The Paradiso -- Canto XXIII

The Fixed Stars



















26 Trivia is Diana the moon with her nymphs the stars.

29 The Sun is Christ the light of the world (l. 32) and the wisdom and power of God (l. 37).









43 Dante experiences his third (the second in Paradiso) vision of Christ, now in triumph, with even more intense ecstasy. See Purgatorio XXXI, ll. 118-126, and Canto XIV, ll. 94-129. The poet is now in the eighth sphere of fixed stars.






56 Polyhymnia is the Muse of sacred song,










73 The Rose is the Virgin Mary and the lilies are the saints. Mary is also the Flower of line 88, the Flame of 90, and the Star of 92; the torch that encircles Mary is the angel Gabriel (l. 94). Some take the Flame to be the ascended Christ (l. 90) whose ascension is pictured in lines 83-86.


































128 The Regina Coeli ("Hail, Holy Queen") is an antiphon in praise of Mary sung at Easter.



135 Babylon, where the Israelites lived in captivity under King Nebuchadnezzar, represents exile on earth.

139 Saint Peter received the keys of the kingdom from Christ (Matthew 16:19).

          Just as the bird that, in the friendly leaves,
          Has sat upon the nest of her sweet chicks
          Throughout the night that hides all things from us,
          And, so that she can see their eager looks
5        When she has found the food to feed them with
          (For she takes pleasure in her toiling hard),
          Anticipates the day on an open branch
          And in the glow of love awaits the sun
          With her sight fastened for the break of day:
10       So my lady stood, attentive and erect,
          Turning toward the quarter of the sky
          Beneath which the sun travels with less haste,
          And so I, seeing her alert and longing,
          Became like one who in his wish would have
15       More than he has, but is content to hope.
          Yet time was brief between the when and when,
          The when’s, I mean, of waiting and of seeing
          The sky increase with more and more resplendence.
          And Beatrice cried, "Look on the glittering legions
20       Of Christ in triumph and on all the fruit
          Harvested by the turning of these spheres!"
          Her face seemed all aflame as I gazed on her,
          And her eyes looked so full of ecstasy
          That I must pass this by without description.
25       As at the full moon in the calm clear sky,
          Trivia smiles among the immortal nymphs
          That paint the scene of heaven to its heights,
          I saw, above a million burning lamps,
          A Sun that kindled every one of them
30       As our sun lights the stars we glimpse on high;
          And through its living light the shining Substance
          Glowed out so brightly down upon my gaze
          That my eyes dazzled and could not endure it.
          O Beatrice, my sweet and cherished guide!
35       You said to me, "What overwhelms you here
          Is a power for which there is no defense:
          "In this One is the wisdom and the power
          That opened up the path from earth to heaven
          For which the men of old had yearned so long."
40       Just as lightning bursts out from a cloud
          Because it so expands it has no room left,
          And crashes to the ground against its nature,
          Just so my mind, becoming more enlarged
          At this rich banquet, broke free from itself,
45       And cannot now recall what it became.
          "Open your eyes and look at what I am,
          For you have seen such things that you are able
          Now to withstand the vision of my smile!"
          I was like one who wakes up from a dream
50       That he has half forgotten and who strives
          Without success to bring it back to mind
          When I heard this directive, so deserving
          Of gratitude that it can never be
          Blotted from the book that pens the past.
55       If all those tongues should sound to aid me now
          Which Polyhymnia and her sister muses
          Made all the richer with their sweetest milk,
          It would not touch a thousandth of the truth
          In singing of her saintly smile and how
60       It lighted up her saintly countenance.
          And so, in my depicting paradise,
          This sacred poem is forced to take a leap,
          Like someone who finds his path blocked before him.
          Whoever marks this weighty theme, however,
65       And the mortal shoulders loaded down with it,
          Will not blame if they quake beneath the burden.
          This is no voyage for a little skiff,
          This course my daring prow cuts as it sails,
          Nor for a helmsman sparing himself pains!
70       "Why are you so enamored with my face
          You do not turn to see the lovely garden
          Full blossoming beneath the beams of Christ?
          "Here is the Rose in whom the Word of God
          Took on our flesh, and here are all the lilies
75       Whose fragrance pointed out the true straight road."
          So Beatrice; and I, all in readiness
          For her command, prepared myself once more
          To struggle to lift up my feeble eyelids.
          As in a ray of sunlight pouring purely
80       Down through a rifted cloud, my eyes in shadow
          Have sometimes seen a shining field of flowers,
          So I saw there a myriad host of splendors
          Lit brightly from above by blazing rays,
          Although I could not see the source of brilliance.
85       O gracious Power that stamps them all with light,
          You raised yourself on high to make room there
          For my eyes which were powerless to look!
          The name of the lovely Flower I call on,
          Morning and evening, focused all my mind
90       As I fixed my gaze on the brightest Flame.
          And when both of my eyes had seen depicted
          The size and brilliance of the living Star
          That conquers there as down below she conquered,
          I saw come down from heaven a bright torch
95       That shaped a circlet like a diadem
          Girdling her and wheeling round about her.
          The sweetest-sounding melody on earth,
          Which draws the soul the closest to its strains,
          Would seem to be a thunder-shattered cloud
100      Compared to the tuned music of the lyre
          That crowns the most beautiful of sapphires
          By which the brightest heaven is bejeweled.
          "I am angelic love who wheel around
          The exalted gaiety breathed from the womb
105      Which was the inn of all the world’s desire;
          "And, Lady of Heaven, I will wheel until
          You follow your Son to the highest sphere
          To make it more divine by entering it!"
          In this way the encircling melody
110      Came to a close, and all the other lights
          Rang out with echoes of the name of Mary.
          The royal mantle which enfolds the orbits
          Of all the worlds, most burning and most living
          Within the breath of God and in his ways,
115      Withdrew its inner shore so far above us
          That any sight of it, from where I stood,
          As yet remained impossible for me.
          My eyes did not possess the power, then,
          To follow the crowned Flame in upward flight
120      As she soared into heaven toward her Son.
          And as an infant, after taking milk,
          Stretches out its arms toward its mother,
          Because the soul burns to express itself,
          Each radiance reached upward with its flame,
125      So that the deep affection which they felt
          For Mary was revealed to me in full.
          Then they remained there, still within my sight,
          Singing Regina Coeli with such sweet voices
          That my delight in it has never left me.
130      O how abundant is the harvest heaped
          In those rich storage-bins of souls who were,
          While down on earth, the sowers of good seed!
          Here they live rejoicing in the treasure
          Which they have won with tears shed in their exile
135      In Babylon where they held gold in scorn.
          Here lives, triumphant in his victory,
          Beneath the exalted Son of God and Mary,
          With those of the ancient and new covenants,
          He who holds the keys of all this glory.
arrowleft_anie.gif (690 bytes) return to Paradiso XXII


go to Paradiso XXIV arrowright_anie.gif (691 bytes)