Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
Cantos From Dante's Paradiso
Even as a bird, 'mid the beloved leaves,
Quiet upon the nest of her sweet brood
Throughout the night, that hideth all things from us,
Who, that she may behold their longed-for looks
And find the nourishment wherewith to feed them,
In which, to her, grave labors grateful are,
Anticipates the time on open spray
And with an ardent longing waits the sun,
Gazing intent, as soon as breaks the dawn:
Even thus my Lady standing was, erect
And vigilant, turned round towards the zone
Underneath which the sun displays least haste;
So that beholding her distraught and eager,
Such I became as he is, who desiring
For something yearns, and hoping is appeased.
But brief the space from one When to the other;
From my awaiting, say I, to the seeing
The welkin grow resplendent more and more.
And Beatrice exclaimed: 'Behold the hosts
Of the triumphant Christ, and all the fruit
Harvested by the rolling of these spheres!'
It seemed to me her face was all on flame;
And eyes she had so full of ecstasy
That I must needs pass on without describing.
As when in nights serene of the full moon
Smiles Trivia among the nymphs eternal
Who paint the heaven through all its hollow cope,
Saw I, above the myriads of lamps,
A sun that one and all of them enkindled,
E'en as our own does the supernal stars.
And through the living light transparent shone
The lucent substance so intensely clear
Into my sight, that I could not sustain it.
O Beatrice, my gentle guide and dear!
She said to me: 'That which o'ermasters thee
A virtue is which no one can resist.
There are the wisdom and omnipotence
That oped the thoroughfares 'twixt heaven and earth,
For which there erst had been so long a yearning.'
As fire from out a cloud itself discharges,
Dilating so it finds not room therein,
And down, against its nature, falls to earth,
So did my mind, among those aliments
Becoming larger, issue from itself,
And what became of it cannot remember.
'Open thine eyes, and look at what I am:
Thou hast beheld such things, that strong enough
Hast thou become to tolerate my smile.'
I was as one who still retains the feeling
Of a forgotten dream, and who endeavors
In vain to bring it back into his mind,
When I this invitation heard, deserving
Of so much gratitude, it never fades
Out of the book that chronicles the past.
It at this moment sounded all the tongues
That Polyhymnia and her sisters made
Most lubrical with their delicious milk,
To aid me, to a thousandth of the truth
It would not reach, singing the holy smile,
And how the holy aspect it illumed.
And therefore, representing Paradise,
The sacred poem must perforce leap over,
Even as a man who finds his way cut off.
But whoso thinketh of the ponderous theme,
And of the mortal shoulder that sustains it,
Should blame it not, if under this it trembles.
It is no passage for a little boat
This which goes cleaving the audacious prow,
Nor for a pilot who would spare himself.
'Why does my face so much enamor thee,
That to the garden fair thou turnest not,
Which under the rays of Christ is blossoming?
There is the rose in which the Word Divine
Became incarnate; there the lilies are
By whose perfume the good way was selected.'
Thus Beatrice; and I, who to her counsels
Was wholly ready, once again betook me
Unto the battle of the feeble brows.
As in a sunbeam, that unbroken passes
Through fractured cloud, ere now a meadow of flowers
Mine eyes with shadow covered have beheld,
So I beheld the multitudinous splendors
Refulgent from above with burning rays,
Beholding not the source of the effulgence.
O thou benignant power that so imprint'st them!
Thou didst exalt thyself to give more scope
There to the eyes, that were not strong enough.
The name of that fair flower I e'er invoke
Morning and evening utterly enthralled
My soul to gaze upon the greater fire.
And when in both mine eyes depicted were
The glory and greatness of the living star
Which conquers there, and here below it conquered,
Athwart the heavens descended a bright sheen
Formed in a circle like a coronal,
And cinctured it, and whirled itself about it.
Whatever melody most sweetly soundeth
On earth, and to itself most draws the soul,
Would seem a cloud that, rent asunder, thunders,
Compared unto the sounding of that lyre
Wherewith was crowned the sapphire beautiful,
Which gives the clearest heaven its sapphire hue.
'I am Angelic Love, that circle round
The joy sublime which breathes from out the bosom
That was the hostelry of our Desire;
And I shall circle, Lady of Heaven, while
Thou followest thy Son, and mak'st diviner
The sphere supreme, because thou enterest it.'
Thus did the circulated melody
Seal itself up; and all the other lights
Were making resonant the name of Mary.
The regal mantle of the volumes all
Of that world, which most fervid is and living
With breath of God and with his works and ways,
Extended over us its inner curve,
So very distant, that its outward show,
There where I was, not yet appeared to me.
Therefore mine eyes did not possess the power
Of following the incoronated flame,
Which had ascended near to its own seed.
And as a little child, that toward its mother
Extends its arms, when it the milk has taken,
Through impulse kindled into outward flame,
Each of those gleams of white did upward stretch
So with its summit, that the deep affection
They had for Mary was revealed to me.
Thereafter they remained there in my sight,
Regina coeli singing with such sweetness,
That ne'er from me has the delight departed.
Oh, what exuberance is garnered up
In those resplendent coffers, which had been
For sowing here below good husbandmen!
There they enjoy and live upon the treasure
Which was acquired while weeping in the exile
Of Babylon, wherein the gold was left.
There triumpheth beneath the exalted Son
Of God and Mary, in his victory,
Both with the ancient council and the new,
He who doth keep the keys of such a glory.
'O company elect to the great supper
Of the Lamb benedight, who feedeth you
So that for ever full is your desire,
If by the grace of God this man foretaste
Something of that which falleth from your table,
Or ever death prescribe to him the time,
Direct your mind to his immense desire,
And him somewhat bedew; ye drinking are
For ever at the fount whence comes his thought.'
Thus Beatrice; and those souls beatified
Transformed themselves to spheres on steadfast poles,
Flaming intensely in the guise of comets.
And as the wheels in works of horologes
Revolve so that the first to the beholder
Motionless seems, and the last one to fly,
So in like manner did those carols, dancing
In different measure, of their affluence
Give me the gauge, as they were swift or slow.
From that one which I noted of most beauty
Beheld I issue forth a fire so happy
That none it left there of a greater brightness;
And around Beatrice three several times
It whirled itself with so divine a song,
My fantasy repeats it not to me;
Therefore the pen skips, and I write it not,
Since our imagination for such folds,
Much more our speech, is of a tint too glaring.
'O holy sister mine, who us implorest
With such devotion, by thine ardent love
Thou dost unbind me from that beautiful sphere!'
Thereafter, having stopped, the blessed fire
Unto my Lady did direct its breath,
Which spake in fashion as I here have said.
And she: 'O light eterne of the great man
To whom our Lord delivered up the keys
He carried down of this miraculous joy,
This one examine on points light and grave,
As good beseemeth thee, about the Faith
By means of which thou on the sea didst walk.
If he love well, and hope well, and believe,
From thee 'tis hid not; for thou hast thy sight
There where depicted everything is seen.
But since this kingdom has made citizens
By means of the true Faith, to glorify it
'Tis well he have the chance to speak thereof.'
As baccalaureate arms himself, and speaks not
Until the master doth propose the question,
To argue it, and not to terminate it,
So did I arm myself with every reason,
While she was speaking, that I might be ready
For such a questioner and such profession.
'Say, thou good Christian; manifest thyself;
What is the Faith?' Whereat I raised my brow
Unto that light wherefrom was this breathed forth.
Then turned I round to Beatrice, and she
Prompt signals made to me that I should pour
The water forth from my internal fountain.
'May grace, that suffers me to make confession,'
Began I, 'to the great centurion,
Cause my conceptions all to be explicit!'
And I continued: 'As the truthful pen,
Father, of thy dear brother wrote of it,
Who put with thee Rome into the good way,
Faith is the substance of the things we hope for,
And evidence of those that are not seen;
And this appears to me its quiddity.'
Then heard I: 'Very rightly thou perceivest,
If well thou understandest why he placed it
With substances and then with evidences.'
And I thereafterward: 'The things profound,
That here vouchsafe to me their apparition,
Unto all eyes below are so concealed,
That they exist there only in belief,
Upon the which is founded the high hope,
And hence it takes the nature of a substance.
And it behoveth us from this belief
To reason without having other sight,
And hence it has the nature of evidence.'
Then heard I: 'If whatever is acquired
Below by doctrine were thus understood,
No sophist's subtlety would there find place.'
Thus was breathed forth from that enkindled love;
Then added: 'Very well has been gone over
Already of this coin the alloy and weight;
But tell me if thou hast it in thy purse?'
And I: 'Yes, both so shining and so round
That in its stamp there is no peradventure.'
Thereafter issued from the light profound
That there resplendent was: 'This precious jewel,
Upon the which is every virtue founded,
Whence hadst thou it?' And I: 'The large outpouring
Of Holy Spirit, which has been diffused
Upon the ancient parchments and the new,
A syllogism is, which proved it to me
With such acuteness, that, compared therewith,
All demonstration seems to me obtuse.'
And then I heard: 'The ancient and the new
Postulates, that to thee are so conclusive,
Why dost thou take them for the word divine?'
And I: 'The proofs, which show the truth to me,
Are the works subsequent, whereunto Nature
Ne'er heated iron yet, nor anvil beat.'
'Twas answered me: 'Say, who assureth thee
That those works ever were? the thing itself
That must be proved, nought else to thee affirms it.'
'Were the world to Christianity converted,'
I said, 'withouten miracles, this one
Is such, the rest are not its hundredth part;
Because that poor and fasting thou didst enter
Into the field to sow there the good plant,
Which was a vine and has become a thorn!'
This being finished, the high, holy Court
Resounded through the spheres, 'One God we praise!'
In melody that there above is chanted.
And then that Baron, who from branch to branch,
Examining, had thus conducted me,
Till the extremest leaves we were approaching,
Again began: 'The Grace that dallying
Plays with thine intellect thy mouth has opened,
Up to this point, as it should opened be,
So that I do approve what forth emerged;
But now thou must express what thou believest,
And whence to thy belief it was presented.'
'O holy father, spirit who beholdest
What thou believedst so that thou o'ercamest,
Towards the sepulchre, more youthful feet,'
Began I, 'thou dost wish me in this place
The form to manifest of my prompt belief,
And likewise thou the cause thereof demandest.
And I respond: In one God I believe,
Sole and eterne, who moveth all the heavens
With love and with desire, himself unmoved;
And of such faith not only have I proofs
Physical and metaphysical, but gives them
Likewise the truth that from this place rains down
Through Moses, through the Prophets and the Psalms,
Through the Evangel, and through you, who wrote
After the fiery Spirit sanctified you;
In Persons three eterne believe, and these
One essence I believe, so one and trine
They bear conjunction both with 'sunt' and 'est.'
With the profound condition and divine
Which now I touch upon, doth stamp my mind
Ofttimes the doctrine evangelical.
This the beginning is, this is the spark
Which afterwards dilates to vivid flame,
And, like a star in heaven, is sparkling in me.'
Even as a lord who hears what pleaseth him
His servant straight embraces, gratulating
For the good news as soon as he is silent;
So, giving me its benediction, singing,
Three times encircled me, when I was silent,
The apostolic light, at whose command
I spoken had, in speaking I so pleased him.
If e'er it happen that the Poem Sacred,
To which both heaven and earth have set their hand,
So that it many a year hath made me lean,
O'ercome the cruelty that bars me out
From the fair sheepfold, where a lamb I slumbered,
An enemy to the wolves that war upon it,
With other voice forthwith, with other fleece
Poet will I return, and at my font
Baptismal will I take the laurel crown;
Because into the Faith that maketh known
All souls to God there entered I, and then
Peter for her sake thus my brow encircled.
Thereafterward towards us moved a light
Out of that band whence issued the first-fruits
Which of his vicars Christ behind him left,
And then my Lady, full of ecstasy,
Said unto me: 'Look, look! behold the Baron
For whom below Galicia is frequented.'
In the same way as, when a dove alights
Near his companion, both of them pour forth,
Circling about and murmuring, their affection,
So one beheld I by the other grand
Prince glorified to be with welcome greeted,
Lauding the food that there above is eaten.
But when their gratulations were complete,
Silently 'coram me' each one stood still,
So incandescent it o'ercame my sight.
Smiling thereafterwards, said Beatrice:
'Illustrious life, by whom the benefactions
Of our Basilica have been described,
Make Hope resound within this altitude;
Thou knowest as oft thou dost personify it
As Jesus to the three gave greater clearness.'--
'Lift up thy head, and make thyself assured;
For what comes hither from the mortal world
Must needs be ripened in our radiance.'
This comfort came to me from the second fire;
Wherefore mine eyes I lifted to the hills,
Which bent them down before with too great weight.
'Since, through his grace, our Emperor wills that thou
Shouldst find thee face to face, before thy death,
In the most secret chamber, with his Counts,
So that, the truth beholden of this court,
Hope, which below there rightfully enamours,
Thereby thou strengthen in thyself and others,
Say what it is, and how is flowering with it
Thy mind, and say from whence it came to thee.'
Thus did the second light again continue.
And the Compassionate, who piloted
The plumage of my wings in such high flight,
Did in reply anticipate me thus:
'No child whatever the Church Militant
Of greater hope possesses, as is written
In that Sun which irradiates all our band;
Therefore it is conceded him from Egypt
To come into Jerusalem to see,
Or ever yet his warfare be completed.
The two remaining points, that not for knowledge
Have been demanded, but that he report
How much this virtue unto thee is pleasing,
To him I leave; for hard he will not find them,
Nor of self-praise; and let him answer them;
And may the grace of God in this assist him!'
As a disciple, who his teacher follows,
Ready and willing, where he is expert,
That his proficiency may be displayed,
'Hope,' said I, 'is the certain expectation
Of future glory, which is the effect
Of grace divine and merit precedent.
From many stars this light comes unto me;
But he instilled it first into my heart
Who was chief singer unto the chief captain.
Sperent in te
,' in the high Theody
He sayeth, 'those who know thy name;' and who
Knoweth it not, if he my faith possess?
Thou didst instil me, then, with his instilling
In the Epistle, so that I am full,
And upon others rain again your rain.'
While I was speaking, in the living bosom
Of that combustion quivered an effulgence,
Sudden and frequent, in the guise of lightning;
Then breathed: 'The love wherewith I am inflamed
Towards the virtue still which followed me
Unto the palm and issue of the field,
Wills that I breathe to thee that thou delight
In her; and grateful to me is thy telling
Whatever things Hope promises to thee.'
And I: 'The ancient Scriptures and the new
The mark establish, and this shows it me,
Of all the souls whom God hath made his friends.
Isaiah saith, that each one garmented
In his own land shall be with twofold garments,
And his own land is this delightful life.
Thy brother, too, far more explicitly,
There where he treateth of the robes of white,
This revelation manifests to us.'
And first, and near the ending of these words,
Sperent in te
' from over us was heard,
To which responsive answered all the carols.
Thereafterward a light among them brightened,
So that, if Cancer one such crystal had,
Winter would have a month of one sole day.
And as uprises, goes, and enters the dance
A winsome maiden, only to do honour
To the new bride, and not from any failing,
Even thus did I behold the brightened splendour
Approach the two, who in a wheel revolved
As was beseeming to their ardent love.
Into the song and music there it entered;
And fixed on them my Lady kept her look,
Even as a bride silent and motionless.
'This is the one who lay upon the breast
Of him our Pelican; and this is he
To the great office from the cross elected.'
My Lady thus; but therefore none the more
Did move her sight from its attentive gaze
Before or afterward these words of hers.
Even as a man who gazes, and endeavours
To see the eclipsing of the sun a little,
And who, by seeing, sightless doth become,
So I became before that latest fire,
While it was said, 'Why dost thou daze thyself
To see a thing which here hath no existence?
Earth in the earth my body is, and shall be
With all the others there, until our number
With the eternal proposition tallies.
With the two garments in the blessed cloister
Are the two lights alone that have ascended:
And this shalt thou take back into your world.'
And at this utterance the flaming circle
Grew quiet, with the dulcet intermingling
Of sound that by the trinal breath was made,
As to escape from danger or fatigue
The oars that erst were in the water beaten
Are all suspended at a whistle's sound.
Ah, how much in my mind was I disturbed,
When I turned round to look on Beatrice,
That her I could not see, although I was
Close at her side and in the Happy World!
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow's Other Poems
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