Paradiso -- Canto XXV

Saint James, Examination of Hope

 

Notes.

 

5 The sheepfold refers to Florence where Dante was baptized (l. 10).

 

 

 

 

13 The light is Saint James, apostle and brother of John. He questions the pilgrim on hope: its possession, nature, content, and sources.

18 Santiago de Campostela in Galicia is still a popular pilgrimage shrine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

29 Beatrice recalls the Epistle of Saint James and his presence at the Transfiguration.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

72 A reference again to the psalmist David. Dante quotes Psalm 9.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

91 The poet cites Isaiah 61:7 and 10. The double garment symbolizes the glorious soul and body.

 

95 Saint John describes the multitude of the elect clothed in white robes in Revelation 7:9.

 

 

101 Saint John’s presence turns night into day.

 

 

 

 

 

 

112 John, the beloved disciple, reclined on Jesus’ breast at the last supper (John 13:23). Christ is the Pelican that in legend fed its young with blood from its own side.

114 Jesus on the cross delegated John to take care of his mother in his place (John 19: 26-27).

 

124 Rumors circulated that John would not die before Christ's return (John 21:20-23) and later that John had been taken up to heaven body and soul. Dante discovers that the rumors are baseless: only Jesus and Mary have their bodies "in the blessed cloister" (l. 128). 

          If it ever happens that this sacred poem
          To which earth and heaven have so set their hands
          That it has left me lean through these long years
 
          Conquers the cruelty that keeps me from
5         The lovely sheepfold where I slept, a lamb,
          An enemy to wolves that raided it,
 
          Now with a different voice, with different fleece,
          I shall return a poet, and be crowned
          At the same font in which I was baptized,
 
10       For there I entered in the faith that makes
          Souls known to God; and after, for its sake,
          Peter wreathed three times around my forehead.
 
          Right then a light sped toward us from the ring
          From which had issued forth the same first-fruit
15       Of all the vicars whom Christ left on earth.
 
          At that my lady, filled with happiness,
          Cried out to me, "Look! look! And see the baron
          For whose sake, down there, pilgrims seek Galicia."
 
          As when a dove alights down by its mate,
20       And one pours out affection on the other,
          Circling round and cooing all the while,
 
          So I saw one exalted prince of glory
          Made welcome by the other, while they praised
          The food which nourishes them there on high.
 
25       But after these glad greetings had been given,
          Each one in silence stopped in front of me,
          So blazing that my sight was wholly vanquished.
 
          Then, smiling brightly, Beatrice said to him,
          "Illustrious spirit, who has chronicled
30       The liberality of our high court,
 
          "Let hope resound upon this height: you know
          How often you personified that virtue
          When Jesus showed more honor to you three."
 
          "Lift up your head and reassure yourself,
35       For what mounts up here from the mortal world
          Must come to ripening within our rays."
 
          The second fire gave me this assurance.
          With that I raised my eyes unto the mountains
          Whose mighty weight had first bent down my lids.
 
40       "Since by his grace our Emperor wills that
          Before your death you so come face to face
          With his peers here in his most private hall
 
          "That, through your seeing the truth of this court,
          You now may strengthen in yourself and others
45       The hope that leads to love of good on earth:
 
          "Tell what is hope, and how it blossomed up
          Within your mind, and tell where you received it."
          The second light continued in this vein.
 
          And she who in her lovingkindness guided
50       The feathers of my wings on that high flight
          Anticipated my response like this:
 
          "There is no child of the Church Militant
          More full of hope than he, and this is written
          There in the Sun which beams on all our hosts.
 
55       "So he has been allowed to take this journey
          From Egypt to Jerusalem, for seeing,
          Before he finished military service,
 
          "The other two points that you raised above
          (Not for your knowledge but that he report
60       What lavish pleasure you take in this virtue),
 
          "I leave to him, for they will not be hard
          Nor cause for boasting: let him answer then,
          And may the grace of God help him reply!"
 
          Just as the pupil, who is prompt and willing
65       To show he knows the subject, answers the teacher
          To prove to him that he is worth high marks,
 
          "Hope," I said, "is the sure expectation
          Of future glory, and it is produced
          By divine grace and by preceding merit.
 
70       "This light descends to me from many stars,
          But it was first distilled into my heart
          By the leading singer of the leading Lord.
 
          " ‘Let them have hope in Thee who know Thy name,’
          He says in his inspired psalm, and who,
75       If he has my faith, does not know the song?
 
          "You afterwards instilled it into me
          Through your Epistle, along with his instilling,
          So I am drenched and rain your dew on others."
 
          While I was speaking, suddenly a flash
80       Within the living bosom of the fire
          Trembled repeatedly like lightning;
 
          Then it breathed out, "The love that burns in me
          Still for that virtue which had followed me
          Up to the palm and time to quit the field
 
85       "Wills that I breathe once more, for your delight,
          These words to you, and so it is my pleasure
          For you to tell what hope holds promised to you."
 
          And I: "The new and ancient Scriptures give
          A symbol in the souls God made his friends,
90       And this symbol points the meaning out to me:
 
          "Isaiah says that each soul shall be dressed
          With double garments in his own country,
          And his own country is this same sweet life.
 
          "Your brother, too, is even more explicit,
95       Where he treats of the souls in their white robes,
          In setting forth this revelation to us."
 
          First, as these words were coming to an end,
          "Let them find hope in Thee," rang out above us,
          And to it all the choirs around re-echoed.
 
100      Next, one light among the rings flashed out
          So bright that if the Crab had one such star
          Winter would have a month of total daylight.
 
          And as a happy girl will rise and run
          To join the dance — not out of vanity,
105      But only to do honor to the bride,
 
          So I saw the effulgent splendor come
          Up to the two now reeling to the notes
          In perfect keeping with their burning love.
 
          It joined there in the singing and the spinning,
110     And, motionless and silent as a bride,
          My lady kept her eyes attached to them.
 
          "This one is he who lay upon the breast
          Of our true Pelican, and who was chosen
          From on the cross to take up the great duty."
 
115      So spoke my lady, but no more after
          Than before saying these words did she shift
          Her gaze away from where she fixed attention.
 
          Just like the man who stares and strains to see
          The sun when it is partially eclipsed
120      And who through peering comes to lose his sight,
 
          So I became on seeing that last flame
          Till this was said: "Why do you blind yourself
          To look for something that has no place here?
 
          "My body is still earth within the earth
125      And will remain there with the rest until
          Our number equals the eternal tally.
 
          "Only those two lights who have ascended
          Wear their two robes here in the blessed cloister,
          And this word you shall bring back to your world."
 
130      While this voice spoke, the flaming gyre grew still,
          Together with the sweet mixed harmony
          Made by the singing of the three-part breathing,
 
          As, in avoiding danger or fatigue,
          The oars that up to now sliced through the water
135     Stop all at once right when the whistle blows.
 
          Ah! how deep was the disturbance in my mind
          When I turned once again to gaze on Beatrice
          And found I could not see her — even though
 
          I stood close to her in the world of bliss.
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