Canto XIII

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   Let him imagine, who would well conceive
2   What now I saw, and let him while I speak
3   Retain the image as a steadfast rock,
 
4   The fifteen stars, that in their divers regions
5   The sky enliven with a light so great
6   That it transcends all clusters of the air;
 
7   Let him the Wain imagine unto which
8   Our vault of heaven sufficeth night and day,
9   So that in turning of its pole it fails not;
 
10   Let him the mouth imagine of the horn
11   That in the point beginneth of the axis
12   Round about which the primal wheel revolves,–
 
13   To have fashioned of themselves two signs in heaven,
14   Like unto that which Minos’ daughter made,
15   The moment when she felt the frost of death;
 
16   And one to have its rays within the other,
17   And both to whirl themselves in such a manner
18   That one should forward go, the other backward;
 
19   And he will have some shadowing forth of that
20   True constellation and the double dance
21   That circled round the point at which I was;
 
22   Because it is as much beyond our wont,
23   As swifter than the motion of the Chiana
24   Moveth the heaven that all the rest outspeeds.
 
25   There sang they neither Bacchus, nor Apollo,
26   But in the divine nature Persons three,
27   And in one person the divine and human.
 
28   The singing and the dance fulfilled their measure,
29   And unto us those holy lights gave need,
30   Growing in happiness from care to care.
 
31   Then broke the silence of those saints concordant
32   The light in which the admirable life
33   Of God’s own mendicant was told to me,
 
34   And said: Now that one straw is trodden out
35   Now that its seed is garnered up already,
36   Sweet love invites me to thresh out the other.
 
37   Into that bosom, thou believest, whence
38   Was drawn the rib to form the beauteous cheek
39   Whose taste to all the world is costing dear,
 
40   And into that which, by the lance transfixed,
41   Before and since, such satisfaction made
42   That it weighs down the balance of all sin,
 
43   Whate’er of light it has to human nature
44   Been lawful to possess was all infused
45   By the same power that both of them created;
 
46   And hence at what r said above dost wonder,
47   When I narrated that no second had
48   The good which in the fifth light is enclosed.
 
49   Now ope thine eyes to what I answer thee,
50   And thou shalt see thy creed and my discourse
51   Fit in the truth as centre in a circle.
 
52   That which can die, and that which dieth not,
53   Are nothing but the splendour of the idea
54   Which by his love our Lord brings into being
 
55   Because that living Light, which from its fount
56   Effulgent flows, so that it disunites not
57   From Him nor from the Love in them intrined,
 
58   Through its own goodness reunites its rays
59   In nine subsistences, as in a mirror,
60   Itself eternally remaining One.
 
61   Thence it descends to the last potencies,
62   Downward from act to act becoming such
63   That only brief contingencies it makes;
 
64   And these contingencies I hold to be
65   Things generated, which the heaven produces
66   By its own motion, with seed and without.
 
67   Neither their wax, nor that which tempers it,
68   Remains immutable, and hence beneath
69   The ideal signet more and less shines through;
 
70   Therefore it happens, that the selfsame tree
71   After its kind bears worse and better fruit,
72   And ye are born with characters diverse.
 
73   If in perfection tempered were the wax,
74   And were the heaven in its supremest virtue,
75   The brilliance of the seal would all appear;
 
76   But nature gives it evermore deficient,
77   In the like manner working as the artist,
78   Who has the skill of art and hand that trembles.
 
79   If then the fervent Love, the Vision clear,
80   Of primal Virtue do dispose and seal,
81   Perfection absolute is there acquired.
 
82   Thus was of old the earth created worthy
83   Of all and every animal perfection;
84   And thus the Virgin was impregnate made;
 
85   So that thine own opinion I commend,
86   That human nature never yet has been,
87   Nor will be, what it wasin, those two persons.
 
88   Now if no farther forth I should proceed,
89   ‘Then in what way was he without a peer?’
90   Would be the first beginning of thy words.
 
91   But, that may well appear what now appears not,
92   Think who he was, and what occasion moved him
93   To make request, when it was told him, ‘Ask.’
 
94   I’ve not so spoken that thou canst not see
95   Clearly he was a king who asked for wisdom,
96   That he might be sufficiently a king;
 
97   ‘Twas not to know the number in which are
98   The motors here above, or if necesse
99   With a contingent e’er necesse make,
 
100   Non si est dare primum motum esse,
101   Or if in semicircle can be made
102   Triangle so that it have no right angle.
 
103   Whence, if thou notest this and what I said,
104   A regal prudence is that peerless seeing
105   In which the shaft of my intention strikes
 
106   And if on ‘rose’ thou turnest thy clear eyes,
107   Thou’lt see that it has reference alone
108   To kings who’re many, and the good are rare.
 
109   With this distinction take thou what I said,
110   And thus it can consist with thy belief
111   Of the first father and of our Delight.
 
112   And lead shall this be always to thy feet,
113   To make thee, like a weary man, move slowly
114   Both to the Yes and No thou seest not;
 
115   For very low among the fools is he
116   Who affirms without distinction, or denies,
117   As well in one as in the other case;
 
118   Because it happens that full often bends
119   Current opinion in the false direction,
120   And then the feelings bind the intellect.
 
121   Far more than uselessly he leaves the shore,
122   (Since he returneth not the same he went,)
123   Who fishes for the truth, and has no skill;
 
124   And in the world proofs manifest thereof
125   Parmenides, Melissus, Brissus are,
126   And many who went on and knew not whither;
 
127   Thus did Sabellius, Arius, and those fools
128   Who have been even as swords unto the Scriptures
129   In rendering distorted their straight faces.
 
130   Nor yet shall people be too confident
131   In judging, even as he is who doth count
132   The corn in field or ever it be ripe.
 
133   For I have seen all winter long the thorn
134   First show itself intractable and fierce,
135   And after bear the rose upon its top;
 
136   And I have seen a ship direct and swift
137   Run o’er the sea throughout its course entire,
138   To perish at the harbour’s mouth at last.
 
139   Let not Dame Bertha nor Ser Martin think,
140   Seeing one steal, another offering make,
141   To see them in the arbitrament divine;
 
142   For one may rise, and fall the other may.