Paradiso -- Canto III

Piccarda Donati on Broken Vows













18 Narcissus looked at his reflection and thought it real, falling in love with himself: the opposite is true of the poet here. See Metamorphoses III, 339-310.




















49 Piccarda Donati was the cousin of Dante’s wife Gemma and the sister of his friend Forese (see Purgatorio XXIII, l. 40). Her brother Corso forced her to leave the convent and marry Rossellino della Tosa, a political ally (ll. 106-108).






























98 Saint Clare of Assisi (1194-1253), friend and follower of Saint Francis, founded the order of Poor Clares in 1212.











118 Constance (d. 1199) was the empress of the kingdom of Naples and Sicily. The three blasts are Frederick I Barbarossa, his son and Constance’s husband Henry VI of Swabia, and their son Frederick II.

          That sun which first inflamed my breast with love
          Uncovered for me, with proof and refutation,
          The sweet-shining features of the lovely truth.
          And I, to confess myself corrected and
5        Convinced, so far as was required, raised
          My head up high to make my words sound clear.
          But there appeared a vision which held me bound
          So tightly to itself, to look at it,
          That I gave no more thought to my confession.
10       As through transparent sheets of polished glass
          Or within crystal-clear and quiet water
          That’s not so deep its bottom is opaque,
          The outlines of our faces show so faintly
          That even a pearl set on a white forehead
15       Reflects no less readily in our eyes:
          So I saw many faces bent to speak
          And fell into the error opposite
          To that which made Narcissus love the fountain.
          The instant I became aware of them,
20       Imagining that they were mirrored faces,
          I turned my eyes to make out whose they were.
          But I saw nothing. So I looked again
          Straight into the light of my sweet guide
          Whose holy eyes were shining as she smiled.
25       "Do not wonder," she said, "that I smile
          At your childish thinking, since as yet
          You do not trust your foot to rest on truth,
          "But step, as usual, on empty space.
          These are true substances that you perceive,
30       Located here for failing in their vows.
          "Speak with them, then, and listen and believe,
          Because the truthful light that fills them up
          Will not let them avert their steps from it."
          And I directed myself to the shade
35       Who seemed most bent on talking, and began
          Like one confused by overwhelming longing:
          "O well-created spirit who in the beams
          Of the eternal life savor the sweetness
          Which is never understood till it is tasted,
40       "What pleasure would it give me if you would
          Content me with your name and destiny!"
          Quick, and with smiling eyes, she answered this,
          "Our lovingkindness does not lock the door
          To a just wish, no more than does the Love
45       Which wills that all its court resemble it.
          "I was a virgin sister in the world,
          And if you probe your memory with patience,
          My being more beautiful won’t hide me from you,
          "But you will recognize I am Piccarda,
50       Who, placed here with these other blessed souls,
          Find blessedness within the slowest sphere.
          "Our hearts’ affections, which are set on fire
          Only in the Holy Spirit’s pleasure,
          Rejoice to be conformed to his design.
55       "And this selected spot, which seems so lowly,
          Is given us because of the neglect
          Or some manner of omission of our vows."
          I then told her, "In your wondrous faces
          Something divine shines forth which changes you
60       From the memory of former days —
          "Therefore I was not swift in placing you,
          But now what you have told me helps me so
          That I more readily recall your features.
          "But tell me: you who are so happy here,
65       Have you a yearning for a higher place,
          To see more and to make yourselves more loving?"
          First with those other shades she faintly smiled,
          Then answered with such gladness that she seemed
          To burn with the initial flame of love,
70       "Brother, the power of love becalms our wills
          And makes us wish for only what we have
          And whets our thirst for nothing more than that.
          "Were we to long for some more lofty height,
          Then our desires would be discordant with
75       The will of Him who has assigned us here.
          "Such strife, you see, has no place in these spheres
          Since to exist in love is here required,
          If you will truly ponder on love’s nature.
          "No, it’s the essence of this blessed existence
80       To hold ourselves within the will of God
          Through which our own wills are made one with His:
          "So, how we dwell from threshold up to threshold
          Throughout this kingdom gladdens the whole kingdom
          And the King, too, who wills in us what He wills.
85       "For in His will is our peace. It is the sea
          To which all things existing flow, both those
          His will creates and those that nature makes."
          Clear was it then to me how everywhere
          In heaven is paradise, although the grace
90       Of the highest good rains not alike on all.
          Yet as it happens when we have been sated
          With one food, but still hanker for another:
          We pass this up with thanks and ask for that,
          So I behaved with gestures and with words,
95       To learn from her what was the web in which
          She had not drawn the shuttle to the end.
          "Perfect life and high worth," she said, "enshrine
          In a higher heaven a lady by whose rule
          In your world women take the robe and veil,
100      "That until death they there may wake and sleep
          Beside the Bridegroom who receives each vow
          Which love conforms to fit His will and pleasure.
          "From out the world I fled to follow her
          While yet a young girl, and I donned her habit
105     And pledged to walk the pathway of her order.
          "Then men, more used to wickedness than good,
          Abducted me by force from the sweet cloister,
          And God knows what my life became thereafter.
          "This other splendor who shows herself to you
110      At my right side and who is all aglow
          With the illumination of our sphere
          "Knows what I say of me is true for her:
          She was a sister, and also from her head
          The shadow of the sacred veil was ripped.
115     "Yet, when against her will and correct custom
          She was turned back again into the world,
          She never stripped the veil from off her heart.
          "This is the light of that mighty Constance
          Who by the second blast of Swabia
120      Bore the third and final son of power."
          So she addressed me, and then began to sing
          Ave Maria, and singing, disappeared,
          Just like a solid weight down through deep water.
          My gazing eyes, which followed her as far
125     As possible, when she was lost from view,
          Turned to the target of my deeper longing,
          And their attention wholly turned to Beatrice;
          But she blazed out so brightly on my gaze
          That at first my sight could not endure it;
130     And this made me the slower with my questions.
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