Paradiso -- Canto XXXI

Saint Bernard

 

Notes.

2 The saintly soldiery is the glorified elect in heaven; the other host, the angels (l. 4).

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

32 Helice is the nymph changed into a bear that then became the Great Bear or Big Dipper constellation. Her son Arcas turned into the Little Bear or Dipper.

36 The Lateran was the old papal palace, said to have been presented to Pope Sylvester by Emperor Constantine.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

102 Saint Bernard (1090-1153), abbot of Clairvaux, mystic, author, reformer, preacher of the Second Crusade, led the revival of the Benedictine Cistercian Order and was a strong advocate of devotion to the Virgin Mary.

104 The Veronica (vera icona or "true image") was the cloth which a holy woman was said to have put to the face of Jesus on his way to Calvary. Pilgrims came from far away places like Croatia (l. 103) to view the relic when exhibited at Saint Peter’s in Rome.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

125 The chariot of Phaethon, son of Apollo, is the sun.

127 The red and gold oriflamme of the kings of France would, it was promised, protect all who marched under its standard.

          Then in the pattern of a pure white rose
          Was shown to me the saintly soldiery
          Whom Christ has made his bride with his own blood.
 
          But the other host — who, flying, see and sing
5        The glory of him who fills them with his love
          And the goodness that made them magnificent—
 
          Just like a swarm of bees, alight in flowers
          At one instant and in the next returning
          To where their toil attains its fragrant taste—
 
10       Flew downward into that vast flower, fringed
          With myriad petals, and rising up from it
          Sped back to where their love forever rests.
 
          Their faces all glowed with a living flame;
          Their wings were gold, and their whole form so white
15       That no snow ever rivaled such pure whiteness.
 
          When they dove to the flower, row on row,
          They spread some portion of the love and peace
          Which they won when they waved their wings on high.
 
          Nor did the flight of such a multitude
20       Coming between the upper light and flower
          Block out the vision and the sea of splendor.
 
          For the divine light through the universe
          So penetrates in measure to its worth
          That there is nothing to stand in the way.
 
25       This jubilant and ever-restful kingdom,
          Thronging with people of old and modern times,
          Kept gaze and love all focused on one goal.
 
          O threefold Light which, in a single star
          Sparkling upon their sight, so pleases them,
30       Look down here on our storms that rage on earth!
 
          If the barbarians, come from the North
          Which day by day is spanned by Helice,
          Rotating with her son on whom she dotes,
 
          Were struck with wonder when they sighted Rome
35       And her high-towering buildings, at the time
          The Lateran surpassed all mortal works,
 
          I, who had come out of our human life
          To the divine, from time to the eternal,
          From Florence to a just and wholesome people —
 
40       What was the wonder which welled up in me!
          In truth, what with my stupor and my joy,
          I happily heard nothing and stood silent.
 
          And like a pilgrim who gains back his strength
          By gazing round the church he vowed to visit
45       And now hopes to tell once more how it looked,
 
          So, passing upward through the living light,
          I guided my eyes all along the tiers,
          Now up, now down, and now recircling round.
 
          There I saw faces given all to love,
50       Bright with Another’s light and their own smiles,
          And gestures touched with grace and dignity.
 
          My gaze had swept and taken in by now
          The pattern overall of paradise,
          Without my sight yet pausing at one spot,
 
55       When I turned with my will inflamed anew
          To ask my lady questions on those matters
          That still kept my mind hanging in suspense.
 
          One thing I sought, another answered me:
          I thought I would see Beatrice, but instead
60       I saw an old man, clothed like those in glory.
 
          His eyes and cheeks shone with a friendly gladness,
          And all his gestures showed such lovingkindness
          As is suited to a tenderhearted father.
 
          "Where is she?" I immediately asked.
65       He then: "To finish and fulfill your longings
          Beatrice moved me to step down from my place.
 
          "And if you look up you will see her still
          In the third circle from the topmost tier
          Upon the throne her merits left for her."
 
70       Without replying, I raised up my eyes
          And saw her fashion for herself a crown,
          While she reflected the eternal rays.
 
          No mortal eye, though plunged into the depths
          Beneath the sea, could be as far away
75       From that point in the sky that thunders highest
 
          As my sight there was distant from Beatrice.
          It made no difference to me, since her likeness
          Reached me unblurred by anything between.
 
          "O lady in whom all my hope is steadfast
80       And who for my salvation did endure
          To leave your footprints on the soil of hell,
 
          "I here acknowledge that the grace and power
          Of all the many sights that I have seen
          Come to me through your influence and bounty.
 
85       "You have drawn me from slavery into freedom
          By all those roads and by all those resources
          Which you had in your power to employ.
 
          "Continue your munificence toward me,
          So that my soul, which you have now made whole,
90       May be loosed from my body pleasing you."
 
          This was my prayer. And she, so far away
          As she appeared, looked down on me and smiled;
          Then turned back to the everlasting fountain.
 
          The saintly old man said, "To make sure you
95       Complete your journey perfectly — the end
          That prayer and holy love sent me here for —
 
          "Fly on the wings of your eyes through this garden,
          For seeing it will make your gaze more ready
          To mount up through the godly radiance.
 
100     "The Queen of heaven, for whom I am all
          Aflame with love, will grant us every grace,
          Because I am her faithful servant Bernard."
 
          As someone who has come, say, from Croatia
          To look on our Veronica, and cannot,
105      From his old craving for it, see enough,
 
          But in his thoughts says, while it is exposed,
          "My Lord Jesus Christ, true God and Savior,
          Was this your face then as you once appeared?"
 
          I was like that while I stayed gazing on
110     The living love of him who in this world,
          Through contemplation, tasted of that peace.
 
          "O child of grace, how shall you ever know
          This joyous being," he began, "if you
          Hold your eyes only down here at its base?
 
115      "Look on the circles to the farthest off
          Till you see seated on her throne the Queen
          To whom this kingdom is devoutly subject."
 
          I lifted up my eyes. And as at daybreak
          The eastern reaches of the sky’s horizon
120      Outshine the region of the setting sun,
 
          So, as though passing with my eyes from valley
          To mountain, I saw a point on the topmost rim
          Surpass the whole circumference in light.
 
          And as the point glows brightest where we wait for
125     The chariot-pole that Phaethon steered so badly,
          While on this side and that the light grows dim,
 
          So the gold oriflamme of peace flared up
          Within the center, and on either side
          The flame in equal measure flickered down.
 
130     And at the midpoint, with their wings spread wide,
          I saw more than a thousand angels dancing,
          Each one distinct in fulgence and in function.
 
          I saw there, smiling at their sports and songs,
          A Beauty who was happiness to see
135      For all the eyes of all the other saints.
 
          And even if I had a wealth of words
          To match imagination, I would not dare
          To try to tell the least of her enchantment.
 
          Bernard, when he saw my eyes intent
140      And fixed on her whose fire fired him,
          Turned his own eyes to her with such warm love
 
          That he made mine more burning in their gazing.
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