splendor,
she told me: “Turn to him and listen—for
not only in my eyes is Paradise.”

As, here on earth, at times our sentiment,
if it be passionate enough to take
the soul entirely, shows in the face,

so, in the flaming of the holy fire
to which I turned, I saw that he desired
some further words with me. And he began:

“In this fifth resting place, upon the tree
that grows down from its crown and endlessly
bears fruit and never loses any leaves,

are blessed souls that, down below, before
they came to heaven, were so notable
that any poem would be enriched by them.

Therefore look at the cross, along its horns:
those whom I name will race as swiftly as,
within a cloud, its rapid lightnings flash.”

Then, just as soon as Joshua was named,
I saw a splendor thrust along the cross,
nor did I note the name before the act.

And at the name of noble Maccabeus,
I saw another flame wheel round itself,
and gladness was the whip that spurred that top.

So, too, for Charlemagne and Roland—my
attentive eye held fast to that pair like
a falconer who tracks his falcon’s flight.

The next to draw my eyes along that cross
were William and Renouard and, too, Duke Godfrey
and Robert Guiscard. Then, when he had left me

and mingled with the other lights, the soul
who had addressed me showed his artistry,
singing among the singers in that sphere.

I turned to my right side to see if I
might see if Beatrice had signified
by word or gesture what I was to do

and saw such purity within her eyes,
such joy, that her appearance now surpassed
its guise at other times, even the last.

And as, by feeling greater joyousness
in doing good, a man becomes aware
that day by day his virtue is advancing,

so I became aware that my revolving
with heaven had increased its arc—by seeing
that miracle becoming still more brilliant.

And like the rapid change that one can see
in a pale woman’s face when it has freed
itself from bearing bashful modesty,

such change I, turning, saw: the red of Mars
was gone—and now the temperate sixth star’s
white heaven welcomed me into itself.

I saw within that torch of Jupiter
the sparkling of the love that it contained
design before my eyes the signs we speak.

And just as birds that rise from riverbanks,
as if rejoicing after feeding there,
will form a round flock or another shape,

so, in their lights, the saintly beings sang
and, in their flight, the figures that they spelled
were now a D, now I, and now an L.

First, they moved to the rhythm of their song;
then, after they had finished forming one
letter, they halted for a while, in silence.

O godly Pegasea, you who give
to genius glory and long life, as it,
through you, gives these to kingdoms and to cities,

give me your light that I may emphasize
these signs as I inscribed them in my mind:
your power—may it appear in these brief lines!

Those blessed spirits took the shape of five
times seven vowels and consonants, and I
noted the parts as they were spelled for me.

DILIGITE IUSTITIAM were the verb
and noun that first appeared in that depiction;
QUI IUDICATIS TERRAM followed after.

Then, having formed the M of the fifth word,
those spirits kept their order; Jupiter’s
silver, at that point, seemed embossed with gold.

And I saw other lights descending on
the apex of the M and, settling, singing—
I think—the Good that draws them to Itself.

Then, as innumerable sparks rise up
when one strikes burning logs (and in those sparks
fools have a way of reading auguries),

from that M seemed to surge more than a thousand
lights; and they climbed, some high, some low, just as
the Sun that kindles them assigned positions.

With each light settled quietly in place,
I saw that the array of fire had shaped
the image of an eagle’s head and neck.

He who paints there has no one as His guide:
He guides Himself; in Him we recognize
the shaping force that flows from nest to nest.

The other lights, who were, it seemed, content
at first to form a lily on the M,
moving a little, formed the eagle’s frame.

O gentle star, what—and how many—gems
made plain to me that justice here on earth
depends upon the heaven you engem!

Therefore I pray the Mind in which begin
your motion and your force, to watch that place
which has produced the smoke that dims your rays,

that once again His anger fall upon
those who would buy and sell within that temple
whose walls were built by miracles and martyrs.

O hosts of Heaven whom I contemplate,
for all who, led by bad example, stray
within the life they live on earth, do pray!

Men once were used to waging war with swords;
now war means seizing here and there the bread
the tender Father would deny to none.

But you who only write to then erase,
remember this: Peter and Paul, who died
to save the vines you spoil, are still alive.

Well may you say:”My longing is so bent
on him who chose the solitary life
and for a dance was dragged to martyrdom—

I do not know the Fisherman or Paul.”

NOW was alone rejoicing in its word
That soul beatified, and I was tasting
My own, the bitter tempering with the sweet,

And the Lady who to God was leading me
Said: “Change thy thought; consider that I am
Near unto Him who every wrong disburdens.”

Unto the loving accents of my comfort
I turned me round, and then what love I saw
Within those holy eyes I here relinquish;

Not only that my language I distrust,
But that my mind cannot return so far
Above itself, unless another guide it.

Thus much upon that point can I repeat,
That, her again beholding, my affection
From every other longing was released.

While the eternal pleasure, which direct
Rayed upon Beatrice, from her fair face
Contented me with its reflected aspect,

Conquering me with the radiance of a smile,
She said to me, “Turn thee about and listen;
Not in mine eyes alone is Paradise.”

Even as sometimes here do we behold
The affection in the look, if it be such
That all the soul is wrapt away by it,

So, by the flaming of the effulgence holy
To which I turned, I recognized therein
The wish of speaking to me somewhat farther.

And it began: “In this fifth resting—place
Upon the tree that liveth by its summit,
And aye bears fruit, and never loses leaf,

Are blessed spirits that below, ere yet
They came to Heaven, were of such great renown
That every Muse therewith would affluent be.

Therefore look thou upon the cross’s horns;
He whom I now shall name will there enact
What doth within a cloud its own swift fire.”

I saw athwart the Cross a splendour drawn
By naming Joshua, (even as he did it,)
Nor noted I the word before the deed;

And at the name of the great Maccabee
I saw another move itself revolving,
And gladness was the whip unto that top.

Likewise for Charlemagne and for Orlando,
Two of them my regard attentive followed
As followeth the eye its falcon flying.

William thereafterward, and Renouard,
And the Duke Godfrey, did attract my sight
Along upon that Cross, and Robert Guiscard.

Then, moved and mingled with the other lights
The soul that had addressed me showed how great
An artist ’twas among the heavenly singers.

To my right side I turned myself around,
My duty to behold in Beatrice
Either by words or gesture signified;

And so translucent I beheld her eyes,
So full of pleasure, that her countenance
Surpassed its other and its latest wont.

And as, by feeling greater delectation,
A man in doing good from day to day
Becomes aware his virtue is increasing,

So I became aware that my gyration
With heaven together had increased its arc,
That miracle beholding more adorned.

And such as is the change, in little lapse
Of time, in a pale woman, when her face
Is from the load of bashfulness unladen.

Such was it in mine eyes, when I had turned,
Caused by the whiteness of the temperate star,
The sixth, which to itself had gathered me.

Within that Jovial torch did I behold
The sparkling of the love which was therein
Delineate our language to mine eyes.

And even as birds uprisen from the shore,
As in congratulation o’er their food,
Make squadrons of themselves, now round, now long,

So from within those lights the holy creatures
Sang flying to and fro, and in their figures
Made of themselves now D, now I, now L.

First singing they to their own music moved;
Then one becoming of these characters,
A little while they rested and were silent.

O divine Pegasea, thou who genius
Dost glorious make, and render it long—lived,
And this through thee the cities and the kingdoms,

Illume me with thyself, that I may bring
Their figures out as 1 have them conceived!
Apparent be thy power in these brief verses!

Themselves then they displayed in five times seven
Vowels and consonants; and I observed
The parts as they seemed spoken unto me.

_Diligite justitian,_ these were
First verb and noun of all that was depicted;
_Qui judicatis terram_ were the last.

Thereafter in the M of the fifth word
Remained they so arranged, that Jupiter
Seemed to be silver there with gold inlaid.

And other lights I saw descend where was
The summit of the M, and pause there singing
The good, I think, that draws them to itself

Then, as in striking upon burning logs
Upward there fly innumerable sparks,
Whence fools are wont to look for auguries,

More than a thousand lights seemed thence to rise,
And to ascend, some more, and others less,
Even as the Sun that lights them had allotted;

And, each one being quiet in its place,
The head and neck beheld I of an eagle
Delineated by that inlaid fire.

He who there paints has none to be his guide;
But Himself guides; and is from Him remembered
That virtue which is form unto the nest.

The other beatitude, that contented seemed
At first to bloom a lily on the M,
By a slight motion followed out the imprint.

O gentle star! what and how many gems
Did demonstrate to me, that all our justice
Effect is of that heaven which thou ingemmest!

Wherefore I pray the Mind, in which begin
Thy motion and thy virtue, to regard
Whence comes the smoke that vitiates thy rays;

So that a second time it now be wroth
With buying and with selling in the temple
Whose walls were built with signs and martyrdoms!

O soldiery of heaven, whom I contemplate,
Implore for those who are upon the earth
All gone astray after the bad example!

Once ’twas the custom to make war with swords;
But now ’tis made by taking here and there
The bread the pitying Father shuts from none.

Yet thou, who writest but to cancel, think
That Peter and that Paul, who for this vineyard
Which thou art spoiling died, are still alive!

Well canst thou say: “So steadfast my desire
Is unto him who willed to live alone,
And for a dance was led to martyrdom,

That I know not the Fisherman nor Paul.”

By now that blessed mirror was delighting
in its own inner words; I, tasting mine,
was tempering the bitter with the sweet.

But she, the lady leading me to God,
said: “Shift your thoughts: remember—I am close
to Him who lightens every unjust hurt.”

Hearing the loving sound my solace spoke,
I turned. But here I have to leave untold
what love I saw within her holy eyes,

not just because I do not trust my speech,
but, too, because recall cannot retrieve
that much, unless Another is its guide.

This only—of that moment—can I tell:
that even as I gazed at her, my soul
was free from any other need as long

as the Eternal Loveliness that shone
on Beatrice directly, from her eyes,
contented me with the reflected light.

But, conquering my will with her smile’s splendor,
she told me: “Turn to him and listen—for
not only in my eyes is Paradise.”

As, here on earth, at times our sentiment,
if it be passionate enough to take
the soul entirely, shows in the face,

so, in the flaming of the holy fire
to which I turned, I saw that he desired
some further words with me. And he began:

“In this fifth resting place, upon the tree
that grows down from its crown and endlessly
bears fruit and never loses any leaves,

are blessed souls that, down below, before
they came to heaven, were so notable
that any poem would be enriched by them.

Therefore look at the cross, along its horns:
those whom I name will race as swiftly as,
within a cloud, its rapid lightnings flash.”

Then, just as soon as Joshua was named,
I saw a splendor thrust along the cross,
nor did I note the name before the act.

And at the name of noble Maccabeus,
I saw another flame wheel round itself,
and gladness was the whip that spurred that top.

So, too, for Charlemagne and Roland—my
attentive eye held fast to that pair like
a falconer who tracks his falcon’s flight.

The next to draw my eyes along that cross
were William and Renouard and, too, Duke Godfrey
and Robert Guiscard. Then, when he had left me

and mingled with the other lights, the soul
who had addressed me showed his artistry,
singing among the singers in that sphere.

I turned to my right side to see if I
might see if Beatrice had signified
by word or gesture what I was to do

and saw such purity within her eyes,
such joy, that her appearance now surpassed
its guise at other times, even the last.

And as, by feeling greater joyousness
in doing good, a man becomes aware
that day by day his virtue is advancing,

so I became aware that my revolving
with heaven had increased its arc—by seeing
that miracle becoming still more brilliant.

And like the rapid change that one can see
in a pale woman’s face when it has freed
itself from bearing bashful modesty,

such change I, turning, saw: the red of Mars
was gone—and now the temperate sixth star’s
white heaven welcomed me into itself.

I saw within that torch of Jupiter
the sparkling of the love that it contained
design before my eyes the signs we speak.

And just as birds that rise from riverbanks,
as if rejoicing after feeding there,
will form a round flock or another shape,

so, in their lights, the saintly beings sang
and, in their flight, the figures that they spelled
were now a D, now I, and now an L.

First, they moved to the rhythm of their song;
then, after they had finished forming one
letter, they halted for a while, in silence.

O godly Pegasea, you who give
to genius glory and long life, as it,
through you, gives these to kingdoms and to cities,

give me your light that I may emphasize
these signs as I inscribed them in my mind:
your power—may it appear in these brief lines!

Those blessed spirits took the shape of five
times seven vowels and consonants, and I
noted the parts as they were spelled for me.

DILIGITE IUSTITIAM were the verb
and noun that first appeared in that depiction;
QUI IUDICATIS TERRAM followed after.

Then, having formed the M of the fifth word,
those spirits kept their order; Jupiter’s
silver, at that point, seemed embossed with gold.

And I saw other lights descending on
the apex of the M and, settling, singing—
I think—the Good that draws them to Itself.

Then, as innumerable sparks rise up
when one strikes burning logs (and in those sparks
fools have a way of reading auguries),

from that M seemed to surge more than a thousand
lights; and they climbed, some high, some low, just as
the Sun that kindles them assigned positions.

With each light settled quietly in place,
I saw that the array of fire had shaped
the image of an eagle’s head and neck.

He who paints there has no one as His guide:
He guides Himself; in Him we recognize
the shaping force that flows from nest to nest.

The other lights, who were, it seemed, content
at first to form a lily on the M,
moving a little, formed the eagle’s frame.

O gentle star, what—and how many—gems
made plain to me that justice here on earth
depends upon the heaven you engem!

Therefore I pray the Mind in which begin
your motion and your force, to watch that place
which has produced the smoke that dims your rays,

that once again His anger fall upon
those who would buy and sell within that temple
whose walls were built by miracles and martyrs.

O hosts of Heaven whom I contemplate,
for all who, led by bad example, stray
within the life they live on earth, do pray!

Men once were used to waging war with swords;
now war means seizing here and there the bread
the tender Father would deny to none.

But you who only write to then erase,
remember this: Peter and Paul, who died
to save the vines you spoil, are still alive.

Well may you say:”My longing is so bent
on him who chose the solitary life
and for a dance was dragged to martyrdom—

I do not know the Fisherman or Paul.”

NOW was alone rejoicing in its word
That soul beatified, and I was tasting
My own, the bitter tempering with the sweet,

And the Lady who to God was leading me
Said: “Change thy thought; consider that I am
Near unto Him who every wrong disburdens.”

Unto the loving accents of my comfort
I turned me round, and then what love I saw
Within those holy eyes I here relinquish;

Not only that my language I distrust,
But that my mind cannot return so far
Above itself, unless another guide it.

Thus much upon that point can I repeat,
That, her again beholding, my affection
From every other longing was released.

While the eternal pleasure, which direct
Rayed upon Beatrice, from her fair face
Contented me with its reflected aspect,

Conquering me with the radiance of a smile,
She said to me, “Turn thee about and listen;
Not in mine eyes alone is Paradise.”

Even as sometimes here do we behold
The affection in the look, if it be such
That all the soul is wrapt away by it,

So, by the flaming of the effulgence holy
To which I turned, I recognized therein
The wish of speaking to me somewhat farther.

And it began: “In this fifth resting—place
Upon the tree that liveth by its summit,
And aye bears fruit, and never loses leaf,

Are blessed spirits that below, ere yet
They came to Heaven, were of such great renown
That every Muse therewith would affluent be.

Therefore look thou upon the cross’s horns;
He whom I now shall name will there enact
What doth within a cloud its own swift fire.”

I saw athwart the Cross a splendour drawn
By naming Joshua, (even as he did it,)
Nor noted I the word before the deed;

And at the name of the great Maccabee
I saw another move itself revolving,
And gladness was the whip unto that top.

Likewise for Charlemagne and for Orlando,
Two of them my regard attentive followed
As followeth the eye its falcon flying.

William thereafterward, and Renouard,
And the Duke Godfrey, did attract my sight
Along upon that Cross, and Robert Guiscard.

Then, moved and mingled with the other lights
The soul that had addressed me showed how great
An artist ’twas among the heavenly singers.

To my right side I turned myself around,
My duty to behold in Beatrice
Either by words or gesture signified;

And so translucent I beheld her eyes,
So full of pleasure, that her countenance
Surpassed its other and its latest wont.

And as, by feeling greater delectation,
A man in doing good from day to day
Becomes aware his virtue is increasing,

So I became aware that my gyration
With heaven together had increased its arc,
That miracle beholding more adorned.

And such as is the change, in little lapse
Of time, in a pale woman, when her face
Is from the load of bashfulness unladen.

Such was it in mine eyes, when I had turned,
Caused by the whiteness of the temperate star,
The sixth, which to itself had gathered me.

Within that Jovial torch did I behold
The sparkling of the love which was therein
Delineate our language to mine eyes.

And even as birds uprisen from the shore,
As in congratulation o’er their food,
Make squadrons of themselves, now round, now long,

So from within those lights the holy creatures
Sang flying to and fro, and in their figures
Made of themselves now D, now I, now L.

First singing they to their own music moved;
Then one becoming of these characters,
A little while they rested and were silent.

O divine Pegasea, thou who genius
Dost glorious make, and render it long—lived,
And this through thee the cities and the kingdoms,

Illume me with thyself, that I may bring
Their figures out as 1 have them conceived!
Apparent be thy power in these brief verses!

Themselves then they displayed in five times seven
Vowels and consonants; and I observed
The parts as they seemed spoken unto me.

_Diligite justitian,_ these were
First verb and noun of all that was depicted;
_Qui judicatis terram_ were the last.

Thereafter in the M of the fifth word
Remained they so arranged, that Jupiter
Seemed to be silver there with gold inlaid.

And other lights I saw descend where was
The summit of the M, and pause there singing
The good, I think, that draws them to itself

Then, as in striking upon burning logs
Upward there fly innumerable sparks,
Whence fools are wont to look for auguries,

More than a thousand lights seemed thence to rise,
And to ascend, some more, and others less,
Even as the Sun that lights them had allotted;

And, each one being quiet in its place,
The head and neck beheld I of an eagle
Delineated by that inlaid fire.

He who there paints has none to be his guide;
But Himself guides; and is from Him remembered
That virtue which is form unto the nest.

The other beatitude, that contented seemed
At first to bloom a lily on the M,
By a slight motion followed out the imprint.

O gentle star! what and how many gems
Did demonstrate to me, that all our justice
Effect is of that heaven which thou ingemmest!

Wherefore I pray the Mind, in which begin
Thy motion and thy virtue, to regard
Whence comes the smoke that vitiates thy rays;

So that a second time it now be wroth
With buying and with selling in the temple
Whose walls were built with signs and martyrdoms!

O soldiery of heaven, whom I contemplate,
Implore for those who are upon the earth
All gone astray after the bad example!

Once ’twas the custom to make war with swords;
But now ’tis made by taking here and there
The bread the pitying Father shuts from none.

Yet thou, who writest but to cancel, think
That Peter and that Paul, who for this vineyard
Which thou art spoiling died, are still alive!

Well canst thou say: “So steadfast my desire
Is unto him who willed to live alone,
And for a dance was led to martyrdom,

That I know not the Fisherman nor Paul.”