Paradiso: Canto XXI
Already on my
Lady's face mine eyes
were fastened, and with these my mind,
And from all other purpose was withdrawn;
And she smiled not;
but "If I were to smile,"
unto me began, "thou wouldst become
Like Semele, when she was turned to ashes.
Because my beauty,
that along the stairs
the eternal palace more enkindles,
As thou hast seen, the farther we ascend,
If it were tempered
not, is so resplendent
all thy mortal power in its effulgence
Would seem a leaflet that the thunder crushes.
We are uplifted to
the seventh splendour,
underneath the burning Lion's breast
Now radiates downward mingled with his power.
Fix in direction of
thine eyes the mind,
make of them a mirror for the figure
That in this mirror shall appear to thee."
He who could know
what was the pasturage
sight had in that blessed countenance,
When I transferred me to another care,
Would recognize how
grateful was to me
unto my celestial escort,
By counterpoising one side with the other.
Within the crystal
which, around the world
bears the name of its dear leader,
Under whom every wickedness lay dead,
Coloured like gold,
on which the sunshine gleams,
stairway I beheld to such a height
Uplifted, that mine eye pursued it not.
Likewise beheld I
down the steps descending
many splendours, that I thought each light
That in the heaven appears was there diffused.
And as accordant
with their natural custom
rooks together at the break of day
Bestir themselves to warm their feathers cold;
Then some of them
fly off without return,
come back to where they started from,
And others, wheeling round, still keep at home;
Such fashion it
appeared to me was there
the sparkling that together came,
As soon as on a certain step it struck,
And that which
nearest unto us remained
so clear, that in my thought I said,
"Well I perceive the love thou showest me;
But she, from whom
I wait the how and when
speech and silence, standeth still; whence I
Against desire do well if I ask not."
She thereupon, who
saw my silentness
the sight of Him who seeth everything,
Said unto me, "Let loose thy warm desire."
And I began: "No
merit of my own
me worthy of response from thee;
But for her sake who granteth me the asking,
Thou blessed life
that dost remain concealed
thy beatitude, make known to me
The cause which draweth thee so near my side;
And tell me why is
silent in this wheel
dulcet symphony of Paradise,
That through the rest below sounds so devoutly."
"Thou hast thy
hearing mortal as thy sight,"
answer made to me; "they sing not here,
For the same cause that Beatrice has not smiled.
Thus far adown the
holy stairway's steps
I descended but to give thee welcome
With words, and with the light that mantles me;
Nor did more love
cause me to be more ready,
love as much and more up there is burning,
As doth the flaming manifest to thee.
But the high
charity, that makes us servants
to the counsel which controls the world,
Allotteth here, even as thou dost observe."
"I see full well,"
said I, "O sacred lamp!
love unfettered in this court sufficeth
To follow the eternal Providence;
But this is what
seems hard for me to see,
predestinate wast thou alone
Unto this office from among thy consorts."
No sooner had I
come to the last word,
of its middle made the light a centre,
Whirling itself about like a swift millstone.
When answer made
the love that was therein:
me directed is a light divine,
Piercing through this in which I am embosomed,
Of which the virtue
with my sight conjoined
me above myself so far, I see
The supreme essence from which this is drawn.
Hence comes the
joyfulness with which I flame,
to my sight, as far as it is clear,
The clearness of the flame I equal make.
But that soul in
the heaven which is most pure,
seraph which his eye on God most fixes,
Could this demand of thine not satisfy;
Because so deeply
sinks in the abyss
the eternal statute what thou askest,
From all created sight it is cut off.
And to the mortal
world, when thou returnest,
carry back, that it may not presume
Longer tow'rd such a goal to move its feet.
The mind, that
shineth here, on earth doth smoke;
this observe how can it do below
That which it cannot though the heaven assume it?"
Such limit did its
words prescribe to me,
question I relinquished, and restricted
Myself to ask it humbly who it was.
"Between two shores
of Italy rise cliffs,
not far distant from thy native place,
So high, the thunders far below them sound,
And form a ridge
that Catria is called,
which is consecrate a hermitage
Wont to be dedicate to worship only."
Thus unto me the
third speech recommenced,
then, continuing, it said: "Therein
Unto God's service I became so steadfast,
That feeding only
on the juice of olives
I passed away the heats and frosts,
Contented in my thoughts contemplative.
That cloister used
to render to these heavens
and now is empty grown,
So that perforce it soon must be revealed.
I in that place was
Peter the Sinner was I in the house
Of Our Lady on the Adriatic shore.
Little of mortal
life remained to me,
I was called and dragged forth to the hat
Which shifteth evermore from bad to worse.
Came Cephas, and
the mighty Vessel came
the Holy Spirit, meagre and barefooted,
Taking the food of any hostelry.
Now some one to
support them on each side
modern shepherds need, and some to lead them,
So heavy are they, and to hold their trains.
They cover up their
palfreys with their cloaks,
that two beasts go underneath one skin;
O Patience, that dost tolerate so much!"
At this voice saw I
many little flames
step to step descending and revolving,
And every revolution made them fairer.
Round about this
one came they and stood still,
a cry uttered of so loud a sound,
It here could find no parallel, nor I
the thunder so o'ercame me.