Losing Springtime

The last canti of Purgatorio, canti 28-33, take place in the garden of Eden, aka the earthly paradise. This is the place on earth that retains prelapsarian perfection, the “place chosen as the nest for human nature” (Purg. 28.77-78), the place given to Adam and Eve as a “mortgage on their eternal home [paradise] until they defaulted on the loan” (Purg. 28.93-94). Much of the “action” of the final canti of Purgatorio is devoted to the pilgrim gazing at the sights that are here presented to him to witness.

In these canti, Dante’s role as witness will be formally assigned to him by Beatrice. In Purgatorio 33, Beatrice instructs the pilgrim to take note, for he is charged to transmit the words that come from her to the living. Beatrice tells Dante that when he returns to earth, it will be his job to write down the visions that he has seen while in the earthly paradise:

  Tu nota; e sì come da me son porte,
così queste parole segna a’ vivi
del viver ch’è un correre a la morte. (Purg. 33.52-54)
  Take note; and even as I speak these words,
do you transmit them in your turn to those
who live the life that is a race to death.

An unusual feature of Purgatorio 28 to 33 is that these six canti form a dense narrative block: “six cantos of carefully layered historical masques and personal dramas encompassing the supreme drama of the exchange of one beloved guide for another” (The Undivine Comedy, p. 162).

Purgatorio 28 is a pastoral prelude to the macro-historical material presented in the earthly paradise: the procession of the books of the Bible in Purgatorio 29, the allegorical tableau of ecclesiastical and imperial history in Purgatorio 32, and the world-historical prophecies in Purgatorio 33.

Purgatorio 28 is also a prelude to the micro-historical material of the earthly paradise: the intensely personal dramas of the arrival of Beatrice in Purgatorio 30 and the pilgrim’s personal confession in Purgatorio 31.

Attached is a diagram that visualizes the canti of the earthly paradise as the microcosm of Purgatorio 30-31 (the inner circle) contained by the macrocosm of Purgatorio 29 and 32-33 (the outer circle).

purgatorio 28

Purgatorio 28 has a pastoral and idyllic feeling that is unique among the canti of the earthly paradise and that will prevail until the canto takes a doctrinal turn in verse 85.

The beginning of Purgatorio 28 is one of the most intensely beautiful descriptions conjured by Dante’s pen. The pilgrim is now free to desire and therefore to move about as he pleases. The canto’s first word “Vago” (desirous) registers the pilgrim’s freedom to follow his desire “sanza più aspettar” (4), without awaiting anyone’s permission:

  Vago già di cercar dentro e dintorno
la divina foresta spessa e viva,
ch’a li occhi temperava il novo giorno,
  sanza più aspettar, lasciai la riva,
prendendo la campagna lento lento
su per lo suol che d'ogne parte auliva. (Purg. 28.1-6)
  Now keen to search within, to search around
that forest—dense, alive with green, divine—
which tempered the new day before my eyes,
  without delay, I left behind the rise
and took the plain, advancing slowly,
slowly across the ground where every part was fragrant.

The “divina foresta spessa e viva” of Purgatorio 28.2 (in Mandelbaum’s beautiful rendition “that forest—dense, alive with green, divine”) is, obviously, the in bono counterpart to the “dark wood” (“selva oscura”) of of Inferno 1.2 and to the wood of the suicides in Inferno 13: “un bosco / che da neun sentiero era segnato” (a wood on which no path had left its mark [Inf. 13.2-3]).

But the divina foresta spessa e viva is so much more than part of an in bono/in malo hermeneutic scheme. It is the absolute perfection of natural beauty, a natural beauty raised to the level of art. We feel and hear its natural art in Dante’s beautiful language. The “aura dolce” (sweet breeze [Purg. 28.7]) of Petrarchan memory blows without alteration, making the leaves of the trees incline toward the morning, but never so much as to disturb the little birds in their branches or to cause them to leave off “ogne lor arte” (their arts [Purg. 28.15]). The musical art of the little birds consists of singing in counterpoint to the rhythmic undertone provided by the rustling leaves (Purg. 28.16-18). The sound of the leaves is compared to that of “the wind that sounds from branch to branch along the shore of Classe, through the pines” (Purg. 28.19-20), a reference to the ancient pine forest that lines the seashore outside of Ravenna, famous in antiquity and in Dante’s age and still beautiful in ours.

Into this beautiful setting walks a lady; like Lia in the dream of Purgatorio 27 this lady is picking flowers. She is evoked in language that echoes the love lyric, in particular Cavalcanti’s poem to a shepherdess or pastorella, and famous Ovidian lovers:

Purgatorio XXVIII opens with a musical symphony whose chief contributors are the singing birds and the rustling leaves; the words “augelletti” (14), “cantando” (17), and “foglie” (17) are all bits of the Cavalcantian mosaic being created. Twice in the prelude to Matelda’s arrival Dante uses the unusual double adjective intensifier that marks the progress of Cavalcanti’s shepherdess, “che sola sola per lo bosco gia” (the pilgrim heads into the countryside “lento lento” in line 5, and the water is moving “bruna bruna” in line 31), only to switch to Cavalcanti’s characteristic diminutive in the verses that bring Matelda into view: “una donna soletta che si gia / e cantando e scegliendo fior da fiore” (a lady all alone who went along singing and choosing flower from flower [40-41]). The pilgrim addresses Matelda as the lyric poet addresses his lady, saying “Deh, bella donna” (43); his love for her is figured in the three similes of profane classical love that are rehearsed in the scene following their encounter: she reminds him of Proserpina in the moment when she is ravished by Pluto and loses “spring,” i. e. the beautiful world in which she lived before her abduction (49-51; the word primavera, with its Cavalcantian echoes, is here used for the first time in the poem); the splendor of her eyes (of which she gives him a “gift,” as the shepherdess gives a gift of her heart) is like that of Venus’ eyes, in the moment that she falls in love with Adonis (64-66); the width of the stream between them seems like that of the Hellespont separating Hero and Leander (70-75). The flowers Matelda picks are, like those of the ballata, “d’ogni colore”; they “paint” the way on which she walks (42), and are referred to metonymically as “colors”: “trattando più color con le sue mani” (arranging many colors with her hands [68]). Finally—were the singing birds, the colored flowers, the solitary damsel, the atmosphere of profane and lyric love, and the evocation of “primavera” not enough—Dante adds a last overt quote from the ballata. The first verse of canto XXIX, “Cantando come donna innamorata,” is a replay of Guido’s “cantava come fosse ’namorata,” and thus serves to cast the lyric episode of canto XXVIII into final relief before passing into the new mode signaled by the allegorical procession. (Dante’s Poets, pp. 151-52)

The lady will not be named until Purgatorio 33 (much as the senhal or code-name of the lady in a troubadour canso is not presented until the envoi, or final strophe of the poem). Her name, whose significance has posed a continuous puzzle to commentators, will turn out to be Matelda.

The Introduction to Purgatorio 27 discusses the proleptic role of the Lia/Rachele dream with respect to the earthly paradise: Lia anticipates Matelda, who walks around picking flowers like Lia, while Rachele anticipates Beatrice. The best gloss to how Dante thinks of the active and contemplative life is this passage from Dante’s political treatise, Monarchia:

Duos igitur fines providentia illa inenarrabilis homini proposuit intendendos: beatitudinem scilicet huius vite, que in operatione proprie virtutis consistit et per terrestrem paradisum figuratur; et beatitudinem vite ecterne, que consistit in fruitione divini aspectus ad quam propria virtus ascendere non potest, nisi lumine divino adiuta, que per paradisum celestem intelligi datur. Ad has quidem beatitudines, velut ad diversas conclusiones, per diversa media venire oportet. (Monarchia 3.15.7-8)

Twofold then are the ends which unerring Providence has ordained for man: the bliss of this life, which consists in the functioning of his own powers, and which is typified by the earthly Paradise; and the bliss of eternal life, which consists in the enjoyment of that divine vision to which he cannot attain by his own powers, except they be aided by the divine light, and this state is made intelligible by the celestial Paradise. These two states of bliss, like two different goals, man must reach by different ways.

“Twofold are the ends which unerring Providence has ordained for man” says the Monarchia, and the canti of the earthly paradise are full of doublings (as noted in the diagram at the end of this Introduction), which reflect the twofold ends of life. These doublings include Matelda/Beatrice, who are emblems of what the Monarchia calls “the bliss of this life” versus “the bliss of eternal life”.

The garden in which Dante now finds himself is “the bliss of this life”, as per the Monarchia passage above. But this garden is thus also the reminder of all that we lost through the sin of Adam and Eve. We remember that on the terrace of gluttony there was a tree that was grafted from the tree that Eve ate. The tree that Eve ate comes from the garden of Eden; we, Eve’s children, lost the right to inhabit the garden of Eden because of her transgression. Our loss is all around us, as palpable as the lovely breeze and the rustling trees, the singing birds and the beautiful lady.

That transgression and that loss are translated into a classical frame of reference when Dante says to Matelda that she reminds him of Proserpina in the moment that she “lost springtime” (in other words, when she was deprived of life on earth by being raped by Pluto and taken to the underworld):

  Tu mi fai rimembrar dove e qual era
Proserpina nel tempo che perdette
la madre lei, ed ella primavera. (Purg. 28.49-51)
  You have reminded me of where and what—
just when her mother was deprived of her
and she deprived of spring—Proserpina was.

Dante’s enjambment on the verb of loss, “perdette”—“nel tempo che perdette / la madre lei, ed ella primavera” (literally: in the moment when her mother lost her and she lost spring)—tells the story of the our expulsion from this garden: our expulsion from springtime.

Many students over the years have told me that at first they think that this lady is Beatrice, and that they like her more than Beatrice. One point to bear in mind in this regard is that Matelda is characterized in very feminine terms, while Beatrice will appear on the scene not at all charming and feminine, but like an authoritative and intimidating male figure, indeed “just like an admiral” on his ship (Purg. 30.58). We should give some thought to what our expectations are, what they signify, and how and why Dante is thwarting them.

The first part of Purgatorio 28 is saturated with the language of love poetry, both vernacular Italian and Ovidian. Matelda is many things, including the epitome of a love poet’s object of desire. It is as though Cavalcanti’s pastorella (shepherdess) has come to life. Dante desires her, and his desire can no longer err. Matelda is most of all an unfallen Eve, the unfallen version of one of the original inhabitants of this place.

As the travelers’ guide to the garden that she inhabits, Matelda explains at length the self-generating and miraculous nature of this ecosystem. At canto’s end we learn about the rivers of Eden, Lethe and Eunoè, both classical names. Lethe was last mentioned in Inferno 14, à propos the rivers of hell and the Old Man of Crete; at that time Virgilio informed his charge that Lethe is not in hell (as he thought when he wrote the Aeneid!), but in the garden of Eden.

The classical theme of the canto—Proserpina’s loss, Ovidian lovers, the rivers—finds its fulfillment in the last verses, where Matelda explains that when the classical poets of antiquity wrote of the Golden Age, they were perhaps dreaming of Eden.

Coordinated Reading

Coordinated Reading: Dante’s Poets, pp. 148-53; The Undivine Comedy, pp. 102-03, 162.

Recommended Citation

Barolini, Teodolinda. “Purgatorio 28: Losing Springtime.” Commento Baroliniano, Digital Dante. New York, NY: Columbia University Libraries, 2017. https://digitaldante.columbia.edu/dante/divine-comedy/purgatorio/purgatorio-28/

About the Commento

1Vago già di cercar dentro e dintorno
2la divina foresta spessa e viva,
3ch’a li occhi temperava il novo giorno,

4sanza più aspettar, lasciai la riva,
5prendendo la campagna lento lento
6su per lo suol che d’ogne parte auliva.

7Un’aura dolce, sanza mutamento
8avere in sé, mi feria per la fronte
9non di più colpo che soave vento;

10per cui le fronde, tremolando, pronte
11tutte quante piegavano a la parte
12u’ la prim’ ombra gitta il santo monte;

13non però dal loro esser dritto sparte
14tanto, che li augelletti per le cime
15lasciasser d’operare ogne lor arte;

16ma con piena letizia l’ore prime,
17cantando, ricevieno intra le foglie,
18che tenevan bordone a le sue rime,

19tal qual di ramo in ramo si raccoglie
20per la pineta in su ’l lito di Chiassi,
21quand’ Ëolo scilocco fuor discioglie.

22Già m’avean trasportato i lenti passi
23dentro a la selva antica tanto, ch’io
24non potea rivedere ond’ io mi ’ntrassi;

25ed ecco più andar mi tolse un rio,
26che ’nver’ sinistra con sue picciole onde
27piegava l’erba che ’n sua ripa uscìo.

28Tutte l’acque che son di qua più monde,
29parrieno avere in sé mistura alcuna
30verso di quella, che nulla nasconde,

31avvegna che si mova bruna bruna
32sotto l’ombra perpetüa, che mai
33raggiar non lascia sole ivi né luna.

34Coi piè ristetti e con li occhi passai
35di là dal fiumicello, per mirare
36la gran varïazion d’i freschi mai;

37e là m’apparve, sì com’ elli appare
38subitamente cosa che disvia
39per maraviglia tutto altro pensare,

40una donna soletta che si gia
41e cantando e scegliendo fior da fiore
42ond’ era pinta tutta la sua via.

43«Deh, bella donna, che a’ raggi d’amore
44ti scaldi, s’i’ vo’ credere a’ sembianti
45che soglion esser testimon del core,

46vegnati in voglia di trarreti avanti»,
47diss’ io a lei, «verso questa rivera,
48tanto ch’io possa intender che tu canti.

49Tu mi fai rimembrar dove e qual era
50Proserpina nel tempo che perdette
51la madre lei, ed ella primavera».

52Come si volge, con le piante strette
53a terra e intra sé, donna che balli,
54e piede innanzi piede a pena mette,

55volsesi in su i vermigli e in su i gialli
56fioretti verso me, non altrimenti
57che vergine che li occhi onesti avvalli;

58e fece i prieghi miei esser contenti,
59sì appressando sé, che ’l dolce suono
60veniva a me co’ suoi intendimenti.

61Tosto che fu là dove l’erbe sono
62bagnate già da l’onde del bel fiume,
63di levar li occhi suoi mi fece dono.

64Non credo che splendesse tanto lume
65sotto le ciglia a Venere, trafitta
66dal figlio fuor di tutto suo costume.

67Ella ridea da l’altra riva dritta,
68trattando più color con le sue mani,
69che l’alta terra sanza seme gitta.

70Tre passi ci facea il fiume lontani;
71ma Elesponto, là ’ve passò Serse,
72ancora freno a tutti orgogli umani,

73più odio da Leandro non sofferse
74per mareggiare intra Sesto e Abido,
75che quel da me perch’ allor non s’aperse.

76«Voi siete nuovi, e forse perch’ io rido»,
77cominciò ella, «in questo luogo eletto
78a l’umana natura per suo nido,

79maravigliando tienvi alcun sospetto;
80ma luce rende il salmo Delectasti,
81che puote disnebbiar vostro intelletto.

82E tu che se’ dinanzi e mi pregasti,
83dì s’altro vuoli udir; ch’i’ venni presta
84ad ogne tua question tanto che basti».

85«L’acqua», diss’ io, «e ’l suon de la foresta
86impugnan dentro a me novella fede
87di cosa ch’io udi’ contraria a questa».

88Ond’ ella: «Io dicerò come procede
89per sua cagion ciò ch’ammirar ti face,
90e purgherò la nebbia che ti fiede.

91Lo sommo Ben, che solo esso a sé piace,
92fé l’uom buono e a bene, e questo loco
93diede per arr’ a lui d’etterna pace.

94Per sua difalta qui dimorò poco;
95per sua difalta in pianto e in affanno
96cambiò onesto riso e dolce gioco.

97Perché ’l turbar che sotto da sé fanno
98l’essalazion de l’acqua e de la terra,
99che quanto posson dietro al calor vanno,

100a l’uomo non facesse alcuna guerra,
101questo monte salìo verso ’l ciel tanto,
102e libero n’è d’indi ove si serra.

103Or perché in circuito tutto quanto
104l’aere si volge con la prima volta,
105se non li è rotto il cerchio d’alcun canto,

106in questa altezza ch’è tutta disciolta
107ne l’aere vivo, tal moto percuote,
108e fa sonar la selva perch’ è folta;

109e la percossa pianta tanto puote,
110che de la sua virtute l’aura impregna
111e quella poi, girando, intorno scuote;

112e l’altra terra, secondo ch’è degna
113per sé e per suo ciel, concepe e figlia
114di diverse virtù diverse legna.

115Non parrebbe di là poi maraviglia,
116udito questo, quando alcuna pianta
117sanza seme palese vi s’appiglia.

118E saper dei che la campagna santa
119dove tu se’, d’ogne semenza è piena,
120e frutto ha in sé che di là non si schianta.

121L’acqua che vedi non surge di vena
122che ristori vapor che gel converta,
123come fiume ch’acquista e perde lena;

124ma esce di fontana salda e certa,
125che tanto dal voler di Dio riprende,
126quant’ ella versa da due parti aperta.

127Da questa parte con virtù discende
128che toglie altrui memoria del peccato;
129da l’altra d’ogne ben fatto la rende.

130Quinci Letè; così da l’altro lato
131Eünoè si chiama, e non adopra
132se quinci e quindi pria non è gustato:

133a tutti altri sapori esto è di sopra.
134E avvegna ch’assai possa esser sazia
135la sete tua perch’ io più non ti scuopra,

136darotti un corollario ancor per grazia;
137né credo che ’l mio dir ti sia men caro,
138se oltre promession teco si spazia.

139Quelli ch’anticamente poetaro
140l’età de l’oro e suo stato felice,
141forse in Parnaso esto loco sognaro.

142Qui fu innocente l’umana radice;
143qui primavera sempre e ogne frutto;
144nettare è questo di che ciascun dice».

145Io mi rivolsi ’n dietro allora tutto
146a’ miei poeti, e vidi che con riso
147udito avëan l’ultimo costrutto;

148poi a la bella donna torna’ il viso.

Now keen to search within, to search around
that forest—dense, alive with green, divine—
which tempered the new day before my eyes,

without delay, I left behind the rise
and took the plain, advancing slowly, slowly
across the ground where every part was fragrant.

A gentle breeze, which did not seem to vary
within itself, was striking at my brow
but with no greater force than a kind wind’s,

a wind that made the trembling boughs—they all
bent eagerly—incline in the direction
of morning shadows from the holy mountain;

but they were not deflected with such force
as to disturb the little birds upon
the branches in the practice of their arts;

for to the leaves, with song, birds welcomed those
first hours of the morning joyously,
and leaves supplied the burden to their rhymes—

just like the wind that sounds from branch to branch
along the shore of Classe, through the pines
when Aeolus has set Sirocco loose.

Now, though my steps were slow, I’d gone so far
into the ancient forest that I could
no longer see where I had made my entry;

and there I came upon a stream that blocked
the path of my advance; its little waves
bent to the left the grass along its banks.

All of the purest waters here on earth,
when matched against that stream, would seem to be
touched by impurity; it hides no thing—

that stream—although it moves, dark, dark, beneath
the never—ending shadows, which allow
no ray of sun or moon to reach those waters.

I halted, and I set my eyes upon
the farther bank, to look at the abundant
variety of newly—flowered boughs;

and there, just like a thing that, in appearing
most suddenly, repels all other thoughts,
so great is the astonishment it brings,

I saw a solitary woman moving,
singing, and gathering up flower on flower—
the flowers that colored all of her pathway.

“I pray you, lovely lady, you who warm
yourself with rays of love, if I may trust
your looks—which often evidence the heart—

may it please you,” I asked of her, “to move
ahead and closer to this river, so
that I may understand what you are singing.

You have reminded me of where and what—
just when her mother was deprived of her
and she deprived of spring—Proserpina was.”

As, when she turns, a woman, dancing, keeps
her soles close to the ground and to each other
and scarcely lets one foot precede the other,

so did she turn, upon the little red
and yellow flowers, to me, no differently
than would a virgin, lowering chaste eyes.

I had beseeched, and I was satisfied,
for she approached so close that the sweet sound
that reached me then became intelligible.

No sooner had she reached the point where that
fair river’s waves could barely bathe the grass,
than she gave me this gift: lifting her eyes.

I do not think a light so bright had shone
beneath the lids of Venus when her son
pierced her in extraordinary fashion.

Erect, along the farther bank, she smiled,
her hands entwining varicolored flowers,
which that high land, needing no seed, engenders.

The river kept us just three steps apart;
but even Hellespont, where Xerxes crossed—
a case that still curbs all men’s arrogance—

did not provoke more hatred in Leander
when rough seas ran from Abydos to Sestos,
than hatred I bestowed upon that river

when it refused to open. She began:
“You are new here and may—because I smile
in this place, chosen to be mankind’s nest—

wonder, perplexed, unable to detect
the cause; but light to clear your intellect
is in the psalm beginning ‘Delectasti.’

And you, who have stepped forward, who beseeched me,
tell me if you’d hear more; I have come ready
for all your questions till you’re satisfied.”

I said: “The water and the murmuring forest
contend, in me, against the recent credence
I gave to words denying their existence.”

At this, she said: “I’ll tell you how the source
of your amazement has its special cause;
I’ll clear the cloud that’s left you so distraught.

The Highest Good, whose sole joy is Himself,
made man to be—and to enact—good; He
gave man this place as pledge of endless peace.

Man’s fault made brief his stay here; and man’s fault
made him exchange frank laughter and sweet sport
for lamentation and for anxiousness.

Below this mountain, land and water vapors,
which follow heat as far as they are able,
produce their perturbations; to prevent

them from molesting man placed here, this mountain
rose up this close to Heaven; from the point
where its gate locks, it’s free of such disturbance.

Now, since all of the atmosphere revolves
within a circle, moved by the first circling,
unless its round is broken at some point,

against this height, which stands completely free
within the living air, that motion strikes;
and since these woods are dense, they echo it.

And when a plant is struck, its power is such
that it impregnates air with seeding force;
the air, revolving, casts this seed abroad;

the other hemisphere, depending on
the nature of its land and sky, conceives
and bears, from diverse powers, diverse trees.

If what I’ve said were known, you would not need
to be amazed on earth when growing things
take root but have no seed that can be seen.

And you must know: the holy plain on which
you find yourself is full of every seed;
and it has fruit that—there—cannot be gathered.

The water that you see does not spring from
a vein that vapor—cold—condensed—restores,
like rivers that acquire or lose their force;

it issues from a pure and changeless fountain,
which by the will of God regains as much
as, on two sides, it pours and it divides.

On this side it descends with power to end
one’s memory of sin; and on the other,
it can restore recall of each good deed.

To one side, it is Lethe; on the other,
Eunoe; neither stream is efficacious
unless the other’s waters have been tasted:

their savor is above all other sweetness.
Although your thirst might well be satisfied
even if I revealed no more to you,

I’ll give you freely, too, a corollary;
nor do I think my words will be less welcome
to you if they extend beyond my promise.

Those ancients who in poetry presented
the golden age, who sang its happy state,
perhaps, in their Parnassus, dreamt this place.

Here, mankind’s root was innocent; and here
were every fruit and never—ending spring;
these streams—the nectar of which poets sing.”

Then I turned round completely, and I faced
my poets; I could see that they had heard
with smiles this final corollary spoken;

that done, my eyes returned to the fair woman.

EAGER already to search in and round
The heavenly forest, dense and living—green,
Which tempered to the eyes the new—born day,

Withouten more delay I left the bank,
Taking the level country slowly, slowly
Over the soil that everywhere breathes fragrance.

A softly—breathing air, that no mutation
Had in itself, upon the forehead smote me
No heavier blow than of a gentle wind,

Whereat the branches, lightly tremulous,
Did all of them bow downward toward that side
Where its first shadow casts the Holy Mountain;

Yet not from their upright direction swayed,
So that the little birds upon their tops
Should leave the practice of each art of theirs;

But with full ravishment the hours of prime,
Singing, received they in the midst of leaves,
That ever bore a burden to their rhymes,

Such as from branch to branch goes gathering on
Through the pine forest on the shore of Chiassi,
When Eolus unlooses the Sirocco.

Already my slow steps had carried me
Into the ancient wood so far, that I
Could not perceive where I had entered it

And lo! my further course a stream cut off,
Which tow’rd the left hand with its little waves
Bent down the grass that on its margin sprang

All waters that on earth most limpid are
Would seem to have within themselves some mixture
Compared with that which nothing doth conceal,

Although it moves on with a brown, brown current
Under the shade perpetual, that never
Ray of the sun lets in, nor of the moon.

With feet I stayed, and with mine eyes I passed
Beyond the rivulet, to look upon
The great variety of the fresh may.

And there appeared to me (even as appears
Suddenly something that doth turn aside
Through very wonder every other thought)

A lady all alone, who went along
Singing and culling floweret after floweret,
With which her pathway was all painted over.

“Ah, beauteous lady, who in rays of love
Dost warm thyself, if I may trust to looks,
Which the heart’s witnesses are wont to be,

May the desire come unto thee to draw
Near to this river’s bank, “I said to her,
So much that I might hear what thou art singing.

Thou makest me remember where and what
Proserpina that moment was when lost
Her mother her, and she herself the Spring.”

As turns herself, with feet together pressed
And to the ground, a lady who is dancing,
And hardly puts one foot before the other,

On the vermilion and the yellow flowerets
She turned towards me, not in other wise
Than maiden who her modest eyes casts down;

And my entreaties made to be content,
So near approaching, that the dulcet sound
Came unto me together with its meaning

As soon as she was where the grasses are
Bathed by the waters of the beauteous river,
To lift her eyes she granted me the boon.

I do not think there shone so great a light
Under the lids of Venus, when transfixed
By her own son, beyond his usual custom!

Erect upon the other bank she smiled,
Bearing full many colours in her hands.
Which that high land produces without seed.

Apart three paces did the river make us;
But Hellespont, where Xerxes passed across,
(A curb still to all human arrogance,)

More hatred from Leander did not suffer
For rolling between Sestos and Abydos,
Than that from me, because it oped not then.

“Ye are new—comers; and because I smile,”
Began she, “peradventure, in this place
Elect to human nature for its nest,

Some apprehension keeps you marvelling;
But the psalm _Delectasti_ giveth light
Which has the power to uncloud your intellect.

And thou who foremost art, and didst entreat me,
Speak, if thou wouldst hear more; for I came ready
To all thy questionings, as far as needful.”

“The water,” said I, “and the forest’s sound,
Are combating within me my new faith
In something which I heard opposed to this.”

Whence she: “I will relate how from its cause
Proceedeth that which maketh thee to wonder,
And purge away the cloud that smites upon thee.

The Good Supreme, sole in itself delighting,
Created man good, and this goodly place
Gave him as hansel of eternal peace.

By his default short while he sojourned here;
By his default to weeping and to toil
He changed his innocent laughter and sweet play.

That the disturbance which below is made
By exhalations of the land and water,
(Which far as may be follow after heat,)

Might not upon mankind wage any war,
This mount ascended tow’rds the heaven so high,
And is exempt, from there where it is locked.

Now since the universal atmosphere
Turns in a circuit with the primal motion
Unless the circle is broken on some side,

Upon this height, that all is disengaged
In living ether, doth this motion strike
And make the forest sound, for it is dense;

And so much power the stricken plant possesses
That with its virtue it impregns the air,
And this, revolving, scatters it around;

And yonder earth, according as ’tis worthy
In self or in its clime, conceives and bears
Of divers qualities the divers trees;

It should not seem a marvel then on earth,
This being heard, whenever any plant
Without seed manifest there taketh root.

And thou must know, this holy table—land
In which thou art is full of every seed,
And fruit has in it never gathered there.

The water which thou seest springs not from vein
Restored by vapour that the cold condenses,
Like to a stream that gains or loses breath

But issues from a fountain safe and certain,
Which by the will of God as much regains
As it discharges, open on two sides.

Upon this side with virtue it descends,
Which takes away all memory of sin;
On that, of every good deed done restores it.

Here Lethe, as upon the other side
Eunoe, it is called; and worketh not
If first on either side it be not tasted.

This every other savour doth transcend;
And notwithstanding slaked so far may be
Thy thirst, that I reveal to thee no more,

I’ll give thee a corollary still in grace,
Nor think my speech will be to thee less dear
If it spread out beyond my promise to thee.

Those who in ancient times have feigned in song
The Age of Gold and its felicity,
Dreamed of this place perhaps upon Parnassus.

Here was the human race in innocence;
Here evermore was Spring, and every fruit;
This is the nectar of which each one speaks.”

Then backward did I turn me wholly round
Unto my Poets, and saw that with a smile
They had been listening to these closing words;

Then to the beautiful lady turned mine eyes.

Now keen to search within, to search around
that forest—dense, alive with green, divine—
which tempered the new day before my eyes,

without delay, I left behind the rise
and took the plain, advancing slowly, slowly
across the ground where every part was fragrant.

A gentle breeze, which did not seem to vary
within itself, was striking at my brow
but with no greater force than a kind wind’s,

a wind that made the trembling boughs—they all
bent eagerly—incline in the direction
of morning shadows from the holy mountain;

but they were not deflected with such force
as to disturb the little birds upon
the branches in the practice of their arts;

for to the leaves, with song, birds welcomed those
first hours of the morning joyously,
and leaves supplied the burden to their rhymes—

just like the wind that sounds from branch to branch
along the shore of Classe, through the pines
when Aeolus has set Sirocco loose.

Now, though my steps were slow, I’d gone so far
into the ancient forest that I could
no longer see where I had made my entry;

and there I came upon a stream that blocked
the path of my advance; its little waves
bent to the left the grass along its banks.

All of the purest waters here on earth,
when matched against that stream, would seem to be
touched by impurity; it hides no thing—

that stream—although it moves, dark, dark, beneath
the never—ending shadows, which allow
no ray of sun or moon to reach those waters.

I halted, and I set my eyes upon
the farther bank, to look at the abundant
variety of newly—flowered boughs;

and there, just like a thing that, in appearing
most suddenly, repels all other thoughts,
so great is the astonishment it brings,

I saw a solitary woman moving,
singing, and gathering up flower on flower—
the flowers that colored all of her pathway.

“I pray you, lovely lady, you who warm
yourself with rays of love, if I may trust
your looks—which often evidence the heart—

may it please you,” I asked of her, “to move
ahead and closer to this river, so
that I may understand what you are singing.

You have reminded me of where and what—
just when her mother was deprived of her
and she deprived of spring—Proserpina was.”

As, when she turns, a woman, dancing, keeps
her soles close to the ground and to each other
and scarcely lets one foot precede the other,

so did she turn, upon the little red
and yellow flowers, to me, no differently
than would a virgin, lowering chaste eyes.

I had beseeched, and I was satisfied,
for she approached so close that the sweet sound
that reached me then became intelligible.

No sooner had she reached the point where that
fair river’s waves could barely bathe the grass,
than she gave me this gift: lifting her eyes.

I do not think a light so bright had shone
beneath the lids of Venus when her son
pierced her in extraordinary fashion.

Erect, along the farther bank, she smiled,
her hands entwining varicolored flowers,
which that high land, needing no seed, engenders.

The river kept us just three steps apart;
but even Hellespont, where Xerxes crossed—
a case that still curbs all men’s arrogance—

did not provoke more hatred in Leander
when rough seas ran from Abydos to Sestos,
than hatred I bestowed upon that river

when it refused to open. She began:
“You are new here and may—because I smile
in this place, chosen to be mankind’s nest—

wonder, perplexed, unable to detect
the cause; but light to clear your intellect
is in the psalm beginning ‘Delectasti.’

And you, who have stepped forward, who beseeched me,
tell me if you’d hear more; I have come ready
for all your questions till you’re satisfied.”

I said: “The water and the murmuring forest
contend, in me, against the recent credence
I gave to words denying their existence.”

At this, she said: “I’ll tell you how the source
of your amazement has its special cause;
I’ll clear the cloud that’s left you so distraught.

The Highest Good, whose sole joy is Himself,
made man to be—and to enact—good; He
gave man this place as pledge of endless peace.

Man’s fault made brief his stay here; and man’s fault
made him exchange frank laughter and sweet sport
for lamentation and for anxiousness.

Below this mountain, land and water vapors,
which follow heat as far as they are able,
produce their perturbations; to prevent

them from molesting man placed here, this mountain
rose up this close to Heaven; from the point
where its gate locks, it’s free of such disturbance.

Now, since all of the atmosphere revolves
within a circle, moved by the first circling,
unless its round is broken at some point,

against this height, which stands completely free
within the living air, that motion strikes;
and since these woods are dense, they echo it.

And when a plant is struck, its power is such
that it impregnates air with seeding force;
the air, revolving, casts this seed abroad;

the other hemisphere, depending on
the nature of its land and sky, conceives
and bears, from diverse powers, diverse trees.

If what I’ve said were known, you would not need
to be amazed on earth when growing things
take root but have no seed that can be seen.

And you must know: the holy plain on which
you find yourself is full of every seed;
and it has fruit that—there—cannot be gathered.

The water that you see does not spring from
a vein that vapor—cold—condensed—restores,
like rivers that acquire or lose their force;

it issues from a pure and changeless fountain,
which by the will of God regains as much
as, on two sides, it pours and it divides.

On this side it descends with power to end
one’s memory of sin; and on the other,
it can restore recall of each good deed.

To one side, it is Lethe; on the other,
Eunoe; neither stream is efficacious
unless the other’s waters have been tasted:

their savor is above all other sweetness.
Although your thirst might well be satisfied
even if I revealed no more to you,

I’ll give you freely, too, a corollary;
nor do I think my words will be less welcome
to you if they extend beyond my promise.

Those ancients who in poetry presented
the golden age, who sang its happy state,
perhaps, in their Parnassus, dreamt this place.

Here, mankind’s root was innocent; and here
were every fruit and never—ending spring;
these streams—the nectar of which poets sing.”

Then I turned round completely, and I faced
my poets; I could see that they had heard
with smiles this final corollary spoken;

that done, my eyes returned to the fair woman.

EAGER already to search in and round
The heavenly forest, dense and living—green,
Which tempered to the eyes the new—born day,

Withouten more delay I left the bank,
Taking the level country slowly, slowly
Over the soil that everywhere breathes fragrance.

A softly—breathing air, that no mutation
Had in itself, upon the forehead smote me
No heavier blow than of a gentle wind,

Whereat the branches, lightly tremulous,
Did all of them bow downward toward that side
Where its first shadow casts the Holy Mountain;

Yet not from their upright direction swayed,
So that the little birds upon their tops
Should leave the practice of each art of theirs;

But with full ravishment the hours of prime,
Singing, received they in the midst of leaves,
That ever bore a burden to their rhymes,

Such as from branch to branch goes gathering on
Through the pine forest on the shore of Chiassi,
When Eolus unlooses the Sirocco.

Already my slow steps had carried me
Into the ancient wood so far, that I
Could not perceive where I had entered it

And lo! my further course a stream cut off,
Which tow’rd the left hand with its little waves
Bent down the grass that on its margin sprang

All waters that on earth most limpid are
Would seem to have within themselves some mixture
Compared with that which nothing doth conceal,

Although it moves on with a brown, brown current
Under the shade perpetual, that never
Ray of the sun lets in, nor of the moon.

With feet I stayed, and with mine eyes I passed
Beyond the rivulet, to look upon
The great variety of the fresh may.

And there appeared to me (even as appears
Suddenly something that doth turn aside
Through very wonder every other thought)

A lady all alone, who went along
Singing and culling floweret after floweret,
With which her pathway was all painted over.

“Ah, beauteous lady, who in rays of love
Dost warm thyself, if I may trust to looks,
Which the heart’s witnesses are wont to be,

May the desire come unto thee to draw
Near to this river’s bank, “I said to her,
So much that I might hear what thou art singing.

Thou makest me remember where and what
Proserpina that moment was when lost
Her mother her, and she herself the Spring.”

As turns herself, with feet together pressed
And to the ground, a lady who is dancing,
And hardly puts one foot before the other,

On the vermilion and the yellow flowerets
She turned towards me, not in other wise
Than maiden who her modest eyes casts down;

And my entreaties made to be content,
So near approaching, that the dulcet sound
Came unto me together with its meaning

As soon as she was where the grasses are
Bathed by the waters of the beauteous river,
To lift her eyes she granted me the boon.

I do not think there shone so great a light
Under the lids of Venus, when transfixed
By her own son, beyond his usual custom!

Erect upon the other bank she smiled,
Bearing full many colours in her hands.
Which that high land produces without seed.

Apart three paces did the river make us;
But Hellespont, where Xerxes passed across,
(A curb still to all human arrogance,)

More hatred from Leander did not suffer
For rolling between Sestos and Abydos,
Than that from me, because it oped not then.

“Ye are new—comers; and because I smile,”
Began she, “peradventure, in this place
Elect to human nature for its nest,

Some apprehension keeps you marvelling;
But the psalm _Delectasti_ giveth light
Which has the power to uncloud your intellect.

And thou who foremost art, and didst entreat me,
Speak, if thou wouldst hear more; for I came ready
To all thy questionings, as far as needful.”

“The water,” said I, “and the forest’s sound,
Are combating within me my new faith
In something which I heard opposed to this.”

Whence she: “I will relate how from its cause
Proceedeth that which maketh thee to wonder,
And purge away the cloud that smites upon thee.

The Good Supreme, sole in itself delighting,
Created man good, and this goodly place
Gave him as hansel of eternal peace.

By his default short while he sojourned here;
By his default to weeping and to toil
He changed his innocent laughter and sweet play.

That the disturbance which below is made
By exhalations of the land and water,
(Which far as may be follow after heat,)

Might not upon mankind wage any war,
This mount ascended tow’rds the heaven so high,
And is exempt, from there where it is locked.

Now since the universal atmosphere
Turns in a circuit with the primal motion
Unless the circle is broken on some side,

Upon this height, that all is disengaged
In living ether, doth this motion strike
And make the forest sound, for it is dense;

And so much power the stricken plant possesses
That with its virtue it impregns the air,
And this, revolving, scatters it around;

And yonder earth, according as ’tis worthy
In self or in its clime, conceives and bears
Of divers qualities the divers trees;

It should not seem a marvel then on earth,
This being heard, whenever any plant
Without seed manifest there taketh root.

And thou must know, this holy table—land
In which thou art is full of every seed,
And fruit has in it never gathered there.

The water which thou seest springs not from vein
Restored by vapour that the cold condenses,
Like to a stream that gains or loses breath

But issues from a fountain safe and certain,
Which by the will of God as much regains
As it discharges, open on two sides.

Upon this side with virtue it descends,
Which takes away all memory of sin;
On that, of every good deed done restores it.

Here Lethe, as upon the other side
Eunoe, it is called; and worketh not
If first on either side it be not tasted.

This every other savour doth transcend;
And notwithstanding slaked so far may be
Thy thirst, that I reveal to thee no more,

I’ll give thee a corollary still in grace,
Nor think my speech will be to thee less dear
If it spread out beyond my promise to thee.

Those who in ancient times have feigned in song
The Age of Gold and its felicity,
Dreamed of this place perhaps upon Parnassus.

Here was the human race in innocence;
Here evermore was Spring, and every fruit;
This is the nectar of which each one speaks.”

Then backward did I turn me wholly round
Unto my Poets, and saw that with a smile
They had been listening to these closing words;

Then to the beautiful lady turned mine eyes.