The Usurper

Paradiso 27 is part militant, part mystical, and part polemical. The militant part focuses on the Church and the Papacy.

In verse 11 “the soul who came first”, namely Saint Peter, begins to speak again. He gives vent to one of the Commedia’s toughest invectives against the Church, which takes up the first half of Paradiso 27, coming to conclusion in verse 66.

The first Pope condemns the papacy in extraordinarily strong terms, calling the current Pope (Boniface VIII) a usurper and referring to the papal throne as vacant:

Quelli ch’usurpa in terra il luogo mio,
il luogo mio, il luogo mio, che vaca 
ne la presenza del Figliuol di Dio, 
fatt’ha del cimitero mio cloaca
del sangue e de la puzza; onde ’l perverso
che cadde di qua sù, là giù si placa.		 (Par. 27.22-27)
He who on earth usurps my place, my place,
my place that in the sight of God's own Son
is vacant now, has made my burial ground
a sewer of blood, a sewer of stench, so that
the perverse one who fell from Heaven, here
above, can find contentment there below.

As we read this passage, we should consider the response of many of Dante’s early readers, who were amazed to find such harshly critical language in paradise, and in the mouth of an apostle.

The Bosco-Reggio edition of Paradiso, commenting on the language of this invective, notes that the verb usurpare (“usurpa” in Par. 27.22) is not intended to suggest that the election of Boniface was illegitimate, as some of his enemies believed. The editors point to Purgatorio 20.86-90 as proof that Dante considered Boniface the legitimate Pope. They claim that Dante sees the papacy as “vacant” only “ne la presenza del Figliuol di Dio” (in the sight of God’s own Son [Par. 27.24]), not in the presence of men.

Others have argued the case differently, depending on their degree of investment in the idea that Dante supported the radical wing of the Franciscan order. I am not supporting that argument, but rather noting that Dante’s language in this passage is extreme and was guaranteed to cause controversial readings.

In verse 67 Dante begins the transition out of the heaven of the fixed stars, describing the souls who begin to drift upwards toward the Empyrean like snowflakes that go up rather than down (67-72). Beatrice now tells Dante to cast his gaze down in order to see how far he has come: “Adima / il viso e guarda come tu se’ vòlto (Let your eyes look down and see how far you have revolved [77-78]).

As discussed in the Introduction to Paradiso 22, the eighth heaven is framed with moments of controlled Orphism, when Beatrice instructs the pilgrim to look back at earth and at the path that he has traveled. The first such moment is at the end of Paradiso 22. We have now arrived at the second and last such occasion.

In order to measure the distance he has traversed, the narrator situates himself with respect to the time that has passed since he looked down before: “Da l’ora ch’ïo avea guardato prima” (from the time when I looked down before [79]). This conflating of space and time—calculating distance by measuring time, telling time by measuring space—is a harbinger of moving beyond the space-time continuum altogether.

Dante defines the distance he has traveled through the zodiac since he first looked down in terms of the trajectory sailed by Ulysses:

sì ch’io vedea di là da Gade il varco
folle d’Ulisse, e di qua presso il lito
nel qual si fece Europa dolce carco. 	(Par. 27.82-84)
so that, beyond Cadiz, I saw Ulysses’
mad course and, to the east, could almost see 
that shoreline where Europa was sweet burden.

Dante thus names the Greek hero one last time, immediately following the canto where Adam’s sin was defined—in “Ulyssean” code—as the “trapassar del segno” (Par. 26.117). We have known for a long time that Ulysses serves the role of Adam in Dante’s personal mythography; here Dante refers to the classical hero right after meeting his biblical counterpart.

A key sign of Ulysses’ irreducibility, of the fact that he is not just any sinner in Malebolge, is his sustained presence in the poem: he is the only single-episode sinner (with the exception of Nimrod, whom I consider an echoing talisman of overweening pride in human endeavor) to be named in each cantica of the Commedia.

In Paradiso 27.99 Beatrice’s gaze propels Dante into the ninth heaven: “e nel ciel velocissimo m’impulse” (and thrust me into heaven’s swiftest sphere). The “ciel velocissimo” is the Primum Mobile.

The heaven of the fixed stars, a heaven consecrated to difference and dialectic, gives way to the equality of the Primum Mobile, whose parts are so uniform—“sì uniforme son” (101)—that there is no way of knowing which section was chosen for the pilgrim’s entry.

The entrance into the Primum Mobile is marked by absolute vitality, supremity, and uniformity:

Le parti sue vivissime ed eccelse
sì uniforme son, ch’i’ non so dire
qual Bëatrice per loco mi scelse.	 (Par. 27.100-02)
Its parts were all so equally alive 
and excellent, that I cannot say which
place Beatrice selected for my entry.

Dante now works very hard to say what the Primum Mobile IS, beginning in verse 106. The whole world has its origin here, and “here” is no other place than the mind of God:

La natura del mondo, che quieta 
il mezzo e tutto l’altro intorno move,
quinci comincia come da sua meta; 
e questo cielo non ha altro dove
che la mente divina, in che s’accende 
l’amor che ’l volge e la virtù ch’ei piove.	 (Par. 27.106-11)
The nature of the universe, which holds
the center still and moves all else around it,
begins here as if from its turning-post.
This heaven has no other where than this: 
the mind of God, in which are kindled both
the love that turns it and the force it rains.

We cannot discount the importance of verses like “e questo cielo non ha altro dove / che la mente divina” (This heaven has no other where than this: the mind of God [109-10]): Dante is signaling that we are going beyond the space-time continuum, into the mind of God.

But the discourse of unity—the discourse that tries to conjure God’s everything-all-at-onceness—is sustained for only twenty-one verses (100-120). In these verses the poet relies on paradox (the all-places that is no-place), chiasmus (“amor”/“virtù”/“luce”/“amor” [111-12]), negation (“Non è suo moto per altro distinto”, No other heaven measures this sphere’s motion [115]), and metaphor: time hides its roots in the vase of the Primum Mobile, while its leaves are the visible and measurable motion of the lower heavens (118-19).

Attempts to define the Primum Mobile, to find language to approximate an ontological reality so far beyond human comprehension, can only be sustained so long. In verse 121, the sacred poem “jumps”. An apostrophe to cupidigia takes center stage and we are suddenly flung into a sea of greed:

Oh cupidigia che i mortali affonde
sì sotto te, che nessuno ha podere 
di trarre li occhi fuor de le tue onde!    (Par. 27.121-23)
O greediness, you who—within your depths—
cause mortals to sink so, that none is left
able to lift his eyes above your waves!

This brusque transition from the high physics that locates the roots of time in the Primum Mobile to the cupidigia that submerges mortals beneath its metaphoric waves is typical of the narrative texture of Paradiso 27.

The polemical tone on human greed and immorality continues, modulating at the canto’s end into a prophecy of divine aid that will make the fleet run straight and true fruit follow the flower:

che la fortuna che tanto s’aspetta, 
le poppe volgerà u’ son le prore, 
sì che la classe correrà diretta;  
e vero frutto verrà dopo ’l fiore. 	(Par. 27.145-48)
this high sphere shall shine so, that Providence,
long waited for, will turn the sterns to where
the prows now are, so that the fleet runs straight;
and then fine fruit shall follow on the flower.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 10, “The Sacred Poem is Forced to Jump: Closure and the Poetics of Enjambment,” pp. 232-33.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 27: The Usurper.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-27/

About the Commento

1‘Al Padre, al Figlio, a lo Spirito Santo’,
2cominciò, ‘gloria!’, tutto ’l paradiso,
3sì che m’inebrïava il dolce canto.

4Ciò ch’io vedeva mi sembiava un riso
5de l’universo; per che mia ebbrezza
6intrava per l’udire e per lo viso.

7Oh gioia! oh ineffabile allegrezza!
8oh vita intègra d’amore e di pace!
9oh sanza brama sicura ricchezza!

10Dinanzi a li occhi miei le quattro face
11stavano accese, e quella che pria venne
12incominciò a farsi più vivace,

13e tal ne la sembianza sua divenne,
14qual diverrebbe Iove, s’elli e Marte
15fossero augelli e cambiassersi penne.

16La provedenza, che quivi comparte
17vice e officio, nel beato coro
18silenzio posto avea da ogne parte,

19quand’ ïo udi’: «Se io mi trascoloro,
20non ti maravigliar, ché, dicend’ io,
21vedrai trascolorar tutti costoro.

22Quelli ch’usurpa in terra il luogo mio,
23il luogo mio, il luogo mio, che vaca
24ne la presenza del Figliuol di Dio,

25fatt’ ha del cimitero mio cloaca
26del sangue e de la puzza; onde ’l perverso
27che cadde di qua sù, là giù si placa».

28Di quel color che per lo sole avverso
29nube dipigne da sera e da mane,
30vid’ ïo allora tutto ’l ciel cosperso.

31E come donna onesta che permane
32di sé sicura, e per l’altrui fallanza,
33pur ascoltando, timida si fane,

34così Beatrice trasmutò sembianza;
35e tale eclissi credo che ’n ciel fue
36quando patì la supprema possanza.

37Poi procedetter le parole sue
38con voce tanto da sé trasmutata,
39che la sembianza non si mutò piùe:

40«Non fu la sposa di Cristo allevata
41del sangue mio, di Lin, di quel di Cleto,
42per essere ad acquisto d’oro usata;

43ma per acquisto d’esto viver lieto
44e Sisto e Pïo e Calisto e Urbano
45sparser lo sangue dopo molto fleto.

46Non fu nostra intenzion ch’a destra mano
47d’i nostri successor parte sedesse,
48parte da l’altra del popol cristiano;

49né che le chiavi che mi fuor concesse,
50divenisser signaculo in vessillo
51che contra battezzati combattesse;

52né ch’io fossi figura di sigillo
53a privilegi venduti e mendaci,
54ond’ io sovente arrosso e disfavillo.

55In vesta di pastor lupi rapaci
56si veggion di qua sù per tutti i paschi:
57o difesa di Dio, perché pur giaci?

58Del sangue nostro Caorsini e Guaschi
59s’apparecchian di bere: o buon principio,
60a che vil fine convien che tu caschi!

61Ma l’alta provedenza, che con Scipio
62difese a Roma la gloria del mondo,
63soccorrà tosto, sì com’ io concipio;

64e tu, figliuol, che per lo mortal pondo
65ancor giù tornerai, apri la bocca,
66e non asconder quel ch’io non ascondo».

67Sì come di vapor gelati fiocca
68in giuso l’aere nostro, quando ’l corno
69de la capra del ciel col sol si tocca,

70in sù vid’ io così l’etera addorno
71farsi e fioccar di vapor trïunfanti
72che fatto avien con noi quivi soggiorno.

73Lo viso mio seguiva i suoi sembianti,
74e seguì fin che ’l mezzo, per lo molto,
75li tolse il trapassar del più avanti.

76Onde la donna, che mi vide assolto
77de l’attendere in sù, mi disse: «Adima
78il viso e guarda come tu se’ vòlto».

79Da l’ora ch’ïo avea guardato prima
80i’ vidi mosso me per tutto l’arco
81che fa dal mezzo al fine il primo clima;

82sì ch’io vedea di là da Gade il varco
83folle d’Ulisse, e di qua presso il lito
84nel qual si fece Europa dolce carco.

85E più mi fora discoverto il sito
86di questa aiuola; ma ’l sol procedea
87sotto i mie’ piedi un segno e più partito.

88La mente innamorata, che donnea
89con la mia donna sempre, di ridure
90ad essa li occhi più che mai ardea;

91e se natura o arte fé pasture
92da pigliare occhi, per aver la mente,
93in carne umana o ne le sue pitture,

94tutte adunate, parrebber nïente
95ver’ lo piacer divin che mi refulse,
96quando mi volsi al suo viso ridente.

97E la virtù che lo sguardo m’indulse,
98del bel nido di Leda mi divelse,
99e nel ciel velocissimo m’impulse.

100Le parti sue vivissime ed eccelse
101sì uniforme son, ch’i’ non so dire
102qual Bëatrice per loco mi scelse.

103Ma ella, che vedëa ’l mio disire,
104incominciò, ridendo tanto lieta,
105che Dio parea nel suo volto gioire:

106«La natura del mondo, che quïeta
107il mezzo e tutto l’altro intorno move,
108quinci comincia come da sua meta;

109e questo cielo non ha altro dove
110che la mente divina, in che s’accende
111l’amor che ’l volge e la virtù ch’ei piove.

112Luce e amor d’un cerchio lui comprende,
113sì come questo li altri; e quel precinto
114colui che ’l cinge solamente intende.

115Non è suo moto per altro distinto,
116ma li altri son mensurati da questo,
117sì come diece da mezzo e da quinto;

118e come il tempo tegna in cotal testo
119le sue radici e ne li altri le fronde,
120omai a te può esser manifesto.

121Oh cupidigia che i mortali affonde
122sì sotto te, che nessuno ha podere
123di trarre li occhi fuor de le tue onde!

124Ben fiorisce ne li uomini il volere;
125ma la pioggia continüa converte
126in bozzacchioni le sosine vere.

127Fede e innocenza son reperte
128solo ne’ parvoletti; poi ciascuna
129pria fugge che le guance sian coperte.

130Tale, balbuzïendo ancor, digiuna,
131che poi divora, con la lingua sciolta,
132qualunque cibo per qualunque luna;

133e tal, balbuzïendo, ama e ascolta
134la madre sua, che, con loquela intera,
135disïa poi di vederla sepolta.

136Così si fa la pelle bianca nera
137nel primo aspetto de la bella figlia
138di quel ch’apporta mane e lascia sera.

139Tu, perché non ti facci maraviglia,
140pensa che ’n terra non è chi governi;
141onde sì svïa l’umana famiglia.

142Ma prima che gennaio tutto si sverni
143per la centesma ch’è là giù negletta,
144raggeran sì questi cerchi superni,

145che la fortuna che tanto s’aspetta,
146le poppe volgerà u’ son le prore,
147sì che la classe correrà diretta;

148e vero frutto verrà dopo ’l fiore».

Unto the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
glory!”—all Paradise began, so that
the sweetness of the singing held me rapt.

What I saw seemed to me to be a smile
the universe had smiled; my rapture had
entered by way of hearing and of sight.

O joy! O gladness words can never speak!
O life perfected by both love and peace!
O richness so assured, that knows no longing!

Before my eyes, there stood, aflame, the foul
torches, and that which had been first to come
began to glow with greater radiance,

and what its image then became was like
what Jupiter’s would be if Mars and he
were birds and had exchanged their plumages.

After the Providence that there assigns
to every office its appointed time
had, to those holy choirs, on every side,

commanded silence, I then heard: “If I
change color, do not be amazed, for as
I speak, you will see change in all these flames.

He who on earth usurps my place, my place,
my place that in the sight of God’s own Son
is vacant now, has made my burial ground

a sewer of blood, a sewer of stench, so that
the perverse one who fell from Heaven, here
above, can find contentment there below.”

Then I saw all the heaven colored by
the hue that paints the clouds at morning and
at evening, with the sun confronting them.

And like a woman who, although secure
in her own honesty, will pale on even
hearing about another woman’s failing,

just so did Beatrice change in appearance;
and I believe that such eclipse was in
the sky when He, the Highest Power, suffered.

Then his words followed with a voice so altered
from what it was before—even his likeness
did not display a greater change than that.

“The Bride of Christ was never nurtured by
my blood, and blood of Linus and of Cletus,
to be employed in gaining greater riches;

but to acquire this life of joyousness,
Sixtus and Pius, Urban and Calixtus,
after much lamentation, shed their blood.

We did not want one portion of Christ’s people
to sit at the right side of our successors,
while, on the left, the other portion sat,

nor did we want the keys that were consigned
to me, to serve as an escutcheon on
a banner that waged war against the baptized;

nor did we want my form upon a seal
for trafficking in lying privileges—
for which I often blush and flash with anger.

From here on high one sees rapacious wolves
clothed in the cloaks of shepherds. You, the vengeance
of God, oh, why do you still lie concealed?

The Gascons and the Cahorsines—they both
prepare to drink our blood: o good beginning,
to what a miserable end you fall!

But that high Providence which once preserved,
with Scipio, the glory of the world
for Rome, will soon bring help, as I conceive;

and you, my son, who through your mortal weight
will yet return below, speak plainly there,
and do not hide that which I do not hide.”

As, when the horn of heaven’s Goat abuts
the sun, our sky flakes frozen vapors downward,
so did I see that ether there adorned;

for from that sphere, triumphant vapors now
were flaking up to the Empyrean—
returning after dwelling here with us.

My sight was following their semblances—
until the space between us grew so great
as to deny my eyes all farther reach.

At this, my lady, seeing me set free
from gazing upward, told me: “Let your eyes
look down and see how far you have revolved.”

I saw that, from the time when I looked down
before, I had traversed all of the arc
of the first clime, from its midpoint to end,

so that, beyond Cadiz, I saw Ulysses’
mad course and, to the east, could almost see
that shoreline where Europa was sweet burden.

I should have seen more of this threshing floor
but for the motion of the sun beneath
my feet: it was a sign and more away.

My mind, enraptured, always longing for
my lady gallantly, was burning more
than ever for my eyes’ return to her;

and if—by means of human,flesh or portraits—
nature or art has fashioned lures to draw
the eye so as to grip the mind, all these

would seem nothing if set beside the godly
beauty that shone upon me when I turned
to see the smiling face of Beatrice.

The powers that her gaze now granted me
drew me out of the lovely nest of Leda
and thrust me into heaven’s swiftest sphere.

Its parts were all so equally alive
and excellent, that I cannot say which
place Beatrice selected for my entry.

But she, who saw what my desire was—
her smile had so much gladness that within
her face there seemed to be God’s joy—began:

“The nature of the universe, which holds
the center still and moves all else around it,
begins here as if from its turning—post.

This heaven has no other where than this:
the mind of God, in which are kindled both
the love that turns it and the force it rains.

As in a circle, light and love enclose it,
as it surrounds the rest—and that enclosing,
only He who encloses understands.

No other heaven measures this sphere’s motion,
but it serves as the measure for the rest,
even as half and fifth determine ten;

and now it can be evident to you
how time has roots within this vessel and,
within the other vessels, has its leaves.

O greediness, you who—within your depths—
cause mortals to sink so, that none is left
able to lift his eyes above your waves!

The will has a good blossoming in men;
but then the never—ending downpours turn
the sound plums into rotten, empty skins.

For innocence and trust are to be found
only in little children; then they flee
even before a full beard cloaks the cheeks.

One, for as long as he still lisps, will fast,
but when his tongue is free at last, he gorges,
devouring any food through any month;

and one, while he still lisps, will love and heed
his mother, but when he acquires speech
more fully, he will long to see her buried.

Just so, white skin turns black when it is struck
by direct light—the lovely daughter of
the one who brings us dawn and leaves us evening.

That you not be amazed at what I say,
consider this: on earth no king holds sway;
therefore, the family of humans strays.

But well before a thousand years have passed
(and January is unwintered by
day’s hundredth part, which they neglect below),

this high sphere shall shine so, that Providence,
long waited for, will turn the sterns to where
the prows now are, so that the fleet runs straight;

and then fine fruit shall follow on the flower.”

“GLORY be to the Father, to the Son,
And Holy Ghost!” all Paradise began,
So that the melody inebriate made me.

What I beheld seemed unto me a smile
Of the universe; for my inebriation
Found entrance through the hearing and the sight

O joy! O gladness inexpressible!
O perfect life of love and peacefulness!
O riches without hankering secure!

Before mine eyes were standing the four torches
Enkindled, and the one that first had come
Began to make itself more luminous;

And even such in semblance it became
As Jupiter would become, if he and Mars
Were birds, and they should interchange their feathers.

That Providence, which here distributeth
Season and service, in the blessed choir
Had silence upon every side imposed.

When I heard say: “If I my colour change,
Marvel not at it; for while I am speaking
Thou shalt behold all these their colour change.

He who usurps upon the earth my place,
My place, my place, which vacant has become
Before the presence of the Son of God,

Has of my cemetery made a sewer
Of blood and stench, whereby the Perverse One
Who fell from here, below there is appeased!”

With the same colour which, through sun adverse,
Painteth the clouds at evening or at morn,
Beheld I then the whole of heaven suffused.

And as a modest woman, who abides
Sure of herself, and at another’s failing,
From listening only, timorous becomes,

Even thus did Beatrice change countenance;
And I believe in heaven was such eclipse,
When suffered the supreme Omnipotence;

Thereafterward proceeded forth his words
With voice so much transmuted from itself,
The very countenance was not more changed.

The spouse of Christ has never nurtured been
On blood of mine, of Linus and of Cletus,
To be made use of in acquest of gold;

But in acquest of this delightful life
Sixtus and Pius, Urban and Calixtus,
After much lamentation, shed their blood.

Our purpose was not, that on the right hand
Of our successors should in part be seated
The Christian folk, in part upon the other;

Nor that the keys which were to me confided
Should e’er become the escutcheon on a banner,
That should wage war on those who are baptized;

Nor I be made the figure of a seal
To privileges venal and mendacious,
Whereat I often redden and flash with fire.

In garb of shepherds the rapacious wolves
Are seen from here above o’er all the pastures!
O wrath of God, why dost thou slumber still

To drink our blood the Caorsines and Gascons
Are making ready. O thou good beginning,
Unto how vile an end must thou needs fall!

But the high Providence, that with Scipio
At Rome the glory of the world defended,
Will speedily bring aid, as I conceive;

And thou, my son, who by thy mortal weight
Shalt down return again, open thy mouth;
What I conceal not, do not thou conceal.’

As with its frozen vapours downward falls
In flakes our atmosphere, what time the horn
Of the celestial; Goat doth touch the sun,

Upward in such array saw I the ether
Become, and flaked with the triumphant vapours,
Which there together with us had remained.

My sight was following up their semblances,
And followed till the medium, by excess,
The passing farther onward took from it;

Whereat the Lady, who beheld me freed
From gazing upward, said to me: “Cast down
Thy sight, and see how far thou art turned round.”

Since the first time that I had downward looked,
I saw that I had moved through the whole arc
Which the first climate makes from midst to end;

So that I saw the mad track of Ulysses
Past Gades, and this side, well nigh the shore
Whereon became Europa a sweet burden.

And of this threshing—floor the site to me
Were more unveiled, but the sun was proceeding
Under my feet, a sign and more removed.

My mind enamoured, which is dallying
At all times with my Lady, to bring back
To her mine eyes was more than ever ardent.

And if or Art or Nature has made bait
To catch the eyes and so possess the mind,
In human flesh or in its portraiture,

All joined together would appear as nought
To the divine delight which shone upon me
When to her smiling face I turned me round.

The virtue that her look endowed me with
From the fair nest of Leda tore me forth,
And up into the swiftest heaven impelled me.

Its parts exceeding full of life and lofty
Are all so uniform, I cannot say
Which Beatrice selected for my place.

But she, who was aware of my desire,
Began, the while she smiled so joyously
That God seemed in her countenance to rejoice:

“The nature of that motion, which keeps quiet
The centre and all the rest about it moves,
From hence begins as from its starting point.

And in this heaven there is no other Where
Than in the Mind Divine, wherein is kindled
The love that turns it, and the power it rains.

Within a circle light and love embrace it
Even as this doth the others, and that precinct
He who encircles it alone controls.

Its motion is not by another meted,
But all the others measured are by this,
As ten is by the half and by the fifth.

And in what manner time in such a pot
May have its roots, and in the rest its leaves,
Now unto thee can manifest be made.

O Covetousness, that mortals dost ingulf
Beneath thee so, that no one hath the power
Of drawing back his eyes from out thy waves!

Full fairly blossoms in mankind the will;
But the uninterrupted rain converts
Into abortive wildings the true plums.

Fidelity and innocence are found
Only in children; afterwards they both
Take flight or e’er the cheeks with down are covered.

One, while he prattles still, observes the fasts,
Who, when his tongue is loosed, forthwith devours
Whatever food under whatever moon;

Another, while he prattles, loves and listens
Unto his mother, who when speech is perfect
Forthwith desires to see her in her grave.

Even thus is swarthy made the skin so white
In its first aspect of the daughter fair
Of him who brings the morn, and leaves the night.

Thou, that it may not be a marvel to thee,
Think that on earth there is no one who governs;
Whence goes astray the human family.

Ere January be unwintered wholly
By the centesimal on earth neglected,
Shall these supernal circles roar so loud

The tempest that has been so long awaited
Shall whirl the poops about where are the prows;
So that the fleet shall run its course direct,

And the true fruit shall follow on the flower.”

Unto the Father, Son, and Holy Ghost,
glory!”—all Paradise began, so that
the sweetness of the singing held me rapt.

What I saw seemed to me to be a smile
the universe had smiled; my rapture had
entered by way of hearing and of sight.

O joy! O gladness words can never speak!
O life perfected by both love and peace!
O richness so assured, that knows no longing!

Before my eyes, there stood, aflame, the foul
torches, and that which had been first to come
began to glow with greater radiance,

and what its image then became was like
what Jupiter’s would be if Mars and he
were birds and had exchanged their plumages.

After the Providence that there assigns
to every office its appointed time
had, to those holy choirs, on every side,

commanded silence, I then heard: “If I
change color, do not be amazed, for as
I speak, you will see change in all these flames.

He who on earth usurps my place, my place,
my place that in the sight of God’s own Son
is vacant now, has made my burial ground

a sewer of blood, a sewer of stench, so that
the perverse one who fell from Heaven, here
above, can find contentment there below.”

Then I saw all the heaven colored by
the hue that paints the clouds at morning and
at evening, with the sun confronting them.

And like a woman who, although secure
in her own honesty, will pale on even
hearing about another woman’s failing,

just so did Beatrice change in appearance;
and I believe that such eclipse was in
the sky when He, the Highest Power, suffered.

Then his words followed with a voice so altered
from what it was before—even his likeness
did not display a greater change than that.

“The Bride of Christ was never nurtured by
my blood, and blood of Linus and of Cletus,
to be employed in gaining greater riches;

but to acquire this life of joyousness,
Sixtus and Pius, Urban and Calixtus,
after much lamentation, shed their blood.

We did not want one portion of Christ’s people
to sit at the right side of our successors,
while, on the left, the other portion sat,

nor did we want the keys that were consigned
to me, to serve as an escutcheon on
a banner that waged war against the baptized;

nor did we want my form upon a seal
for trafficking in lying privileges—
for which I often blush and flash with anger.

From here on high one sees rapacious wolves
clothed in the cloaks of shepherds. You, the vengeance
of God, oh, why do you still lie concealed?

The Gascons and the Cahorsines—they both
prepare to drink our blood: o good beginning,
to what a miserable end you fall!

But that high Providence which once preserved,
with Scipio, the glory of the world
for Rome, will soon bring help, as I conceive;

and you, my son, who through your mortal weight
will yet return below, speak plainly there,
and do not hide that which I do not hide.”

As, when the horn of heaven’s Goat abuts
the sun, our sky flakes frozen vapors downward,
so did I see that ether there adorned;

for from that sphere, triumphant vapors now
were flaking up to the Empyrean—
returning after dwelling here with us.

My sight was following their semblances—
until the space between us grew so great
as to deny my eyes all farther reach.

At this, my lady, seeing me set free
from gazing upward, told me: “Let your eyes
look down and see how far you have revolved.”

I saw that, from the time when I looked down
before, I had traversed all of the arc
of the first clime, from its midpoint to end,

so that, beyond Cadiz, I saw Ulysses’
mad course and, to the east, could almost see
that shoreline where Europa was sweet burden.

I should have seen more of this threshing floor
but for the motion of the sun beneath
my feet: it was a sign and more away.

My mind, enraptured, always longing for
my lady gallantly, was burning more
than ever for my eyes’ return to her;

and if—by means of human,flesh or portraits—
nature or art has fashioned lures to draw
the eye so as to grip the mind, all these

would seem nothing if set beside the godly
beauty that shone upon me when I turned
to see the smiling face of Beatrice.

The powers that her gaze now granted me
drew me out of the lovely nest of Leda
and thrust me into heaven’s swiftest sphere.

Its parts were all so equally alive
and excellent, that I cannot say which
place Beatrice selected for my entry.

But she, who saw what my desire was—
her smile had so much gladness that within
her face there seemed to be God’s joy—began:

“The nature of the universe, which holds
the center still and moves all else around it,
begins here as if from its turning—post.

This heaven has no other where than this:
the mind of God, in which are kindled both
the love that turns it and the force it rains.

As in a circle, light and love enclose it,
as it surrounds the rest—and that enclosing,
only He who encloses understands.

No other heaven measures this sphere’s motion,
but it serves as the measure for the rest,
even as half and fifth determine ten;

and now it can be evident to you
how time has roots within this vessel and,
within the other vessels, has its leaves.

O greediness, you who—within your depths—
cause mortals to sink so, that none is left
able to lift his eyes above your waves!

The will has a good blossoming in men;
but then the never—ending downpours turn
the sound plums into rotten, empty skins.

For innocence and trust are to be found
only in little children; then they flee
even before a full beard cloaks the cheeks.

One, for as long as he still lisps, will fast,
but when his tongue is free at last, he gorges,
devouring any food through any month;

and one, while he still lisps, will love and heed
his mother, but when he acquires speech
more fully, he will long to see her buried.

Just so, white skin turns black when it is struck
by direct light—the lovely daughter of
the one who brings us dawn and leaves us evening.

That you not be amazed at what I say,
consider this: on earth no king holds sway;
therefore, the family of humans strays.

But well before a thousand years have passed
(and January is unwintered by
day’s hundredth part, which they neglect below),

this high sphere shall shine so, that Providence,
long waited for, will turn the sterns to where
the prows now are, so that the fleet runs straight;

and then fine fruit shall follow on the flower.”

“GLORY be to the Father, to the Son,
And Holy Ghost!” all Paradise began,
So that the melody inebriate made me.

What I beheld seemed unto me a smile
Of the universe; for my inebriation
Found entrance through the hearing and the sight

O joy! O gladness inexpressible!
O perfect life of love and peacefulness!
O riches without hankering secure!

Before mine eyes were standing the four torches
Enkindled, and the one that first had come
Began to make itself more luminous;

And even such in semblance it became
As Jupiter would become, if he and Mars
Were birds, and they should interchange their feathers.

That Providence, which here distributeth
Season and service, in the blessed choir
Had silence upon every side imposed.

When I heard say: “If I my colour change,
Marvel not at it; for while I am speaking
Thou shalt behold all these their colour change.

He who usurps upon the earth my place,
My place, my place, which vacant has become
Before the presence of the Son of God,

Has of my cemetery made a sewer
Of blood and stench, whereby the Perverse One
Who fell from here, below there is appeased!”

With the same colour which, through sun adverse,
Painteth the clouds at evening or at morn,
Beheld I then the whole of heaven suffused.

And as a modest woman, who abides
Sure of herself, and at another’s failing,
From listening only, timorous becomes,

Even thus did Beatrice change countenance;
And I believe in heaven was such eclipse,
When suffered the supreme Omnipotence;

Thereafterward proceeded forth his words
With voice so much transmuted from itself,
The very countenance was not more changed.

The spouse of Christ has never nurtured been
On blood of mine, of Linus and of Cletus,
To be made use of in acquest of gold;

But in acquest of this delightful life
Sixtus and Pius, Urban and Calixtus,
After much lamentation, shed their blood.

Our purpose was not, that on the right hand
Of our successors should in part be seated
The Christian folk, in part upon the other;

Nor that the keys which were to me confided
Should e’er become the escutcheon on a banner,
That should wage war on those who are baptized;

Nor I be made the figure of a seal
To privileges venal and mendacious,
Whereat I often redden and flash with fire.

In garb of shepherds the rapacious wolves
Are seen from here above o’er all the pastures!
O wrath of God, why dost thou slumber still

To drink our blood the Caorsines and Gascons
Are making ready. O thou good beginning,
Unto how vile an end must thou needs fall!

But the high Providence, that with Scipio
At Rome the glory of the world defended,
Will speedily bring aid, as I conceive;

And thou, my son, who by thy mortal weight
Shalt down return again, open thy mouth;
What I conceal not, do not thou conceal.’

As with its frozen vapours downward falls
In flakes our atmosphere, what time the horn
Of the celestial; Goat doth touch the sun,

Upward in such array saw I the ether
Become, and flaked with the triumphant vapours,
Which there together with us had remained.

My sight was following up their semblances,
And followed till the medium, by excess,
The passing farther onward took from it;

Whereat the Lady, who beheld me freed
From gazing upward, said to me: “Cast down
Thy sight, and see how far thou art turned round.”

Since the first time that I had downward looked,
I saw that I had moved through the whole arc
Which the first climate makes from midst to end;

So that I saw the mad track of Ulysses
Past Gades, and this side, well nigh the shore
Whereon became Europa a sweet burden.

And of this threshing—floor the site to me
Were more unveiled, but the sun was proceeding
Under my feet, a sign and more removed.

My mind enamoured, which is dallying
At all times with my Lady, to bring back
To her mine eyes was more than ever ardent.

And if or Art or Nature has made bait
To catch the eyes and so possess the mind,
In human flesh or in its portraiture,

All joined together would appear as nought
To the divine delight which shone upon me
When to her smiling face I turned me round.

The virtue that her look endowed me with
From the fair nest of Leda tore me forth,
And up into the swiftest heaven impelled me.

Its parts exceeding full of life and lofty
Are all so uniform, I cannot say
Which Beatrice selected for my place.

But she, who was aware of my desire,
Began, the while she smiled so joyously
That God seemed in her countenance to rejoice:

“The nature of that motion, which keeps quiet
The centre and all the rest about it moves,
From hence begins as from its starting point.

And in this heaven there is no other Where
Than in the Mind Divine, wherein is kindled
The love that turns it, and the power it rains.

Within a circle light and love embrace it
Even as this doth the others, and that precinct
He who encircles it alone controls.

Its motion is not by another meted,
But all the others measured are by this,
As ten is by the half and by the fifth.

And in what manner time in such a pot
May have its roots, and in the rest its leaves,
Now unto thee can manifest be made.

O Covetousness, that mortals dost ingulf
Beneath thee so, that no one hath the power
Of drawing back his eyes from out thy waves!

Full fairly blossoms in mankind the will;
But the uninterrupted rain converts
Into abortive wildings the true plums.

Fidelity and innocence are found
Only in children; afterwards they both
Take flight or e’er the cheeks with down are covered.

One, while he prattles still, observes the fasts,
Who, when his tongue is loosed, forthwith devours
Whatever food under whatever moon;

Another, while he prattles, loves and listens
Unto his mother, who when speech is perfect
Forthwith desires to see her in her grave.

Even thus is swarthy made the skin so white
In its first aspect of the daughter fair
Of him who brings the morn, and leaves the night.

Thou, that it may not be a marvel to thee,
Think that on earth there is no one who governs;
Whence goes astray the human family.

Ere January be unwintered wholly
By the centesimal on earth neglected,
Shall these supernal circles roar so loud

The tempest that has been so long awaited
Shall whirl the poops about where are the prows;
So that the fleet shall run its course direct,

And the true fruit shall follow on the flower.”