Paradiso -- Canto XXX

The Empyrean, Light of Glory

 

Notes.

1 Dante compares his ascent to the Empyrean to dawn on earth. An hour before sunrise, it is noon six thousand miles to the east and already the stars begin to fade. The handmaid of the sun is dawn (l. 7).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

43 The pilgrim will see the host of angels and the host of the redeemed in their glorified bodies. They are first pictured as sparks (angels) and flowers (saints).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

106 One ray of God's eternal light strikes the round surface of the Primum Mobile and sets the whole universal cycle in motion.

 

 

 

 

 

117 For the image of the circular rose where all the blessed are seated, see the Introduction to Paradiso.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

137 Henry VII of Luxemburg, emperor of the Holy Roman Empire (1303-1313), embodied before his death the hopes that Dante fostered for a united Italy and peace-abiding Europe.

142 Clement V encouraged Henry VII to settle affairs in Italy and in 1312 shifted his support to Henry’s enemies. Clement died in 1314, and the poet predicts that he shall fall to the pocket of the simoniacal popes to cram down his predecessor Boniface VIII who came from the town of Anagni (l. 148).

          Six thousand miles or so away from us
          Noon blazes, and this world already slopes
          Its shadow to an almost level bed,
 
          When the midheaven high above us starts
5        To change in such a way that here and there
          A star fades out of view from this abyss.
 
          And as the brightest handmaid of the sun
          Comes closer, heaven then puts out its lights
          One by one, till the loveliest has faded:
 
10       No differently, the triumph that forever
          Plays round the Point that overmastered me
          And seems enclosed by that which it encloses
 
          Little by little vanished from my sight,
          So that my loving and my seeing nothing
15       Forced me to turn my eyes once more to Beatrice.
 
          If what I have said up to now about her
          Were all rolled in a single hymn of praise,
          It would not serve to take this final turn.
 
          The beauty that I saw transcends all measure
20       Not only past our reach, but I believe
          Only its Maker can enjoy it all.
 
          At this pass I admit myself defeated
          More than all comic or all tragic poets
          Were ever quelled by some point of their theme.
 
25       For as the sun confounds the feeblest sight,
          So the remembrance of her fresh sweet smile
          Severs my memory from my sense of self.
 
          From the first day on which I saw her face
          In this lifetime, until that sight of her,
30       My song has never stopped from following her.
 
          But now must my pursuit cease following
          Her beauty further in my poetry,
          Like any artist come to his full limit.
 
          So I leave her to nobler heralding
35       Than the sounding of my trumpet which here draws
          Its arduous subject-matter to a close.
 
          With gesture and voice of an accomplished leader
          She began again, "Out from the largest body
          We have come to this heaven of pure light:
 
40       "Light of the intellect, light full of love,
          Love of true good, love full of joyousness,
          Joyfulness surpassing every sweetness.
 
          "Here you shall see both hosts of paradise,
          The one arrayed in that embodiment
45        Which you shall witness on the judgment day."
 
          Just like a sudden lightning flash that scatters
          The power of vision so that it deprives
          The eye of its sight of the sharpest objects,
 
          So round about me shone a living light
50       Which left me wrapped in such a dazzling veil
          That nothing else was visible to me.
 
          "Always the love which makes this heaven restful
          Receives all to itself with a like welcome,
          To hold the candle ready for the flame."
 
55       No sooner did I take in these few words
          Than inwardly I understood that I
          Was rising high above my human powers.
 
          And I was so inflamed with the new vision
          That — however luminous the light —
60       My eyes could have withstood the sight of it.
 
          And I saw a light flowing like a river
          Glowing with amber waves between two banks
          Brilliantly painted by spellbinding spring.
 
          From out this river shot up living sparks
65       That dropped on every side into the blossoms,
          Like rubies in a setting of pure gold.
 
          Then, as if intoxicated by the fragrance,
          They dove once more into the wondrous flood,
          And as one sank, another spark shot out.
 
70       "The flame of high desire driving you
          To gain more knowledge of what you see here
          Pleases me the more the more it surges.
 
          "But first you are required to drink this water
          Before your burning thirst can be relieved."
75       These words the sun of my eyes said to me,
 
          Then added, "The river and the topazes
          Streaming in and out the smiling flowers
          Are shadow-prelude of their reality.
 
          "Not that these blooms are unripe in themselves,
80       But the defect comes from within yourself
          That you do not yet have sight set so high."
 
          No baby, after waking later than
          The usual hour, ever makes a rush
          So sudden with its face toward mother’s milk,
 
85       As I made then when I bent down to drink
          The wave that flows there for our betterment,
          To make still better mirrors of my eyes.
 
          And even as the eaves that edge my eyelids
          Drank of it, so it seemed to change its shape
90       From running lengthwise to revolving round.
 
          Then, as the people hidden under masks
          Look different from the way they looked before
          When they doff the disguises that concealed them,
 
          Just so the flowers and the sparks now changed
95       Before me into grander festivals,
          So that I saw both courts of heaven open.
 
          O splendor of God through which I saw the high
          Triumph of the true kingdom, grant me the power
          To tell how I was witness to this vision!
 
100      Light shines above which renders visible
          The Creator to the creature who discovers
          The peace found only in our seeing Him.
 
          And this light stretches out into a circle
          Which spreads so wide that its circumference
105      Would make too large a cincture for the sun.
 
          The whole expanse is fashioned by the ray
          Reflected from the top of the first-moved
          Sphere from which it takes its might and motion.
 
          And as a hillside is mirrored in a lake
110     Below, as if to look on its own beauty
          When it is lush with flowers and fresh grass,
 
          Just so, above the light and round and round,
          Reflected from more than a thousand tiers,
          I saw all those of us who have returned there.
 
115      And if the lowest rank holds in its row
          So large a light, how vast is the expanse
          Of this rose in its farthest-reaching petals!
 
          My sight was not lost in its breadth and height,
          But grasped the fullness of that happiness
120      In all its distance and intensity.
 
          There near and far add nothing, nor subtract,
          For where God governs without mediation
          The laws of nature have no further bearing.
 
          Into the yellow of that timeless rose
125     Which rises row on row and spreads and breathes
          Perfumes of praise to the spring-renewing Sun,
 
          Beatrice drew me, hushed and bent on speaking,
          And told me, "Look with wonder on those robed
          In white — how countless is that congregation!
 
130      "See how wide is the circuit of our city!
          See how filled are our seats that so few people
          From now on are expected to come here!
 
          "And on that proud chair where you fix your eyes
          To glimpse the crown already placed above it,
135      Before you partake of this wedding feast,
 
          "Shall sit the soul — an emperor’s on earth —
          Of lofty Henry, who will come to set
          Italy straight before her time is ready.
 
          "Blind greed which grips you all within its spell
140       Has made you like the little child who dies
          Of hunger while he drives away his nurse.
 
          "And then the pontiff of the Holy See
          Shall, openly and secretly, be someone
          Who will not walk with him along one road.
 
145     "But God won’t keep him in the sacred office
          For long, because he shall be shoved below
          Where Simon Magus squirms for his deserts,
 
          "To cram still deeper that man from Anagni."
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