Canto XXIX

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   SINGING like unto an enamoured lady
2   She, with the ending of her words, continued:
3   Beati quorum tecta sunt peccata.
 
4   And even as Nymphs, that wandered all alone
5   Among the sylvan shadows, sedulous
6   One to avoid and one to see the sun,
 
7   She then against the stream moved onward, going
8   Along the bank, and I abreast of her,
9   Her little steps with little steps attending
 
10   Between her steps and mine were not a hundred,
11   When equally the margins gave a turn,
12   In such a way, that to the East I faced.
 
13   Nor even thus our way continued far
14   Before the lady wholly turned herself
15   Unto me, saying, Brother, look and listen!
 
16   And lo ! a sudden lustre ran across
17   On every side athwart the spacious forest,
18   Such that it made me doubt if it were lightning.
 
19   But since the lightning ceases as it comes,
20   And that continuing brightened more and more,
21   Within my thought I said, What thing is this?
 
22   And a delicious melody there ran
23   Along the luminous air, whence holy zeal
24   Made me rebuke the hardihood of Eve;
 
25   For there where earth and heaven obedient were,
26   The woman only, and but just created,
27   Could not endure to stay ‘neath any veil;
 
28   Underneath which had she devoutly stayed,
29   I sooner should have tasted those delights
30   Ineffable, and for a longer time.
 
31   While ‘mid such manifold first-fruits I walked
32   Of the eternal pleasure all enrapt,
33   And still solicitous of more delights,
 
34   In front of us like an enkindled fire
35   Became the air beneath the verdant boughs,
36   And the sweet sound as singing now was heard.
 
37   O Virgins sacrosanct! if ever hunger,
38   Vigils, or cold for you I have endured,
39   The occasion spurs me their reward to claim!
 
40   Now Helicon must needs pour forth for me,
41   And with her choir Urania must assist me,
42   To put in verse things difficult to think.
 
43   A little farther on, seven trees of gold
44   In semblance the long space still intervening
45   Between ourselves and them did counterfeit;
 
46   But when I had approached so near to them
47   The common object, which the sense deceives,
48   Lost not by distance any of its marks,
 
49   The faculty that lends discourse to reason
50   Did apprehend that they were candlesticks,
51   And in the voices of the song Hosanna!
 
52   Above them flamed the harness beautiful,
53   Far brighter than the moon in the serene
54   Of midnight, at the middle of her month.
 
55   I turned me round, with admiration filled,
56   To good Virgilius, and he answered me
57   With visage no less full of wonderment.
 
58   Then back I turned my face to those high things,
59   Which moved themselves towards us so sedately,
60   They had been distanced by new-wedded brides.
 
61   The lady chid me: Why dost thou burn only
62   So with affection for the living lights,
63   And dost not look at what comes after them?
 
64   Then saw I people, as behind their leaders,
65   Coming behind them, garmented in white,
66   And such a whiteness never was on earth.
 
67   The water on my left flank was resplendent,
68   And back to me reflected my left side,
69   E’en as a mirror, if I looked therein.
 
70   When I upon my margin had such post
71   That nothing but the stream divided us,
72   Better to see I gave my steps repose;
 
73   And I beheld the flamelets onward go,
74   Leaving behind themselves the air depicted,
75   And they of trailing pennons had the semblance,
 
76   So that it overhead remained distinct
77   With sevenfold lists, all of them of the colours
78   Whence the sun’s bow is made, and Delia’s girdle.
 
79   These standards to the rearward longer were
80   Than was my sight; and, as it seemed to
81   Ten paces were the outermost apart.
 
82   Under so fair a heaven as I describe
83   The four and twenty Elders, two by two,
84   Came on incoronate with flower-de-luce.
 
85   They all of them were singing: Blessed thou
86   Among the daughters of Adam art, and blessed
87   For evermore shall be thy loveliness.
 
88   After the flowers and other tender grasses
89   In front of me upon the other margin
90   Were disencumbered of that race elect,
 
91   Even as in heaven star followeth after star,
92   There came close after them four animals,
93   Incoronate each one with verdant leaf.
 
94   Plumed with six wings was every one of them,
95   The plumage full of eyes; the eyes of Argus
96   If they were living would be such as these.
 
97   Reader! to trace their forms no more I waste
98   My rhymes; for other spendings press me so,
99   That I in this cannot be prodigal.
 
100   But read Ezekiel, who depicteth them
101   As he beheld them from the region cold
102   Coming with cloud, with whirlwind, and with fire;
 
103   And such as thou shalt find them in his pages,
104   Such were they here; saving that in their plumage
105   John is with me, and differeth from him.
 
106   The interval between these four contained
107   A chariot triumphal on two wheels,
108   Which by a Griffin’s neck came drawn along;
 
109   And upward he extended both his wings
110   Between the middle list and three and three,
111   So that he injured none by cleaving it
 
112   So high they rose that they were lost to sight;
113   His limbs were gold, so far as he was bird,
114   And white the others with vermilion mingled.
 
115   Not only Rome with no such splendid car
116   E’er gladdened Africanus, or Augustus,
117   But poor to it that of the Sun would be,–
 
118   That of the Sun, which swerving was burnt up
119   At the importunate orison of Earth,
120   When Jove was so mysteriously just
 
121   Three maidens at the right wheel in a circle
122   Came onward dancing; one so very red
123   That in the fire she hardly had been noted.
 
124   The second was as if her flesh and bones
125   Had all been fashioned out of emerald;
126   The third appeared as snow but newly fallen.
 
127   And now they seemed conducted by the white,
128   Now by the red, and from the song of her
129   The others took their step, or slow or swift.
 
130   Upon the left hand four made holiday
131   Vested in purple, following the measure
132   Of one of them with three eyes m her head.
 
133   In rear of all the group here treated of
134   Two old men I beheld, unlike in habit,
135   But like in gait, each dignified and grave.
 
136   One showed himself as one of the disciples
137   Of that supreme Hippocrates, whom nature
138   Made for the animals she holds most dear;
 
139   Contrary care the other manifested,
140   With sword so shining and so sharp, it caused
141   Terror to me on this side of the river.
 
142   Thereafter four I saw of humble aspect,
143   And behind all an aged man alone
144   Walking in sleep with countenance acute.
 
145   And like the foremost company these seven
146   Were habited; yet of the flower-de-luce
147   No garland round about the head they wore,
 
148   But of the rose. and other flowers vermilion;
149   At little distance would the sight have sworn
150   That all were in a flame above their brows.
 
151   And when the car was opposite to me
152   Thunder was heard; and all that folk august
153   Seemed to have further progress interdicted,
 
154   There with the vanward ensigns standing still.