Canto IV

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   BETWEEN two viands, equally removed
2   And tempting, a free man would die of hunger
3   Ere either he could bring unto his teeth.
4   So would a lamb between the ravenings
5   Of two fierce wolves stand fearing both alike;
6   And so would stand a dog between two does.
7   Hence, if I held my peace, myself I blame not,
8   Impelled in equal measure by my doubts,
9   Since it must be so, nor do I commend.
10   I held my peace; but my desire was painted
11   Upon my face, and questioning with that
12   More fervent far than by articulate speech.
13   Beatrice did as Daniel had done
14   Relieving Nebuchadnezzar from the wrath
15   Which rendered him unjustly merciless,
16   And said: Well see I how attracteth thee
17   One and the other wish, so that thy care
18   Binds itself so that forth it does not breathe.
19   Thou arguest, if good will be permanent,
20   The violence of others, for what reason
21   Doth it decrease the measure of my merit
22   Again for doubting furnish thee occasion
23   Souls seeming to return unto the stars,
24   According to the sentiment of Plato.
25   These are the questions which upon thy wish
26   Are thrusting equally; and therefore first
27   Will I treat that which hath the most of gall.
28   He of the Seraphim most absorbed in God,
29   Moses, and Samuel, and whichever John
30   Thou mayst select, I say, and even Mary,
31   Have not in any other heaven their seats,
32   Than have those spirits that just appeared to thee,
33   Nor of existence more or fewer years;
34   But all make beautiful the primal circle,
35   And have sweet life in different degrees,
36   By feeling more or less the eternal breath.
37   They showed themselves here, not because allotted
38   This sphere has been to them, but to give sign
39   Of the celestial which is least exalted.
40   To speak thus is adapted to your mind,
41   Since only through the sense it apprehendeth
42   What then it worthy makes of intellect.
43   On this account the Scripture condescends
44   Unto your faculties, and feet and hands
45   To God attributes, and means something else;
46   And Holy Church under an aspect human
47   Gabriel and Michael represent to you,
48   And him who made Tobias whole again.
49   That which Timceus argues of the soul
50   Doth not resemble that which here is seen,
51   Because it seems that as he speaks he thinks.
52   He says the soul unto its star returns,
53   Believing it to have been severed thence
54   Whenever nature gave it as a form
55   Perhaps his doctrine is of other guise
56   Than the words sound, and possibly may be
57   With meaning that is not to be derided.
58   If he doth mean that to these wheels return
59   The honour of their influence and the blame,
60   Perhaps his bow doth hit upon some truth.
61   This principle ill understood once warped
62   The whole world nearly, till it went astray
63   Invoking Jove and Mercury and Mars.
64   The other doubt which doth disquiet thee
65   Less venom has, for its malevolence
66   Could never lead thee otherwhere from me.
67   That as unjust our justice should appear
68   In eyes of mortals, is an argument
69   Of faith, and not of sin heretical.
70   But still, that your perception may be able
71   To thoroughly penetrate this verity,
72   As thou desirest, I will satisfy thee.
73   If it be violence when he who suffers
74   Co-operates not with him who uses force,
75   These souls were not on that account excused;
76   For will is never quenched unless it will,
77   But operates as nature doth in fire
78   If violence a thousand times distort it.
79   Hence, if it yieldeth more or less, it seconds
80   The force; and these have done so, having power
81   Of turning back unto the holy place.
82   If their will had been perfect, like to that
83   Which Lawrence fast upon his gridiron held,
84   And Mutius made severe to his own hand,
85   It would have urged them back along the road
86   Whence they were dragged, as soon as they were free;
87   But such a solid will is all too rare.
88   And by these words, if thou hast gathered them
89   As thou shouldst do, the argument is refuted
90   That would have still annoyed thee many times.
91   But now another passage runs accross
92   Before thine eyes, and such that by thyself
93   Thou couldst not thgread it ere thou wouldst be weary.
94   I have for certain put into thy mind
95   That soul beatified could never lie.
96   For it is near the primal Truth,
97   And then thou from Piccarda might’st have heard
98   Costanza kept affection for the veil,
99   So that she seemeth here to contradict me.
100   Many times, brother, has it come to pass,
101   That, to escape from peril, with reluctance
102   That has been done it was not right to do,
103   E’en as Alcaemon (who, being by his father
104   Thereto entreated, his own mother slew)
105   Not to lose pity pitiless became.
106   At this point I desire thee to remember
107   That force with will commingles, and they cause
108   That the offences cannot be excused.
109   Will absolute consenteth not to evil;
110   But in so far consenteth as it fears,
111   If it refrain, to fall into more harm
112   Hence when Piccarda uses this expression,
113   She meaneth the will absolute, and I
114   The other, so that both of us speak truth.
115   Such was the flowing of the holy river
116   That issued from the fount whence springs all truth;
117   This put to rest my wishes one and all.
118   O love of the first lover, O divine,
119   Said I forthwith,whose speech inundates me
120   And warms me so, it more and more revives me,
121   My own affection is not so profound
122   As to suffice in rendering grace for grace;
123   Let Him, who sees and can, thereto respond.
124   Well I perceive that never sated is
125   Our intellect unless the Truth illume it,
126   Beyond which nothing true expands itself.
127   It rests therein, as wild beast in his lair,
128   When it attains it;and it can attain it;
129   If not, then each desire would frustrate be.
130   Therefore springs up, in fashion of a shoot,
131   Doubt at the foot of truth;and this is nature,
132   Which to the top from height to height impels us.
133   This doth invite me, this assurance give me
134   With reverence, Lady, to inquire of you
135   Another true, which is obscure to me.
136   I wish to know if man can satisfy you
137   For broken vows with other good deeds, so
138   That in your balance they will not be light.
139   Beatrice gazed upon me with her eyes
140   Full of the sparks of love, and so divine,
141   That, overcome my power, I turned my back
142   And almost lost myself with eyes downcast.