Canto XX

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   WHEN he who all the world illuminates
2   Out of our hemisphere so far descends
3   That on all sides the daylight is consumed,
4   The heaven, that erst by him alone was kindled,
5   Doth suddenly reveal itself again
6   By many lights, wherein is one resplendent.
7   And came into my mind this act of heaven,
8   When the ensign of the world and of its leaders
9   Had silent in the blessed beak become;
10   Because those living luminaries all,
11   By far more luminous, did songs begin
12   Lapsing and falling from my memory.
13   O gentle Love, that with a smile dost cloak thee,
14   How ardent in those sparks didst thou appear,
15   That had the breath alone of holy thoughts!
16   After the precious and pellucid crystals,
17   With which begemmed the sixth light I beheld,
18   Silence imposed on the angelic bells,
19   I seemed to hear the murmuring of a river
20   That clear descendeth down from rock to rock,
21   Showing the affluence of its mountain-top.
22   And as the sound upon the cithern’s neck
23   Taketh its form, and as upon the vent
24   Of rustic pipe the wind that enters it,
25   Even thus, relieved from the delay of waiting,
26   That murmuring of the eagle mounted up
27   Along its neck, as if it had been hollow.
28   There it became a voice, and issued thence
29   From out its beak, in such a form of words
30   As the heart waited for wherein I wrote them.
31   The part in me which sees and bears the sun
32   In mortal eagles, it began to me,
33   Now fixedly must needs be looked upon;
34   For of the fires of which I make my figure,
35   Those whence the eye doth sparkle in my head
36   Of all their orders the supremest are.
37   He who is shining in the midst as pupil
38   Was once the singer of the Holy Spirit,
39   Who bore the ark from city unto city;
40   Now knoweth he the merit of his song,
41   In so far as effect of his own counsel,
42   By the reward which is commensurate.
43   Of five, that make a circle for my brow,
44   He that approacheth nearest to my beak
45   Did the poor widow for her son console;
46   Now knoweth he how dearly it doth cost
47   Not following Christ, by the experience
48   Of this sweet life and of its opposite.
49   He who comes next in the circumference
50   Of which I speak, upon its highest arc,
51   Did death postpone by penitence sincere;
52   Now knoweth he that the eternal judgment
53   Suffers no change, albeit worthy prayer
54   Maketh below to-morrow of to-day.
55   The next who follows, with the laws and me,
56   Under the good intent that bore bad fruit
57   Became a Greek by ceding to the pastor;
58   Now knoweth he how all the ill deduced
59   From his good action is not harmful to him,
60   Although the world thereby may be destroyed.
61   And he, whom in the downward arc thou seest,
62   Guglielmo was, whom the same land deplores
63   That weepeth Charles and Frederick yet alive;
64   Now knoweth he how heaven enamoured is
65   With a just king; and in the outward show
66   Of his effulgence he reveals it still.
67   Who would believe, down in the errant world,
68   That e’er the Trojan Ripheus in this round
69   Could be the fifth one of the holy lights
70   Now knoweth he enough of what the world
71   Has not the power to see of grace divine,
72   Although his sight may not discern the bottom.
73   Like as a lark that in the air expatiates,
74   First singing and then silent with content
75   Of the last sweetness that doth satisfy her,
76   Such seemed to me the image of the imprint
77   Of the eternal pleasure, by whose will
78   Doth everything become the thing it is.
79   And notwithstanding to my doubt I was
80   As glass is to the colour that invests it,
81   To wait the time in silence it endured not,
82   But forth from out my mouth,What things are
83   Extorted with the force of its own weight;
84   Whereat I saw great joy of coruscation.
85   Thereafterward with eye still more enkindled
86   The blessed standard made to me reply,
87   To keep me not in wonderment suspended:
88   I see that thou believest in these things
89   Because I say them, but thou seest not how;
90   So that, although believed in, they are hidden.
91   Thou doest as he doth who a thing by name
92   Well apprehendeth, but its quiddity
93   Cannot perceive, unless another show it.
94   Regnum coelorum suffereth violence
95   From fervent love, and from that living hope
96   That overcometh the Divine volition;
97   Not in the guise that man o’ercometh man,
98   But conquers it because it will be conquered,
99   And conquered conquers by benignity.
100   The first life of the eyebrow and the fifth
101   Cause thee astonishment, because with them
102   Thou seest the region of the angels painted.
103   They passed not from their bodies, as thou thinkest,
104   Gentiles. but Christians in the steadfast faith
105   Of feet that were to suffer and had suffered.
106   For one from Hell, where no one e’er turns back
107   Unto good will, returned unto his bones,
108   And that of living hope was the reward,–
109   Of living hope, that placed its efficacy
110   In prayers to God made to resuscitate him,
111   So that ’twere possible to move his will.
112   The glorious soul concerning which I speak,
113   Returning to the flesh, where brief its stay,
114   Believed in Him who had the power to aid it;
115   And, in believing, kindled to such fire
116   Of genuine love, that at the second death
117   Worthy it was to come unto this joy.
118   The other one, through grace, that from so deep
119   A fountain wells that never hath the eye
120   Of any creature reached its primal wave,
121   Set all his love below on righteousness;
122   Wherefore from grace to grace did God unclose
123   His eye to our redemption yet to be,
124   Whence he believed therein, and suffered not
125   From that day forth the stench of paganism,
126   And he reproved therefor the folk perverse.
127   Those Maidens three, whom at the right-hand wheel
128   Thou didst behold, were unto him for baptism
129   More than a thousand years before baptizing.
130   O thou predestination, how remote
131   Thy root is from the aspect of all those
132   Who the First Cause do not behold entire!
133   And you, O mortals! hold yourselves restrained
134   In judging j for ourselves, who look on God,
135   We do not know as yet all the elect;
136   And sweet to us is such a deprivation,
137   Because our good in this good is made perfect,
138   That whatsoe’er God wills, we also will.
139   After this manner by that shape divine,
140   To make clear in me my short-sightedness,
141   Was given to me a pleasant medicine;
142   And as good singer a good lutanist
143   Accompanies with vibrations of the chords,
144   Whereby more pleasantness the song acquires,
145   So, while it spake, do I remember me
146   That I beheld both of those blessed lights,
147   Even as the winking of the eyes concords,
148   Moving unto the words their little flames.