Love Bites And Adam Speaks

Paradiso 26 falls into two parts: the first part consists of Saint John’s examination of Dante on charity/love, and the second consists of Dante’s encounter with Adam.

At the end of Paradiso 25 Dante stares at the refulgent light of Saint John, trying to ascertain whether Saint John already has his body, as Christ already has His, the “lucente sustanza” of Paradiso 23.32. As though he were staring at the sun in an eclipse, gazing at Saint John causes Dante to go blind. He is like someone who, wishing to see, becomes sightless: “che, per veder, non vedente diventa” (Par. 25.120).

Paradiso 26 picks up with Dante worried about his extinguished sight, “lo viso spento” (1), and a reassurance from Saint John, who tells him that Beatrice will be able to restore his sight and exhorts him to compensate for his present lack of vision by speaking (6).

As the opening question in the examination on love, Saint John asks Dante “at what target does your soul aim”: “ove s’appunta / l’anima tua” (7-8). The answer, of course, is that God is the beginning and ending—the Alpha and Omega—of Dante’s desire:

Lo ben che fa contenta questa corte,
Alfa e O è di quanta scrittura
mi legge Amore o lievemente o forte.	 (Par. 26.16-18)
The good with which this court is satisfied
is Alpha and Omega of all writings
that Love has—loud or low—read out to me.

Saint John follows up by asking “who directed your bow to such a target”: “chi drizzò l’arco tuo a tal berzaglio” (24). The pilgrim’s answer to the second query will return us to the textual authorities rehearsed so copiously in Paradiso 24 and 25: each examination canto has reiterated that the authorities are both classical philosophers, especially Aristotle, and Scripture.

In Paradiso 26 Dante states that he received his direction from “filosofici argomenti / e per autorità che quinci scende”: “from philosophical arguments and from authority that comes down from up here” (25-26), in other words, the bow of Dante’s love has been directed by philosophy (Aristotle) and by revelation (Scripture). This same set of authorities is repeated and unpacked further in the passage that follows verse 38: verses 38-39 refer most likely to Aristotle, and then there is a reference first to the Old Testament (40-42) and then to the New Testament (43-45):

Tal vero a l’intelletto mio sterne
colui che mi dimostra il primo amore
di tutte le sustanze sempiterne. 
Sternel la voce del verace autore,
che dice a Moisè, di sé parlando: 
«Io ti farò vedere ogne valore».
Sternilmi tu ancora, incominciando
l’alto preconio che grida l’arcano
di qui là giù sovra ogne altro bando.	 (Par. 26.37-45)
My mind discerns this truth, made plain by him
who demonstrates to me that the first love
of the eternal beings is their Maker.
The voice of the true Author states this, too,
where He tells Moses, speaking of Himself: 
“I shall show you all goodness.” You reveal 
this, too, when you begin your high Evangel,
which more than any other proclamation
cries out to earth the mystery of Heaven.

Thus, each terzina of the passage cited above refers to a written authority. The first terzina refers to a philosopher, difficult to pinpoint because of the generic nature of the ideas cited, but most likely Aristotle; the second terzina refers to the Old Testament, citing God’s voice speaking to Moses in Exodus 33:19; the third terzina refers to the New Testament. Since the pilgrim is addressing Saint John and referring to “your high Evangel”, he is indicating either the Gospel of John or the Apocalypse. The Apocalypse has already been cited in the reference to Alpha and O[mega] in verse 17 of this canto.

The third question of the examination on love deploys the language of eros, indeed the language of Dante’s most erotic lyrics, the rime petrose. Saint John asks “con quanti denti questo amor ti morde” (Par. 26.51): “with how many teeth does this love bite you?” The poet is echoing the erotic aggression of his canzone Così nel mio parlar voglio esser aspro, where too “the teeth of love” are featured: “co li denti d’Amor già mi manduca” (Così nel mio parlar 32). This transposition is a beautiful example of the way that Paradiso recuperates the language of eros in the treatment of caritas, as discussed in my essay “Toward a Dantean Theology of Eros”.

The examination on love ends in verse 66.

The Commedia is made of many encounters, as the pilgrim meets soul after soul on his journey through the afterlife. His last encounter is with Adam, the first human being, a combination of first with last that seems to be Paradiso 26’s narratological version of the universal Alpha and Omega.

In a common dynamic of Paradiso, Adam is able to intuit Dante’s questions (his “voglia” or desire in verses 95 and 104) without the pilgrim having to express them. Dante’s four questions are articulated by Adam in verses 109-14:

  1. how much time has passed since God placed Adam in the Garden of Eden, i.e. how much time has elapsed since creation;
  2. how much time did Adam spend in the Garden of Eden;
  3. the true cause of God’s anger at Adam, i.e. the true cause of original sin;
  4. the language that Adam used and made.

Needless to say, the answers to these questions are exceptionally important.

Adam answers the third question first. The pilgrim’s desire to know “la propria cagion del gran disdegno” (the true cause of God’s great anger [113]), calls forth a quintessentially Ulyssean terzina, one moreover that offers the necessary gloss to Inferno 26.108: “dov’ Ercule segnò li suoi riguardi” (where Hercules set up his boundary stones).

Adam explains that his exile from the Garden of Eden was caused not by the eating of the tree but by the trespass of the boundary placed by God:

Or, figluol mio, non il gustar del legno
fu per sé la cagion di tanto essilio,
ma solamente il trapassar del segno.  	(Par. 26.115-17)
My son, the cause of my long exile did not lie
within the act of tasting of the tree,
but solely in my trespass of the boundary.

Of course, the information that Adam’s sin was not in the literal act of eating but in the trespass that it signified is not new. The metaphorical expansiveness of the sins of incontinence is a hermeneutic staple of the second half of Purgatorio, culminating in Purgatorio 32, where the griffin is celebrated for having resisted eating of the tree (Purg. 32.43-45). And, in Purgatorio 33, we learn of the “interdetto” placed by God upon the tree (Purg. 33.71), and the tree is glossed “moralmente” (Purg. 33.72) in terms of the limits it represents, the obedience it exacts, and the consequent justice of the punishment meted to those who transgress. In short, the temptation to which Adam and Ulysses succumb is the temptation that the griffin resists.

We have known long before arriving at Paradiso 26, therefore, that Adam’s sin, recast in Dante’s personal mythography as Ulysses’ sin, was transgression: “il trapassar del segno” (Par. 26.117). There is nonetheless great satisfaction in having Adam speak so clearly, and in language that concisely ties Adamic trespass to the Ulyssean lexicon of Inferno 26. And the sense of tying up the threads continues into the next canto, Paradiso 27, where Dante will refer to “Ulisse” by name one more time.

Looking at the four questions that the pilgrim puts to Adam, we see that they can be grouped as follows: questions 1, 2, and 4 deal with temporality and the corruptibility of all that exists in time, and question 3 deals with the root cause, from a Christian perspective, of that corruptibility, which is the fall and original sin.

We remember the bleak lesson of Paradiso 16.79: “Le vostre cose tutte hanno lor morte” (All things that you possess, possess their death). All things that are possessed and made by humans are corruptible and mortal. In the Introduction to Paradiso 16 I noted that “vostre cose” of verse 79 include:

  • cities (Luni, Urbisaglia, in Par. 16.73-75)
  • family lineages (“le schiatte” in Par. 16.76)
  • language (the emphasis on Cacciaguida’s earlier form of Florentine in Paradiso 15)

The corruptibility of language is specifically highlighted in the pilgrim’s fourth question to Adam, in which Dante desires to know from the father of humanity about the language that he used and constructed: as Adam puts it, “l’idioma ch’usai e che fei” (what idiom I used and shaped [Par. 26.114]).

In Paradiso 26 Adam affirms the radical mortality of all language, a human creation, and he includes his own language—Hebrew—among the mortal things that are condemned to change and die. Adam’s inclusion of Hebrew is notable, because Dante is here revoking the exemption that he assigned to Hebrew in De Vulgari Eloquentia. In Adam’s account, Hebrew was dead before Nimrod set about building the tower of Babel:

La lingua ch’io parlai fu tutta spenta
innanzi che a l’ovra inconsummabile 
fosse la gente di Nembròt attenta: 
ché nullo effetto mai razionabile,
per lo piacere uman che rinovella
seguendo il cielo, sempre fu durabile.	 (Par. 26.124-29)
The tongue I spoke was all extinct before
the men of Nimrod set their minds upon 
the unaccomplishable task; for never 
has any thing produced by human reason
been everlasting—following the heaven
men seek the new, they shift their predilections.

The reference to Nimrod and his “ovra inconsummabile” (unaccomplishable task [125]) reminds us that human arrogance and transgression were inscribed into linguistic production early on in human history, according to the Bible. The result of the tower of Babel, as discussed in the Introduction to Inferno 31, was the linguistic diaspora visited upon humans by their creator. God condemned us to speak many different languages as punishment for our transgression.

In The Undivine Comedy I note that Ulysses and Nimrod are the only single-episode sinners of Inferno (as compared to Virgilio, who is a major protagonist of the poem) to be named in each cantica of the Commedia (p. 51).[1] Nimrod appears in Inferno 31, he is listed among the examples of pride in Purgatorio 12, and he is invoked by Adam in Paradiso 26. He attests to the indissoluble link between pride and creativity: our creativity leads to the invention and use of language, and our pride is responsible for its disruption.

At times I wonder, though, whether Dante was not also thinking and feeling something else, closer to pleasure, when he wrote the section at the end of Paradiso 26. Do we not also feel, contrary to Adam’s overall message, the pleasure of linguistic creation in verses like these?

Opera naturale è ch’uom favella; 
ma così o così, natura lascia
poi fare a voi secondo che v’abbella.  		(Par. 26.130-32)
That man should speak at all is nature’s act,
but how you speak—in this tongue or in that—
she leaves to you and to your preference.

 

[1] Another figure mentioned in each canticle is Phaeton, not a sinner in the Commedia but a further emblem of the problematic that both Ulysses and Nimrod represent.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 3, “Ulysses, Geryon, and the Aeronautics of Narrative Transition,” pp. 48-58; Chapter 10, “The Sacred Poem is Forced to Jump,” pp. 231-32; Dante’s Poets, p. 268; “Toward a Dantean Theology of Eros: From Dante’s Lyrics to the Paradiso,” in Discourse Boundary Creation, ed. Peter Carravetta (New York: Bordighera Press, 2013), pp. 1-18.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 26: Love Bites And Adam Speaks.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-26/

About the Commento

1Mentr’ io dubbiava per lo viso spento,
2de la fulgida fiamma che lo spense
3uscì un spiro che mi fece attento,

4dicendo: «Intanto che tu ti risense
5de la vista che haï in me consunta,
6ben è che ragionando la compense.

7Comincia dunque; e dì ove s’appunta
8l’anima tua, e fa ragion che sia
9la vista in te smarrita e non defunta:

10perché la donna che per questa dia
11regïon ti conduce, ha ne lo sguardo
12la virtù ch’ebbe la man d’Anania».

13Io dissi: «Al suo piacere e tosto e tardo
14vegna remedio a li occhi, che fuor porte
15quand’ ella entrò col foco ond’ io sempr’ ardo.

16Lo ben che fa contenta questa corte,
17Alfa e O è di quanta scrittura
18mi legge Amore o lievemente o forte».

19Quella medesma voce che paura
20tolta m’avea del sùbito abbarbaglio,
21di ragionare ancor mi mise in cura;

22e disse: «Certo a più angusto vaglio
23ti conviene schiarar: dicer convienti
24chi drizzò l’arco tuo a tal berzaglio».

25E io: «Per filosofici argomenti
26e per autorità che quinci scende
27cotale amor convien che in me si ’mprenti:

28ché ’l bene, in quanto ben, come s’intende,
29così accende amore, e tanto maggio
30quanto più di bontate in sé comprende.

31Dunque a l’essenza ov’ è tanto avvantaggio,
32che ciascun ben che fuor di lei si trova
33altro non è ch’un lume di suo raggio,

34più che in altra convien che si mova
35la mente, amando, di ciascun che cerne
36il vero in che si fonda questa prova.

37Tal vero a l’intelletto mïo sterne
38colui che mi dimostra il primo amore
39di tutte le sustanze sempiterne.

40Sternel la voce del verace autore,
41che dice a Moïsè, di sé parlando:
42‘Io ti farò vedere ogne valore’.

43Sternilmi tu ancora, incominciando
44l’alto preconio che grida l’arcano
45di qui là giù sovra ogne altro bando».

46E io udi’: «Per intelletto umano
47e per autoritadi a lui concorde
48d’i tuoi amori a Dio guarda il sovrano.

49Ma dì ancor se tu senti altre corde
50tirarti verso lui, sì che tu suone
51con quanti denti questo amor ti morde».

52Non fu latente la santa intenzione
53de l’aguglia di Cristo, anzi m’accorsi
54dove volea menar mia professione.

55Però ricominciai: «Tutti quei morsi
56che posson far lo cor volgere a Dio,
57a la mia caritate son concorsi:

58ché l’essere del mondo e l’esser mio,
59la morte ch’el sostenne perch’ io viva,
60e quel che spera ogne fedel com’ io,

61con la predetta conoscenza viva,
62tratto m’hanno del mar de l’amor torto,
63e del diritto m’han posto a la riva.

64Le fronde onde s’infronda tutto l’orto
65de l’ortolano etterno, am’ io cotanto
66quanto da lui a lor di bene è porto».

67Sì com’ io tacqui, un dolcissimo canto
68risonò per lo cielo, e la mia donna
69dicea con li altri: «Santo, santo, santo!».

70E come a lume acuto si disonna
71per lo spirto visivo che ricorre
72a lo splendor che va di gonna in gonna,

73e lo svegliato ciò che vede aborre,
74sì nescïa è la sùbita vigilia
75fin che la stimativa non soccorre;

76così de li occhi miei ogne quisquilia
77fugò Beatrice col raggio d’i suoi,
78che rifulgea da più di mille milia:

79onde mei che dinanzi vidi poi;
80e quasi stupefatto domandai
81d’un quarto lume ch’io vidi tra noi.

82E la mia donna: «Dentro da quei rai
83vagheggia il suo fattor l’anima prima
84che la prima virtù creasse mai».

85Come la fronda che flette la cima
86nel transito del vento, e poi si leva
87per la propria virtù che la soblima,

88fec’ io in tanto in quant’ ella diceva,
89stupendo, e poi mi rifece sicuro
90un disio di parlare ond’ ïo ardeva.

91E cominciai: «O pomo che maturo
92solo prodotto fosti, o padre antico
93a cui ciascuna sposa è figlia e nuro,

94divoto quanto posso a te supplìco
95perché mi parli: tu vedi mia voglia,
96e per udirti tosto non la dico».

97Talvolta un animal coverto broglia,
98sì che l’affetto convien che si paia
99per lo seguir che face a lui la ’nvoglia;

100e similmente l’anima primaia
101mi facea trasparer per la coverta
102quant’ ella a compiacermi venìa gaia.

103Indi spirò: «Sanz’ essermi proferta
104da te, la voglia tua discerno meglio
105che tu qualunque cosa t’è più certa;

106perch’ io la veggio nel verace speglio
107che fa di sé pareglio a l’altre cose,
108e nulla face lui di sé pareglio.

109Tu vuogli udir quant’ è che Dio mi puose
110ne l’eccelso giardino, ove costei
111a così lunga scala ti dispuose,

112e quanto fu diletto a li occhi miei,
113e la propria cagion del gran disdegno,
114e l’idïoma ch’usai e che fei.

115Or, figluol mio, non il gustar del legno
116fu per sé la cagion di tanto essilio,
117ma solamente il trapassar del segno.

118Quindi onde mosse tua donna Virgilio,
119quattromilia trecento e due volumi
120di sol desiderai questo concilio;

121e vidi lui tornare a tutt’ i lumi
122de la sua strada novecento trenta
123fïate, mentre ch’ïo in terra fu’mi.

124La lingua ch’io parlai fu tutta spenta
125innanzi che a l’ovra inconsummabile
126fosse la gente di Nembròt attenta:

127ché nullo effetto mai razïonabile,
128per lo piacere uman che rinovella
129seguendo il cielo, sempre fu durabile.

130Opera naturale è ch’uom favella;
131ma così o così, natura lascia
132poi fare a voi secondo che v’abbella.

133Pria ch’i’ scendessi a l’infernale ambascia,
134I s’appellava in terra il sommo bene
135onde vien la letizia che mi fascia;

136e El si chiamò poi: e ciò convene,
137ché l’uso d’i mortali è come fronda
138in ramo, che sen va e altra vene.

139Nel monte che si leva più da l’onda,
140fu’ io, con vita pura e disonesta,
141da la prim’ ora a quella che seconda,

142come ’l sol muta quadra, l’ora sesta».

While I, with blinded eyes, was apprehensive,
from that bright flame which had consumed my vision,
there breathed a voice that centered my attention,

saying: “Until you have retrieved the power
of sight, which you consumed in me, it would
be best to compensate by colloquy.

Then do begin; declare the aim on which
your soul is set—and be assured of this:
your vision, though confounded, is not dead,

because the woman who conducts you through
this godly region has, within her gaze,
that force the hand of Ananias had.”

I said: “As pleases her, may solace—sooner
or later—reach these eyes, her gates when she
brought me the fire with which I always burn.

The good with which this court is satisfied
is Alpha and Omega of all writings
that Love has—loud or low—read out to me.”

It was the very voice that had dispelled
the fear I felt at sudden dazzlement,
that now, with further words, made me concerned

to speak again. He said: “You certainly
must sift with a still finer sieve, must tell
who led your bow to aim at such a target.”

And I: “By philosophic arguments
and by authority whose source is here,
that love must be imprinted in me; for

the good, once it is understood as such,
enkindles love; and in accord with more
goodness comes greater love. And thus the mind

of anyone who can discern the truth
on which this proof is founded must be moved
to love, more than it loves all else, that Essence

which is preeminent (since any good
that lies outside of It is nothing but
a ray reflected from Its radiance).

My mind discerns this truth, made plain by him
who demonstrates to me that the first love
of the eternal beings is their Maker.

The voice of the true Author states this, too,
where He tells Moses, speaking of Himself:
‘I shall show you all goodness.’ You reveal

this, too, when you begin your high Evangel,
which more than any other proclamation
cries out to earth the mystery of Heaven.”

I heard: “Through human reasoning and through
authorities according with it, you
conclude: your highest love is bent on God.

But tell me, too, if you feel other cords
draw you toward Him, so that you voice aloud
all of the teeth by which this love grips you.”

The holy intent of Christ’s Eagle was
not hidden; I indeed was made aware
of what he would most have my words declare.

Thus I began again: “My charity
results from all those things whose bite can bring
the heart to turn to God; the world’s existence

and mine, the death that He sustained that I
might live, and that which is the hope of all
believers, as it is my hope, together

with living knowledge I have spoken of—
these drew me from the sea of twisted love
and set me on the shore of the right love.

The leaves enleaving all the garden of
the Everlasting Gardener, I love
according to the good He gave to them.”

As soon as I was still, a song most sweet
resounded through that heaven, and my lady
said with the others: “Holy, holy, holy!”

And just as a sharp light will startle us
from sleep because the spirit of eyesight
races to meet the brightness that proceeds

from layer to layer in the eye, and he
who wakens is confused by what he sees,
awaking suddenly, and knows no thing

until his judgment helps him; even so
did Beatrice dispel, with her eyes’ rays,
which shone more than a thousand miles, the chaff

from my eyes: I saw better than I had
before; and as if stupefied, I asked
about the fourth light that I saw among us.

My lady answered: “In those rays there gazes
with love for his Creator the first soul
ever created by the Primal Force.”

As does a tree that bends its crown because
of winds that gust, and then springs up, raised by
its own sustaining power, so did I

while she was speaking. I, bewildered, then
restored to confidence by that desire
to speak with which I was inflamed, began:

“O fruit that was the only one to be
brought forth already ripe, o ancient father
to whom each bride is as a daughter and

daughter—in—law, devoutly as I can,
I do beseech you: speak with me. You see
my wish; to hear you sooner, I do not

declare it.” And the primal soul—much as
an animal beneath a cover stirs,
so that its feelings are made evident

when what enfolds it follows all its movements—
showed me, through that which covered him, with what
rejoicing he was coming to delight me.

Then he breathed forth: “Though you do not declare
your wish, I can perceive it better than
you can perceive the things you hold most certain;

for I can see it in the Truthful Mirror
that perfectly reflects all else, while no
thing can reflect that Mirror perfectly.

You wish to hear how long it is since I
was placed by God in that high garden where
this lady readied you to climb a stair

so long, and just how long it pleased my eyes,
and the true cause of the great anger, and
what idiom I used and shaped. My son,

the cause of my long exile did not lie
within the act of tasting of the tree,
but solely in my trespass of the boundary.

During four thousand three hundred and two
re—turnings of the sun, while I was in
that place from which your Lady sent you Virgil,

I longed for this assembly. While on earth,
I saw the sun return to all the lights
along its way, nine hundred thirty times.

The tongue I spoke was all extinct before
the men of Nimrod set their minds upon
the unaccomplishable task; for never

has any thing produced by human reason
been everlasting—following the heavens,
men seek the new, they shift their predilections.

That man should speak at all is nature’s act,
but how you speak—in this tongue or in that—
she leaves to you and to your preference.

Before I was sent down to Hell’s torments,
on earth, the Highest Good—from which derives
the joy that now enfolds me—was called I;

and then He was called El. Such change must be:
the ways that mortals take are as the leaves
upon a branch—one comes, another goes.

On that peak rising highest from the sea,
my life—first pure, then tainted—lasted from
the first hour to the hour that follows on

the sixth, when the sun shifts to a new quadrant.

WHILE I was doubting for my vision quenched,
Out of the flame refulgent that had quenched it
Issued a breathing, that attentive made me,

Saying: “While thou recoverest the sense
Of seeing which in me thou hast consumed,
‘Tis well that speaking thou shouldst compensate it.

Begin then, and declare to what thy soul
Is aimed, and count it for a certainty,
Sight is in thee bewildered and not dead;

Because the Lady, who through this divine
Region conducteth thee, has in her look
The power the hand of Ananias had.”

I said: “As pleaseth her, or soon or late
Let the cure come to eyes that portals were
When she with fire I ever burn with entered.

The Good, that gives contentment to this Court,
The Alpha and Omega is of all
The writing that love reads me low or loud.”

The selfsame voice, that taken had from me
The terror of the sudden dazzlement,
To speak still farther put it in my thought;

And said: “In verity with finer sieve
Behoveth thee to sift; thee it behovetn
To say who aimed thy bow at such a target.”

And I: “By philosophic arguments,
And by authority that hence descends,
Such love must needs imprint itself in me;

For Good, so far as good, when comprehended
Doth straight enkindle love, and so much greater
As more of goodness in itself it holds;

Then to that Essence (whose is such advantage
That every good which out of it is found
Is nothing but a ray of its own light)

More than elsewhither must the mind be moved
Of every one, in loving, who discerns
The truth in which this evidence is founded.

Such truth he to my intellect reveals
Who demonstrates to me the primal love
Of all the sempiternal substances.

The voice reveals it of the truthful Author,
Who says to Moses, speaking of Himself,
‘ I will make all my goodness pass before thee.’

Thou too revealest it to me, beginning
The loud Evangel, that proclaims the secret
Of heaven to earth above all other edict.”

And I heard say: “By human intellect
And by authority concordant with it,
Of all thy loves reserve for God the highest.

But say again if other cords thou feelest,
Draw thee towards Him, that thou mayst proclaim
With how many teeth this love is biting thee.”

The holy purpose of the Eagle of Christ
Not latent was nay, rather I perceived
Whither he fain would my profession lead.

Therefore I recommenced: “All of those bites
Which have the power to turn the heart to God
Unto my charity have been concurrent.

The being of the world, and my own being,
The death which He endured that I may live,
And that which all the faithful hope, as I do,

With the forementioned vivid consciousness
Have drawn me from the sea of love perverse,
And of the right have placed me on the shore.

The leaves, wherewith embowered is all the garden
Of the Eternal Gardener, do I love
As much as he has granted them of good.”

As soon as I had ceased, a song most sweet
Throughout the heaven resounded, and my Lady
Said with the others, “Holy, holy, holy!”

And as at some keen light one wakes from sleep
By reason of the visual spirit that runs
Unto the splendour passed from coat to coat,

And he who wakes abhorreth what he sees,
So all unconscious is his sudden waking,
Until the judgment cometh to his aid,

So from before mine eyes did Beatrice
Chase every mote with radiance of her own,
That cast its light a thousand miles and more.

Whence better after than before I saw,
And in a kind of wonderment I asked
About a fourth light that I saw with us.

And said my Lady: “There within those rays
Gazes upon its Maker the first soul
That ever the first virtue did create.”

Even as the bough that downward bends its top
At transit of the wind, and then is lifted
By its own virtue, which inclines it upward,

Likewise did I, the while that she was speaking,
Being amazed, and then I was made bold
By a desire to speak wherewith I burned.

And I began: “O apple, that mature
Alone hast been produced, O ancient father,
To whom each wife is daughter and daughter—in—law,

Devoutly as I can I supplicate thee
That thou wouldst speak to me; thou seest my wish;
And I, to hear thee quickly, speak it not.”

Sometimes an animal, when covered, struggles
So that his impulse needs must be apparent,
By reason of the wrappage following it;

And in like manner the primeval soul
Made clear to me athwart its covering
How jubilant it was to give me pleasure.

Then breathed: “Without thy uttering it to me,
Thine inclination better I discern
Than thou whatever thing is surest to thee;

For I behold it in the truthful mirror,
That of Himself all things parhelion makes,
And none makes Him parhelion of itself

Thou fain wouldst hear how long ago God placed me
Within the lofty garden, where this Lady
Unto so long a stairway thee disposed.

And how long to mine eyes it was a pleasure,
And of the great disdain the proper cause,
And the language that I used and that I made.

Now, son of mine, the tasting of the tree
Not in itself was cause of so great exile,
But solely the o’erstepping of the bounds.

There, whence thy Lady moved Virgilius,
Four thousand and three hundred and two circuits
Made by the sun, this Council I desired;

And him I saw return to all the lights
Of his highway nine hundred times and thirty,
Whilst I upon the earth was tarrying.

The language that I spake was quite extinct
Before that in the work interminable
The people under Nimrod were employed;

For nevermore result of reasoning
(Because of human pleasure that doth change,
Obedient to the heavens) was durable.

A natural action is it that man speaks;
But whether thus or thus, doth nature leave
To your own art, as seemeth best to you.

Ere I descended to the infernal anguish,
_El_ was on earth the name of the Chief Good,
From whom comes all the joy that wraps me round

_Eli_ he then was called, and that is proper,
Because the use of men is like a leaf
On bough, which goeth and another cometh.

Upon the mount that highest o’er the wave
Rises was I, in life or pure or sinful,
From the first hour to that which is the second,

As the sun changes quadrant, to the sixth.”

While I, with blinded eyes, was apprehensive,
from that bright flame which had consumed my vision,
there breathed a voice that centered my attention,

saying: “Until you have retrieved the power
of sight, which you consumed in me, it would
be best to compensate by colloquy.

Then do begin; declare the aim on which
your soul is set—and be assured of this:
your vision, though confounded, is not dead,

because the woman who conducts you through
this godly region has, within her gaze,
that force the hand of Ananias had.”

I said: “As pleases her, may solace—sooner
or later—reach these eyes, her gates when she
brought me the fire with which I always burn.

The good with which this court is satisfied
is Alpha and Omega of all writings
that Love has—loud or low—read out to me.”

It was the very voice that had dispelled
the fear I felt at sudden dazzlement,
that now, with further words, made me concerned

to speak again. He said: “You certainly
must sift with a still finer sieve, must tell
who led your bow to aim at such a target.”

And I: “By philosophic arguments
and by authority whose source is here,
that love must be imprinted in me; for

the good, once it is understood as such,
enkindles love; and in accord with more
goodness comes greater love. And thus the mind

of anyone who can discern the truth
on which this proof is founded must be moved
to love, more than it loves all else, that Essence

which is preeminent (since any good
that lies outside of It is nothing but
a ray reflected from Its radiance).

My mind discerns this truth, made plain by him
who demonstrates to me that the first love
of the eternal beings is their Maker.

The voice of the true Author states this, too,
where He tells Moses, speaking of Himself:
‘I shall show you all goodness.’ You reveal

this, too, when you begin your high Evangel,
which more than any other proclamation
cries out to earth the mystery of Heaven.”

I heard: “Through human reasoning and through
authorities according with it, you
conclude: your highest love is bent on God.

But tell me, too, if you feel other cords
draw you toward Him, so that you voice aloud
all of the teeth by which this love grips you.”

The holy intent of Christ’s Eagle was
not hidden; I indeed was made aware
of what he would most have my words declare.

Thus I began again: “My charity
results from all those things whose bite can bring
the heart to turn to God; the world’s existence

and mine, the death that He sustained that I
might live, and that which is the hope of all
believers, as it is my hope, together

with living knowledge I have spoken of—
these drew me from the sea of twisted love
and set me on the shore of the right love.

The leaves enleaving all the garden of
the Everlasting Gardener, I love
according to the good He gave to them.”

As soon as I was still, a song most sweet
resounded through that heaven, and my lady
said with the others: “Holy, holy, holy!”

And just as a sharp light will startle us
from sleep because the spirit of eyesight
races to meet the brightness that proceeds

from layer to layer in the eye, and he
who wakens is confused by what he sees,
awaking suddenly, and knows no thing

until his judgment helps him; even so
did Beatrice dispel, with her eyes’ rays,
which shone more than a thousand miles, the chaff

from my eyes: I saw better than I had
before; and as if stupefied, I asked
about the fourth light that I saw among us.

My lady answered: “In those rays there gazes
with love for his Creator the first soul
ever created by the Primal Force.”

As does a tree that bends its crown because
of winds that gust, and then springs up, raised by
its own sustaining power, so did I

while she was speaking. I, bewildered, then
restored to confidence by that desire
to speak with which I was inflamed, began:

“O fruit that was the only one to be
brought forth already ripe, o ancient father
to whom each bride is as a daughter and

daughter—in—law, devoutly as I can,
I do beseech you: speak with me. You see
my wish; to hear you sooner, I do not

declare it.” And the primal soul—much as
an animal beneath a cover stirs,
so that its feelings are made evident

when what enfolds it follows all its movements—
showed me, through that which covered him, with what
rejoicing he was coming to delight me.

Then he breathed forth: “Though you do not declare
your wish, I can perceive it better than
you can perceive the things you hold most certain;

for I can see it in the Truthful Mirror
that perfectly reflects all else, while no
thing can reflect that Mirror perfectly.

You wish to hear how long it is since I
was placed by God in that high garden where
this lady readied you to climb a stair

so long, and just how long it pleased my eyes,
and the true cause of the great anger, and
what idiom I used and shaped. My son,

the cause of my long exile did not lie
within the act of tasting of the tree,
but solely in my trespass of the boundary.

During four thousand three hundred and two
re—turnings of the sun, while I was in
that place from which your Lady sent you Virgil,

I longed for this assembly. While on earth,
I saw the sun return to all the lights
along its way, nine hundred thirty times.

The tongue I spoke was all extinct before
the men of Nimrod set their minds upon
the unaccomplishable task; for never

has any thing produced by human reason
been everlasting—following the heavens,
men seek the new, they shift their predilections.

That man should speak at all is nature’s act,
but how you speak—in this tongue or in that—
she leaves to you and to your preference.

Before I was sent down to Hell’s torments,
on earth, the Highest Good—from which derives
the joy that now enfolds me—was called I;

and then He was called El. Such change must be:
the ways that mortals take are as the leaves
upon a branch—one comes, another goes.

On that peak rising highest from the sea,
my life—first pure, then tainted—lasted from
the first hour to the hour that follows on

the sixth, when the sun shifts to a new quadrant.

WHILE I was doubting for my vision quenched,
Out of the flame refulgent that had quenched it
Issued a breathing, that attentive made me,

Saying: “While thou recoverest the sense
Of seeing which in me thou hast consumed,
‘Tis well that speaking thou shouldst compensate it.

Begin then, and declare to what thy soul
Is aimed, and count it for a certainty,
Sight is in thee bewildered and not dead;

Because the Lady, who through this divine
Region conducteth thee, has in her look
The power the hand of Ananias had.”

I said: “As pleaseth her, or soon or late
Let the cure come to eyes that portals were
When she with fire I ever burn with entered.

The Good, that gives contentment to this Court,
The Alpha and Omega is of all
The writing that love reads me low or loud.”

The selfsame voice, that taken had from me
The terror of the sudden dazzlement,
To speak still farther put it in my thought;

And said: “In verity with finer sieve
Behoveth thee to sift; thee it behovetn
To say who aimed thy bow at such a target.”

And I: “By philosophic arguments,
And by authority that hence descends,
Such love must needs imprint itself in me;

For Good, so far as good, when comprehended
Doth straight enkindle love, and so much greater
As more of goodness in itself it holds;

Then to that Essence (whose is such advantage
That every good which out of it is found
Is nothing but a ray of its own light)

More than elsewhither must the mind be moved
Of every one, in loving, who discerns
The truth in which this evidence is founded.

Such truth he to my intellect reveals
Who demonstrates to me the primal love
Of all the sempiternal substances.

The voice reveals it of the truthful Author,
Who says to Moses, speaking of Himself,
‘ I will make all my goodness pass before thee.’

Thou too revealest it to me, beginning
The loud Evangel, that proclaims the secret
Of heaven to earth above all other edict.”

And I heard say: “By human intellect
And by authority concordant with it,
Of all thy loves reserve for God the highest.

But say again if other cords thou feelest,
Draw thee towards Him, that thou mayst proclaim
With how many teeth this love is biting thee.”

The holy purpose of the Eagle of Christ
Not latent was nay, rather I perceived
Whither he fain would my profession lead.

Therefore I recommenced: “All of those bites
Which have the power to turn the heart to God
Unto my charity have been concurrent.

The being of the world, and my own being,
The death which He endured that I may live,
And that which all the faithful hope, as I do,

With the forementioned vivid consciousness
Have drawn me from the sea of love perverse,
And of the right have placed me on the shore.

The leaves, wherewith embowered is all the garden
Of the Eternal Gardener, do I love
As much as he has granted them of good.”

As soon as I had ceased, a song most sweet
Throughout the heaven resounded, and my Lady
Said with the others, “Holy, holy, holy!”

And as at some keen light one wakes from sleep
By reason of the visual spirit that runs
Unto the splendour passed from coat to coat,

And he who wakes abhorreth what he sees,
So all unconscious is his sudden waking,
Until the judgment cometh to his aid,

So from before mine eyes did Beatrice
Chase every mote with radiance of her own,
That cast its light a thousand miles and more.

Whence better after than before I saw,
And in a kind of wonderment I asked
About a fourth light that I saw with us.

And said my Lady: “There within those rays
Gazes upon its Maker the first soul
That ever the first virtue did create.”

Even as the bough that downward bends its top
At transit of the wind, and then is lifted
By its own virtue, which inclines it upward,

Likewise did I, the while that she was speaking,
Being amazed, and then I was made bold
By a desire to speak wherewith I burned.

And I began: “O apple, that mature
Alone hast been produced, O ancient father,
To whom each wife is daughter and daughter—in—law,

Devoutly as I can I supplicate thee
That thou wouldst speak to me; thou seest my wish;
And I, to hear thee quickly, speak it not.”

Sometimes an animal, when covered, struggles
So that his impulse needs must be apparent,
By reason of the wrappage following it;

And in like manner the primeval soul
Made clear to me athwart its covering
How jubilant it was to give me pleasure.

Then breathed: “Without thy uttering it to me,
Thine inclination better I discern
Than thou whatever thing is surest to thee;

For I behold it in the truthful mirror,
That of Himself all things parhelion makes,
And none makes Him parhelion of itself

Thou fain wouldst hear how long ago God placed me
Within the lofty garden, where this Lady
Unto so long a stairway thee disposed.

And how long to mine eyes it was a pleasure,
And of the great disdain the proper cause,
And the language that I used and that I made.

Now, son of mine, the tasting of the tree
Not in itself was cause of so great exile,
But solely the o’erstepping of the bounds.

There, whence thy Lady moved Virgilius,
Four thousand and three hundred and two circuits
Made by the sun, this Council I desired;

And him I saw return to all the lights
Of his highway nine hundred times and thirty,
Whilst I upon the earth was tarrying.

The language that I spake was quite extinct
Before that in the work interminable
The people under Nimrod were employed;

For nevermore result of reasoning
(Because of human pleasure that doth change,
Obedient to the heavens) was durable.

A natural action is it that man speaks;
But whether thus or thus, doth nature leave
To your own art, as seemeth best to you.

Ere I descended to the infernal anguish,
_El_ was on earth the name of the Chief Good,
From whom comes all the joy that wraps me round

_Eli_ he then was called, and that is proper,
Because the use of men is like a leaf
On bough, which goeth and another cometh.

Upon the mount that highest o’er the wave
Rises was I, in life or pure or sinful,
From the first hour to that which is the second,

As the sun changes quadrant, to the sixth.”