Table of Contents

The Ascent to the First Heaven. The Sphere of Fire.


The glory of Him who moveth everything

Doth penetrate the universe, and shine

In one part more and in another less.

Within that heaven which most his light receives

Was I, and things beheld which to repeat

Nor knows, nor can, who from above descends;

Because in drawing near to its desire

Our intellect ingulphs itself so far,

That after it the memory cannot go.

Truly whatever of the holy realm

I had the power to treasure in my mind

Shall now become the subject of my song.

O good Apollo, for this last emprise

Make of me such a vessel of thy power

As giving the beloved laurel asks!

One summit of Parnassus hitherto

Has been enough for me, but now with both

I needs must enter the arena left.

Enter into my bosom, thou, and breathe

As at the time when Marsyas thou didst draw

Out of the scabbard of those limbs of his.

O power divine, lend'st thou thyself to me

So that the shadow of the blessed realm

Stamped in my brain I can make manifest,

Thou'lt see me come unto thy darling tree,

And crown myself thereafter with those leaves

Of which the theme and thou shall make me worthy.

So seldom, Father, do we gather them

For triumph or of Caesar or of Poet,

(The fault and shame of human inclinations,)

That the Peneian foliage should bring forth

Joy to the joyous Delphic deity,

When any one it makes to thirst for it.

A little spark is followed by great flame;

Perchance with better voices after me

Shall prayer be made that Cyrrha may respond!

To mortal men by passages diverse

Uprises the world's lamp; but by that one

Which circles four uniteth with three crosses,

With better course and with a better star

Conjoined it issues, and the mundane wax

Tempers and stamps more after its own fashion.

Almost that passage had made morning there

And evening here, and there was wholly white

That hemisphere, and black the other part,

When Beatrice towards the left-hand side

I saw turned round, and gazing at the sun;

Never did eagle fasten so upon it!

And even as a second ray is wont

To issue from the first and reascend,

Like to a pilgrim who would fain return,

Thus of her action, through the eyes infused

In my imagination, mine I made,

And sunward fixed mine eyes beyond our wont.

There much is lawful which is here unlawful

Unto our powers, by virtue of the place

Made for the human species as its own.

Not long I bore it, nor so little while

But I beheld it sparkle round about

Like iron that comes molten from the fire;

And suddenly it seemed that day to day

Was added, as if He who has the power

Had with another sun the heaven adorned.

With eyes upon the everlasting wheels

Stood Beatrice all intent, and I, on her

Fixing my vision from above removed,

Such at her aspect inwardly became

As Glaucus, tasting of the herb that made him

Peer of the other gods beneath the sea.

To represent transhumanise in words

Impossible were; the example, then, suffice

Him for whom Grace the experience reserves.

If I was merely what of me thou newly

Createdst, Love who governest the heaven,

Thou knowest, who didst lift me with thy light!

When now the wheel, which thou dost make eternal

Desiring thee, made me attentive to it

By harmony thou dost modulate and measure,

Then seemed to me so much of heaven enkindled

By the sun's flame, that neither rain nor river

E'er made a lake so widely spread abroad.

The newness of the sound and the great light

Kindled in me a longing for their cause,

Never before with such acuteness felt;

Whence she, who saw me as I saw myself,

To quiet in me my perturbed mind,

Opened her mouth, ere I did mine to ask,

And she began: "Thou makest thyself so dull

With false imagining, that thou seest not

What thou wouldst see if thou hadst shaken it off.

Thou art not upon earth, as thou believest;

But lightning, fleeing its appropriate site,

Ne'er ran as thou, who thitherward returnest."

If of my former doubt I was divested

By these brief little words more smiled than spoken,

I in a new one was the more ensnared;

And said: "Already did I rest content

From great amazement; but am now amazed

In what way I transcend these bodies light."

Whereupon she, after a pitying sigh,

Her eyes directed tow'rds me with that look

A mother casts on a delirious child;

And she began: "All things whate'er they be

Have order among themselves, and this is form,

That makes the universe resemble God.

Here do the higher creatures see the footprints

Of the Eternal Power, which is the end

Whereto is made the law already mentioned.

In the order that I speak of are inclined

All natures, by their destinies diverse,

More or less near unto their origin;

Hence they move onward unto ports diverse

O'er the great sea of being; and each one

With instinct given it which bears it on.

This bears away the fire towards the moon;

This is in mortal hearts the motive power

This binds together and unites the earth.

Nor only the created things that are

Without intelligence this bow shoots forth,

But those that have both intellect and love.

The Providence that regulates all this

Makes with its light the heaven forever quiet,

Wherein that turns which has the greatest haste.

And thither now, as to a site decreed,

Bears us away the virtue of that cord

Which aims its arrows at a joyous mark.

True is it, that as oftentimes the form

Accords not with the intention of the art,

Because in answering is matter deaf,

So likewise from this course doth deviate

Sometimes the creature, who the power possesses,

Though thus impelled, to swerve some other way,

(In the same wise as one may see the fire

Fall from a cloud,) if the first impetus

Earthward is wrested by some false delight.

Thou shouldst not wonder more, if well I judge,

At thine ascent, than at a rivulet

From some high mount descending to the lowland.

Marvel it would be in thee, if deprived

Of hindrance, thou wert seated down below,

As if on earth the living fire were quiet."

Thereat she heavenward turned again her face.