Canto XXVIII

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   EAGER already to search in and round
2   The heavenly forest, dense and living-green,
3   Which tempered to the eyes the new-born day,
 
4   Withouten more delay I left the bank,
5   Taking the level country slowly, slowly
6   Over the soil that everywhere breathes fragrance.
 
7   A softly-breathing air, that no mutation
8   Had in itself, upon the forehead smote me
9   No heavier blow than of a gentle wind,
 
10   Whereat the branches, lightly tremulous,
11   Did all of them bow downward toward that side
12   Where its first shadow casts the Holy Mountain;
 
13   Yet not from their upright direction swayed,
14   So that the little birds upon their tops
15   Should leave the practice of each art of theirs;
 
16   But with full ravishment the hours of prime,
17   Singing, received they in the midst of leaves,
18   That ever bore a burden to their rhymes,
 
19   Such as from branch to branch goes gathering on
20   Through the pine forest on the shore of Chiassi,
21   When Eolus unlooses the Sirocco.
 
22   Already my slow steps had carried me
23   Into the ancient wood so far, that I
24   Could not perceive where I had entered it
 
25   And lo! my further course a stream cut off,
26   Which tow’rd the left hand with its little waves
27   Bent down the grass that on its margin sprang
 
28   All waters that on earth most limpid are
29   Would seem to have within themselves some mixture
30   Compared with that which nothing doth conceal,
 
31   Although it moves on with a brown, brown current
32   Under the shade perpetual, that never
33   Ray of the sun lets in, nor of the moon.
 
34   With feet I stayed, and with mine eyes I passed
35   Beyond the rivulet, to look upon
36   The great variety of the fresh may.
 
37   And there appeared to me (even as appears
38   Suddenly something that doth turn aside
39   Through very wonder every other thought)
 
40   A lady all alone, who went along
41   Singing and culling floweret after floweret,
42   With which her pathway was all painted over.
 
43   Ah, beauteous lady, who in rays of love
44   Dost warm thyself, if I may trust to looks,
45   Which the heart’s witnesses are wont to be,
 
46   May the desire come unto thee to draw
47   Near to this river’s bank, I said to her,
48   So much that I might hear what thou art singing.
 
49   Thou makest me remember where and what
50   Proserpina that moment was when lost
51   Her mother her, and she herself the Spring.
 
52   As turns herself, with feet together pressed
53   And to the ground, a lady who is dancing,
54   And hardly puts one foot before the other,
 
55   On the vermilion and the yellow flowerets
56   She turned towards me, not in other wise
57   Than maiden who her modest eyes casts down;
 
58   And my entreaties made to be content,
59   So near approaching, that the dulcet sound
60   Came unto me together with its meaning
 
61   As soon as she was where the grasses are
62   Bathed by the waters of the beauteous river,
63   To lift her eyes she granted me the boon.
 
64   I do not think there shone so great a light
65   Under the lids of Venus, when transfixed
66   By her own son, beyond his usual custom!
 
67   Erect upon the other bank she smiled,
68   Bearing full many colours in her hands.
69   Which that high land produces without seed.
 
70   Apart three paces did the river make us;
71   But Hellespont, where Xerxes passed across,
72   (A curb still to all human arrogance,)
 
73   More hatred from Leander did not suffer
74   For rolling between Sestos and Abydos,
75   Than that from me, because it oped not then.
 
76   Ye are new-comers; and because I smile,
77   Began she, peradventure, in this place
78   Elect to human nature for its nest,
 
79   Some apprehension keeps you marvelling;
80   But the psalm Delectasti giveth light
81   Which has the power to uncloud your intellect.
 
82   And thou who foremost art, and didst entreat me,
83   Speak, if thou wouldst hear more; for I came ready
84   To all thy questionings, as far as needful.
 
85   The water,said I,and the forest’s sound,
86   Are combating within me my new faith
87   In something which I heard opposed to this.
 
88   Whence she: I will relate how from its cause
89   Proceedeth that which maketh thee to wonder,
90   And purge away the cloud that smites upon thee.
 
91   The Good Supreme, sole in itself delighting,
92   Created man good, and this goodly place
93   Gave him as hansel of eternal peace.
 
94   By his default short while he sojourned here;
95   By his default to weeping and to toil
96   He changed his innocent laughter and sweet play.
 
97   That the disturbance which below is made
98   By exhalations of the land and water,
99   (Which far as may be follow after heat,)
 
100   Might not upon mankind wage any war,
101   This mount ascended tow’rds the heaven so high,
102   And is exempt, from there where it is locked.
 
103   Now since the universal atmosphere
104   Turns in a circuit with the primal motion
105   Unless the circle is broken on some side,
 
106   Upon this height,that all is disengaged
107   In living ether, doth this motion strike
108   And make the forest sound, for it is dense;
 
109   And so much power the stricken plant possesses
110   That with its virtue it impregns the air,
111   And this, revolving, scatters it around;
 
112   And yonder earth, according as ’tis worthy
113   In self or in its clime, conceives and bears
114   Of divers qualities the divers trees;
 
115   It should not seem a marvel then on earth,
116   This being heard, whenever any plant
117   Without seed manifest there taketh root.
 
118   And thou must know, this holy table-land
119   In which thou art is full of every seed,
120   And fruit has in it never gathered there.
 
121   The water which thou seest springs not from vein
122   Restored by vapour that the cold condenses,
123   Like to a stream that gains or loses breath
 
124   But issues from a fountain safe and certain,
125   Which by the will of God as much regains
126   As it discharges, open on two sides.
 
127   Upon this side with virtue it descends,
128   Which takes away all memory of sin;
129   On that, of every good deed done restores it.
 
130   Here Lethe, as upon the other side
131   Eunoe, it is called; and worketh not
132   If first on either side it be not tasted.
 
133   This every other savour doth transcend;
134   And notwithstanding slaked so far may be
135   Thy thirst, that I reveal to thee no more,
 
136   I’ll give thee a corollary still in grace,
137   Nor think my speech will be to thee less dear
138   If it spread out beyond my promise to thee.
 
139   Those who in ancient times have feigned in song
140   The Age of Gold and its felicity,
141   Dreamed of this place perhaps upon Parnassus.
 
142   Here was the human race in innocence;
143   Here evermore was Spring, and every fruit;
144   This is the nectar of which each one speaks.
 
145   Then backward did I turn me wholly round
146   Unto my Poets, and saw that with a smile
147   They had been listening to these closing words;
 
148   Then to the beautiful lady turned mine eyes.