Divine Comedy (Longfellow 1867)/Volume 3/Canto 3

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Dante Alighieri14656The Divine ComedyVol. III. (Paradiso), Canto III.1867Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

That Sun, which erst with love my bosom warmed,
   Of beauteous truth had unto me discovered,
   By proving and reproving, the sweet aspect.

And, that I might confess myself convinced
   And confident, so far as was befitting,
   I lifted more erect my head to speak.

But there appeared a vision, which withdrew me
   So close to it, in order to be seen,
   That my confession I remembered not.

Such as through polished and transparent glass,
   Or waters crystalline and undisturbed,
   But not so deep as that their bed be lost,

Come back again the outlines of our faces
   So feeble, that a pearl on forehead white
   Comes not less speedily unto our eyes;

Such saw I many faces prompt to speak,
   So that I ran in error opposite
   To that which kindled love 'twixt man and fountain.

As soon as I became aware of them,
   Esteeming them as mirrored semblances,
   To see of whom they were, mine eyes I turned,

And nothing saw, and once more turned them forward
   Direct into the light of my sweet Guide,
   Who smiling kindled in her holy eyes.

"Marvel thou not," she said to me, "because
   I smile at this thy puerile conceit,
   Since on the truth it trusts not yet its foot,

But turns thee, as 'tis wont, on emptiness.
   True substances are these which thou beholdest,
   Here relegate for breaking of some vow.

Therefore speak with them, listen and believe;
   For the true light, which giveth peace to them,
   Permits them not to turn from it their feet."

And I unto the shade that seemed most wishful
   To speak directed me, and I began,
   As one whom too great eagerness bewilders:

"O well-created spirit, who in the rays
   Of life eternal dost the sweetness taste
   Which being untasted ne'er is comprehended,

Grateful 'twill be to me, if thou content me
   Both with thy name and with your destiny."
   Whereat she promptly and with laughing eyes:

"Our charity doth never shut the doors
   Against a just desire, except as one
   Who wills that all her court be like herself.

I was a virgin sister in the world;
   And if thy mind doth contemplate me well,
   The being more fair will not conceal me from thee,

But thou shalt recognise I am Piccarda,
   Who, stationed here among these other blessed,
   Myself am blessed in the slowest sphere.

All our affections, that alone inflamed
   Are in the pleasure of the Holy Ghost,
   Rejoice at being of his order formed;

And this allotment, which appears so low,
   Therefore is given us, because our vows
   Have been neglected and in some part void."

Whence I to her: "In your miraculous aspects
   There shines I know not what of the divine,
   Which doth transform you from our first conceptions.

Therefore I was not swift in my remembrance;
   But what thou tellest me now aids me so,
   That the refiguring is easier to me.

But tell me, ye who in this place are happy,
   Are you desirous of a higher place,
   To see more or to make yourselves more friends?"

First with those other shades she smiled a little;
   Thereafter answered me so full of gladness,
   She seemed to burn in the first fire of love:

"Brother, our will is quieted by virtue
   Of charity, that makes us wish alone
   For what we have, nor gives us thirst for more.

If to be more exalted we aspired,
   Discordant would our aspirations be
   Unto the will of Him who here secludes us;

Which thou shalt see finds no place in these circles,
   If being in charity is needful here,
   And if thou lookest well into its nature;

Nay, 'tis essential to this blest existence
   To keep itself within the will divine,
   Whereby our very wishes are made one;

So that, as we are station above station
   Throughout this realm, to all the realm 'tis pleasing,
   As to the King, who makes his will our will.

And his will is our peace; this is the sea
   To which is moving onward whatsoever
   It doth create, and all that nature makes."

Then it was clear to me how everywhere
   In heaven is Paradise, although the grace
   Of good supreme there rain not in one measure.

But as it comes to pass, if one food sates,
   And for another still remains the longing,
   We ask for this, and that decline with thanks,

E'en thus did I; with gesture and with word,
   To learn from her what was the web wherein
   She did not ply the shuttle to the end.

"A perfect life and merit high in-heaven
   A lady o'er us," said she, "by whose rule
   Down in your world they vest and veil themselves,

That until death they may both watch and sleep
   Beside that Spouse who every vow accepts
   Which charity conformeth to his pleasure.

To follow her, in girlhood from the world
   I fled, and in her habit shut myself,
   And pledged me to the pathway of her sect.

Then men accustomed unto evil more
   Than unto good, from the sweet cloister tore me;
   God knows what afterward my life became.

This other splendour, which to thee reveals
   Itself on my right side, and is enkindled
   With all the illumination of our sphere,

What of myself I say applies to her;
   A nun was she, and likewise from her head
   Was ta'en the shadow of the sacred wimple.

But when she too was to the world returned
   Against her wishes and against good usage,
   Of the heart's veil she never was divested.

Of great Costanza this is the effulgence,
   Who from the second wind of Suabia
   Brought forth the third and latest puissance."

Thus unto me she spake, and then began
   "Ave Maria" singing, and in singing
   Vanished, as through deep water something heavy.

My sight, that followed her as long a time
   As it was possible, when it had lost her
   Turned round unto the mark of more desire,

And wholly unto Beatrice reverted;
   But she such lightnings flashed into mine eyes,
   That at the first my sight endured it not;

And this in questioning more backward made me.