Previous Comedy Next

III - xiii

 Let him imagine, who would rightly seize
what I saw now-and let him while I speak
retain that image like a steadfast rock-
3
 in heaven's different parts, those fifteen stars
that quicken heaven with such radiance
as to undo the air's opacities;
6
 let him imagine, too, that Wain which stays
within our heaven's bosom night and day,
so that its turning never leaves our sight;
9
 let him imagine those two stars that form
the mouth of that Horn which begins atop
the axle round which the first wheel revolves;
12
 then see these join to form two signs in heaven-
just like the constellation that was shaped
by Minos'daughter when she felt death's chill-
15
 two signs with corresponding radii,
revolving so that one sign moves in one
direction, and the other in a second;
18
 and he will have a shadow-as it were-
of the true constellation, the double dance
that circled round the point where I was standing:
21
 a shadow-since its truth exceeds our senses,
just as the swiftest of all heavens is
more swift than the Chiana's sluggishness.
24
 They sang no Bacchus there, they sang no Paean,
but sang three Persons in the divine nature,
and in one Person the divine and human.
27
 The singing and the dance fulfilled their measure;
and then those holy lights gave heed to us,
rejoicing as they turned from task to task.
30
 The silence of the blessed fellowship
was broken by the very light from which
I heard the wondrous life of God's poor man;
33
 that light said: "Since one stalk is threshed, and since
its grain is in the granary already,
sweet love leads me to thresh the other stalk.
36
 You think that any light which human nature
can rightfully possess was all infused
by that Force which had shaped both of these two:
39
 the one out of whose chest was drawn the rib
from which was formed the lovely cheek whose palate
was then to prove so costly to the world;
42
 and One whose chest was transfixed by the lance,
who satisfied all past and future sins,
outweighing them upon the scales of justice.
45
 Therefore you wondered at my words when I-
before-said that no other ever vied
with that great soul enclosed in the fifth light.
48
 Now let your eyes hold fast to my reply,
and you will see: truth centers both my speech
and your belief, just like a circle's center.
51
 Both that which never dies and that which dies
are only the reflected light of that
Idea which our Sire, with Love, begets;
54
 because the living Light that pours out so
from Its bright Source that It does not disjoin
from It or from the Love intrined with them,
57
 through Its own goodness gathers up Its rays
within nine essences, as in a mirror,
Itself eternally remaining One.
60
 From there, from act to act, light then descends
down to the last potentialities,
where it is such that it engenders nothing
63
 but brief contingent things, by which I mean
the generated things the moving heavens
bring into being, with or without seed.
66
 The wax of such things and what shapes that wax
are not immutable; and thus, beneath
idea's stamp, light shines through more or less.
69
 Thus it can be that, in the selfsame species,
some trees bear better fruit and some bear worse,
and men are born with different temperaments.
72
 For were the wax appropriately readied,
and were the heaven's power at its height,
the brightness of the seal would show completely;
75
 but Nature always works defectively-
she passes on that light much like an artist
who knows his craft but has a hand that trembles.
78
 Yet where the ardent Love prepares and stamps
the lucid Vision of the primal Power,
a being then acquires complete perfection.
81
 In that way, earth was once made worthy of
the full perfection of a living being;
thus was the Virgin made to be with child.
84
 So that I do approve of the opinion
you hold: that human nature never was
nor shall be what it was in those two persons.
87
 Now if I said no more beyond this point,
your words might well begin, 'How is it, then,
with your assertion of his matchless vision?'
90
 But so that the obscure can be made plain,
consider who he was, what was the cause
of his request when he was told, 'Do ask.'
93
 My words did not prevent your seeing clearly
that it was as a king that he had asked
for wisdom that would serve his royal task-
96
 and not to know the number of the angels
on high or, if combined with a contingent,
necesse ever can produce necesse,
99
 or si est dare primum motum esse,
or if, within a semicircle, one
can draw a triangle with no right angle.
102
 Thus, if you note both what I said and say,
by 'matchless vision' it is kingly prudence
my arrow of intention means to strike;
105
 and if you turn clear eyes to that word 'rose,'
you'll see that it referred to kings alone-
kings, who are many, and the good are rare.
108
 Take what I said with this distinction then;
in that way it accords with what you thought
of the first father and of our Beloved.
111
 And let this weigh as lead to slow your steps,
to make you move as would a weary man
to yes or no when you do not see clearly:
114
 whether he would affirm or would deny,
he who decides without distinguishing
must be among the most obtuse of men;
117
 opinion-hasty-often can incline
to the wrong side, and then affection for
one's own opinion binds, confines the mind.
120
 Far worse than uselessly he leaves the shore
(more full of error than he was before)
who fishes for the truth but lacks the art.
123
 Of this, Parmenides, Melissus, Bryson,
are clear proofs to the world, and many others
who went their way but knew not where it went;
126
 so did Sabellius and Arius
and other fools-like concave blades that mirror-
who rendered crooked the straight face of Scriptures.
129
 So, too, let men not be too confident
in judging-witness those who, in the field,
would count the ears before the corn is ripe;
132
 for I have seen, all winter through, the brier
display itself as stiff and obstinate,
and later, on its summit, bear the rose;
135
 and once I saw a ship sail straight and swift
through all its voyaging across the sea,
then perish at the end, at harbor entry.
138
 Let not Dame Bertha or Master Martin think
that they have shared God's Counsel when they see
one rob and see another who donates:
141
 the last may fall, the other may be saved."  
Previous Next