Return to Dante, Divine Comedy
“Deus venerunt gentes,” alternating
Now three, now four, melodious psalmody
The maidens in the midst of tears began;
And Beatrice, compassionate and sighing,
Listened to them with such a countenance,
That scarce more changed was Mary at the cross.
But when the other virgins place had given
For her to speak, uprisen to her feet
With colour as of fire, she made response:
“‘Modicum, et non videbitis me;
Et iterum,’ my sisters predilect,
‘Modicum, et vos videbitis me.’”
Then all the seven in front of her she placed;
And after her, by beckoning only, moved
Me and the lady and the sage who stayed.
So she moved onward; and I do not think
That her tenth step was placed upon the ground,
When with her eyes upon mine eyes she smote,
And with a tranquil aspect, “Come more quickly,”
To me she said, “that, if I speak with thee,
To listen to me thou mayst be well placed.”
As soon as I was with her as I should be,
She said to me: “Why, brother, dost thou not
Venture to question now, in coming with me?”
As unto those who are too reverential,
Speaking in presence of superiors,
Who drag no living utterance to their teeth,
It me befell, that without perfect sound
Began I: “My necessity, Madonna,
You know, and that which thereunto is good.”
And she to me: “Of fear and bashfulness
Henceforward I will have thee strip thyself,
So that thou speak no more as one who dreams.
Know that the vessel which the serpent broke
Was, and is not; but let him who is guilty
Think that God’s vengeance does not fear a sop.
Without an heir shall not for ever be
The Eagle that left his plumes upon the car,
Whence it became a monster, then a prey;
For verily I see, and hence narrate it,
The stars already near to bring the time,
From every hindrance safe, and every bar,
Within which a Five-hundred, Ten, and Five,
One sent from God, shall slay the thievish woman
And that same giant who is sinning with her.
And peradventure my dark utterance,
Like Themis and the Sphinx, may less persuade thee,
Since, in their mode, it clouds the intellect;
But soon the facts shall be the Naiades
Who shall this difficult enigma solve,
Without destruction of the flocks and harvests.
Note thou; and even as by me are uttered
These words, so teach them unto those who live
That life which is a running unto death;
And bear in mind, whene’er thou writest them,
Not to conceal what thou hast seen the plant,
That twice already has been pillaged here.
Whoever pillages or shatters it,
With blasphemy of deed offendeth God,
Who made it holy for his use alone.
For biting that, in pain and in desire
Five thousand years and more the first-born soul
Craved Him, who punished in himself the bite.
Thy genius slumbers, if it deem it not
For special reason so pre-eminent
In height, and so inverted in its summit.
And if thy vain imaginings had not been
Water of Elsa round about thy mind,
And Pyramus to the mulberry, their pleasure,
Thou by so many circumstances only
The justice of the interdict of God
Morally in the tree wouldst recognize.
But since I see thee in thine intellect
Converted into stone and stained with sin,
So that the light of my discourse doth daze thee,
I will too, if not written, at least painted,
Thou bear it back within thee, for the reason
That cinct with palm the pilgrim’s staff is borne.”
And I: “As by a signet is the wax
Which does not change the figure stamped upon it,
My brain is now imprinted by yourself.
But wherefore so beyond my power of sight
Soars your desirable discourse, that aye
The more I strive, so much the more I lose it?”
“That thou mayst recognize,” she said, “the school
Which thou hast followed, and mayst see how far
Its doctrine follows after my discourse,
And mayst behold your path from the divine
Distant as far as separated is
From earth the heaven that highest hastens on.”
Whence her I answered: “I do not remember
That ever I estranged myself from you,
Nor have I conscience of it that reproves me.”
“And if thou art not able to remember,”
Smiling she answered, “recollect thee now
That thou this very day hast drunk of Lethe;
And if from smoke a fire may be inferred,
Such an oblivion clearly demonstrates
Some error in thy will elsewhere intent.
Truly from this time forward shall my words
Be naked, so far as it is befitting
To lay them open unto thy rude gaze.”
And more coruscant and with slower steps
The sun was holding the meridian circle,
Which, with the point of view, shifts here and there
When halted (as he cometh to a halt,
Who goes before a squadron as its escort,
If something new he find upon his way)
The ladies seven at a dark shadow’s edge,
Such as, beneath green leaves and branches black,
The Alp upon its frigid border wears.
In front of them the Tigris and Euphrates
Methought I saw forth issue from one fountain,
And slowly part, like friends, from one another.
“O light, O glory of the human race!
What stream is this which here unfolds itself
From out one source, and from itself withdraws?”
For such a prayer, ’twas said unto me, “Pray
Matilda that she tell thee;” and here answered,
As one does who doth free himself from blame,
The beautiful lady: “This and other things
Were told to him by me; and sure I am
The water of Lethe has not hid them from him.”
And Beatrice: “Perhaps a greater care,
Which oftentimes our memory takes away,
Has made the vision of his mind obscure.
But Eunoe behold, that yonder rises;
Lead him to it, and, as thou art accustomed,
Revive again the half-dead virtue in him.”
Like gentle soul, that maketh no excuse,
But makes its own will of another’s will
As soon as by a sign it is disclosed,
Even so, when she had taken hold of me,
The beautiful lady moved, and unto Statius
Said, in her womanly manner, “Come with him.”
If, Reader, I possessed a longer space
For writing it, I yet would sing in part
Of the sweet draught that ne’er would satiate me;
But inasmuch as full are all the leaves
Made ready for this second canticle,
The curb of art no farther lets me go.
From the most holy water I returned
Regenerate, in the manner of new trees
That are renewed with a new foliage,
Pure and disposed to mount unto the stars.
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