Controlled Orphism

The contemplative souls sweep in a compact swirl upward in Paradiso 22.99—“poi, come turbo, in sù tutto s’avvolse” (then, like a whirlwind, upward, all were swept)—and in verse 100 Paradiso 22 shifts gears and begins to transition to the next heaven: the heaven of the fixed stars. This is the famous eighth heaven, the first non-planetary heaven, that plays such an important role in the discussion of mandatory difference in Paradiso 2.

Before verse 100, the events of Paradiso 22 are still occurring in the seventh heaven, the heaven of Saturn, devoted to “contemplanti”:

Questi altri fuochi tutti contemplanti
uomini fuoro, accesi di quel caldo
che fa nascere i fiori e ’ frutti santi. 	(Par. 22.46-48)
These other flames were all contemplatives,
men who were kindled by that heat which brings 
to birth the blessed flowers and blessed fruits.

Dante designs the heaven of Saturn to focus on great saints and founders of monastic orders. His contemplatives, in other words, are souls who were quite active while alive.

He also covers a wide swath of monastic history in the heaven of Saturn, bookending the heaven between two saints whose deaths are separated by half a millennium. Paradiso 21 features an encounter with Saint Peter Damian, who died in 1072, while Paradiso 22 features an encounter with Saint Benedict, founder of the Benedictine order, who died in 543.

There is a history of monasticism traced in the pages of the Commedia, and in this heaven Dante sketches two distinctive and important moments in that history. As did Saint Peter Damian and Saint Thomas and Saint Bonaventure before him, Saint Benedict also speaks pungent words about the current degeneracy of the order that he founded.

Dante engages a wide gamut of saints and monastic orders in the Paradiso, from the very early (in the next heaven he will encounter Christ’s own disciples) to the very recent.

The chilliness of Paradiso 21 has dissipated. Peter Damian’s emphatic insistence on lack of affect in his encounter with the pilgrim is reversed by Benedict. The affection of Saint Benedict is such as to open up the pilgrim’s confidence like a rose that is opened by the warmth of the sun:

E io a lui: «L’affetto che dimostri
meco parlando, e la buona sembianza
ch’io veggio e noto in tutti li ardor vostri,
così m’ha dilatata mia fidanza, 
come ’l sol fa la rosa quando aperta
tanto divien quant’ell’ha di possanza.»	  	(Par. 22.52-57)
I answered: “The affection that you show
in speech to me, and kindness that I see
and note within the flaming of your lights, 
have given me so much more confidence,
just like the sun that makes the rose expand
and reach the fullest flowering it can.

The pilgrim’s confidence takes the form of a question that might seem as presumptuous as the one he put to Peter Damian in the previous canto, but here he is not rebuked. Dante tells Benedict that he wants to see him with his face unveiled, “con imagine scoverta” (60): in other words, in his human body rather than as a living light. Benedict tells him, rather surprisingly, that this wish will be granted to him when he reaches the final sphere:

Frate, il tuo alto disio
s’adempierà in su l’ultima spera,
ove s’adempion tutti li altri e ’l mio. 	(Par. 22.61-63)
Brother, your high desire will be 
fulfilled within the final sphere, as all
the other souls’ and my own longing will.

Benedict’s revelation that Dante’s wish to see him in his human form will be fulfilled at the end of his journey, in the Empyrean, is a remarkable concession that Dante-poet makes to Dante-pilgrim, since the souls will only get their bodies back at the Last Judgment. Benedict goes on to define and characterize the Empyrean in verses that stand as one of Dante’s great attempts to describe in language that which is beyond human, and hence linguistic, comprehension:

Ivi è perfetta, matura e intera
ciascuna disianza; in quella sola
è ogne parte là ove sempr’era, 
perché non è in loco e non s’impola; 
e nostra scala infino ad essa varca, 
onde così dal viso ti s’invola.  		(Par. 22.64-69)
There, each desire is perfect, ripe, intact;
and only there, within that final sphere, 
is every part where it has always been. 
That sphere is not in space and has no poles; 
our ladder reaches up to it, and that
is why it now is hidden from your sight.

As noted in the Introduction to Paradiso 21, the heaven of Saturn offers many signposts to mark this “place” as the beginning of the end of the journey. No signpost is more emphatic than the verses of Paradiso 22 cited above, where Benedict talks explicitly about the “ultima spera” (62) as the no-place of complete fulfillment that is utterly beyond space-time.

The many markers of the beginning of the end in Paradiso 22 include:

  • verses 34-35: “Ma perché tu, aspettando, non tarde / all’alto fine” (But lest, by waiting, you be slow to reach the high goal of your seeking);
  • verses 61-62: “il tuo alto disio / s’adempierà in su l’ultima spera” (your high desire will be fulfilled within the final sphere);
  • verses 64-68: the description of the Empyrean as the place that is “no-place” and where all desire is perfected, and as the place to which the ladder of the heaven of Saturn climbs;
  • verse 124, “Tu se’ sì presso l’ultima salute” (You are so near the final blessedness): because he is so near the end of his journey, Beatrice instructs the pilgrim to look back.

Most important of all as a signpost that we are nearing the end of our journey is the requirement that the pilgrim look back at earth.

The pilgrim begins to transition to the heaven of the fixed stars in verses 100-02. He enters the eighth heaven in verses 110-11, and not just anywhere, but specifically at “the sign that follows Taurus”: “io vidi ’l segno / che segue il Tauro e fui dentro da esso” (I saw, and was within, the sign that follows Taurus).  The “sign that follows Taurus” is Dante’s natal sign, Gemini. The poet prays to his natal stars for strength in a poignant and deeply personal passage where he refers to his birth as the moment when he first felt the Tuscan air: “quand’io senti’ di prima l’aere tosco” (when I first felt the air of Tuscany [117]). Beatrice then instructs him, as preparation for the final leg of his journey, to look back at the distance that he has traversed. Beatrice establishes causality between reaching the end and the controlled Orphism that is now required of Dante: like Orpheus, he must look back; unlike Orpheus, he does so in order to prepare his vision for the ultimate sight.

In The Undivine Comedy I contrasted Beatrice’s instruction in the heaven of the fixed stars to the angel’s instruction as Dante passes through the gate of purgatory:

The controlled Orphism of this experience is a potent indicator of how far we have come from Purgatorio 9, where the angel who guards the portal warned the travelers not to look back, because “di fuor torna chi ’n dietro si guata” (he who looks back returns outside [132]). If now Beatrice issues the contrary order, instructing the pilgrim to do what the angel warned against, it is because he has achieved such perspective that looking back is no longer perilous; by the same token, if the old perils exist no longer, the journey must be almost over. Looking back is no longer a nostalgic lapse, mandated by excessive desire; it is, instead, an action whose paradoxes exemplify the paradoxes of the Paradiso as a written form.
(The Undivine Comedy, p. 223)

There are two occasions in Paradiso when the pilgrim is instructed to look down, at the end of Paradiso 22 and the end of Paradiso 27. The first Orphic moment comes at the beginning of the heaven of the fixed stars and the second at the end of the heaven of the fixed stars. Thus, controlled Orphism frames the eighth heaven, further distinguishing a heaven whose importance as the First Differentiator of being—the differentiated being at which the pilgrim is instructed to look back—was discussed as early as Paradiso 2.

The passage at the end of Paradiso 22 details the pilgrim’s gaze down through the seven planetary heavens all the way to the earth, called, with immense sadness, “the little threshing floor that so incites our savagery”: “l’aiuola che ci fa tanto feroci” (151).

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: for the heaven of Saturn, see The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 10, “The Sacred Poem Is Forced to Jump: Closure and the Poetics of Enjambment,” pp. 222-23.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 22: Controlled Orphism.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-22/

About the Commento

1Oppresso di stupore, a la mia guida
2mi volsi, come parvol che ricorre
3sempre colà dove più si confida;

4e quella, come madre che soccorre
5sùbito al figlio palido e anelo
6con la sua voce, che ’l suol ben disporre,

7mi disse: «Non sai tu che tu se’ in cielo?
8e non sai tu che ’l cielo è tutto santo,
9e ciò che ci si fa vien da buon zelo?

10Come t’avrebbe trasmutato il canto,
11e io ridendo, mo pensar lo puoi,
12poscia che ’l grido t’ha mosso cotanto;

13nel qual, se ’nteso avessi i prieghi suoi,
14già ti sarebbe nota la vendetta
15che tu vedrai innanzi che tu muoi.

16La spada di qua sù non taglia in fretta
17né tardo, ma’ ch’al parer di colui
18che disïando o temendo l’aspetta.

19Ma rivolgiti omai inverso altrui;
20ch’assai illustri spiriti vedrai,
21se com’ io dico l’aspetto redui».

22Come a lei piacque, li occhi ritornai,
23e vidi cento sperule che ’nsieme
24più s’abbellivan con mutüi rai.

25Io stava come quei che ’n sé repreme
26la punta del disio, e non s’attenta
27di domandar, sì del troppo si teme;

28e la maggiore e la più luculenta
29di quelle margherite innanzi fessi,
30per far di sé la mia voglia contenta.

31Poi dentro a lei udi’: «Se tu vedessi
32com’ io la carità che tra noi arde,
33li tuoi concetti sarebbero espressi.

34Ma perché tu, aspettando, non tarde
35a l’alto fine, io ti farò risposta
36pur al pensier, da che sì ti riguarde.

37Quel monte a cui Cassino è ne la costa
38fu frequentato già in su la cima
39da la gente ingannata e mal disposta;

40e quel son io che sù vi portai prima
41lo nome di colui che ’n terra addusse
42la verità che tanto ci soblima;

43e tanta grazia sopra me relusse,
44ch’io ritrassi le ville circunstanti
45da l’empio cólto che ’l mondo sedusse.

46Questi altri fuochi tutti contemplanti
47uomini fuoro, accesi di quel caldo
48che fa nascere i fiori e ’ frutti santi.

49Qui è Maccario, qui è Romoaldo,
50qui son li frati miei che dentro ai chiostri
51fermar li piedi e tennero il cor saldo».

52E io a lui: «L’affetto che dimostri
53meco parlando, e la buona sembianza
54ch’io veggio e noto in tutti li ardor vostri,

55così m’ha dilatata mia fidanza,
56come ’l sol fa la rosa quando aperta
57tanto divien quant’ ell’ ha di possanza.

58Però ti priego, e tu, padre, m’accerta
59s’io posso prender tanta grazia, ch’io
60ti veggia con imagine scoverta».

61Ond’ elli: «Frate, il tuo alto disio
62s’adempierà in su l’ultima spera,
63ove s’adempion tutti li altri e ’l mio.

64Ivi è perfetta, matura e intera
65ciascuna disïanza; in quella sola
66è ogne parte là ove sempr’ era,

67perché non è in loco e non s’impola;
68e nostra scala infino ad essa varca,
69onde così dal viso ti s’invola.

70Infin là sù la vide il patriarca
71Iacobbe porger la superna parte,
72quando li apparve d’angeli sì carca.

73Ma, per salirla, mo nessun diparte
74da terra i piedi, e la regola mia
75rimasa è per danno de le carte.

76Le mura che solieno esser badia
77fatte sono spelonche, e le cocolle
78sacca son piene di farina ria.

79Ma grave usura tanto non si tolle
80contra ’l piacer di Dio, quanto quel frutto
81che fa il cor de’ monaci sì folle;

82ché quantunque la Chiesa guarda, tutto
83è de la gente che per Dio dimanda;
84non di parenti né d’altro più brutto.

85La carne d’i mortali è tanto blanda,
86che giù non basta buon cominciamento
87dal nascer de la quercia al far la ghianda.

88Pier cominciò sanz’ oro e sanz’ argento,
89e io con orazione e con digiuno,
90e Francesco umilmente il suo convento;

91e se guardi ’l principio di ciascuno,
92poscia riguardi là dov’ è trascorso,
93tu vederai del bianco fatto bruno.

94Veramente Iordan vòlto retrorso
95più fu, e ’l mar fuggir, quando Dio volse,
96mirabile a veder che qui ’l soccorso».

97Così mi disse, e indi si raccolse
98al suo collegio, e ’l collegio si strinse;
99poi, come turbo, in sù tutto s’avvolse.

100La dolce donna dietro a lor mi pinse
101con un sol cenno su per quella scala,
102sì sua virtù la mia natura vinse;

103né mai qua giù dove si monta e cala
104naturalmente, fu sì ratto moto
105ch’agguagliar si potesse a la mia ala.

106S’io torni mai, lettore, a quel divoto
107trïunfo per lo quale io piango spesso
108le mie peccata e ’l petto mi percuoto,

109tu non avresti in tanto tratto e messo
110nel foco il dito, in quant’ io vidi ’l segno
111che segue il Tauro e fui dentro da esso.

112O glorïose stelle, o lume pregno
113di gran virtù, dal quale io riconosco
114tutto, qual che si sia, il mio ingegno,

115con voi nasceva e s’ascondeva vosco
116quelli ch’è padre d’ogne mortal vita,
117quand’ io senti’ di prima l’aere tosco;

118e poi, quando mi fu grazia largita
119d’entrar ne l’alta rota che vi gira,
120la vostra regïon mi fu sortita.

121A voi divotamente ora sospira
122l’anima mia, per acquistar virtute
123al passo forte che a sé la tira.

124«Tu se’ sì presso a l’ultima salute»,
125cominciò Bëatrice, «che tu dei
126aver le luci tue chiare e acute;

127e però, prima che tu più t’inlei,
128rimira in giù, e vedi quanto mondo
129sotto li piedi già esser ti fei;

130sì che ’l tuo cor, quantunque può, giocondo
131s’appresenti a la turba trïunfante
132che lieta vien per questo etera tondo».

133Col viso ritornai per tutte quante
134le sette spere, e vidi questo globo
135tal, ch’io sorrisi del suo vil sembiante;

136e quel consiglio per migliore approbo
137che l’ha per meno; e chi ad altro pensa
138chiamar si puote veramente probo.

139Vidi la figlia di Latona incensa
140sanza quell’ ombra che mi fu cagione
141per che già la credetti rara e densa.

142L’aspetto del tuo nato, Iperïone,
143quivi sostenni, e vidi com’ si move
144circa e vicino a lui Maia e Dïone.

145Quindi m’apparve il temperar di Giove
146tra ’l padre e ’l figlio; e quindi mi fu chiaro
147il varïar che fanno di lor dove;

148e tutti e sette mi si dimostraro
149quanto son grandi e quanto son veloci
150e come sono in distante riparo.

151L’aiuola che ci fa tanto feroci,
152volgendom’ io con li etterni Gemelli,
153tutta m’apparve da’ colli a le foci;

154poscia rivolsi li occhi a li occhi belli.

Amazement overwhelming me, I—like
a child who always hurries back to find
that place he trusts the most—turned to my guide;

and like a mother quick to reassure
her pale and panting son with the same voice
that she has often used to comfort him,

she said: “Do you not know you are in Heaven,
not know how holy all of Heaven is,
how righteous zeal moves every action here?

Now, since this cry has agitated you
so much, you can conceive how—had you seen
me smile and heard song here—you would have been

confounded; and if you had understood
the prayer within that cry, by now you would
know the revenge you’ll see before your death.

The sword that strikes from Heaven’s height is neither
hasty nor slow, except as it appears
to him who waits for it—who longs or fears.

But turn now toward the other spirits here;
for if you set your sight as I suggest,
you will see many who are notable.”

As pleased my guide, I turned my eyes and saw
a hundred little suns; as these together
cast light, each made the other lovelier.

I stood as one who curbs within himself
the goad of longing and, in fear of being
too forward, does not dare to ask a question.

At this, the largest and most radiant
among those pearls moved forward that he might
appease my need to hear who he might be.

Then, in that light, I heard: “Were you to see,
even as I do see, the charity
that burns in us, your thoughts would have been uttered.

But lest, by waiting, you be slow to reach
the high goal of your seeking, I shall answer
what you were thinking when you curbed your speech.

That mountain on whose flank Cassino lies
was once frequented on its summit by
those who were still deluded, still awry;

and I am he who was the first to carry
up to that peak the name of Him who brought
to earth the truth that lifts us to the heights.

And such abundant grace had brought me light
that, from corrupted worship that seduced
the world, I won away the nearby sites.

These other flames were all contemplatives,
men who were kindled by that heat which brings
to birth the blessed flowers and blessed fruits.

Here is Macarius, here is Romualdus,
here are my brothers, those who stayed their steps
in cloistered walls, who kept their hearts steadfast.”

I answered: “The affection that you show
in speech to me, and kindness that I see
and note within the flaming of your lights,

have given me so much more confidence,
just like the sun that makes the rose expand
and reach the fullest flowering it can.

Therefore I pray you, father—and may you
assure me that I can receive such grace—
to let me see, unveiled, your human face.”

And he: “Brother, your high desire will be
fulfilled within the final sphere, as all
the other souls’ and my own longing will.

There, each desire is perfect, ripe, intact;
and only there, within that final sphere,
is every part where it has always been.

That sphere is not in space and has no poles;
our ladder reaches up to it, and that
is why it now is hidden from your sight.

Up to that sphere, Jacob the patriarch
could see that ladder’s topmost portion reach,
when it appeared to him so thronged with angels.

But no one now would lift his feet from earth
to climb that ladder, and my Rule is left
to waste the paper it was written on.

What once were abbey walls are robbers’ dens;
what once were cowls are sacks of rotten meal.
But even heavy usury does not

offend the will of God as grievously
as the appropriation of that fruit
which makes the hearts of monks go mad with greed;

for all within the keeping of the Church
belongs to those who ask it in God’s name,
and not to relatives or concubines.

The flesh of mortals yields so easily—
on earth a good beginning does not run
from when the oak is born until the acorn.

Peter began with neither gold nor silver,
and I with prayer and fasting, and when Francis
began his fellowship, he did it humbly;

if you observe the starting point of each,
and look again to see where it has strayed,
then you will see how white has gone to gray.

And yet, the Jordan in retreat, the sea
in flight when God had willed it so, were sights
more wonderful than His help here will be.”

So did he speak to me, and he drew back
to join his company, which closed, compact;
then, like a whirlwind, upward, all were swept.

The gentle lady—simply with a sign—
impelled me after them and up that ladder,
so did her power overcome my nature;

and never here below, where our ascent
and descent follow nature’s law, was there
motion as swift as mine when I took wing.

So, reader, may I once again return
to those triumphant ranks—an end for which
I often beat my breast, weep for my sins—

more quickly than your finger can withdraw
from flame and be thrust into it, I saw,
and was within, the sign that follows Taurus.

O stars of glory, constellation steeped
in mighty force, all of my genius—
whatever be its worth—has you as source:

with you was born and under you was hidden
he who is father of all mortal lives,
when I first felt the air of Tuscany;

and then, when grace was granted me to enter
the high wheel that impels your revolutions,
your region was my fated point of entry.

To you my soul now sighs devotedly,
that it may gain the force for this attempt,
hard trial that now demands its every strength.

“You are so near the final blessedness,”
so Beatrice began, “that you have need
of vision clear and keen; and thus, before

you enter farther, do look downward, see
what I have set beneath your feet already:
much of the world is there. If you see that,

your heart may then present itself with all
the joy it can to the triumphant throng
that comes in gladness through this ether’s rounds.”

My eyes returned through all the seven spheres
and saw this globe in such a way that I
smiled at its scrawny image: I approve

that judgment as the best, which holds this earth
to be the least; and he whose thoughts are set
elsewhere, can truly be called virtuous.

I saw Latona’s daughter radiant,
without the shadow that had made me once
believe that she contained both rare and dense.

And there, Hyperion, I could sustain
the vision of your son, and saw Dione
and Maia as they circled nearby him.

The temperate Jupiter appeared to me
between his father and his son; and I
saw clearly how they vary their positions.

And all the seven heavens showed to me
their magnitudes, their speeds, the distances
of each from each. The little threshing floor

that so incites our savagery was all—
from hills to river mouths—revealed to me
while I wheeled with eternal Gemini.

My eyes then turned again to the fair eyes.

OPPRESSED with stupor, I unto my guide
Turned like a little child who always runs
For refuge there where he confideth most;

And she, even as a mother who straightway
Gives comfort to her pale and breathless boy
With voice whose wont it is to reassure him,

Said to me: “Knowest thou not thou art in heaven,
And knowest thou not that heaven is holy all
And what is lone here cometh from good zeal?

After what wise the singing would have changed thee
And I by smiling, thou canst now imagine,
Since that the cry has startled thee so much,

In which if thou hadst understood its prayers
Already would be known to thee the vengeance
Which thou shalt look upon before thou diest.

The sword above here smiteth not in haste
Nor tardily, howe’er it seem to him
Who fearing or desiring waits for it.

But turn thee round towards the others now,
For very illustrious spirits shalt thou see,
If thou thy sight directest as I say.”

As it seemed good to her mine eyes I turned,
And saw a hundred spherules that together
With mutual rays each other more embellished.

I stood as one who in himself represses
The point of his desire, and ventures not
To question, he so feareth the too much.

And now the largest and most luculent
Among those pearls came forward, that it might
Make my desire concerning it content.

Within it then I heard: “If thou couldst see
Even as myself the charity that burns
Among us, thy conceits would be expressed;

But, that by waiting thou mayst not come late
To the high end, I will make answer even
Unto the thought of which thou art so chary.

That mountain on whose slope Cassino stands
Was frequented of old upon its summit
By a deluded folk and ill—disposed;

And I am he who first up thither bore
The name of Him who brought upon the earth
The truth that so much sublimateth us.

And such abundant grace upon me shone
That all the neighbouring towns I drew away
From the impious worship that seduced the world.

These other fires, each one of them, were men
Contemplative, enkindled by that heat
Which maketh holy flowers and fruits spring up.

Here is Macarius, here is Romualdus,
Here are my brethren, who within the cloisters
Their footsteps stayed and kept a steadfast heart.”

And I to him: “The affection which thou showest
Speaking with me, and the good countenance
Which I behold and note in all your ardours,

In me have so my confidence dilated
As the sun doth the rose, when it becomes
As far unfolded as it hath the power.

Therefore I pray, and thou assure me, father,
If I may so much grace receive, that I
May thee behold with countenance unveiled.”

He thereupon: “Brother, thy high desire
In the remotest sphere shall be fulfilled,
Where are fulfilled all others and my own.

There perfect is, and ripened, and complete,
Every desire; within that one alone
Is every part where it has always been;

For it is not in space, nor turns on poles,
And unto it our stairway reaches up,
Whence thus from out thy sight it steals away.

Up to that height the Patriarch Jacob saw it
Extending its supernal part, what time
So thronged with angels it appeared to him.

But to ascend it now no one uplifts
His feet from off the earth, and now my Rule
Below remaineth for mere waste of paper.

The walls that used of old to be an Abbey
Are changed to dens of robbers, and the cowls
Are sacks filled full of miserable flour.

But heavy usury is not taken up
So much against God’s pleasure as that fruit
Which maketh so insane the heart of monks;

For whatsoever hath the Church in keeping
Is for the folk that ask it in God’s name, .
Not for one’s kindred or for something worse.

The flesh of mortals is so very soft,
That good beginnings down below suffice not
From springing of the oak to bearing acorns.

Peter began with neither gold nor silver,
And I with orison and abstinence,
And Francis with humility his convent.

And if thou lookest at each one’s beginning,
And then regardest whither he has run,
Thou shalt behold the white changed into brown.

In verity the Jordan backward turned,
And the sea’s fleeing, when God willed were more
A wonder to behold, than succour here.”

Thus unto me he said ; and then withdrew
To his own band, and the band closed together
Then like a whirlwind all was upward rapt.

The gentle Lady urged me on behind them
Up o’er that stairway by a single sign,
So did her virtue overcome my nature;

Nor here below, where one goes up and down
By natural law, was motion e’er so swift
That it could be compared unto my wing.

Reader, as I may unto that devout
Triumph return, on whose account I often
For my transgressions weep and beat my breast,—

Thou hadst not thrust thy finger in the fire
And drawn it out again, before I saw
The sign that follows Taurus, and was in it.

O glorious stars, O light impregnated
With mighty virtue, from which I acknowledge
All of my genius, whatsoe’er it be,

you was born, and hid himself with you,
He who is father of all mortal life,
When first I tasted of the Tuscan air;

then when grace was freely given to me
To enter the high wheel which turns you round,
Your region was allotted unto me.

To you devoutly at this hour my soul
Is sighing, that it virtue may acquire
For the stern pass that draws it to itself.

“Thou art so near unto the last salvation,”
Thus Beatrice began, “thou oughtest now
To have thine eves unclouded and acute

And therefore, ere thou enter farther in,
Look down once more, and see how vast a world
Thou hast already put beneath thy feet;

So that thy heart, as jocund as it may,
Present itself to the triumphant throng
That comes rejoicing through this rounded ether.”

with my sight returned through one and all
The sevenfold spheres, and I beheld this globe
Such that I smiled at its ignoble semblance

And that opinion I approve as best
Which doth account it least; and he who thinks
Of something else may truly be called just.

I saw the daughter of Latona shining
Without that shadow, which to me was cause
That once I had believed her rare and dense.

The aspect of thy son, Hyperion,
Here I sustained, and saw how move themselves
Around and near him Maia and Dione.

Thence there appeared the temperateness of Jove
‘Twixt son and father, and to me was clear
The change that of their whereabout they make

And all the seven made manifest to me
How great they are, and eke how swift they are,
And how they are in distant habitations.

The threshing—floor that maketh us so proud,
To me revolving with the eternal Twins,
Was all apparent made from hill to harbour!

Then to the beauteous eyes mine eyes I turned.

Amazement overwhelming me, I—like
a child who always hurries back to find
that place he trusts the most—turned to my guide;

and like a mother quick to reassure
her pale and panting son with the same voice
that she has often used to comfort him,

she said: “Do you not know you are in Heaven,
not know how holy all of Heaven is,
how righteous zeal moves every action here?

Now, since this cry has agitated you
so much, you can conceive how—had you seen
me smile and heard song here—you would have been

confounded; and if you had understood
the prayer within that cry, by now you would
know the revenge you’ll see before your death.

The sword that strikes from Heaven’s height is neither
hasty nor slow, except as it appears
to him who waits for it—who longs or fears.

But turn now toward the other spirits here;
for if you set your sight as I suggest,
you will see many who are notable.”

As pleased my guide, I turned my eyes and saw
a hundred little suns; as these together
cast light, each made the other lovelier.

I stood as one who curbs within himself
the goad of longing and, in fear of being
too forward, does not dare to ask a question.

At this, the largest and most radiant
among those pearls moved forward that he might
appease my need to hear who he might be.

Then, in that light, I heard: “Were you to see,
even as I do see, the charity
that burns in us, your thoughts would have been uttered.

But lest, by waiting, you be slow to reach
the high goal of your seeking, I shall answer
what you were thinking when you curbed your speech.

That mountain on whose flank Cassino lies
was once frequented on its summit by
those who were still deluded, still awry;

and I am he who was the first to carry
up to that peak the name of Him who brought
to earth the truth that lifts us to the heights.

And such abundant grace had brought me light
that, from corrupted worship that seduced
the world, I won away the nearby sites.

These other flames were all contemplatives,
men who were kindled by that heat which brings
to birth the blessed flowers and blessed fruits.

Here is Macarius, here is Romualdus,
here are my brothers, those who stayed their steps
in cloistered walls, who kept their hearts steadfast.”

I answered: “The affection that you show
in speech to me, and kindness that I see
and note within the flaming of your lights,

have given me so much more confidence,
just like the sun that makes the rose expand
and reach the fullest flowering it can.

Therefore I pray you, father—and may you
assure me that I can receive such grace—
to let me see, unveiled, your human face.”

And he: “Brother, your high desire will be
fulfilled within the final sphere, as all
the other souls’ and my own longing will.

There, each desire is perfect, ripe, intact;
and only there, within that final sphere,
is every part where it has always been.

That sphere is not in space and has no poles;
our ladder reaches up to it, and that
is why it now is hidden from your sight.

Up to that sphere, Jacob the patriarch
could see that ladder’s topmost portion reach,
when it appeared to him so thronged with angels.

But no one now would lift his feet from earth
to climb that ladder, and my Rule is left
to waste the paper it was written on.

What once were abbey walls are robbers’ dens;
what once were cowls are sacks of rotten meal.
But even heavy usury does not

offend the will of God as grievously
as the appropriation of that fruit
which makes the hearts of monks go mad with greed;

for all within the keeping of the Church
belongs to those who ask it in God’s name,
and not to relatives or concubines.

The flesh of mortals yields so easily—
on earth a good beginning does not run
from when the oak is born until the acorn.

Peter began with neither gold nor silver,
and I with prayer and fasting, and when Francis
began his fellowship, he did it humbly;

if you observe the starting point of each,
and look again to see where it has strayed,
then you will see how white has gone to gray.

And yet, the Jordan in retreat, the sea
in flight when God had willed it so, were sights
more wonderful than His help here will be.”

So did he speak to me, and he drew back
to join his company, which closed, compact;
then, like a whirlwind, upward, all were swept.

The gentle lady—simply with a sign—
impelled me after them and up that ladder,
so did her power overcome my nature;

and never here below, where our ascent
and descent follow nature’s law, was there
motion as swift as mine when I took wing.

So, reader, may I once again return
to those triumphant ranks—an end for which
I often beat my breast, weep for my sins—

more quickly than your finger can withdraw
from flame and be thrust into it, I saw,
and was within, the sign that follows Taurus.

O stars of glory, constellation steeped
in mighty force, all of my genius—
whatever be its worth—has you as source:

with you was born and under you was hidden
he who is father of all mortal lives,
when I first felt the air of Tuscany;

and then, when grace was granted me to enter
the high wheel that impels your revolutions,
your region was my fated point of entry.

To you my soul now sighs devotedly,
that it may gain the force for this attempt,
hard trial that now demands its every strength.

“You are so near the final blessedness,”
so Beatrice began, “that you have need
of vision clear and keen; and thus, before

you enter farther, do look downward, see
what I have set beneath your feet already:
much of the world is there. If you see that,

your heart may then present itself with all
the joy it can to the triumphant throng
that comes in gladness through this ether’s rounds.”

My eyes returned through all the seven spheres
and saw this globe in such a way that I
smiled at its scrawny image: I approve

that judgment as the best, which holds this earth
to be the least; and he whose thoughts are set
elsewhere, can truly be called virtuous.

I saw Latona’s daughter radiant,
without the shadow that had made me once
believe that she contained both rare and dense.

And there, Hyperion, I could sustain
the vision of your son, and saw Dione
and Maia as they circled nearby him.

The temperate Jupiter appeared to me
between his father and his son; and I
saw clearly how they vary their positions.

And all the seven heavens showed to me
their magnitudes, their speeds, the distances
of each from each. The little threshing floor

that so incites our savagery was all—
from hills to river mouths—revealed to me
while I wheeled with eternal Gemini.

My eyes then turned again to the fair eyes.

OPPRESSED with stupor, I unto my guide
Turned like a little child who always runs
For refuge there where he confideth most;

And she, even as a mother who straightway
Gives comfort to her pale and breathless boy
With voice whose wont it is to reassure him,

Said to me: “Knowest thou not thou art in heaven,
And knowest thou not that heaven is holy all
And what is lone here cometh from good zeal?

After what wise the singing would have changed thee
And I by smiling, thou canst now imagine,
Since that the cry has startled thee so much,

In which if thou hadst understood its prayers
Already would be known to thee the vengeance
Which thou shalt look upon before thou diest.

The sword above here smiteth not in haste
Nor tardily, howe’er it seem to him
Who fearing or desiring waits for it.

But turn thee round towards the others now,
For very illustrious spirits shalt thou see,
If thou thy sight directest as I say.”

As it seemed good to her mine eyes I turned,
And saw a hundred spherules that together
With mutual rays each other more embellished.

I stood as one who in himself represses
The point of his desire, and ventures not
To question, he so feareth the too much.

And now the largest and most luculent
Among those pearls came forward, that it might
Make my desire concerning it content.

Within it then I heard: “If thou couldst see
Even as myself the charity that burns
Among us, thy conceits would be expressed;

But, that by waiting thou mayst not come late
To the high end, I will make answer even
Unto the thought of which thou art so chary.

That mountain on whose slope Cassino stands
Was frequented of old upon its summit
By a deluded folk and ill—disposed;

And I am he who first up thither bore
The name of Him who brought upon the earth
The truth that so much sublimateth us.

And such abundant grace upon me shone
That all the neighbouring towns I drew away
From the impious worship that seduced the world.

These other fires, each one of them, were men
Contemplative, enkindled by that heat
Which maketh holy flowers and fruits spring up.

Here is Macarius, here is Romualdus,
Here are my brethren, who within the cloisters
Their footsteps stayed and kept a steadfast heart.”

And I to him: “The affection which thou showest
Speaking with me, and the good countenance
Which I behold and note in all your ardours,

In me have so my confidence dilated
As the sun doth the rose, when it becomes
As far unfolded as it hath the power.

Therefore I pray, and thou assure me, father,
If I may so much grace receive, that I
May thee behold with countenance unveiled.”

He thereupon: “Brother, thy high desire
In the remotest sphere shall be fulfilled,
Where are fulfilled all others and my own.

There perfect is, and ripened, and complete,
Every desire; within that one alone
Is every part where it has always been;

For it is not in space, nor turns on poles,
And unto it our stairway reaches up,
Whence thus from out thy sight it steals away.

Up to that height the Patriarch Jacob saw it
Extending its supernal part, what time
So thronged with angels it appeared to him.

But to ascend it now no one uplifts
His feet from off the earth, and now my Rule
Below remaineth for mere waste of paper.

The walls that used of old to be an Abbey
Are changed to dens of robbers, and the cowls
Are sacks filled full of miserable flour.

But heavy usury is not taken up
So much against God’s pleasure as that fruit
Which maketh so insane the heart of monks;

For whatsoever hath the Church in keeping
Is for the folk that ask it in God’s name, .
Not for one’s kindred or for something worse.

The flesh of mortals is so very soft,
That good beginnings down below suffice not
From springing of the oak to bearing acorns.

Peter began with neither gold nor silver,
And I with orison and abstinence,
And Francis with humility his convent.

And if thou lookest at each one’s beginning,
And then regardest whither he has run,
Thou shalt behold the white changed into brown.

In verity the Jordan backward turned,
And the sea’s fleeing, when God willed were more
A wonder to behold, than succour here.”

Thus unto me he said ; and then withdrew
To his own band, and the band closed together
Then like a whirlwind all was upward rapt.

The gentle Lady urged me on behind them
Up o’er that stairway by a single sign,
So did her virtue overcome my nature;

Nor here below, where one goes up and down
By natural law, was motion e’er so swift
That it could be compared unto my wing.

Reader, as I may unto that devout
Triumph return, on whose account I often
For my transgressions weep and beat my breast,—

Thou hadst not thrust thy finger in the fire
And drawn it out again, before I saw
The sign that follows Taurus, and was in it.

O glorious stars, O light impregnated
With mighty virtue, from which I acknowledge
All of my genius, whatsoe’er it be,

you was born, and hid himself with you,
He who is father of all mortal life,
When first I tasted of the Tuscan air;

then when grace was freely given to me
To enter the high wheel which turns you round,
Your region was allotted unto me.

To you devoutly at this hour my soul
Is sighing, that it virtue may acquire
For the stern pass that draws it to itself.

“Thou art so near unto the last salvation,”
Thus Beatrice began, “thou oughtest now
To have thine eves unclouded and acute

And therefore, ere thou enter farther in,
Look down once more, and see how vast a world
Thou hast already put beneath thy feet;

So that thy heart, as jocund as it may,
Present itself to the triumphant throng
That comes rejoicing through this rounded ether.”

with my sight returned through one and all
The sevenfold spheres, and I beheld this globe
Such that I smiled at its ignoble semblance

And that opinion I approve as best
Which doth account it least; and he who thinks
Of something else may truly be called just.

I saw the daughter of Latona shining
Without that shadow, which to me was cause
That once I had believed her rare and dense.

The aspect of thy son, Hyperion,
Here I sustained, and saw how move themselves
Around and near him Maia and Dione.

Thence there appeared the temperateness of Jove
‘Twixt son and father, and to me was clear
The change that of their whereabout they make

And all the seven made manifest to me
How great they are, and eke how swift they are,
And how they are in distant habitations.

The threshing—floor that maketh us so proud,
To me revolving with the eternal Twins,
Was all apparent made from hill to harbour!

Then to the beauteous eyes mine eyes I turned.