Gabriel’s Song

Paradiso 23 is a mystical canto. It does not engage in “plot” even in the minimal sense of plot in the Paradiso: there is no encounter with a soul or a dubbio that generates a lengthy discourse on a monastic order or on the papal curia, on good governance or social justice, on Florence or new wealth, on heredity, on the order of the universe, on human obligation and will, or on any of the manifold other topics that Dante has put before us.

There is, rather, an attempt to communicate the substance of the divine, and of an immediate (un-mediated) encounter with the divine. This encounter is such that it provokes in Dante an ecstasis menti, literally an ec-stasis, a “standing outside of the mind”: an ecstasy, a raptus, in which “la mente mia . . . fatta più grande, di se stessa uscìo” (my mind, having grown more expansive, went outside of itself [Par. 23.43-44]).

In this canto the pilgrim experiences visions: a vision of the Advent of Christ, a vision of Christ Himself, who appears as a sun and as a man, and a vision of the Virgin Mary and the Annunciation, all interwoven with sublime similes, invocations and prayers to the Transcendent Principle, and claims of poetic insufficiency.

Christ appears in His triumph, surrounded by all the souls he has redeemed:

e Beatrice disse: «Ecco le schiere 
del triunfo di Cristo e tutto ’l frutto 
ricolto del girar di queste spere!» 	(Par. 23.19-21)
And Beatrice said: “There you see the troops
of the triumphant Christ—and all the fruits
ingathered from the turning of these spheres!”

The pilgrim sees a sun that lights one thousand lamps (“un sol che tutte quante l’accendea” [29]), and within that living light he sees its “glowing substance” (“la lucente sustanza” [32]) so bright that that his gaze cannot sustain it:

vid’i’ sopra migliaia di lucerne
un sol che tutte quante l’accendea,
come fa ’l nostro le viste superne; 
e per la viva luce trasparea
la lucente sustanza tanto chiara
nel viso mio, che non la sostenea.  	(Par. 23.28-33)
I saw a sun above a thousand lamps;
it kindled all of them as does our sun
kindle the sights above us here on earth;
and through its living light the glowing Substance
appeared to me with such intensity—
my vision lacked the power to sustain it.

The “lucente sustanza” that Dante sees is Christ in His self: His substance is His essence is His ontological being and presence. Because he is looking at the Christ, the pilgrim does not have the power to sustain his gaze. Like the pilgrim’s vision, the poem jumps away, into a non sequitur, in this case into an exclamation: “Oh Beatrice, dolce guida e cara!” (O Beatrice, sweet guide and dear! [34]). The exclamation “Oh Beatrice, dolce guida e cara!” is one of the textual components that Dante uses to fracture the narrative line in Paradiso 23, along with apostrophes, metaphoric language and affective similes:

The anti-narrative textual components of Paradiso 23—apostrophes, exclamations, metaphoric language, and affective similes—are used by the poet to fracture his text; moments of plot are interrupted by an apostrophe, exclamation, or lyrical simile, deployed as a means of preventing a narrative line from forming. (The Undivine Comedy, p. 225)

The other key component is the ineffability topos. To this last category belongs one of the poem’s great metapoetic moments, which falls in the center of Paradiso 23. Dante says that his poem can no longer hold to its course, that it has to swerve, leap, jump, as “one whose path is cut off”:

e così, figurando il paradiso, 
convien saltar lo sacrato poema, 
come chi trova suo cammin riciso.	 (Par. 23.61-63)
And thus, in representing Paradise, 
the sacred poem has to leap across,
as does a man who finds his path cut off.

In other words, the linear narrative cammino of the poem, the narrative line that has been strung together in imitation of the pilgrim’s journey in which he encounters “le vite spiritali ad una ad una” (“the spiritual lives one by one” [Par. 33.24]), is now fractured. The narrative line is no longer sustainable, and so the sacred poem must jump.

In The Undivine Comedy I argue that this jumping discourse—this swerving into deliberate non sequitur—is programmatic, and that it constitutes Dante’s brilliant rhetorical response to the challenge of creating discourse in the rarified air of the high Paradiso.

The great metapoetic affirmation of poetic inadequacy cleaves Paradiso 23 in two: the vision of the Advent precedes it and the vision of the Annunciation follows it.

Toward the end of the canto Dante transcribes the very song sung by the angel Gabriel to the Virgin Mary, calling it a “circulata melodia” (Par. 23.109). In effect, Dante is giving us his own characterization of the “voce modesta / forse qual fu da l’angelo a Maria” (modest voice, perhaps much like the angel’s voice in speech to Mary) of Paradiso 14.35-36.

A supreme example of Dantean apparent simplicity, we notice that every verse of Gabriel’s song, comprising verses 103 to 108, is enjambed, but for the verse that ends the angel’s first tercet (verse 105). In other words, verses 103, 104, 106, and 107 are enjambed:

«Io sono amore angelico, che giro 
l’alta letizia che spira del ventre
che fu albergo del nostro disiro;  
e girerommi, donna del ciel, mentre 
che seguirai tuo figlio, e farai dia 
più la spera suprema perché lì entre». 
Così la circulata melodia
si sigillava, e tutti li altri lumi
facean sonare il nome di Maria.  	(Par. 23.103-11)
“I am angelic love who wheel around 
that high gladness inspired by the womb
that was the dwelling place of our Desire;
so shall I circle, Lady of Heaven, until 
you, following your Son, have made that sphere
supreme, still more divine by entering it.”
So did the circulating melody,
sealing itself, conclude; and all the other 
lights then resounded with the name of Mary.

Dante here uses enjambment to create the kind of circularized divine non-discursive discourse that he imagines to be proper to beings who do not use language, because they know everything in the mind of God and have no need for the form of communication language engages. He uses enjambment to create what he then calls a “circulata melodia” (109).

In scripting for Gabriel a “circulata melodia”, Dante also gives us an indicator of the kind of divine discursiveness at which he himself aims. In other words, the “circulata melodia” that Dante here creates for Gabriel is an apt descriptor for Paradiso 23 and for the special kind of language that becomes more evident as we come closer to the end of Paradiso.

Enjambment is a rhetorical trope that provides an excellent entry-point for understanding Dante’s linguistic and poetic goals at this point in the poem, for enjambment runs over the unit of verse and thereby unifies it to its successor, while at the same time somewhat compromising the syntax by not acknowledging and closing off the syntactic unit if it falls at the end of the line. As the word “enjambment” itself signifies, a “leg” (French “jambe”) is thrown over from one verse to the next, disabling the clear units of syntax but unifying the verses. Thus the result of enjambing is effectively to “circularize” or de-narrativize the verse.

In this way, enjambment is an analogue to other rhetorical moves that Dante employs in the Paradiso to circularize and de-narrativize his verse, such as hysteron proteron and chiasmus.

The narrative texture of Paradiso 23 can be understood as an example of enjambment writ large. The constant fracturing of the narrative cammino—the constant forcing of the poem to “jump, as one who finds his path cut off” (62-63), the jumping from plot to invocation to apostrophe to simile to some more plot followed by another simile and another apostrophe—results in poetry that has been circularized and de-narrativized.

In fact, Paradiso 23 is in effect a large-scale circulata melodia. Or, to reverse: circulata melodia is the small-scale emblem of the linguistic experiment that is Paradiso 23. For the entire canto is, as I note in The Undivine Comedy, “a kind of macro-enjambment”:

The circulata melodia that describes both the angel’s circling movement and his song is an apt if untranslatable label for the entire canto, itself a “circulated melody.” For the result of fracturing the discourse, of jumping about rhetorically—from plot to invocation to apostrophe to a simile to some more plot followed by another simile and another apostrophe—is, paradoxically enough (in an effect similar to that produced, on a local scale, by enjambment), to create a peculiarly unified or equalized linguistic texture: a texture from which disagguaglianza has been to some degree banished, a circulata melodia. The jumping discourse that governs canto 23 could be seen as a kind of macro-enjambment: enjambment operating not between individual verses but between segments of a canto. The jumping discourse is obtained by way of a poetics of enjambment, by way of a rupture that unifies. Canto 23 is in fact a strangely cohesive text, one that could be plucked entire out of the narrative fabric of the Commedia. Its unity is conferred by its lack of easy divisibility, its defiance of linear narrativity, in a word, by the fact that it jumps.
(The Undivine Comedy, pp. 228-29)

The last verse of this canto is a periphrasis referring to Saint Peter, “colui che tien le chiavi di tal gloria” (he who is keeper of the keys of glory [Par. 23.139]), and is already an introduction to the very different tone—the return to linear narrativity and discursivity—that will dominate the “examination cantos” that follow.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 10, “The Sacred Poem is Forced to Jump: Closure and the Poetics of Enjambment,” pp. 223-29. I devote an atypical number of pages to Paradiso 23, because it is the epitome of Paradiso’s “anti-narrative” mode, the mode used by Dante in markedly mystical sections of the poem. In fact, you will note that the title of Chapter 10 of The Undivine Comedy, “The Sacred Poem Is Forced to Jump,” derives from Paradiso 23.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 23: Gabriel’s Song.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-23/

About the Commento

1Come l’augello, intra l’amate fronde,
2posato al nido de’ suoi dolci nati
3la notte che le cose ci nasconde,

4che, per veder li aspetti disïati
5e per trovar lo cibo onde li pasca,
6in che gravi labor li sono aggrati,

7previene il tempo in su aperta frasca,
8e con ardente affetto il sole aspetta,
9fiso guardando pur che l’alba nasca;

10così la donna mïa stava eretta
11e attenta, rivolta inver’ la plaga
12sotto la quale il sol mostra men fretta:

13sì che, veggendola io sospesa e vaga,
14fecimi qual è quei che disïando
15altro vorria, e sperando s’appaga.

16Ma poco fu tra uno e altro quando,
17del mio attender, dico, e del vedere
18lo ciel venir più e più rischiarando;

19e Bëatrice disse: «Ecco le schiere
20del trïunfo di Cristo e tutto ’l frutto
21ricolto del girar di queste spere!».

22Pariemi che ’l suo viso ardesse tutto,
23e li occhi avea di letizia sì pieni,
24che passarmen convien sanza costrutto.

25Quale ne’ plenilunïi sereni
26Trivïa ride tra le ninfe etterne
27che dipingon lo ciel per tutti i seni,

28vid’ i’ sopra migliaia di lucerne
29un sol che tutte quante l’accendea,
30come fa ’l nostro le viste superne;

31e per la viva luce trasparea
32la lucente sustanza tanto chiara
33nel viso mio, che non la sostenea.

34Oh Bëatrice, dolce guida e cara!
35Ella mi disse: «Quel che ti sobranza
36è virtù da cui nulla si ripara.

37Quivi è la sapïenza e la possanza
38ch’aprì le strade tra ’l cielo e la terra,
39onde fu già sì lunga disïanza».

40Come foco di nube si diserra
41per dilatarsi sì che non vi cape,
42e fuor di sua natura in giù s’atterra,

43la mente mia così, tra quelle dape
44fatta più grande, di sé stessa uscìo,
45e che si fesse rimembrar non sape.

46«Apri li occhi e riguarda qual son io;
47tu hai vedute cose, che possente
48se’ fatto a sostener lo riso mio».

49Io era come quei che si risente
50di visïone oblita e che s’ingegna
51indarno di ridurlasi a la mente,

52quand’ io udi’ questa proferta, degna
53di tanto grato, che mai non si stingue
54del libro che ’l preterito rassegna.

55Se mo sonasser tutte quelle lingue
56che Polimnïa con le suore fero
57del latte lor dolcissimo più pingue,

58per aiutarmi, al millesmo del vero
59non si verria, cantando il santo riso
60e quanto il santo aspetto facea mero;

61e così, figurando il paradiso,
62convien saltar lo sacrato poema,
63come chi trova suo cammin riciso.

64Ma chi pensasse il ponderoso tema
65e l’omero mortal che se ne carca,
66nol biasmerebbe se sott’ esso trema:

67non è pareggio da picciola barca
68quel che fendendo va l’ardita prora,
69né da nocchier ch’a sé medesmo parca.

70«Perché la faccia mia sì t’innamora,
71che tu non ti rivolgi al bel giardino
72che sotto i raggi di Cristo s’infiora?

73Quivi è la rosa in che ’l verbo divino
74carne si fece; quivi son li gigli
75al cui odor si prese il buon cammino».

76Così Beatrice; e io, che a’ suoi consigli
77tutto era pronto, ancora mi rendei
78a la battaglia de’ debili cigli.

79Come a raggio di sol, che puro mei
80per fratta nube, già prato di fiori
81vider, coverti d’ombra, li occhi miei;

82vid’ io così più turbe di splendori,
83folgorate di sù da raggi ardenti,
84sanza veder principio di folgóri.

85O benigna vertù che sì li ’mprenti,
86sù t’essaltasti, per largirmi loco
87a li occhi lì che non t’eran possenti.

88Il nome del bel fior ch’io sempre invoco
89e mane e sera, tutto mi ristrinse
90l’animo ad avvisar lo maggior foco;

91e come ambo le luci mi dipinse
92il quale e il quanto de la viva stella
93che là sù vince come qua giù vinse,

94per entro il cielo scese una facella,
95formata in cerchio a guisa di corona,
96e cinsela e girossi intorno ad ella.

97Qualunque melodia più dolce suona
98qua giù e più a sé l’anima tira,
99parrebbe nube che squarciata tona,

100comparata al sonar di quella lira
101onde si coronava il bel zaffiro
102del quale il ciel più chiaro s’inzaffira.

103«Io sono amore angelico, che giro
104l’alta letizia che spira del ventre
105che fu albergo del nostro disiro;

106e girerommi, donna del ciel, mentre
107che seguirai tuo figlio, e farai dia
108più la spera suprema perché lì entre».

109Così la circulata melodia
110si sigillava, e tutti li altri lumi
111facean sonare il nome di Maria.

112Lo real manto di tutti i volumi
113del mondo, che più ferve e più s’avviva
114ne l’alito di Dio e nei costumi,

115avea sopra di noi l’interna riva
116tanto distante, che la sua parvenza,
117là dov’ io era, ancor non appariva:

118però non ebber li occhi miei potenza
119di seguitar la coronata fiamma
120che si levò appresso sua semenza.

121E come fantolin che ’nver’ la mamma
122tende le braccia, poi che ’l latte prese,
123per l’animo che ’nfin di fuor s’infiamma;

124ciascun di quei candori in sù si stese
125con la sua cima, sì che l’alto affetto
126ch’elli avieno a Maria mi fu palese.

127Indi rimaser lì nel mio cospetto,
128‘Regina celi’ cantando sì dolce,
129che mai da me non si partì ’l diletto.

130Oh quanta è l’ubertà che si soffolce
131in quelle arche ricchissime che fuoro
132a seminar qua giù buone bobolce!

133Quivi si vive e gode del tesoro
134che s’acquistò piangendo ne lo essilio
135di Babillòn, ove si lasciò l’oro.

136Quivi trïunfa, sotto l’alto Filio
137di Dio e di Maria, di sua vittoria,
138e con l’antico e col novo concilio,

139colui che tien le chiavi di tal gloria.

As does the bird, among beloved branches,
when, through the night that hides things from us, she
has rested near the nest of her sweet fledglings

and, on an open branch, anticipates
the time when she can see their longed—for faces
and find the food with which to feed them—chore

that pleases her, however hard her labors—
as she awaits the sun with warm affection,
steadfastly watching for the dawn to break:

so did my lady stand, erect, intent,
turned toward that part of heaven under which
the sun is given to less haste; so that,

as I saw her in longing and suspense,
I grew to be as one who, while he wants
what is not his, is satisfied with hope.

But time between one and the other when
was brief—I mean the whens of waiting and
of seeing heaven grow more radiant.

And Beatrice said: “There you see the troops
of the triumphant Christ—and all the fruits
ingathered from the turning of these spheres!”

It seemed to me her face was all aflame,
and there was so much gladness in her eyes—
I am compelled to leave it undescribed.

Like Trivia—at the full moon in clear skies—
smiling among the everlasting nymphs who
decorate all reaches of the sky,

I saw a sun above a thousand lamps;
it kindled all of them as does our sun
kindle the sights above us here on earth;

and through its living light the glowing Substance
appeared to me with such intensity—
my vision lacked the power to sustain it.

O Beatrice, sweet guide and dear! She said
to me: “What overwhelms you is a Power
against which nothing can defend itself.

This is the Wisdom and the Potency
that opened roads between the earth and Heaven,
the paths for which desire had long since waited.”

Even as lightning breaking from a cloud,
expanding so that it cannot be pent,
against its nature, down to earth, descends,

so did my mind, confronted by that feast,
expand; and it was carried past itself—
what it became, it cannot recollect.

“Open your eyes and see what I now am;
the things you witnessed will have made you strong
enough to bear the power of my smile.”

I was as one who, waking from a dream
he has forgotten, tries in vain to bring
that vision back into his memory,

when I heard what she offered me, deserving
of so much gratitude that it can never
be canceled from the book that tells the past.

If all the tongues that Polyhymnia
together with her sisters made most rich
with sweetest milk, should come now to assist

my singing of the holy smile that lit
the holy face of Beatrice, the truth
would not be reached—not its one—thousandth part.

And thus, in representing Paradise,
the sacred poem has to leap across,
as does a man who finds his path cut off.

But he who thinks upon the weighty theme,
and on the mortal shoulder bearing it,
will lay no blame if, burdened so, I tremble:

this is no crossing for a little bark—
the sea that my audacious prow now cleaves—
nor for a helmsman who would spare himself.

“Why are you so enraptured by my face
as to deny your eyes the sight of that
fair garden blossoming beneath Christ’s rays?

The Rose in which the Word of God became
flesh grows within that garden; there—the lilies
whose fragrance let men find the righteous way.”

Thus Beatrice, and I—completely ready
to do what she might counsel—once again
took up the battle of my feeble brows.

Under a ray of sun that, limpid, streams
down from a broken cloud, my eyes have seen,
while shade was shielding them, a flowered meadow;

so I saw many troops of splendors here
lit from above by burning rays of light,
but where those rays began was not in sight.

O kindly Power that imprints them thus,
you rose on high to leave space for my eyes—
for where I was, they were too weak to see You!

The name of that fair flower which I always
invoke, at morning and at evening, drew
my mind completely to the greatest flame.

And when, on both my eye—lights, were depicted
the force and nature of the living star
that conquers heaven as it conquered earth,

descending through that sky there came a torch,
forming a ring that seemed as if a crown:
wheeling around her—a revolving garland.

Whatever melody most sweetly sounds
on earth, and to itself most draws the soul,
would seem a cloud that, torn by lightning, thunders,

if likened to the music of that lyre
which sounded from the crown of that fair sapphire,
the brightest light that has ensapphired heaven.

“I am angelic love who wheel around
that high gladness inspired by the womb
that was the dwelling place of our Desire;

so shall I circle, Lady of Heaven, until
you, following your Son, have made that sphere
supreme, still more divine by entering it.”

So did the circulating melody,
sealing itself, conclude; and all the other
lights then resounded with the name of Mary.

The royal cloak of all the wheeling spheres
within the universe, the heaven most
intense, alive, most burning in the breath

of God and in His laws and ordinance,
was far above us at its inner shore,
so distant that it still lay out of sight

from that point where I was; and thus my eyes
possessed no power to follow that crowned flame,
which mounted upward, following her Son.

And like an infant who, when it has taken
its milk, extends its arms out to its mother,
its feeling kindling into outward flame,

each of those blessed splendors stretched its peak
upward, so that the deep affection each
possessed for Mary was made plain to me.

Then they remained within my sight, singing
“Regina coeli” with such tenderness
that my delight in that has never left me.

Oh, in those richest coffers, what abundance
is garnered up for those who, while below,
on earth, were faithful workers when they sowed!

Here do they live, delighting in the treasure
they earned with tears in Babylonian
exile, where they had no concern for gold.

Here, under the high Son of God and Mary,
together with the ancient and the new
councils, he triumphs in his victory—

he who is keeper of the keys of glory.

EVEN as a bird, ‘mid the beloved leaves,
Quiet upon the nest of her sweet brood
Throughout the night, that hideth all things from us,

Who, that she may behold their longed—for looks
And find the food wherewith to nourish them,
In which, to her, grave labours grateful are,

Anticipates the time on open spray
And with an ardent longing waits the sun,
Gazing intent as soon as breaks the dawn:

Even thus my Lady standing was, erect
And vigilant, turned round towards the zone
Underneath which the sun displays less haste;

So that beholding her distraught and wistful,
Such I became as he is who desiring
For something yearns, and hoping is appeased.

But brief the space from one When to the other;
Of my awaiting, say I, and the seeing
The welkin grow resplendent more and more.

And Beatrice exclaimed: “Behold the hosts
Of Christ’s triumphal march, and all the fruit
Harvested by the rolling of these spheres!”

It seemed to me her face was all aflame;
And eyes she had so full of ecstasy
That I must needs pass on without describing.

As when in nights serene of the full moon
Smiles Trivia among the nymphs eternal
Who paint the firmament through all its gulfs,

Saw I, above the myriads of lamps,
A Sun that one and all of them enkindled,
E’en as our own doth the supernal sights,

And through the living light transparent shone
‘The lucent substance so intensely clear
Into my sight, that I sustained it not.

O Beatrice, thou gentle guide and dear!
To me she said: “What overmasters thee
A virtue is from which naught shields itself

There are the wisdom and the omnipotence
That oped the thoroughfares ‘twixt heaven and earth,
For which there erst had been so long a yearning.”

As fire from out a cloud unlocks itself,
Dilating so it finds not room therein,
And down, against its nature, falls to earth,

So did my mind, among those aliments
Becoming larger, issue from itself,
And that which it became cannot remember.

“Open thine eyes, and look at what I am:
Thou hast beheld such things, that strong enough
Hast thou become to tolerate my smile.”

I was as one who still retains the feeling
Of a forgotten vision, and endeavours
In vain to bring it back into his mind,

When I this invitation heard, deserving
Of so much gratitude, it never fades
out of the book that chronicles the past.

If at this moment sounded all the tongues
That Polyhymnia and her sisters made
Most lubrical with their delicious milk,

To aid me, to a thousandth of the truth
It would not reach, singing the holy smile
And how the holy aspect it illumed.

And therefore, representing Paradise,
The sacred poem must perforce leap over,
Even as a man who finds his way cut off;

But whoso thinketh of the ponderous theme,
And of the mortal shoulder laden with it
Should blame it not, if under this it tremble.

It is no passage for a little boat
This which goes cleaving the audacious prow,
Nor for a pilot who would spare himself.

“Why doth my face so much enamour thee,
That to the garden fair thou turnest not,
Which under the rays of Christ is blossoming ?

There is the Rose in which the Word Divine
Became incarnate; there the lilies are
By whose perfume the good way was discovered.”

Thus Beatrice; and I, who to her counsels
Was wholly ready, once again betook me
Unto the battle of the feeble brows.

As in the sunshine, that unsullied streams
Through fractured cloud, ere now a meadow of flowers
Mine eyes with shadow covered o’er have seen,

So troops of splendours manifold I saw
Illumined from above with burning rays,
Beholding not the source of the effulgence.

O power benignant that dost so imprint them!
Thou didst exalt thyself to give more scope
There to mine eyes, that were not strong enough.

The name of that fair flower I e’er invoke
Morning and evening utterly enthralled
My soul to gaze upon the greater fire.

And when in both mine eyes depicted were
The glory and greatness of the living star
Which there excelleth, as it here excelled,

Athwart the heavens a little torch descended
Formed in a circle like a coronal,
And cinctured it, and whirled itself about it.

Whatever melody most sweetly soundeth
On earth, and to itself most draws the soul,
Would seem a cloud that, rent asunder, thunders,

Compared unto the sounding of that Iyre
Wherewith was crowned the sapphire beautiful,
Which gives the clearest heaven its sapphire hue.

“I am Angelic Love, that circle round
The joy sublime which breathes from out the womb
That was the hostelry of our Desire;

And I shall circle, Lady of Heaven, while
Thou followest thy Son, and mak’st diviner
The sphere supreme, because thou enterest there.”

Thus did the circulated melody
Seal itself up; and all the other lights
Were making to resound the name of Mary.

The regal mantle of the volumes all
Of that world, which most fervid is and living
With breath of God and with his works and ways,

Extended over us its inner border,
So very distant, that the semblance of it
There where I was not yet appeared to me.

Therefore mine eyes did not possess the power
Of following the incoronated flame.
Which mounted upward near to its own seed.

And as a little child, that towards its mother
Stretches its arms, when it the milk has taken,
Through impulse kindled into outward flame,

Each of those gleams of whiteness upward reached
So with its summit, that the deep affection
They had for Mary was revealed to me.

Thereafter they remained there in my sight,
_Regina coeli_ singing with such sweetness,
That ne’er from me has the delight departed.

O, what exuberance is garnered up
Within those richest coffers, which had been
Good husbandmen for sowing here below!

There they enjoy and live upon the treasure
Which was acquired while weeping in the exile
Of Babylon, wherein the gold was left.

There triumpheth, beneath the exalted Son
Of God and Mary, in his victory,
Both with the ancient council and the new,

He who doth keep the keys of such a glory.

As does the bird, among beloved branches,
when, through the night that hides things from us, she
has rested near the nest of her sweet fledglings

and, on an open branch, anticipates
the time when she can see their longed—for faces
and find the food with which to feed them—chore

that pleases her, however hard her labors—
as she awaits the sun with warm affection,
steadfastly watching for the dawn to break:

so did my lady stand, erect, intent,
turned toward that part of heaven under which
the sun is given to less haste; so that,

as I saw her in longing and suspense,
I grew to be as one who, while he wants
what is not his, is satisfied with hope.

But time between one and the other when
was brief—I mean the whens of waiting and
of seeing heaven grow more radiant.

And Beatrice said: “There you see the troops
of the triumphant Christ—and all the fruits
ingathered from the turning of these spheres!”

It seemed to me her face was all aflame,
and there was so much gladness in her eyes—
I am compelled to leave it undescribed.

Like Trivia—at the full moon in clear skies—
smiling among the everlasting nymphs who
decorate all reaches of the sky,

I saw a sun above a thousand lamps;
it kindled all of them as does our sun
kindle the sights above us here on earth;

and through its living light the glowing Substance
appeared to me with such intensity—
my vision lacked the power to sustain it.

O Beatrice, sweet guide and dear! She said
to me: “What overwhelms you is a Power
against which nothing can defend itself.

This is the Wisdom and the Potency
that opened roads between the earth and Heaven,
the paths for which desire had long since waited.”

Even as lightning breaking from a cloud,
expanding so that it cannot be pent,
against its nature, down to earth, descends,

so did my mind, confronted by that feast,
expand; and it was carried past itself—
what it became, it cannot recollect.

“Open your eyes and see what I now am;
the things you witnessed will have made you strong
enough to bear the power of my smile.”

I was as one who, waking from a dream
he has forgotten, tries in vain to bring
that vision back into his memory,

when I heard what she offered me, deserving
of so much gratitude that it can never
be canceled from the book that tells the past.

If all the tongues that Polyhymnia
together with her sisters made most rich
with sweetest milk, should come now to assist

my singing of the holy smile that lit
the holy face of Beatrice, the truth
would not be reached—not its one—thousandth part.

And thus, in representing Paradise,
the sacred poem has to leap across,
as does a man who finds his path cut off.

But he who thinks upon the weighty theme,
and on the mortal shoulder bearing it,
will lay no blame if, burdened so, I tremble:

this is no crossing for a little bark—
the sea that my audacious prow now cleaves—
nor for a helmsman who would spare himself.

“Why are you so enraptured by my face
as to deny your eyes the sight of that
fair garden blossoming beneath Christ’s rays?

The Rose in which the Word of God became
flesh grows within that garden; there—the lilies
whose fragrance let men find the righteous way.”

Thus Beatrice, and I—completely ready
to do what she might counsel—once again
took up the battle of my feeble brows.

Under a ray of sun that, limpid, streams
down from a broken cloud, my eyes have seen,
while shade was shielding them, a flowered meadow;

so I saw many troops of splendors here
lit from above by burning rays of light,
but where those rays began was not in sight.

O kindly Power that imprints them thus,
you rose on high to leave space for my eyes—
for where I was, they were too weak to see You!

The name of that fair flower which I always
invoke, at morning and at evening, drew
my mind completely to the greatest flame.

And when, on both my eye—lights, were depicted
the force and nature of the living star
that conquers heaven as it conquered earth,

descending through that sky there came a torch,
forming a ring that seemed as if a crown:
wheeling around her—a revolving garland.

Whatever melody most sweetly sounds
on earth, and to itself most draws the soul,
would seem a cloud that, torn by lightning, thunders,

if likened to the music of that lyre
which sounded from the crown of that fair sapphire,
the brightest light that has ensapphired heaven.

“I am angelic love who wheel around
that high gladness inspired by the womb
that was the dwelling place of our Desire;

so shall I circle, Lady of Heaven, until
you, following your Son, have made that sphere
supreme, still more divine by entering it.”

So did the circulating melody,
sealing itself, conclude; and all the other
lights then resounded with the name of Mary.

The royal cloak of all the wheeling spheres
within the universe, the heaven most
intense, alive, most burning in the breath

of God and in His laws and ordinance,
was far above us at its inner shore,
so distant that it still lay out of sight

from that point where I was; and thus my eyes
possessed no power to follow that crowned flame,
which mounted upward, following her Son.

And like an infant who, when it has taken
its milk, extends its arms out to its mother,
its feeling kindling into outward flame,

each of those blessed splendors stretched its peak
upward, so that the deep affection each
possessed for Mary was made plain to me.

Then they remained within my sight, singing
“Regina coeli” with such tenderness
that my delight in that has never left me.

Oh, in those richest coffers, what abundance
is garnered up for those who, while below,
on earth, were faithful workers when they sowed!

Here do they live, delighting in the treasure
they earned with tears in Babylonian
exile, where they had no concern for gold.

Here, under the high Son of God and Mary,
together with the ancient and the new
councils, he triumphs in his victory—

he who is keeper of the keys of glory.

EVEN as a bird, ‘mid the beloved leaves,
Quiet upon the nest of her sweet brood
Throughout the night, that hideth all things from us,

Who, that she may behold their longed—for looks
And find the food wherewith to nourish them,
In which, to her, grave labours grateful are,

Anticipates the time on open spray
And with an ardent longing waits the sun,
Gazing intent as soon as breaks the dawn:

Even thus my Lady standing was, erect
And vigilant, turned round towards the zone
Underneath which the sun displays less haste;

So that beholding her distraught and wistful,
Such I became as he is who desiring
For something yearns, and hoping is appeased.

But brief the space from one When to the other;
Of my awaiting, say I, and the seeing
The welkin grow resplendent more and more.

And Beatrice exclaimed: “Behold the hosts
Of Christ’s triumphal march, and all the fruit
Harvested by the rolling of these spheres!”

It seemed to me her face was all aflame;
And eyes she had so full of ecstasy
That I must needs pass on without describing.

As when in nights serene of the full moon
Smiles Trivia among the nymphs eternal
Who paint the firmament through all its gulfs,

Saw I, above the myriads of lamps,
A Sun that one and all of them enkindled,
E’en as our own doth the supernal sights,

And through the living light transparent shone
‘The lucent substance so intensely clear
Into my sight, that I sustained it not.

O Beatrice, thou gentle guide and dear!
To me she said: “What overmasters thee
A virtue is from which naught shields itself

There are the wisdom and the omnipotence
That oped the thoroughfares ‘twixt heaven and earth,
For which there erst had been so long a yearning.”

As fire from out a cloud unlocks itself,
Dilating so it finds not room therein,
And down, against its nature, falls to earth,

So did my mind, among those aliments
Becoming larger, issue from itself,
And that which it became cannot remember.

“Open thine eyes, and look at what I am:
Thou hast beheld such things, that strong enough
Hast thou become to tolerate my smile.”

I was as one who still retains the feeling
Of a forgotten vision, and endeavours
In vain to bring it back into his mind,

When I this invitation heard, deserving
Of so much gratitude, it never fades
out of the book that chronicles the past.

If at this moment sounded all the tongues
That Polyhymnia and her sisters made
Most lubrical with their delicious milk,

To aid me, to a thousandth of the truth
It would not reach, singing the holy smile
And how the holy aspect it illumed.

And therefore, representing Paradise,
The sacred poem must perforce leap over,
Even as a man who finds his way cut off;

But whoso thinketh of the ponderous theme,
And of the mortal shoulder laden with it
Should blame it not, if under this it tremble.

It is no passage for a little boat
This which goes cleaving the audacious prow,
Nor for a pilot who would spare himself.

“Why doth my face so much enamour thee,
That to the garden fair thou turnest not,
Which under the rays of Christ is blossoming ?

There is the Rose in which the Word Divine
Became incarnate; there the lilies are
By whose perfume the good way was discovered.”

Thus Beatrice; and I, who to her counsels
Was wholly ready, once again betook me
Unto the battle of the feeble brows.

As in the sunshine, that unsullied streams
Through fractured cloud, ere now a meadow of flowers
Mine eyes with shadow covered o’er have seen,

So troops of splendours manifold I saw
Illumined from above with burning rays,
Beholding not the source of the effulgence.

O power benignant that dost so imprint them!
Thou didst exalt thyself to give more scope
There to mine eyes, that were not strong enough.

The name of that fair flower I e’er invoke
Morning and evening utterly enthralled
My soul to gaze upon the greater fire.

And when in both mine eyes depicted were
The glory and greatness of the living star
Which there excelleth, as it here excelled,

Athwart the heavens a little torch descended
Formed in a circle like a coronal,
And cinctured it, and whirled itself about it.

Whatever melody most sweetly soundeth
On earth, and to itself most draws the soul,
Would seem a cloud that, rent asunder, thunders,

Compared unto the sounding of that Iyre
Wherewith was crowned the sapphire beautiful,
Which gives the clearest heaven its sapphire hue.

“I am Angelic Love, that circle round
The joy sublime which breathes from out the womb
That was the hostelry of our Desire;

And I shall circle, Lady of Heaven, while
Thou followest thy Son, and mak’st diviner
The sphere supreme, because thou enterest there.”

Thus did the circulated melody
Seal itself up; and all the other lights
Were making to resound the name of Mary.

The regal mantle of the volumes all
Of that world, which most fervid is and living
With breath of God and with his works and ways,

Extended over us its inner border,
So very distant, that the semblance of it
There where I was not yet appeared to me.

Therefore mine eyes did not possess the power
Of following the incoronated flame.
Which mounted upward near to its own seed.

And as a little child, that towards its mother
Stretches its arms, when it the milk has taken,
Through impulse kindled into outward flame,

Each of those gleams of whiteness upward reached
So with its summit, that the deep affection
They had for Mary was revealed to me.

Thereafter they remained there in my sight,
_Regina coeli_ singing with such sweetness,
That ne’er from me has the delight departed.

O, what exuberance is garnered up
Within those richest coffers, which had been
Good husbandmen for sowing here below!

There they enjoy and live upon the treasure
Which was acquired while weeping in the exile
Of Babylon, wherein the gold was left.

There triumpheth, beneath the exalted Son
Of God and Mary, in his victory,
Both with the ancient council and the new,

He who doth keep the keys of such a glory.