Invisible Ink

The prayer to the Virgin, uttered by Saint Bernard, requests intercession for the pilgrim that he may complete his quest to attain the “beatific vision”: a vision of the transcendent principle that holds the universe together, “bound by love in one volume” (Par. 33.86). The prayer to the Virgin and the transitional verses that follow it encompass the first 45 verses of the canto: Bernard’s prayer in the present tense, verses 1-39, and the coda to the prayer that introduces the narrative past tense, verses 40-45.

The first verse of the canto—“Vergine madre, figlia del tuo figlio” (Virgin mother, daughter of your son)—is the very embodiment of the paradoxes that are the constituent feature of Dante’s paradise. The prayer ends in verse 39 and then there are two terzine that transition from the prayer to the “plot”, which resumes in verse 46, with the statement that Dante is nearing the “end of all desires”:

E io ch’al fine di tutt’i disii
appropinquava, sì com’io dovea,
l’ardor del desiderio in me finii. (Par. 33.46-48)
And I, who now was nearing Him who is
the end of all desires, as I ought,
lifted my longing to its ardent limit.

What follows is the “story” of the pilgrim’s gaze, as it finally ascends to the beatific vision.

If we divide Paradiso 33, searching for the narrative structure that it resists, we begin by distinguishing the oratorical prelude of the canto’s first third, its first 45 verses, from the ensuing story of the pilgrim’s final ascent. This story can, I believe, be viewed as three circular waves of discourse (like the rippling motion of water in a round vase that is compared to waves of spoken speech at the beginning of Paradiso 14): three circulate melodie, three “jumps” by which the poet zeroes in on his poem’s climax. He approaches and backs off, approaches and backs off again, and finally arrives.

Each of these circular movements is made up of three textual building blocks used by the poet to keep the text jumping, to prevent a narrative line from forming. The three textual building blocks are:

  • brief moments of “plot,” where the pilgrim does something or something happens to him, distinguished by the past tense;
  • metapoetic statements about the insufficiencies of the poet to his task;
  • apostrophes to the divinity praying for aid.

The first of the circular movements, which I posit from lines 46 to 75, articulates most clearly the three textual components. It begins with a sequence of pure plot, in which Dante narrates what happened in the past tense, first stating unequivocally that “l’ardor del desiderio in me finii” (I lifted my longing to its ardent limit [48]), and then describing how he looked upward, training his gaze more and more (“più e più” now takes the place of “più e meno”) along the divine ray (46-54).

Even in this relatively straightforward and linear recounting, we note the slippage that is typical of this canto, as Dante inaugurates the technique of coupling the adversative “ma” with the time-blurring adverb “già” that will be reprised to such effect in the poem’s conclusion. Thus, in verses 50-51, Bernard signals to the pilgrim to look up, “ma io era / già per me stesso tal qual ei volea” (but I, already was doing what he wanted me to do). We now move into the present tense, as the poet takes the stage, telling us that thenceforward his vision was greater than his speech can express, since his memory yields before such a going beyond, before “tanto oltraggio” (57). In three beautiful and quintessentially affective similes, the poet figures both his gain and his loss:

  • he is as one who sees in dream, but who after his vision retains only the imprinted sentiment, the “passione impressa” (59);
  • in the same way that his vision ceases, leaving behind a distilled sweetness in his heart, so does snow melt under the sun,
  • so in light leaves cast to the wind were the Sibyl’s oracles lost:
Così la neve al sol si disigilla;
così al vento ne le foglie levi
si perdea la sentenza di Sibilla. (Par. 33.64-66)
So is the snow, beneath the sun, unsealed;
and so, on the light leaves, beneath the wind,
the oracles the Sibyl wrote were lost.

At this point, in an abrupt “jump” away from the lyrical peak formed by these similes, which impress upon us emotionally what cannot be understood rationally (working to transfer to us the “passione impressa” experienced by the pilgrim), we move into a prayer/apostrophe, also in the present tense, in which the poet begs that his tongue may be granted the power to tell but a little of what he saw. Beginning with the vocative “O somma luce” (O highest light [67]), this segment takes us to the end of the first circular movement, verse 75.

Whereas the first movement circles paradigmatically from “event” to the poet’s inability to recount that event, to his appeal for help in verbalizing what he has thus far not proved able to express, the second movement, which encompasses lines 76 to 105, is less articulated. Again, it begins with a moment of plot, which contains what is probably the canto’s most straightforward statement of arrival, situated in a passage whose rhyme words offer a veritable archeology of the Commedia’s thematics. Afraid to look away lest he be lost (“smarrito” [77]), the pilgrim is daring (“ardito” [79]) enough to sustain the light, and so he reaches his journey’s end: “i’ giunsi / l’aspetto mio col valore infinito” (my vision reached the Infinite Goodness [80-81]). Immediately, as though that conjoining of the individual one (“io”, “mio”) with the infinite One were not sustainable at a narrative level, the text jumps into an exclamatory terzina as the poet apostrophizes the grace that permitted his oltraggio:

Oh abbondante grazia ond’io presunsi
ficcar lo viso per la luce etterna,
tanto che la veduta vi consunsi! (Par. 33.82-84)
O grace abounding, through which I presumed
to set my eyes on the Eternal Light
so long that I spent all my sight on it!

The apostrophe in turn jumps into an attempt to say what was seen within that light, and we are thrust into the poem’s ultimate metaphor of unity:

Nel suo profondo vidi che s’interna
legato con amore in un volume,
ciò che per l’universo si squaderna:
sustanze e accidenti e lor costume
quasi conflati insieme, per tal modo
che ciò ch’i’ dico è un semplice lume. (Par. 33.85-90)
 In its profundity I saw—ingathered
and bound by love into one single volume—
what, in the universe, seems separate, scattered:
substances, accidents, and dispositions
as if conjoined—in such a way that what
I tell is only rudimentary.

The ineffable perception of the “forma universal” is felt rather than comprehended. His recollection is affective, not intellective; he believes he saw the “forma universal” because he feels joy as he speaks of it: “dicendo questo, mi sento ch’i’ godo” (93).

That one moment—“Un punto solo”—is the source for him of greater wonder and oblivion than are for us the twenty-five centuries that have passed since Neptune saw the shadow of the first ship, Jason’s Argo:

Un punto solo m’è maggior letargo
che venticinque secoli a la ’mpresa
che fé Nettuno ammirar l’ombra d’Argo. (Par. 33.94-96)
That one moment brings more forgetfulness to me
than twenty-five centuries have brought to the
endeavor that startled Neptune with the Argo's shadow!

In other words, we—who have been forgetting the object of Neptune’s wonder, the sight of the Argo’s shadow, for 2500 years—have in all that time lost less of Neptune’s vision than Dante has already lost of his.

The instability of the amazing analogy is structural, since the “punto solo” is analogous both, as object of the vision, to the Argo and, as duration of the vision, to the 25 centuries. Making the terzina even more impossible to hold onto is the fact that its main action is forgetting: active, continual, endlessly accreted forgetting. Infinitely fascinating, infinitely impenetrable and dense, the Neptune analogy is a fitting emblem for the poetics of Paradiso 33, and indeed for Paradiso as a whole.

A terzina of plot in which the pilgrim continues to gaze on the divine light (97-99), is followed by a passage that is essentially the poem’s last contribution to Dante’s long meditation on conversion, desire, and the will. The effect of gazing on that light is to make impossible any dis-conversion, any consenting to turn from it toward another sight: “che volgersi da lei per altro aspetto / è impossibil che mai si consenta” (it would be impossible for him to set that Light aside for other sight [101-02]).

At this point begins the last, and longest, of Paradiso 33’s three circulate melodie. The transitional adverb “Omai” starts off the final movement by telling us that we are reaching finality. The poem cannot continue much longer, because the poet’s speech is becoming ever more insufficient, as “short” with relation to his task as that of a suckling infant:

Omai sarà più corta mia favella,
pur a quel ch’io ricordo, che d’un fante
che bagni ancor la lingua a la mammella. (Par. 33.106-08)
What little I recall is to be told,
from this point on, in words more weak than those
of one whose infant tongue still bathes at the breast.

With this recall of the previous two canti of anti-narrative “infantile” speechlessness, Paradiso 23 and 30, Dante jumps into plot. Not because the light into which he gazed was changing—for it was one and only one, “simple” (109) rather than various, so untouched by time or difference that “It is always what It was before” (“tal è sempre qual s’era davante” [111])—but because of changes within himself, the light was transformed. Within the luminous substance there appeared three circles of three colors and one dimension, two reflecting each other like rainbows and the third mediating equally in between:

e l’un da l’altro come iri da iri
parea reflesso, e ’l terzo parea foco
che quinci e quindi igualmente si spiri. (Par. 33.118-20)
one circle seemed reflected by the second,
as rainbow is by rainbow, and the third
seemed fire breathed equally by those two circles.

But the effort to sustain the narrative line is too great, and the poet breaks in, first to exclaim again about the “shortness” of his speech (121-23) and then to address the eternal light that alone knows itself, is known by itself, and, knowing, loves itself (124-26). The apostrophe’s Trinitarian language moves the poet back into plot, into confronting the ultimate mystery of the incarnation, of the second circle that is painted within itself, in its same color, with our human image, “nostra effige” (131). Like a geometer who concentrates all his energies on squaring the circle but cannot find the principle he needs (an intellective rather than affective simile, but devoted to the intellect’s failure), such is the pilgrim before that final paradox, “that new vision”: “quella vista nova” (136).

The “vista nova” of verse 136 marks the poem’s last beginning of the end, its last cosa nova, its newest encounter with the new. The verse that contains it is the tenth from the end, a fact that is likely not coincidental, as it is not coincidental that, upon removing Paradiso 33’s prelude of 45 verses, there remain precisely one hundred lines of text.

Now I come to the invisible ink of Paradiso 33. These one hundred lines, verses 46-145, if renumbered with verse 46 as verse 1, confirm the three circular movements suggested above, by giving them numerological significance.[1] In the new numbering, line 75, the end of the first movement, is now line 30; line 105 is now line 60; and the poem’s last line is now, by virtue of divine renumbering in God’s invisible ink, line 100:

circulata melodia 1:     46-75  ⇒ 1-30

circulata melodia 2:     76-105 ⇒ 31-60 

circulata melodia 3:     106-45 ⇒ 61-100

Moreover, Paradiso 33’s final circulata melodia of 40 verses can be further subdivided at the “vista nova” 10 lines from the end, so that the Commedia’s final 100 verses recapitulate the threes and ones of its basic structure in the scheme 30 + 30 + 30 + 10, as follows:

circulata melodia 1:     46-75  ⇒ 1-30           30

circulata melodia 2:     76-105 ⇒ 31-60          30

circulata melodia 3:     106-35 ⇒ 61-90          30

                                135-45 ⇒ 91-100         10

At the end the sacred poem is forced to jump; and it does, sprung by disjunctive conjunctions that reverse the text’s direction from verse to verse, managing both to communicate an “event” and to conflate all narrativity into a textual approximation of the igualmente to which we hasten:

ma non eran da ciò le proprie penne:
se non che la mia mente fu percossa
da un fulgore in che sua voglia venne. (Par. 33.139-41)
And my own wings were far too weak for that.
But then my mind was struck by light that flashed
and, with this light, received what it had asked.

Another jump occurs as the poet speaks of his poetic failure one last time—“A l’alta fantasia qui mancò possa” (Here force failed my high fantasy [142])—and still another as he records a final event with a final time-defying adversative. His self, his singular and historical self, is now revolving with the spheres. Or rather, it is being revolved—by the Love that moves everything, including him. The last verb that touches on plot is in the imperfect tense (“volgeva”), as it has to be, since the voyage occurred in the past, but Dante reverses the order of the syntax, putting the subject last, and thus concludes the poem with a present tense. The subject that comes last is a periphrasis for God, “l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle” (the Love that moves the sun and the other stars [145]); as a periphrasis it does not belong to the diegetic time-line of the plot, and it allows Dante to end the Commedia with an eternal present:

ma già volgeva il mio disio e ’l velle
sì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa,
l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle. (Par. 33.143-45)
but my desire and will were moved already—
like a wheel revolving uniformly—by
the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.

A final note. When Dante reaches the end of his vision and is granted the sight of the universe bound together in one volume, what entrances him is not plain Oneness but all that multiplicity somehow contained and unified. His heart is set on seeing and knowing that multiplicity, an otherness that is still stubbornly present in the poem’s penultimate word. God is the love that moves the sun and the other stars: “l’amor che move ’l sole e l’altre stelle”.

Much has been written about the transcendent stelle with which the Commedia ends; let us give due weight as well to the adjective that modifies those stars, the poem’s penultimate word, altre. Dante believes in a transcendent One, but his One is indelibly characterized by the multiplicity, difference, and sheer otherness embodied in the “altre stelle”—an otherness by which he is still unrepentantly captivated in his poem’s last breath.

 

[1] Below is a chart of the narrative structure of Paradiso 33 made as a class hand-out. Undated, I know from the course number that it goes back to my years at the University of California at Berkeley, my first job, where I taught from 1978-1983. The three circular movements were almost right. Later, I was able to correct the precise contours of the three circulate melodie based on the numerology of the invisible ink.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: This Introduction reprises much of what I wrote in the last pages of The Undivine Comedy, Chapter 10, “The Sacred Poem Is Forced to Jump: Closure and the Poetics of Enjambment,” pp. 251-56.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Paradiso 33: Invisible Ink.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/paradiso/paradiso-33/

About the Commento

1«Vergine Madre, figlia del tuo figlio,
2umile e alta più che creatura,
3termine fisso d’etterno consiglio,

4tu se’ colei che l’umana natura
5nobilitasti sì, che ’l suo fattore
6non disdegnò di farsi sua fattura.

7Nel ventre tuo si raccese l’amore,
8per lo cui caldo ne l’etterna pace
9così è germinato questo fiore.

10Qui se’ a noi meridïana face
11di caritate, e giuso, intra ’ mortali,
12se’ di speranza fontana vivace.

13Donna, se’ tanto grande e tanto vali,
14che qual vuol grazia e a te non ricorre,
15sua disïanza vuol volar sanz’ ali.

16La tua benignità non pur soccorre
17a chi domanda, ma molte fïate
18liberamente al dimandar precorre.

19In te misericordia, in te pietate,
20in te magnificenza, in te s’aduna
21quantunque in creatura è di bontate.

22Or questi, che da l’infima lacuna
23de l’universo infin qui ha vedute
24le vite spiritali ad una ad una,

25supplica a te, per grazia, di virtute
26tanto, che possa con li occhi levarsi
27più alto verso l’ultima salute.

28E io, che mai per mio veder non arsi
29più ch’i’ fo per lo suo, tutti miei prieghi
30ti porgo, e priego che non sieno scarsi,

31perché tu ogne nube li disleghi
32di sua mortalità co’ prieghi tuoi,
33sì che ’l sommo piacer li si dispieghi.

34Ancor ti priego, regina, che puoi
35ciò che tu vuoli, che conservi sani,
36dopo tanto veder, li affetti suoi.

37Vinca tua guardia i movimenti umani:
38vedi Beatrice con quanti beati
39per li miei prieghi ti chiudon le mani!».

40Li occhi da Dio diletti e venerati,
41fissi ne l’orator, ne dimostraro
42quanto i devoti prieghi le son grati;

43indi a l’etterno lume s’addrizzaro,
44nel qual non si dee creder che s’invii
45per creatura l’occhio tanto chiaro.

46E io ch’al fine di tutt’ i disii
47appropinquava, sì com’ io dovea,
48l’ardor del desiderio in me finii.

49Bernardo m’accennava, e sorridea,
50perch’ io guardassi suso; ma io era
51già per me stesso tal qual ei volea:

52ché la mia vista, venendo sincera,
53e più e più intrava per lo raggio
54de l’alta luce che da sé è vera.

55Da quinci innanzi il mio veder fu maggio
56che ’l parlar mostra, ch’a tal vista cede,
57e cede la memoria a tanto oltraggio.

58Qual è colüi che sognando vede,
59che dopo ’l sogno la passione impressa
60rimane, e l’altro a la mente non riede,

61cotal son io, ché quasi tutta cessa
62mia visïone, e ancor mi distilla
63nel core il dolce che nacque da essa.

64Così la neve al sol si disigilla;
65così al vento ne le foglie levi
66si perdea la sentenza di Sibilla.

67O somma luce che tanto ti levi
68da’ concetti mortali, a la mia mente
69ripresta un poco di quel che parevi,

70e fa la lingua mia tanto possente,
71ch’una favilla sol de la tua gloria
72possa lasciare a la futura gente;

73ché, per tornare alquanto a mia memoria
74e per sonare un poco in questi versi,
75più si conceperà di tua vittoria.

76Io credo, per l’acume ch’io soffersi
77del vivo raggio, ch’i’ sarei smarrito,
78se li occhi miei da lui fossero aversi.

79E’ mi ricorda ch’io fui più ardito
80per questo a sostener, tanto ch’i’ giunsi
81l’aspetto mio col valore infinito.

82Oh abbondante grazia ond’ io presunsi
83ficcar lo viso per la luce etterna,
84tanto che la veduta vi consunsi!

85Nel suo profondo vidi che s’interna,
86legato con amore in un volume,
87ciò che per l’universo si squaderna:

88sustanze e accidenti e lor costume
89quasi conflati insieme, per tal modo
90che ciò ch’i’ dico è un semplice lume.

91La forma universal di questo nodo
92credo ch’i’ vidi, perché più di largo,
93dicendo questo, mi sento ch’i’ godo.

94Un punto solo m’è maggior letargo
95che venticinque secoli a la ’mpresa
96che fé Nettuno ammirar l’ombra d’Argo.

97Così la mente mia, tutta sospesa,
98mirava fissa, immobile e attenta,
99e sempre di mirar faceasi accesa.

100A quella luce cotal si diventa,
101che volgersi da lei per altro aspetto
102è impossibil che mai si consenta;

103però che ’l ben, ch’è del volere obietto,
104tutto s’accoglie in lei, e fuor di quella
105è defettivo ciò ch’è lì perfetto.

106Omai sarà più corta mia favella,
107pur a quel ch’io ricordo, che d’un fante
108che bagni ancor la lingua a la mammella.

109Non perché più ch’un semplice sembiante
110fosse nel vivo lume ch’io mirava,
111che tal è sempre qual s’era davante;

112ma per la vista che s’avvalorava
113in me guardando, una sola parvenza,
114mutandom’ io, a me si travagliava.

115Ne la profonda e chiara sussistenza
116de l’alto lume parvermi tre giri
117di tre colori e d’una contenenza;

118e l’un da l’altro come iri da iri
119parea reflesso, e ’l terzo parea foco
120che quinci e quindi igualmente si spiri.

121Oh quanto è corto il dire e come fioco
122al mio concetto! e questo, a quel ch’i’ vidi,
123è tanto, che non basta a dicer ‘poco’.

124O luce etterna che sola in te sidi,
125sola t’intendi, e da te intelletta
126e intendente te ami e arridi!

127Quella circulazion che sì concetta
128pareva in te come lume reflesso,
129da li occhi miei alquanto circunspetta,

130dentro da sé, del suo colore stesso,
131mi parve pinta de la nostra effige:
132per che ’l mio viso in lei tutto era messo.

133Qual è ’l geomètra che tutto s’affige
134per misurar lo cerchio, e non ritrova,
135pensando, quel principio ond’ elli indige,

136tal era io a quella vista nova:
137veder voleva come si convenne
138l’imago al cerchio e come vi s’indova;

139ma non eran da ciò le proprie penne:
140se non che la mia mente fu percossa
141da un fulgore in che sua voglia venne.

142A l’alta fantasia qui mancò possa;
143ma già volgeva il mio disio e ’l velle,
144sì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa,

145l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.

“Virgin mother, daughter of your Son,
more humble and sublime than any creature,
fixed goal decreed from all eternity,

you are the one who gave to human nature
so much nobility that its Creator
did not disdain His being made its creature.

That love whose warmth allowed this flower to bloom
within the everlasting peace—was love
rekindled in your womb; for us above,

you are the noonday torch of charity,
and there below, on earth, among the mortals,
you are a living spring of hope. Lady,

you are so high, you can so intercede,
that he who would have grace but does not seek
your aid, may long to fly but has no wings.

Your loving—kindness does not only answer
the one who asks, but it is often ready
to answer freely long before the asking.

In you compassion is, in you is pity,
in you is generosity, in you
is every goodness found in any creature.

This man—who from the deepest hollow in
the universe, up to this height, has seen
the lives of spirits, one by one—now pleads

with you, through grace, to grant him so much virtue
that he may lift his vision higher still—
may lift it toward the ultimate salvation.

And I, who never burned for my own vision
more than I burn for his, do offer you
all of my prayers—and pray that they may not

fall short—that, with your prayers, you may disperse
all of the clouds of his mortality
so that the Highest Joy be his to see.

This, too, o Queen, who can do what you would,
I ask of you: that after such a vision,
his sentiments preserve their perseverance.

May your protection curb his mortal passions.
See Beatrice—how many saints with her!
They join my prayers! They clasp their hands to you!”

The eyes that are revered and loved by God,
now fixed upon the supplicant, showed us
how welcome such devotions are to her;

then her eyes turned to the Eternal Light—
there, do not think that any creature’s eye
can find its way as clearly as her sight.

And I, who now was nearing Him who is
the end of all desires, as I ought,
lifted my longing to its ardent limit.

Bernard was signaling—he smiled—to me
to turn my eyes on high; but I, already
was doing what he wanted me to do,

because my sight, becoming pure, was able
to penetrate the ray of Light more deeply—
that Light, sublime, which in Itself is true.

From that point on, what I could see was greater
than speech can show: at such a sight, it fails—
and memory fails when faced with such excess.

As one who sees within a dream, and, later,
the passion that had been imprinted stays,
but nothing of the rest returns to mind,

such am I, for my vision almost fades
completely, yet it still distills within
my heart the sweetness that was born of it.

So is the snow, beneath the sun, unsealed;
and so, on the light leaves, beneath the wind,
the oracles the Sibyl wrote were lost.

O Highest Light, You, raised so far above
the minds of mortals, to my memory
give back something of Your epiphany,

and make my tongue so powerful that I
may leave to people of the future one
gleam of the glory that is Yours, for by

returning somewhat to my memory
and echoing awhile within these lines,
Your victory will be more understood.

The living ray that I endured was so
acute that I believe I should have gone
astray had my eyes turned away from it.

I can recall that I, because of this,
was bolder in sustaining it until
my vision reached the Infinite Goodness.

O grace abounding, through which I presumed
to set my eyes on the Eternal Light
so long that I spent all my sight on it!

In its profundity I saw—ingathered
and bound by love into one single volume—
what, in the universe, seems separate, scattered:

substances, accidents, and dispositions
as if conjoined—in such a way that what
I tell is only rudimentary.

I think I saw the universal shape
which that knot takes; for, speaking this, I feel
a joy that is more ample. That one moment

brings more forgetfulness to me than twenty—
five centuries have brought to the endeavor
that startled Neptune with the Argo’s shadow!

So was my mind—completely rapt, intent,
steadfast, and motionless—gazing; and it
grew ever more enkindled as it watched.

Whoever sees that Light is soon made such
that it would be impossible for him
to set that Light aside for other sight;

because the good, the object of the will,
is fully gathered in that Light; outside
that Light, what there is perfect is defective.

What little I recall is to be told,
from this point on, in words more weak than those
of one whose infant tongue still bathes at the breast.

And not because more than one simple semblance
was in the Living Light at which I gazed—
for It is always what It was before—

but through my sight, which as I gazed grew stronger,
that sole appearance, even as I altered,
seemed to be changing. In the deep and bright

essence of that exalted Light, three circles
appeared to me; they had three different colors,
but all of them were of the same dimension;

one circle seemed reflected by the second,
as rainbow is by rainbow, and the third
seemed fire breathed equally by those two circles.

How incomplete is speech, how weak, when set
against my thought! And this, to what I saw.
is such—to call it little is too much.

Eternal Light, You only dwell within
Yourself, and only You know You; Self—knowing,
Self—known, You love and smile upon Yourself!

That circle—which, begotten so, appeared
in You as light reflected—when my eyes
had watched it with attention for some time,

within itself and colored like itself,
to me seemed painted with our effigy,
so that my sight was set on it completely.

As the geometer intently seeks
to square the circle, but he cannot reach,
through thought on thought, the principle he needs,

so I searched that strange sight: I wished to see
the way in which our human effigy
suited the circle and found place in it—

and my own wings were far too weak for that.
But then my mind was struck by light that flashed
and, with this light, received what it had asked.

Here force failed my high fantasy; but my
desire and will were moved already—like
a wheel revolving uniformly—by

the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.

“THOU Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son
Humble and high beyond all other creature,
The limit fixed of the eternal counsel,

Thou art the one who such nobility
To human nature gave, that its Creator
Did not disdain to make himself its creature.

Within thy womb rekindled was the love,
By heat of which in the eternal peace
After such wise this flower has germinated.

Here unto us thou art a noonday torch
Of charity, and below there among mortals
Thou art the living fountain—head of hope.

Lady thou art so great, and so prevailing,
That he who wishes grace, nor runs to thee
His aspirations without wings would fly.

Not only thy benignity gives succour
To him who asketh it, but oftentimes
Forerunneth of its own accord the asking

In thee compassion is, in thee is pity,
In thee magnificence, in thee unites
Whate’er of goodness is in any creature.

Now doth this man, who from the lowest depth
Of the universe as far as here has seen
One after one the spiritual lives,

Supplicate thee through grace for so much power
That with his eyes he may uplift himself
Higher towards the uttermost salvation.

And I, who never hurned for my own seeing
More than I do for his, all of my prayers
Proffer to thee, and pray they come not short,

That thou wouldst scatter from him every cloud
Of his mortality so with thy prayers,
That the Chief Pleasure be to him displayed.

Still farther do I pray thee, Queen, who canst
Whate’er thou wilt, that sound thou mayst preserve
After so great a vision his affections.

Let thy protection conquer human movements;
See Beatrice and all the blessed ones
My prayers to second clasp their handls to thee!”

The eyes beloved and revered of God,
Fastened upon the speaker, showed to us
How grateful unto her are prayers devout;

Then unto the Eternal Light they turned,
On which it is not credible could be
By any creature bent an eye so clear.

And I, who to the end of all desires
Was now approaching, even as I ought
The ardour of desire within me ended.

Bernand was beckoning unto me, and smiling,
That I should upward look; but I already
Was of my own accord such as he wished

Because my sight, becoming purified,
Was entering more and more into the ray
Of the High Light which of itself is true.

From that time forward what I saw was greater
Than our discourse, that to such vision yields,
And yields the memory unto such excess.

Even as he is who seeth in a dream,
And after dreaming the imprinted passion
Remains, and to his mind the rest returns not,

Even such am I, for almost utterly
Ceases my vision, and distilleth yet
Tithin my heart the sweetness born of it;

Even thus the snow is in the sun unsealed,
Even thus upon the wind in the light leaves
Were the soothsayings of the Sibyl lost.

O Light Supreme, that dost so far uplift thee
From the conceits of mortals, to my mimd
Of what thou didst appear re—lend a little,

And make my tongue of so great puissance,
That but a single sparkle of thy glory
It may bequeath unto the future people;

For by returning to my memory somewhat,
And by a little sounding in these verses,
More of thy victory shall be conceived!

I think the keenness of the living ray
Which I endured would have bewildered me,
If but mine eyes had been averted from it;

And I remember that I was more bold
On this account to bear, so that I joined
My aspect with the Glory Infinite.

O grace abundant, by which I presumed
To fix my sight upon the Light Eternal,
So that the seeing I consumed therein!

I saw that in its depth far down is lying
Bound up with love together in one volume,
What through the universe in leaves is scattered;

Substance, and accident, and their operations,
All interfused together in such wise
That what I speak of is one simple light.

The universal fashion of this knot
Methinks I saw, since more abundantly
In saying this I feel that I rejoice.

One moment is more lethargy to me,
Than five and twenty centuries to the emprise
That startled Neptune with the shade of Argo!

My mind in this wise wholly in suspense,
Steadfast, immovable, attentive gazed,
And evermore with gazing grew enkindled.

In presence of that light one such becomes,
That to withdraw therefrom for other prospect
It is impossible he e’er consent;

Because the good, which object is of will,
Is gathered all in this, and out of it
That is defective which is perfect there.

Shorter henceforward will my language fall
Of what I yet remember, than an infant’s
Who still his tongue doth moisten at the breast

Not because more than one unmingled semblance
Was in the living light on which I looked,
For it is always what it was before;

But through the sight, that fortified itself
In me by looking, one appearance only
To me was ever changing as I changed.

Within the deep and luminous subsistence
Of the High Light appeared to me three circles,
Of threefold colour and of one dimension

And by the second seemed the first reflected
As Iris is by Iris, and the third
Seemed fire that equally from both is breathed.

O how all speech is feeble and falls short
Of my conceit, and this to what I saw
Is such, ’tis not enough to call it little!

O Light Eterne, sole in thyself that dwellest,
Sole knowest thyself, and, known unto thyself
And knowing, lovest and smilest on thyself!

That circulation, which being thus conceived
Appeared in thee as a reflected light,
When somewhat contemplated by mine eyes,

Within itself, of its own very colour
Seemed to me painted with our effigy,
Wherefore my sight was all absorbed therein.

As the geometrician, who endeavours
To square the circle, and discovers not.
By taking thought, the principle he wants,

Even such was I at that new apparition;
I wished to see how the image to the circle
Conformed itself, and how it there finds place;

But my own wings were not enough for this,
Had it not been that then my mind there smote
A flash of lightning, wherein came its wish.

Here vigour failed the lofty fantasy:
But now was turning my desire and will,
Even as a wheel that equally is moved,

The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.

“Virgin mother, daughter of your Son,
more humble and sublime than any creature,
fixed goal decreed from all eternity,

you are the one who gave to human nature
so much nobility that its Creator
did not disdain His being made its creature.

That love whose warmth allowed this flower to bloom
within the everlasting peace—was love
rekindled in your womb; for us above,

you are the noonday torch of charity,
and there below, on earth, among the mortals,
you are a living spring of hope. Lady,

you are so high, you can so intercede,
that he who would have grace but does not seek
your aid, may long to fly but has no wings.

Your loving—kindness does not only answer
the one who asks, but it is often ready
to answer freely long before the asking.

In you compassion is, in you is pity,
in you is generosity, in you
is every goodness found in any creature.

This man—who from the deepest hollow in
the universe, up to this height, has seen
the lives of spirits, one by one—now pleads

with you, through grace, to grant him so much virtue
that he may lift his vision higher still—
may lift it toward the ultimate salvation.

And I, who never burned for my own vision
more than I burn for his, do offer you
all of my prayers—and pray that they may not

fall short—that, with your prayers, you may disperse
all of the clouds of his mortality
so that the Highest Joy be his to see.

This, too, o Queen, who can do what you would,
I ask of you: that after such a vision,
his sentiments preserve their perseverance.

May your protection curb his mortal passions.
See Beatrice—how many saints with her!
They join my prayers! They clasp their hands to you!”

The eyes that are revered and loved by God,
now fixed upon the supplicant, showed us
how welcome such devotions are to her;

then her eyes turned to the Eternal Light—
there, do not think that any creature’s eye
can find its way as clearly as her sight.

And I, who now was nearing Him who is
the end of all desires, as I ought,
lifted my longing to its ardent limit.

Bernard was signaling—he smiled—to me
to turn my eyes on high; but I, already
was doing what he wanted me to do,

because my sight, becoming pure, was able
to penetrate the ray of Light more deeply—
that Light, sublime, which in Itself is true.

From that point on, what I could see was greater
than speech can show: at such a sight, it fails—
and memory fails when faced with such excess.

As one who sees within a dream, and, later,
the passion that had been imprinted stays,
but nothing of the rest returns to mind,

such am I, for my vision almost fades
completely, yet it still distills within
my heart the sweetness that was born of it.

So is the snow, beneath the sun, unsealed;
and so, on the light leaves, beneath the wind,
the oracles the Sibyl wrote were lost.

O Highest Light, You, raised so far above
the minds of mortals, to my memory
give back something of Your epiphany,

and make my tongue so powerful that I
may leave to people of the future one
gleam of the glory that is Yours, for by

returning somewhat to my memory
and echoing awhile within these lines,
Your victory will be more understood.

The living ray that I endured was so
acute that I believe I should have gone
astray had my eyes turned away from it.

I can recall that I, because of this,
was bolder in sustaining it until
my vision reached the Infinite Goodness.

O grace abounding, through which I presumed
to set my eyes on the Eternal Light
so long that I spent all my sight on it!

In its profundity I saw—ingathered
and bound by love into one single volume—
what, in the universe, seems separate, scattered:

substances, accidents, and dispositions
as if conjoined—in such a way that what
I tell is only rudimentary.

I think I saw the universal shape
which that knot takes; for, speaking this, I feel
a joy that is more ample. That one moment

brings more forgetfulness to me than twenty—
five centuries have brought to the endeavor
that startled Neptune with the Argo’s shadow!

So was my mind—completely rapt, intent,
steadfast, and motionless—gazing; and it
grew ever more enkindled as it watched.

Whoever sees that Light is soon made such
that it would be impossible for him
to set that Light aside for other sight;

because the good, the object of the will,
is fully gathered in that Light; outside
that Light, what there is perfect is defective.

What little I recall is to be told,
from this point on, in words more weak than those
of one whose infant tongue still bathes at the breast.

And not because more than one simple semblance
was in the Living Light at which I gazed—
for It is always what It was before—

but through my sight, which as I gazed grew stronger,
that sole appearance, even as I altered,
seemed to be changing. In the deep and bright

essence of that exalted Light, three circles
appeared to me; they had three different colors,
but all of them were of the same dimension;

one circle seemed reflected by the second,
as rainbow is by rainbow, and the third
seemed fire breathed equally by those two circles.

How incomplete is speech, how weak, when set
against my thought! And this, to what I saw.
is such—to call it little is too much.

Eternal Light, You only dwell within
Yourself, and only You know You; Self—knowing,
Self—known, You love and smile upon Yourself!

That circle—which, begotten so, appeared
in You as light reflected—when my eyes
had watched it with attention for some time,

within itself and colored like itself,
to me seemed painted with our effigy,
so that my sight was set on it completely.

As the geometer intently seeks
to square the circle, but he cannot reach,
through thought on thought, the principle he needs,

so I searched that strange sight: I wished to see
the way in which our human effigy
suited the circle and found place in it—

and my own wings were far too weak for that.
But then my mind was struck by light that flashed
and, with this light, received what it had asked.

Here force failed my high fantasy; but my
desire and will were moved already—like
a wheel revolving uniformly—by

the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.

“THOU Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son
Humble and high beyond all other creature,
The limit fixed of the eternal counsel,

Thou art the one who such nobility
To human nature gave, that its Creator
Did not disdain to make himself its creature.

Within thy womb rekindled was the love,
By heat of which in the eternal peace
After such wise this flower has germinated.

Here unto us thou art a noonday torch
Of charity, and below there among mortals
Thou art the living fountain—head of hope.

Lady thou art so great, and so prevailing,
That he who wishes grace, nor runs to thee
His aspirations without wings would fly.

Not only thy benignity gives succour
To him who asketh it, but oftentimes
Forerunneth of its own accord the asking

In thee compassion is, in thee is pity,
In thee magnificence, in thee unites
Whate’er of goodness is in any creature.

Now doth this man, who from the lowest depth
Of the universe as far as here has seen
One after one the spiritual lives,

Supplicate thee through grace for so much power
That with his eyes he may uplift himself
Higher towards the uttermost salvation.

And I, who never hurned for my own seeing
More than I do for his, all of my prayers
Proffer to thee, and pray they come not short,

That thou wouldst scatter from him every cloud
Of his mortality so with thy prayers,
That the Chief Pleasure be to him displayed.

Still farther do I pray thee, Queen, who canst
Whate’er thou wilt, that sound thou mayst preserve
After so great a vision his affections.

Let thy protection conquer human movements;
See Beatrice and all the blessed ones
My prayers to second clasp their handls to thee!”

The eyes beloved and revered of God,
Fastened upon the speaker, showed to us
How grateful unto her are prayers devout;

Then unto the Eternal Light they turned,
On which it is not credible could be
By any creature bent an eye so clear.

And I, who to the end of all desires
Was now approaching, even as I ought
The ardour of desire within me ended.

Bernand was beckoning unto me, and smiling,
That I should upward look; but I already
Was of my own accord such as he wished

Because my sight, becoming purified,
Was entering more and more into the ray
Of the High Light which of itself is true.

From that time forward what I saw was greater
Than our discourse, that to such vision yields,
And yields the memory unto such excess.

Even as he is who seeth in a dream,
And after dreaming the imprinted passion
Remains, and to his mind the rest returns not,

Even such am I, for almost utterly
Ceases my vision, and distilleth yet
Tithin my heart the sweetness born of it;

Even thus the snow is in the sun unsealed,
Even thus upon the wind in the light leaves
Were the soothsayings of the Sibyl lost.

O Light Supreme, that dost so far uplift thee
From the conceits of mortals, to my mimd
Of what thou didst appear re—lend a little,

And make my tongue of so great puissance,
That but a single sparkle of thy glory
It may bequeath unto the future people;

For by returning to my memory somewhat,
And by a little sounding in these verses,
More of thy victory shall be conceived!

I think the keenness of the living ray
Which I endured would have bewildered me,
If but mine eyes had been averted from it;

And I remember that I was more bold
On this account to bear, so that I joined
My aspect with the Glory Infinite.

O grace abundant, by which I presumed
To fix my sight upon the Light Eternal,
So that the seeing I consumed therein!

I saw that in its depth far down is lying
Bound up with love together in one volume,
What through the universe in leaves is scattered;

Substance, and accident, and their operations,
All interfused together in such wise
That what I speak of is one simple light.

The universal fashion of this knot
Methinks I saw, since more abundantly
In saying this I feel that I rejoice.

One moment is more lethargy to me,
Than five and twenty centuries to the emprise
That startled Neptune with the shade of Argo!

My mind in this wise wholly in suspense,
Steadfast, immovable, attentive gazed,
And evermore with gazing grew enkindled.

In presence of that light one such becomes,
That to withdraw therefrom for other prospect
It is impossible he e’er consent;

Because the good, which object is of will,
Is gathered all in this, and out of it
That is defective which is perfect there.

Shorter henceforward will my language fall
Of what I yet remember, than an infant’s
Who still his tongue doth moisten at the breast

Not because more than one unmingled semblance
Was in the living light on which I looked,
For it is always what it was before;

But through the sight, that fortified itself
In me by looking, one appearance only
To me was ever changing as I changed.

Within the deep and luminous subsistence
Of the High Light appeared to me three circles,
Of threefold colour and of one dimension

And by the second seemed the first reflected
As Iris is by Iris, and the third
Seemed fire that equally from both is breathed.

O how all speech is feeble and falls short
Of my conceit, and this to what I saw
Is such, ’tis not enough to call it little!

O Light Eterne, sole in thyself that dwellest,
Sole knowest thyself, and, known unto thyself
And knowing, lovest and smilest on thyself!

That circulation, which being thus conceived
Appeared in thee as a reflected light,
When somewhat contemplated by mine eyes,

Within itself, of its own very colour
Seemed to me painted with our effigy,
Wherefore my sight was all absorbed therein.

As the geometrician, who endeavours
To square the circle, and discovers not.
By taking thought, the principle he wants,

Even such was I at that new apparition;
I wished to see how the image to the circle
Conformed itself, and how it there finds place;

But my own wings were not enough for this,
Had it not been that then my mind there smote
A flash of lightning, wherein came its wish.

Here vigour failed the lofty fantasy:
But now was turning my desire and will,
Even as a wheel that equally is moved,

The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.