Paradiso -- Canto XIV

Mars, The Vision of the Cross

























35 The voice is that of Solomon.

































85 The poet realizes he has risen to the fifth heaven, Mars.







96 Dante here refers to God as Helios, Greek for "sun" and a title of Apollo.


100 The fifth sphere, Mars, in the shape of a Greek cross, and in the center of the nine heavens,  is the abode of God's holy warriors and knights of the cross (Crusaders=Cross-bearers).

104 This vision of the cross within the circle is Dante’s second vision of Christ, after the insight into the griffin’s nature in Purgatorio XXXI, ll. 118-126.

104-108 The Italian word for Christ, Cristo, for Dante cannot rhyme with any other word but itself (cfr. ll. 104, 106, and 108 of the original text. See also Cantos XII, ll. 71-75, XIX, ll. 104-108, and XXXII, ll. 83-87).














133 Beatrice’s eyes are compared to seals that stamp their impress on wax.

          From center to rim and rim to center, water
          Inside a round bowl moves, depending on
          Whether it’s struck from outside or within.
          So this image all of a sudden dropped
5        Into my mind, just as the glorious
          Life of Thomas fell back into silence,
          Because of the resemblance which arose
          Between this speech of his and that of Beatrice
          Who was pleased to begin by following him:
10       "This man still needs, although he will not tell you
          Either by his talk or yet in thought,
          To probe another truth down to its root.
          "Tell him if the light with which your substance
          Breaks into blossoms shall remain with you
15       Eternally, just as it now exists;
          "And if the light remains, then tell him how,
          When you are once again made visible,
          It’s possible it will not hurt your sight."
          As when those dancing in a ring, urged on
20       And drawn by more delight, from time to time
          Gladden their gestures and lift up their voices,
          So at that eager and devout petition
          The saintly circles in their gay gyrations
          And marvelous melodies displayed new joy.
25       Whoever grieves because we must die here
          To live above has never witnessed there
          The sweet refreshment of the endless shower.
          The One and Two and Three that lives forever
          And ever reigns in Three and Two and One,
30       Uncircumscribed and circumscribing all,
          Three times was sung by each one of the spirits
          Of those two rings, with such a melody
          As would be fit reward for every merit.
          And I heard in the most resplendent light
35       Of the smaller circle a voice as modest,
          Perhaps, as was the angel’s voice to Mary,
          Replying, "As long as the festival
          Of paradise shall last, so long our love
          Shall radiate around us like a robe.
40       "Its brightness is proportioned to our fervor,
          Our fervor to our vision, in the measure
          That each possesses grace beyond his merit.
          "When our flesh, made glorious and holy,
          Shall clothe us once again, our persons then
45        Will be more welcome being all complete.
          "For whatever unearned light the Highest Good
          Freely bestows on us will be increased —
          Light which enables us to look on him,
          "So that for us our vision must increase,
50       Our fervor increase kindled by the vision,
          Our splendor increase coming from the fervor.
          "But as a coal in giving off its flame
          Outshines the fire with its burning glow,
          And in this way keeps its apparent shape,
55       "So this effulgence now encircling us
          Shall be outshone in brilliance by the flesh
          Which all this while lies buried in the ground.
          "Nor will so bright a light cause us fatigue,
          Since the organs of our bodies will be strong
60       To everything that can bring us delight."
          So ready and alert to cry Amen
          One chorus and the other seemed to me
          That clearly they desired their dead bodies,
          Not only for themselves but for their mothers,
65       Their fathers, and the others dear to them
          Before their flesh became eternal flame.
          And look! a lustre of steady brightness rose
          Around about, beyond the shining there,
          Like a horizon growing ever lighter.
70       And as at the first rise of early evening
          New objects start to show up in the sky,
          So that their sight seems, and does not seem, real,
          I thought I there began to see new beings
          Approaching to form still another circle
75       Outside the other two’s circumferences.
          O the true sparkle of the Holy Spirit!
          How suddenly full of glory it became
          Before my eyes which, beaten, could not bear it!
          But Beatrice showed herself to me so smiling
80       And so beautiful that I must leave it there
          Among the sights beyond my memory.
          From this, my eyes recovered strength to raise
          Themselves once more: I saw myself translated
          Alone with my lady to a higher bliss.
85       I clearly grasped that I had risen farther
          By the glittering smile of the next planet
          Which I found ruddier than usual.
          With all my heart, and in the tongue which sounds
          The same in all, I gave God a burnt offering
90       To thank him for this gift of his new grace.
          Nor had the burning of this sacrifice
          Yet ended in my breast when I knew that
          My offering had been favorably accepted
          Because, with such a glow of ruby red,
95       Splendors so shone before me in two rays
          I cried, "O Helios who adorns them brightly!"
          Just as the Milky Way, pricked out by greater
          And lesser lights, gleams so from pole to pole
          That even the wisest minds are thunderstruck,
100     So constellated, in the depths of Mars
          Those two beams formed the venerable sign
          Which the crossed quadrant lines made in a circle.
          Here now my memory outruns my talent,
          For Christ flamed from that cross with such a flash
105     That I can find no pattern fit for it.
          But he who takes his cross to follow Christ
          Will pardon me for what I leave untold
          When he looks at Christ gleaming in that dawn.
          From tip to tip, between the top and bottom,
110     Light-rays were moving, brightly glittering
          As they all met together and passed by:
          So here on earth we see the motes of dust
          Drift straight or slanting, swift or slow of motion,
          Changing in appearance, long or little,
115     Sifting through the sunbeams sometimes streaking
          Through the shaded rooms which men have built
          With skill and talent for their own protection.
          And as a harp or viol that is strung
          With many cords for harmony chimes sweetly
120     On ears that cannot catch the melody,
          So from the lights appearing to me there,
          A music swelled throughout the cross and held me
          Enraptured though I could not tell the hymn.
          I firmly marked it was a song of praise
125     Because "Rise up," and "Conquer" came to me
          As one who hears but does not understand.
          I was so moved with loving by this strain
          That nothing until then that I had felt
          Had bound my being with such dulcet fetters.
130     Perhaps these words of mine appear too daring,
          Seeming to slight the bliss of those bright eyes
          In which my longing gaze finds its repose.
          But one who considers how the living seals
          Of every beauty grow with their ascent,
135     And how I there had not yet turned to them,
          He may excuse me of my self-accusation
          So that I can excuse myself, and see
          I speak the truth, for holy joy’s not lost
          By growing ever purer as one rises.
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