Page images

Suited in strict and wondrous harmony."

As when the north blows from his milder cheek
A blast, that scours the sky, forth with our air,
Cleared of the rack that hung on it before,
Glitters; and, with his beauties all unveiled,
The firmament looks forth serene, and smiles :
Such was my cheer, when Beatrice drove
With clear reply the shadows back, and truth
Was manifested, as a star in heaven.
And when the words were ended, not unlike
To iron in the furnace, every cirque,
Ebullient, shot forth scintillating fires :
And every sparkle shivering to new blaze,
In number did outmillion the account
Reduplicate upon the chequered board.
Then heard I echoing on, from choir to choir,
“Hosanna,” to the fixed point, that holds,
And shall forever hold them to their place,
From everlasting, irremovable.

Musing awhile I stood : and she, who saw
My inward meditations, thus began :
“ In the first circles, they, whom thou beholdest,
Are seraphim and cherubim. Thus swift
Follow their hoops, in likeness to the point,
Near as they can, approaching; and they can
The more, the loftier their vision. Those
That round them fleet, gazing at the Godhead next,
Are thrones; in whom the first trine ends. And all
Are blessed, even as their sight descends
Deeper into the truth, wherein rest is
For every mind. Thus happiness hath root
In seeing, not in loving, which of sight
Is aftergrowth. And of the seeing such
The meed, as unto each, in due degree,
Grace and good-will their measure have assigned.
The other trine, that with still opening buds
In this eternal springtide blossom fair,
Fearless of bruising from the nightly ram,
Breathe up in warbled melodies threefold
Hosannas, blending ever; from the three,


72. By means of this beautiful figure, Dante 18,446,744,073,709,551,615. The meaning here says Beatrice has cleared his mind from all is that the number of angels is infinite. doubts.

95. They can = their power to approach God 81. Cirque = circle.

is in proportion to their power to understand 85. Allusion to the story of the inventor of him. chess, who, when the King of Persia asked what 108. In the spring the sun is in Aries (Ram), reward he desired, answered, a grain of wheat and hence the latter is not seen at night. In for the first square of the chessboard, double autumn, however, the sun is in Libra, and Aries, that number for the second, and so on for the 180° distant, rises on the horizon after sunset. rest of the squares. This gives the number The meaning here is that spring is eternal.

Transmitted, hierarchy of gods, for aye
Rejoicing; dominations first; next them,
Virtues; and powers the third ; the next to whom
Are princedoms and archangels, with glad round
To tread their festal ring; and last, the band
Angelical, disporting in their sphere.
All, as they circle in their orders, look
Aloft; and, downward, with such sway prevail,
That all with mutual impulse tend to God.
These once a mortal view beheld. Desire,
In Dionysius, so intensely wrought,
That he, as I have done, ranged them; and named
Their orders, marshalled in his thought. From him,
Dissentient, one refused his sacred read.
But soon as in this heaven his doubting eyes
Were opened, Gregory at his error smiled.
Nor marvel, that a denizen of earth
Should scan such secret truth; for he had learnt
Both this and much beside of these our orbs,
From an eye-witness to heaven's mysteries."



Beatrice beholds, in the mirror of divine truth, some doubts which had entered the

mind of Dante. These she resolves; and then digresses into a vehement reprehension of certain theologians and preachers in those days, whose ignorance or avarice induced them to substitute their own inventions for the pure word of the Gospel.

No longer, than what time Latona's twins
Covered of Libra and the fleecy star,
Together both, girding the horizon hang;
In even balance, from the zenith poised;
Till from that verge, each, changing hemisphere,
Part the nice level; e'en so brief a space
Did Beatrice's silence hold. A smile

117. The angels look up to the point of for a brief moment, described by Dante as lastdivine light, and also down to the orders below ing only so long as the sun and moon (Latona's them. In the former case they aspire toward twins), being in opposite signs of the zodiac God, in the latter they draw those below toward (Libra and Aries), and so having the same him, so that all tend toward the point.

horizon, hang poised, as it were, in the hand of 121. Dionysius and Gregory the Great both the zenith. wrote concerning the celestial hierarchy. Dante 2. Fleecy star = Montone = Ram = Aries. says the latter is wrong and the former right, 5. Verge = orizzonte = horizon. because he learned it from St. Paul eye-wit 6. Part the nice level = si dilibra = break ness). Cf. 2 Cor. xii. 2.

their equilibrium. 1. Beatrice stopped speaking, and was silent

Sat painted on her cheek; and her fixed gaze
Bent on the point, at which my vision failed:
When thus, her words resuming, she began :
“I speak, nor what thou wouldst inquire, demand;
For I have marked it, where all time and place
Are present. Not for increase to himself
Of good, which may not be increased, but forth
To manifest his glory by its beams;
Inhabiting his own eternity,
Beyond time's limit or what bound soe'er
To circumscribe his being; as he willed,
Into new natures, like unto himself,
Eternal love unfolded : nor before,
As if in dull inaction, torpid, lay,
For, not in process of before or aft,
Upon these waters moved the Spirit of God.
Simple and mixed, both form and substance, forth
To perfect being started, like three darts
Shot from a bow three-corded. And as ray
In crystal, glass, and amber, shines entire,
E'en at the moment of its issuing; thus
Did, from the eternal Sovran, beam entire
His threefold operation, at one act
Produced coeval. Yet, in order, each
Created his due station knew : those highest,
Who pure intelligence were made; mere power,
The lowest; in the midst, bound with strict league,
Intelligence and power, unsevered bond.

9. Point = God.

= man. These were all created at the same 11. Dante's desire to know how the universe time. was created is known to Beatrice without his 26. The bow three-corded = the three pertelling her, for she has seen it in the mind of sons of the Divinity, Father, Son, and Holy God.

Spirit. Dante always refers to them as all being 13. The meaning here is, that God did not, present in the act of creation. See Hell, üü. 5, 6. to give himself pleasure, create the universe; And as ray, etc. As one cannot distinbut this latter is an emanation of his eternal guish the moment when a ray of light enters love and goodness.

glass, etc., from the moment it issues there17. Time and space begin only with the crea- from, so no distinction of time can be made in tion.

the creation of angels, nature, and man. 19. New natures = nuovi amori = new 31. At the instant of their creation they had loves, i.e. the different kinds of created things. their various stations and functions assigned

20. Nor can we say that before the creation them. God was inactive, for since time only began 32. Those highest = the angels, in the then, there can be no such things as before or Empyrean. after.

33. Mere power = pura potenzia = passive 23. “And the spirit of God moved upon the matter, subject to the influence of the heavens. face of the waters." Gen. i. 2.

34. Lowest = on earth, below the moon. 24. “Forma e materia congiunte e purette.” In the midst = between the Empyrean and

In this line Dante gives concisely the differ- the earth. ent kinds of creation: (1) Pure form -- angels; 35. The heavens, both passive and active, (2) pure matter = the material substance of moved by the angels (intelligences) and them. natural phenomena; (3) mixed form and matterselves exerting influence. Cf. Par. ii. 120 ff.

Long tract of ages by the angels past,
Ere the creating of another world,
Described on Jerome's pages thou hast seen.
But that what I disclose to thee is true ;
Those penmen, whom the Holy Spirit moved
In many a passage of their sacred book,
Attest; as thou by diligent search shalt find :
And reason, in some sort, discerns the same,
Who scarce would grant the heavenly ministers,
Of their perfection void, so long a space.
Thus when and where these spirits of love were made,
Thou know'st, and how: and, knowing, hast allayed
Thy thirst, which from the triple question rose.
Ere one had reckoned twenty, e'en so soon,
Part of the angels fell: and, in their fall,
Confusion to your elements ensued.
The others kept their station : and this task,
Whereon thou look'st, began, with such delight,
That they surcease not ever, day nor night,
Their circling. Of that fatal lapse the cause
Was the curst pride of him, whom thou hast seen
Pent with the world's incumbrance. Those, whom here
Thou seest, were lowly to confess themselves
Of his free bounty, who had made them apt
For ministries so high: therefore their views
Were, by enlightening grace and their own merit,
Exalted; so that in their will confirmed
They stand, nor fear to fall. For do not doubt,
But to receive the grace, which Heaven vouchsafes,
Is meritorious, even as the soul
With prompt affection welcometh the guest.
Now, without further help, if with good heed
My words thy mind have treasured, thou henceforth
This consistory round about mayst scan,

36. St. Jerome had said that the angels were immediately after the creation, in the time necescreated long before the universe. Beatrice says sary to count twenty. Cf. Convito, ii. 6. this is not true, as is proved by many passages 51. “Turbd il suggetto dei vostri elementi,” of the Bible, i.e. Ecclesiasticus xviii. 1, and “Disturbed the (earth which is) subject to the Gen. i. 1.

elements.” 40. “But holy men of God spake as they 52. Task = to revolve about the divine were moved by the Holy Ghost.2 Peter i. 21. point.

43. As elsewhere, Dante says here that reason 55. Lapse = revolt. and revelation both show us the truth. The func- 56. Lucifer. tion of the angels is to revolve the heavens; 57. “ Da tutti i pesi del mondo costretto," hence it is not reasonable to suppose the former“ Constrained by all the weights of the world,” to be created without their perfection, i.e. the i.e. in the centre of the earth, which is the centre function of revolving the heavens.

of gravity. Cf. Hell, xxxiv. 105. 48. Triple question = when, where, and 58. The cause of Lucifer's fall was pride; the how the angels had been created.

chief virtue of the faithful angels is humility 49. Beatrice tells of the rebellion of Lucifer before God. and his followers, which took place almost

[ocr errors]

And gaze'thy fill. But, since thou hast on earth
Heard vain disputers, reasoners in the schools,
Canvass the angelic nature, and dispute
Its powers of apprehension, memory, choice ;
Therefore, 't is well thou take from me the truth,
Pure and without disguise; which they below,
Equivocating, darken and perplex.

« Know thou, that, from the first, these substances,
Rejoicing in the countenance of God,
Have held unceasingly their view, intent
Upon the glorious vision, from the which
Naught absent is nor hid: where then no change
Of newness, with succession, interrupts,
Remembrance, there, needs none to gather up
Divided thought and images remote.

“So that men, thus at variance with the truth,
Dream, though their eyes be open; reckless some
Of error; others well aware they err,
To whom more guilt and shame are justly due.
Each the known track of sage philosophy
Deserts, and has a by-way of his own :
So much the restless eagerness to shine,
And love of singularity, prevail.
Yet this, offensive as it is, provokes
Heaven's anger less, than when the book of God
Is forced to yield to man's authority,
Or from its straightness warped: no reckoning made
What blood the sowing of it in the world
Has cost; what favor for himself he wins,
Who meekly clings to it. The aim of all
Is how to shine: e'en they, whose office is
To preach the gospel, let the gospel sleep,
And pass their own inventions off instead.
One tells, how at Christ's suffering the wan moon
Bent back her steps, and shadowed o'er the sun

70. Men taught that the angels had under- our own day might ponder on these words with standing, will, and memory. Beatrice says this profit. is false, for as the angels gaze and have always 96. They forget the sacredness of the Bible gazed into the mirror of God's mind, they see spread abroad through the world by the blood of all things past, present, and future, and hence the martyrs. have no need of memory

103. To illustrate this vain ingenuity of exe87. This false teaching is done by two classes gesis, Beatrice brings up the passage, Matt. of men: those who believe their errors to be the xxvii. 45: “Now from the sixth hour there was truth, and those who do not believe what they darkness over all the land unto the ninth hour." teach. The latter are most guilty and repre- One interpreter says the moon moved back on hensible.

her path in order to interpose herself between 89. Beatrice takes occasion to rebuke the the sun and earth; another says the light dark. vanity of preachers and theologians, who, led ened of itself. Beatrice takes sides with neither by love of applause, and eager to appear brill- of these, but says that all such efforts are vain iant and ingenious," wrest the Scriptures” to and useless: it is sufficient to know the fact

eir own uses. Many sensational preachers of stated by Scripture.

« PreviousContinue »