Canto XXI

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   ALREADY on my Lady’s face mine eyes
2   Again were fastened, and with these my mind,
3   And from all other purpose was withdrawn;
 
4   And she smiled not; but If I were to smile,
5   She unto me began, thou wouldst become
6   Like Semele, when she was turned to ashes.
 
7   Because my beauty, that along the stairs
8   Of the eternal palace more enkindles,
9   As thou hast seen, the farther we ascend,
 
10   If it were tempered not, is so resplendent
11   That all thy mortal power in its effulgence
12   Would seem a leaflet that the thunder crushes.
 
13   We are uplifted to the seventh splendour,
14   That underneath the burning Lion’s breast
15   Now radiates downward mingled with his power.
 
16   Fix in direction of thine eyes the mind,
17   And make of them a mirror for the figure
18   That in this mirror shall appear to thee.
 
19   He who could know what was the pasturage
20   My sight had in that blessed countenance,
21   When I transferred me to another care,
 
22   Would recognize how grateful was to me
23   Obedience unto my celestial escort,
24   By counterpoising one side with the other.
 
25   Within the crystal which, around the world
26   Revolving, bears the name of its dear leader,
27   Under whom every wickedness lay dead,
 
28   Coloured like gold, on which the sunshine gleams,
29   A stairway I beheld to such a height
30   Uplifted, that mine eye pursued it not.
 
31   Likewise beheld I down the steps descending
32   So many splendours, that I thought each light
33   That in the heaven appears was there diffused.
 
34   And as accordant with their natural custom
35   The rooks together at the break of day
36   Bestir themselves to warm their feathers cold;
 
37   Then some of them fly off without return,
38   Others come back to where they started from,
39   And others, wheeling round, still keep at home;
 
40   Such fashion it appeared to me was there
41   Within the sparkling that together came,
42   As soon as on a certain step it struck,
 
43   And that which nearest unto us remained
44   Became so clear, that in my thought I said,
45   Well I perceive the love thou showest me;
 
46   But she, from whom I wait the how and when
47   Of speech and silence, standeth still;whence I
48   Against desire do well if I ask not.
 
49   She thereupon, who saw my silentness
50   In the sight of Him who seeth everything,
51   Said unto me, Let loose thy warm desire.
 
52   And I began: No merit of my own
53   Renders me worthy of response from thee;
54   But for her sake who granteth me the asking,
 
55   Thou blessed life that dost remain concealed
56   In thy beatitude, make known to me
57   The cause which draweth thee so near my side;
 
58   And tell me why is silent in this wheel
59   The dulcet symphony of Paradise,
60   That through the rest below sounds so devoutly.
 
61   Thou hast thy hearing mortal as thy sight,
62   It answer made to me; they sing not here,
63   For the same cause that Beatrice has not smiled.
 
64   Thus far adown the holy stairway’s steps
65   Have I descended but to give thee welcome
66   With words, and with the light that mantles me;
 
67   Nor did more love cause me to be more ready,
68   For love as much and more up there is burning,
69   As doth the flaming manifest to thee.
 
70   But the high charity, that makes us servants
71   Prompt to the counsel which controls the world,
72   Allotteth here, even as thou dost observe.
 
73   I see full well, said I, O sacred lamp!
74   How love unfettered in this court sufficeth
75   To follow the eternal Providence;
 
76   But this is what seems hard for me to see,
77   Wherefore predestinate wast thou alone
78   Unto this office from among thy consorts.
 
79   No sooner had I come to the last word,
80   Than of its middle made the light a centre,
81   Whirling itself about like a swift millstone.
 
82   When answer made the love that was therein:
83   On me directed is a light divine,
84   Piercing through this in which I am embosomed,
 
85   Of which the virtue with my sight conjoined
86   Lifts me above myself so far, I see
87   The supreme essence from which this is drawn.
 
88   Hence comes the joyfulness with which I flame,
89   For to my sight, as far as it is clear,
90   The clearness of the flame I equal make.
 
91   But that soul in the heaven which is most pure,
92   That seraph which his eye on God most fixes,
93   Could this demand of thine not satisfy;
 
94   Because so deeply sinks in the abyss
95   Of the eternal statute what thou askest,
96   From all created sight it is cut off.
 
97   And to the mortal world, when thou returnest,
98   This carry back, that it may not presume
99   Longer tow’rd such a goal to move its feet.
 
100   The mind, that shineth here, on earth doth smoke;
101   From this observe how can it do below
102   That which it cannot though the heaven assume it?
 
103   Such limit did its words prescribe to me,
104   The question I relinquished, and restricted
105   Myself to ask it humbly who it was.
 
106   Between two shores of Italy rise cliffs,
107   And not far distant from thy native place,
108   So high, the thunders far below them sound,
 
109   And form a ridge that Catria is called,
110   ‘Neath which is consecrate a hermitage
111   Wont to be dedicate to worship only.
 
112   Thus unto me the third speech recommenced,
113   And then, continuing, it said: Therein
114   Unto God’s service I became so steadfast,
 
115   That feeding only on the juice of olives
116   Lightly I passed away the heats and frosts,
117   Contented in my thoughts contemplative.
 
118   That cloister used to render to these heavens
119   Abundantly, and now is empty grown,
120   So that perforce it soon must be revealed.
 
121   I in that place was Peter Damiano;
122   And Peter the Sinner was I in the house
123   Of Our Lady on the Adriatic shore.
 
124   Little of mortal life remained to me,
125   When I was called and dragged forth to the hat
126   Which shifteth evermore from bad to worse.
 
127   Came Cephas, and the mighty Vessel came
128   Of the Holy Spirit, meagre and barefooted,
129   Taking the food of any hostelry.
 
130   Now some one to support them on each side
131   The modern shepherds need, and some to lead them,
132   So heavy are they, and to hold their trains.
 
133   They cover up their palfreys with their cloaks,
134   So that two beasts go underneath one skin;
135   O Patience, that dost tolerate so much!
 
136   At this voice saw I many little flames
137   From step to step descending and revolving,
138   And every revolution made them fairer.
 
139   Round about this one came they and stood still,
140   And a cry uttered of so loud a sound,
141   It here could find no parallel, nor I
 
142   Distinguished it, the thunder so o’ercame me.