Canto XXIII

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   EVEN as a bird, ‘mid the beloved leaves,
2   Quiet upon the nest of her sweet brood
3   Throughout the night, that hideth all things from us,
 
4   Who, that she may behold their longed-for looks
5   And find the food wherewith to nourish them,
6   In which, to her, grave labours grateful are,
 
7   Anticipates the time on open spray
8   And with an ardent longing waits the sun,
9   Gazing intent as soon as breaks the dawn:
 
10   Even thus my Lady standing was, erect
11   And vigilant, turned round towards the zone
12   Underneath which the sun displays less haste;
 
13   So that beholding her distraught and wistful,
14   Such I became as he is who desiring
15   For something yearns, and hoping is appeased.
 
16   But brief the space from one When to the other;
17   Of my awaiting, say I, and the seeing
18   The welkin grow resplendent more and more.
 
19   And Beatrice exclaimed: Behold the hosts
20   Of Christ’s triumphal march, and all the fruit
21   Harvested by the rolling of these spheres!
 
22   It seemed to me her face was all aflame;
23   And eyes she had so full of ecstasy
24   That I must needs pass on without describing.
 
25   As when in nights serene of the full moon
26   Smiles Trivia among the nymphs eternal
27   Who paint the firmament through all its gulfs,
 
28   Saw I, above the myriads of lamps,
29   A Sun that one and all of them enkindled,
30   E’en as our own doth the supernal sights,
 
31   And through the living light transparent shone
32   ‘The lucent substance so intensely clear
33   Into my sight, that I sustained it not.
 
34   O Beatrice,thou gentle guide and dear!
35   To me she said: What overmasters thee
36   A virtue is from which naught shields itself
 
37   There are the wisdom and the omnipotence
38   That oped the thoroughfares ‘twixt heaven and earth,
39   For which there erst had been so long a yearning.
 
40   As fire from out a cloud unlocks itself,
41   Dilating so it finds not room therein,
42   And down, against its nature, falls to earth,
 
43   So did my mind, among those aliments
44   Becoming larger, issue from itself,
45   And that which it became cannot remember.
 
46   Open thine eyes, and look at what I am:
47   Thou hast beheld such things, that strong enough
48   Hast thou become to tolerate my smile.
 
49   I was as one who still retains the feeling
50   Of a forgotten vision, and endeavours
51   In vain to bring it back into his mind,
 
52   Then I this invitation heard, deserving
53   Of so much gratitude, it never fades
54   out of the book that chronicles the past.
 
55   If at this moment sounded all the tongues
56   I hat Polyhymnia and her sisters made
57   Most lubrical with their delicious milk,
 
58   To aid me, to a thousandth of the truth
59   It would not reach, singing the holy smile
60   And how the holy aspect it illumed.
 
61   And therefore, representing Paradise,
62   The sacred poem must perforce leap over,
63   Even as a man who finds his way cut off;
 
64   But whoso thinketh of the ponderous theme,
65   And of the mortal shoulder laden with it
66   Should blame it not, if under this it tremble.
 
67   It is no passage for a little boat
68   This which goes cleaving the audacious prow,
69   Nor for a pilot who would spare himself.
 
70   Why doth my face so much enamour thee,
71   That to the garden fair thou turnest not,
72   Which under the rays of Christ is blossoming?
 
73   There is the Rose in which the Word Divine
74   Became incarnate; there the lilies are
75   By whose perfume the good way was discovered.
 
76   Thus Beatrice; and I, who to her counsels
77   Was wholly ready, once again betook me
78   Unto the battle of the feeble brows.
 
79   As in the sunshine, that unsullied streams
80   Through fractured cloud, ere now a meadow of flowers
81   Mine eyes with shadow covered o’er have seen,
 
82   So troops of splendours manifold I saw
83   Illumined from above with burning rays,
84   Beholding not the source of the effulgence.
 
85   O power benignant that dost so imprint them!
86   Thou didst exalt thyself to give more scope
87   There to mine eyes, that were not strong enough.
 
88   The name of that fair flower I e’er invoke
89   Morning and evening utterly enthralled
90   My soul to gaze upon the greater fire.
 
91   And when in both mine eyes depicted were
92   The glory and greatness of the living star
93   Which there excelleth, as it here excelled,
 
94   Athwart the heavens a little torch descended
95   Formed in a circle like a coronal,
96   And cinctured it, and whirled itself about it.
 
97   Whatever melody most sweetly soundeth
98   On earth, and to itself most draws the soul,
99   Would seem a cloud that, rent asunder, thunders,
 
100   Compared unto the sounding of that Iyre
101   Wherewith was crowned the sapphire beautiful,
102   Which gives the clearest heaven its sapphire hue.
 
103   I am Angelic Love, that circle round
104   The joy sublime which breathes from out the womb
105   That was the hostelry of our Desire;
 
106   And I shall circle, Lady of Heaven, while
107   Thou followest thy Son, and mak’st diviner
108   The sphere supreme, because thou enterest there.
 
109   Thus did the circulated melody
110   Seal itself up; and all the other lights
111   Were making to resound the name of Mary.
 
112   The regal mantle of the volumes all
113   Of that world, which most fervid is and living
114   With breath of God and with his works and ways,
 
115   Extended over us its inner border,
116   So very distant, that the semblance of it
117   There where I was not yet appeared to me.
 
118   Therefore mine eyes did not possess the power
119   Of following the incoronated flame.
120   Which mounted upward near to its own seed.
 
121   And as a little child, that towards its mother
122   Stretches its arms, when it the milk has taken,
123   Through impulse kindled into outward flame,
 
124   Each of those gleams of whiteness upward reached
125   So with its summit, that the deep affection
126   They had for Mary was revealed to me.
 
127   Thereafter they remained there in my sight,
128   Regina coelisinging with such sweetness,
129   That ne’er from me has the delight departed.
 
130   O, what exuberance is garnered up
131   Within those richest coffers, which had been
132   Good husbandmen for sowing here below!
 
133   There they enjoy and live upon the treasure
134   Which was acquired while weeping in the exile
135   Of Babylon, wherein the gold was left.
 
136   There triumpheth, beneath the exalted Son
137   Of God and Mary, in his victory,
138   Both with the ancient council and the new,
 
139   He who doth keep the keys of such a glory.