Celestial Real Estate

Now that we have been “congiunti con la prima stella” (Par. 2.30) and are in the heaven of the moon, we are ready to experience our first encounter with a blessed soul. In this canto Dante will meet Piccarda Donati. She is the sister of Forese Donati, the old friend from Florence with whom Dante had a nostalgic interaction on purgatory’s terrace of gluttony. Forese died in 1296; for Piccarda we have less precise information, and place her death at the end of the thirteenth century. Dante’s intimacy with Forese is such that, when he meets Forese on the terrace of gluttony in purgatory, he asks his friend about the whereabouts of his sister:

«Ma dimmi, se tu sai, dov’è Piccarda;
dimmi s’io veggio da notar persona
tra questa gente che sì mi riguarda.»
«La mia sorella, che tra bella e buona               
non so qual fosse più, triunfa lieta
ne l’alto Olimpo già di sua corona.»(Purg.24.10-15)
“But tell me, if you can: where is Piccarda?
And tell me if, among those staring at me,
I can see any person I should note.”
“My sister—and I know not whether she           
was greater in her goodness or her beauty—               
on high Olympus is in triumph; she                 
rejoices in her crown already.”

Piccarda is “already in triumph in high Olympus” (Purg. 24.15) because, like her brother Forese, her death is very recent. Her position as already a blessed soul in paradise betokens a very swift ascent up the mountain of purgatory.

Despite her swift ascent through purgatory, Piccarda’s location in paradise seems (literally) inferior. There appear to be lower and higher heavens in paradise, heavens that are therefore farther from and closer to God, and we meet Piccarda in the lowest heaven (also the slowest heaven, because the heavens move more speedily as they get closer to God and to the Empyrean). It seems to be incontrovertibly the case that if one is in “la spera più tarda” (the slowest sphere [Par. 3.51]), as Piccarda describes her home, one is in the least valuable celestial real estate.

Beatrice explains to the pilgrim that these souls are “relegated” here—a strong choice of verb that does nothing to minimize our developing sense of a lower order of bliss—because of unfulfilled vows:

vere sustanze son ciò che tu vedi,                
qui rilegate per manco di voto.           (Par. 3.29-30)

what you are seeing are true substances,
placed here because their vows were not fulfilled.

We will learn in Paradiso 9 that the first three heavens are shadowed by the earth, and the result is that the souls of these heavens are characterized negatively: those who did not fulfill their vows (moon), those who lived with too much earthly ambition (Mercury), and those with too great an inclination toward eros (Venus).

Piccarda’s language stresses her lowliness, prompting Dante-pilgrim to ask a naive but all-important question. It is an important question because it refocuses the paradox of the One and the Many that governs the Paradiso, as articulated in its opening terzina: the glory of the mover of all things penetrates a “Uni-verse” that is by definition One and yet that glory penetrates differentially, “in una parte più e meno altrove” (in one part more and in another less [Par. 1.3]).

So now Dante-pilgrim asks Piccarda whether she experiences unhappiness at being so far from God, in the lowest of the heavens. Does she want a higher place where she can see more? And where she could be more “friends” with God? The childlike simplicity of the pilgrim’s language only adds to the potency of the question, a question that brings to the surface all our unspoken concern about unfairness continuing on into the realm of justice itself.

Ma dimmi: voi che siete qui felici,
disiderate voi più alto loco               
per più vedere e per più farvi amici? (Par. 3.64-66)
But tell me: though you’re happy here, do you               
desire a higher place in order to               
see more and to be still more close to Him?

The pilgrim’s question gives Piccarda the opportunity to explain that heaven is a place where one’s desire is always satisfied, where desire cannot possibly exceed the measure of what one has, and where it is always aligned with the will of the transcendent power. In other words, the souls of paradise are completely happy with the grace that is apportioned to them:

E ’n la sua volontade è nostra pace:               
ell’è quel mare al qual tutto si move               
ciò ch’ella cria o che natura face. (Par. 3.85-87)
And in His will there is our peace: that sea              
to which all beings move—the beings He               
creates or nature makes—such is His will.

Dante-poet scripts this dialogue as a model of ambivalence, in the etymological sense of allowing two different positions to materialize and to receive equal value. He is trying to dramatize the two prongs of his paradox as delineated in Par. 1.1-3: the irreducible difference of the souls—the fact that they are “vere sustanze” as Piccarda says in Paradiso 3.29—can only be expressed via hierarchy, and yet the concept of hierarchy is in apparent contradiction with the concepts of unity and similitude.

This contradiction is forcefully expressed in the narrator’s summation of what he learned from Piccarda, where the crude Latinism “etsi”—“although”—pivots the syntax and the thought from unity to difference:

 Chiaro mi fu allor come ogne dove               
in cielo è paradiso, etsi la grazia               
del sommo ben d’un modo non vi piove. (Par. 3.88-90)
Then it was clear to me how every place                
in Heaven is in Paradise, though grace               
does not rain equally from the High Good.

In The Undivine Comedy I comment on the above terzina thus:

Everywhere in heaven is paradise, i.e., all heavenly locations are equally good; nonetheless, at the same time, grace is not equally distributed. This is a notion we can accept only if we cease to think in terms of space; otherwise, we run into the problem of all celestial real estate being equally valued despite not receiving the same goods and services. Moreover, if grace is not distributed d’un modo (a phrase that doubles in the Paradiso for igualmente), then it must perforce be distributed più e meno. And so we return to the paradox of the Paradiso’s first tercet, which Dante does not so much attempt to resolve as hold up for scrutiny, perusing it first from one perspective and then from another. Given that the problem of the one and the many is not one that Dante can, in fact, “resolve,” we nonetheless may note that our poet seems more to revel in it than to want to cover it over. (p 183)

The latter part of Paradiso 3 contains Piccarda’s poignant story of having been violently kidnapped from the cloister by her brother Corso, who wanted to give her in marriage in furtherance of his quest for power. She also introduces the Empress Costanza, mother of Frederick II, who like her had joined the order of Santa Chiara.

There is much in this story that echoes the story of Francesca, especially in that both women describe experiences of what they view as compulsion. In my essay “Dante and Cavalcanti: Inferno 5 in its Lyric and Autobiographical Context,” p. 35, I show that Dante’s descriptions of Francesca and Piccarda both resonate to Aristotle’s definition of compulsion from Nicomachean Ethics 3.1. In Dante and the Origins of Italian Literary Culture, I write as follows:

I predict that a historicized unpacking of Dante’s representation of Piccarda, analogous to what I did with Francesca [in “Dante and Francesca da Rimini: Realpolitik, Romance Gender”], will prove very fruitful, for Dante signposts the connection of Piccarda to Francesca and to issues of compulsion and the will through his use of the Nicomachean Ethics in forging his contrapasso for Inferno 5. Aristotle’s examples of compulsion—“if he were to be carried somewhere by a wind, or by men who had him in their power”—resonate not only for Inferno 5 but also for Piccarda in Paradiso 3: Piccarda narrates a story according to which “men had her in their power” and precipitates a lengthy meditation on compulsion, not in its more rarified “Desire-compelled-me” variant, but in the brutally stark forms of the physical coercion imposed upon her. (pp. 373-74)

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 8, “Problems in Paradise: The Mimesis of Time and the Paradox of più e meno”, pp. 172, 182-83; “Dante and Cavalcanti: Inferno 5 in its Lyric and Autobiographical Context,” p. 35.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 3: Celestial Real Estate.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-3/

About the Commento

1Quel sol che pria d’amor mi scaldò ’l petto,
2di bella verità m’avea scoverto,
3provando e riprovando, il dolce aspetto;

4e io, per confessar corretto e certo
5me stesso, tanto quanto si convenne
6leva’ il capo a proferer più erto;

7ma visïone apparve che ritenne
8a sé me tanto stretto, per vedersi,
9che di mia confession non mi sovvenne.

10Quali per vetri trasparenti e tersi,
11o ver per acque nitide e tranquille,
12non sì profonde che i fondi sien persi,

13tornan d’i nostri visi le postille
14debili sì, che perla in bianca fronte
15non vien men forte a le nostre pupille;

16tali vid’ io più facce a parlar pronte;
17per ch’io dentro a l’error contrario corsi
18a quel ch’accese amor tra l’omo e ’l fonte.

19Sùbito sì com’ io di lor m’accorsi,
20quelle stimando specchiati sembianti,
21per veder di cui fosser, li occhi torsi;

22e nulla vidi, e ritorsili avanti
23dritti nel lume de la dolce guida,
24che, sorridendo, ardea ne li occhi santi.

25«Non ti maravigliar perch’ io sorrida»,
26mi disse, «appresso il tuo püeril coto,
27poi sopra ’l vero ancor lo piè non fida,

28ma te rivolve, come suole, a vòto:
29vere sustanze son ciò che tu vedi,
30qui rilegate per manco di voto.

31Però parla con esse e odi e credi;
32ché la verace luce che le appaga
33da sé non lascia lor torcer li piedi».

34E io a l’ombra che parea più vaga
35di ragionar, drizza’mi, e cominciai,
36quasi com’ uom cui troppa voglia smaga:

37«O ben creato spirito, che a’ rai
38di vita etterna la dolcezza senti
39che, non gustata, non s’intende mai,

40grazïoso mi fia se mi contenti
41del nome tuo e de la vostra sorte».
42Ond’ ella, pronta e con occhi ridenti:

43«La nostra carità non serra porte
44a giusta voglia, se non come quella
45che vuol simile a sé tutta sua corte.

46I’ fui nel mondo vergine sorella;
47e se la mente tua ben sé riguarda,
48non mi ti celerà l’esser più bella,

49ma riconoscerai ch’i’ son Piccarda,
50che, posta qui con questi altri beati,
51beata sono in la spera più tarda.

52Li nostri affetti, che solo infiammati
53son nel piacer de lo Spirito Santo,
54letizian del suo ordine formati.

55E questa sorte che par giù cotanto,
56però n’è data, perché fuor negletti
57li nostri voti, e vòti in alcun canto».

58Ond’ io a lei: «Ne’ mirabili aspetti
59vostri risplende non so che divino
60che vi trasmuta da’ primi concetti:

61però non fui a rimembrar festino;
62ma or m’aiuta ciò che tu mi dici,
63sì che raffigurar m’è più latino.

64Ma dimmi: voi che siete qui felici,
65disiderate voi più alto loco
66per più vedere e per più farvi amici?».

67Con quelle altr’ ombre pria sorrise un poco;
68da indi mi rispuose tanto lieta,
69ch’arder parea d’amor nel primo foco:

70«Frate, la nostra volontà quïeta
71virtù di carità, che fa volerne
72sol quel ch’avemo, e d’altro non ci asseta.

73Se disïassimo esser più superne,
74foran discordi li nostri disiri
75dal voler di colui che qui ne cerne;

76che vedrai non capere in questi giri,
77s’essere in carità è qui necesse,
78e se la sua natura ben rimiri.

79Anzi è formale ad esto beato esse
80tenersi dentro a la divina voglia,
81per ch’una fansi nostre voglie stesse;

82sì che, come noi sem di soglia in soglia
83per questo regno, a tutto il regno piace
84com’ a lo re che ’n suo voler ne ’nvoglia.

85E ’n la sua volontade è nostra pace:
86ell’ è quel mare al qual tutto si move
87ciò ch’ella crïa o che natura face».

88Chiaro mi fu allor come ogne dove
89in cielo è paradiso, etsi la grazia
90del sommo ben d’un modo non vi piove.

91Ma sì com’ elli avvien, s’un cibo sazia
92e d’un altro rimane ancor la gola,
93che quel si chere e di quel si ringrazia,

94così fec’ io con atto e con parola,
95per apprender da lei qual fu la tela
96onde non trasse infino a co la spuola.

97«Perfetta vita e alto merto inciela
98donna più sù», mi disse, «a la cui norma
99nel vostro mondo giù si veste e vela,

100perché fino al morir si vegghi e dorma
101con quello sposo ch’ogne voto accetta
102che caritate a suo piacer conforma.

103Dal mondo, per seguirla, giovinetta
104fuggi’mi, e nel suo abito mi chiusi
105e promisi la via de la sua setta.

106Uomini poi, a mal più ch’a bene usi,
107fuor mi rapiron de la dolce chiostra:
108Iddio si sa qual poi mia vita fusi.

109E quest’ altro splendor che ti si mostra
110da la mia destra parte e che s’accende
111di tutto il lume de la spera nostra,

112ciò ch’io dico di me, di sé intende;
113sorella fu, e così le fu tolta
114di capo l’ombra de le sacre bende.

115Ma poi che pur al mondo fu rivolta
116contra suo grado e contra buona usanza,
117non fu dal vel del cor già mai disciolta.

118Quest’ è la luce de la gran Costanza
119che del secondo vento di Soave
120generò ’l terzo e l’ultima possanza».

121Così parlommi, e poi cominciò ‘Ave,
122Maria’ cantando, e cantando vanio
123come per acqua cupa cosa grave.

124La vista mia, che tanto lei seguio
125quanto possibil fu, poi che la perse,
126volsesi al segno di maggior disio,

127e a Beatrice tutta si converse;
128ma quella folgorò nel mïo sguardo
129sì che da prima il viso non sofferse;

130e ciò mi fece a dimandar più tardo.

That sun which first had warmed my breast with love
had now revealed to me, confuting, proving,
the gentle face of truth, its loveliness;

and I, in order to declare myself
corrected and convinced, lifted my head
as high as my confessional required.

But a new vision showed itself to me;
the grip in which it held me was so fast
that I did not remember to confess.

Just as, returning through transparent, clean
glass, or through waters calm and crystalline
(so shallow that they scarcely can reflect),

the mirrored image of our faces meets
our pupils with no greater force than that
a pearl has when displayed on a white forehead—

so faint, the many faces I saw keen
to speak; thus, my mistake was contrary
to that which led the man to love the fountain.

As soon as I had noticed them, thinking
that what I saw were merely mirrorings,
I turned around to see who they might be;

and I saw nothing; and I let my sight
turn back to meet the light of my dear guide,
who, as she smiled, glowed in her holy eyes.

“There is no need to wonder if I smile,”
she said, “because you reason like a child;
your steps do not yet rest upon the truth;

your mind misguides you into emptiness:
what you are seeing are true substances,
placed here because their vows were not fulfilled.

Thus, speak and listen; trust what they will say:
the truthful light in which they find their peace
will not allow their steps to turn astray.”

Then I turned to the shade that seemed most anxious
to speak, and I began as would a man
bewildered by desire too intense:

“O spirit born to goodness, you who feel,
beneath the rays of the eternal life,
that sweetness which cannot be known unless

it is experienced, it would be gracious
of you to let me know your name and fate.”
At this, unhesitant, with smiling eyes:

“Our charity will never lock its gates
against just will; our love is like the Love
that would have all Its court be like Itself.

Within the world I was a nun, a virgin;
and if your mind attends and recollects,
my greater beauty here will not conceal me,

and you will recognize me as Piccarda,
who, placed here with the other blessed ones,
am blessed within the slowest of the spheres.

Our sentiments, which only serve the flame
that is the pleasure of the Holy Ghost,
delight in their conforming to His order.

And we are to be found within a sphere
this low, because we have neglected vows,
so that in some respect we were deficient.”

And I to her: “Within your wonderful
semblance there is something divine that glows,
transforming the appearance you once showed:

therefore, my recognizing you was slow;
but what you now have told me is of help;
I can identify you much more clearly.

But tell me: though you’re happy here, do you
desire a higher place in order to
see more and to be still more close to Him?”

Together with her fellow shades she smiled
at first; then she replied to me with such
gladness, like one who burns with love’s first flame:

“Brother, the power of love appeases our
will so—we only long for what we have;
we do not thirst for greater blessedness.

Should we desire a higher sphere than ours,
then our desires would be discordant with
the will of Him who has assigned us here,

but you’ll see no such discord in these spheres;
to live in love is—here—necessity,
if you think on love’s nature carefully.

The essence of this blessed life consists
in keeping to the boundaries of God’s will,
through which our wills become one single will;

so that, as we are ranged from step to step
throughout this kingdom, all this kingdom wills
that which will please the King whose will is rule.

And in His will there is our peace: that sea
to which all beings move—the beings He
creates or nature makes—such is His will.”

Then it was clear to me how every place
in Heaven is in Paradise, though grace
does not rain equally from the High Good.

But just as, when our hunger has been sated
with one food, we still long to taste the other—
while thankful for the first, we crave the latter—

so was I in my words and in my gestures,
asking to learn from her what was the web
of which her shuttle had not reached the end.

“A perfect life,” she said, “and her high merit
enheaven, up above, a woman whose
rule governs those who, in your world, would wear

nuns’ dress and veil, so that, until their death,
they wake and sleep with that Spouse who accepts
all vows that love conforms unto His pleasure.

Still young, I fled the world to follow her;
and, in her order’s habit, I enclosed
myself and promised my life to her rule.

Then men more used to malice than to good
took me—violently—from my sweet cloister:
God knows what, after that, my life became.

This other radiance that shows itself
to you at my right hand, a brightness kindled
by all the light that fills our heaven—she

has understood what I have said: she was
a sister, and from her head, too, by force,
the shadow of the sacred veil was taken.

But though she had been turned back to the world
against her will, against all honest practice,
the veil upon her heart was never loosed.

This is the splendor of the great Costanza,
who from the Swabians’ second gust engendered
the one who was their third and final power.”

This said, she then began to sing “Ave
Maria” and, while singing, vanished as
a weighty thing will vanish in deep water.

My sight, which followed her as long as it
was able to, once she was out of view,
returned to where its greater longing lay,

and it was wholly bent on Beatrice;
but she then struck my eyes with so much brightness
that I, at first, could not withstand her force;

and that made me delay my questioning.

THAT Sun, which erst with love my bosom warmed,
Of beauteous truth had unto me discovered,
By proving and reproving, the sweet aspect.

And, that I might confess myself convinced
And confident, so far as was befitting,
I lifted more erect my head to speak.

But there appeared a vision, which withdrew me
So close to it, in order to be seen,
That my confession I remembered not.

Such as through polished and transparent glass,
Or waters crystalline and undisturbed,
But not so deep as that their bed be lost,

Come back again the outlines of our faces
So feeble, that a pearl on forehead white
Comes not less speedily unto our eyes;

Such saw I many faces prompt to speak,
So that I ran in error opposite
To that which kindled love ‘twixt man and fountain.

As soon as I became aware of them,
Esteeming them as mirrored semblances,
To see of whom they were, mine eyes I turned,

And nothing saw, and once more turned them forward
Direct into the light of my sweet Guide,
Who smiling kindled in her holy eyes.

“Marvel thou not,”she said to me,”because
I smile at this thy puerile conceit,
Since on the truth it trusts not yet its foot,

But turns thee, as ’tis wont, on emptiness.
True substances are these which thou beholdest,
Here relegate for breaking of some vow.

Therefore speak with them, listen and believe;
For the true light, which giveth peace to them,
Permits them not to turn from it their feet.”

And I unto the shade that seemed most wishful
To speak directed me, and I began,
As one whom too great eagerness bewilders:

“O well—created spirit, who in the rays
Of life eternal dost the sweetness taste
Which being untasted ne’er is comprehended.

Grateful ’twill be to me, if thou content me
Both with thy name and with your destiny.”
Whereat she promptly and with laughing eyes:

“Our charity doth never shut the doors
Against a just desire, except as one
Who wills that all her court be like herself.

I was a virgin sister in the world;
And if thy mind doth contemplate me well,
The being more fair will not conceal me from thee,

But thou shalt recognise I am Piccarda,
Who, stationed here among these other blessed,
Myself am blessed in the slowest sphere.

All our affections, that alone inflamed
Are in the pleasure of the Holy Ghost,
Rejoice at being of his order formed;

And this allotment, which appears so low,
Therefore is given us, because our vows
Have been neglected and in some part void.”

Whence I to her: “In your miraculous aspects
There shines I know not what of the divine,
Which doth transform you from our first conceptions.

Therefore I was not swift in my remembrance;
But what thou tellest me now aids me so,
That the refiguring is easier to me.

But tell me, ye who in this place are happy,
Are you desirous of a higher place,
To see more or to make yourselves more friends ?”

First with those other shades she smiled a little;
Thereafter answered me so full of gladness,
She seemed to burn in the first fire of love:

“Brother, our will is quieted by virtue
Of charity, that makes us wish alone
For what we have, nor gives us thirst for more.

If to be more exalted we aspired,
Discordant would our aspirations be
Unto the will of Him who here secludes us;

Which thou shalt see finds no place in these circles,
If being in charity is needful here,
And if thou lookest well into its nature;

Nay, ’tis essential to this blest existence
To keep itself within the will divine,
Whereby our very wishes are made one;

So that, as we are station above station
Throughout this realm, to all the realm ’tis pleasing,
As to the King, who makes his will our will.

And his will is our peace; this is the sea
To which is moving onward whatsoever
It doth create, and all that nature makes.”

Then it was clear to me how everywhere
In heaven is Paradise, although the grace
Of good supreme there rain not in one measure

But as it comes to pass, if one food sates,
And for another still remains the longing,
We ask for this, and that decline with thanks,

E’en thus did I; with gesture and with word,
To learn from her what was the web wherein
She did not ply the shuttle to the end.

“A perfect life and merit high in—heaven
A lady o’er us,” said she, “by whose rule
Down in your world they vest and veil themselves,

That until death they may both watch and sleep
Beside that Spouse who every vow accepts
Which charity conformeth to his pleasure.

To follow her, in girlhood from the world
I fled, and in her habit shut myself,
And pledged me to the pathway of her sect.

Then men accustomed unto evil more
Than unto good, from the sweet cloister tore me;
God knows what afterward my life became.

This other splendour, which to thee reveals
Itself on my right side, and is enkindled
With all the illumination of our sphere,

What of myself I say applies to her;
A nun was she, and likewise from her head
Was ta’en the shadow of the sacred wimple.

But when she too was to the world returned
Against her wishes and against good usage,
Of the heart’s veil she never was divested.

Of great Costanza this is the effulgence,
Who from the second wind of Suabia
Brought forth the third and latest puissance.”

Thus unto me she spake, and then began
_”Ave Maria”_ singing, and in singing
Vanished, as through deep water something heavy.

My sight, that followed her as long a time
As it was possible, when it had lost her
Turned round unto the mark of more desire,

And wholly unto Beatrice reverted;
But she such lightnings flashed into mine eyes,
That at the first my sight endured it not;

And this in questioning more backward made me.

That sun which first had warmed my breast with love
had now revealed to me, confuting, proving,
the gentle face of truth, its loveliness;

and I, in order to declare myself
corrected and convinced, lifted my head
as high as my confessional required.

But a new vision showed itself to me;
the grip in which it held me was so fast
that I did not remember to confess.

Just as, returning through transparent, clean
glass, or through waters calm and crystalline
(so shallow that they scarcely can reflect),

the mirrored image of our faces meets
our pupils with no greater force than that
a pearl has when displayed on a white forehead—

so faint, the many faces I saw keen
to speak; thus, my mistake was contrary
to that which led the man to love the fountain.

As soon as I had noticed them, thinking
that what I saw were merely mirrorings,
I turned around to see who they might be;

and I saw nothing; and I let my sight
turn back to meet the light of my dear guide,
who, as she smiled, glowed in her holy eyes.

“There is no need to wonder if I smile,”
she said, “because you reason like a child;
your steps do not yet rest upon the truth;

your mind misguides you into emptiness:
what you are seeing are true substances,
placed here because their vows were not fulfilled.

Thus, speak and listen; trust what they will say:
the truthful light in which they find their peace
will not allow their steps to turn astray.”

Then I turned to the shade that seemed most anxious
to speak, and I began as would a man
bewildered by desire too intense:

“O spirit born to goodness, you who feel,
beneath the rays of the eternal life,
that sweetness which cannot be known unless

it is experienced, it would be gracious
of you to let me know your name and fate.”
At this, unhesitant, with smiling eyes:

“Our charity will never lock its gates
against just will; our love is like the Love
that would have all Its court be like Itself.

Within the world I was a nun, a virgin;
and if your mind attends and recollects,
my greater beauty here will not conceal me,

and you will recognize me as Piccarda,
who, placed here with the other blessed ones,
am blessed within the slowest of the spheres.

Our sentiments, which only serve the flame
that is the pleasure of the Holy Ghost,
delight in their conforming to His order.

And we are to be found within a sphere
this low, because we have neglected vows,
so that in some respect we were deficient.”

And I to her: “Within your wonderful
semblance there is something divine that glows,
transforming the appearance you once showed:

therefore, my recognizing you was slow;
but what you now have told me is of help;
I can identify you much more clearly.

But tell me: though you’re happy here, do you
desire a higher place in order to
see more and to be still more close to Him?”

Together with her fellow shades she smiled
at first; then she replied to me with such
gladness, like one who burns with love’s first flame:

“Brother, the power of love appeases our
will so—we only long for what we have;
we do not thirst for greater blessedness.

Should we desire a higher sphere than ours,
then our desires would be discordant with
the will of Him who has assigned us here,

but you’ll see no such discord in these spheres;
to live in love is—here—necessity,
if you think on love’s nature carefully.

The essence of this blessed life consists
in keeping to the boundaries of God’s will,
through which our wills become one single will;

so that, as we are ranged from step to step
throughout this kingdom, all this kingdom wills
that which will please the King whose will is rule.

And in His will there is our peace: that sea
to which all beings move—the beings He
creates or nature makes—such is His will.”

Then it was clear to me how every place
in Heaven is in Paradise, though grace
does not rain equally from the High Good.

But just as, when our hunger has been sated
with one food, we still long to taste the other—
while thankful for the first, we crave the latter—

so was I in my words and in my gestures,
asking to learn from her what was the web
of which her shuttle had not reached the end.

“A perfect life,” she said, “and her high merit
enheaven, up above, a woman whose
rule governs those who, in your world, would wear

nuns’ dress and veil, so that, until their death,
they wake and sleep with that Spouse who accepts
all vows that love conforms unto His pleasure.

Still young, I fled the world to follow her;
and, in her order’s habit, I enclosed
myself and promised my life to her rule.

Then men more used to malice than to good
took me—violently—from my sweet cloister:
God knows what, after that, my life became.

This other radiance that shows itself
to you at my right hand, a brightness kindled
by all the light that fills our heaven—she

has understood what I have said: she was
a sister, and from her head, too, by force,
the shadow of the sacred veil was taken.

But though she had been turned back to the world
against her will, against all honest practice,
the veil upon her heart was never loosed.

This is the splendor of the great Costanza,
who from the Swabians’ second gust engendered
the one who was their third and final power.”

This said, she then began to sing “Ave
Maria” and, while singing, vanished as
a weighty thing will vanish in deep water.

My sight, which followed her as long as it
was able to, once she was out of view,
returned to where its greater longing lay,

and it was wholly bent on Beatrice;
but she then struck my eyes with so much brightness
that I, at first, could not withstand her force;

and that made me delay my questioning.

THAT Sun, which erst with love my bosom warmed,
Of beauteous truth had unto me discovered,
By proving and reproving, the sweet aspect.

And, that I might confess myself convinced
And confident, so far as was befitting,
I lifted more erect my head to speak.

But there appeared a vision, which withdrew me
So close to it, in order to be seen,
That my confession I remembered not.

Such as through polished and transparent glass,
Or waters crystalline and undisturbed,
But not so deep as that their bed be lost,

Come back again the outlines of our faces
So feeble, that a pearl on forehead white
Comes not less speedily unto our eyes;

Such saw I many faces prompt to speak,
So that I ran in error opposite
To that which kindled love ‘twixt man and fountain.

As soon as I became aware of them,
Esteeming them as mirrored semblances,
To see of whom they were, mine eyes I turned,

And nothing saw, and once more turned them forward
Direct into the light of my sweet Guide,
Who smiling kindled in her holy eyes.

“Marvel thou not,”she said to me,”because
I smile at this thy puerile conceit,
Since on the truth it trusts not yet its foot,

But turns thee, as ’tis wont, on emptiness.
True substances are these which thou beholdest,
Here relegate for breaking of some vow.

Therefore speak with them, listen and believe;
For the true light, which giveth peace to them,
Permits them not to turn from it their feet.”

And I unto the shade that seemed most wishful
To speak directed me, and I began,
As one whom too great eagerness bewilders:

“O well—created spirit, who in the rays
Of life eternal dost the sweetness taste
Which being untasted ne’er is comprehended.

Grateful ’twill be to me, if thou content me
Both with thy name and with your destiny.”
Whereat she promptly and with laughing eyes:

“Our charity doth never shut the doors
Against a just desire, except as one
Who wills that all her court be like herself.

I was a virgin sister in the world;
And if thy mind doth contemplate me well,
The being more fair will not conceal me from thee,

But thou shalt recognise I am Piccarda,
Who, stationed here among these other blessed,
Myself am blessed in the slowest sphere.

All our affections, that alone inflamed
Are in the pleasure of the Holy Ghost,
Rejoice at being of his order formed;

And this allotment, which appears so low,
Therefore is given us, because our vows
Have been neglected and in some part void.”

Whence I to her: “In your miraculous aspects
There shines I know not what of the divine,
Which doth transform you from our first conceptions.

Therefore I was not swift in my remembrance;
But what thou tellest me now aids me so,
That the refiguring is easier to me.

But tell me, ye who in this place are happy,
Are you desirous of a higher place,
To see more or to make yourselves more friends ?”

First with those other shades she smiled a little;
Thereafter answered me so full of gladness,
She seemed to burn in the first fire of love:

“Brother, our will is quieted by virtue
Of charity, that makes us wish alone
For what we have, nor gives us thirst for more.

If to be more exalted we aspired,
Discordant would our aspirations be
Unto the will of Him who here secludes us;

Which thou shalt see finds no place in these circles,
If being in charity is needful here,
And if thou lookest well into its nature;

Nay, ’tis essential to this blest existence
To keep itself within the will divine,
Whereby our very wishes are made one;

So that, as we are station above station
Throughout this realm, to all the realm ’tis pleasing,
As to the King, who makes his will our will.

And his will is our peace; this is the sea
To which is moving onward whatsoever
It doth create, and all that nature makes.”

Then it was clear to me how everywhere
In heaven is Paradise, although the grace
Of good supreme there rain not in one measure

But as it comes to pass, if one food sates,
And for another still remains the longing,
We ask for this, and that decline with thanks,

E’en thus did I; with gesture and with word,
To learn from her what was the web wherein
She did not ply the shuttle to the end.

“A perfect life and merit high in—heaven
A lady o’er us,” said she, “by whose rule
Down in your world they vest and veil themselves,

That until death they may both watch and sleep
Beside that Spouse who every vow accepts
Which charity conformeth to his pleasure.

To follow her, in girlhood from the world
I fled, and in her habit shut myself,
And pledged me to the pathway of her sect.

Then men accustomed unto evil more
Than unto good, from the sweet cloister tore me;
God knows what afterward my life became.

This other splendour, which to thee reveals
Itself on my right side, and is enkindled
With all the illumination of our sphere,

What of myself I say applies to her;
A nun was she, and likewise from her head
Was ta’en the shadow of the sacred wimple.

But when she too was to the world returned
Against her wishes and against good usage,
Of the heart’s veil she never was divested.

Of great Costanza this is the effulgence,
Who from the second wind of Suabia
Brought forth the third and latest puissance.”

Thus unto me she spake, and then began
_”Ave Maria”_ singing, and in singing
Vanished, as through deep water something heavy.

My sight, that followed her as long a time
As it was possible, when it had lost her
Turned round unto the mark of more desire,

And wholly unto Beatrice reverted;
But she such lightnings flashed into mine eyes,
That at the first my sight endured it not;

And this in questioning more backward made me.