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The Tree of Knowledge. Allegory of the Chariot.

So steadfast and attentive were mine eyes

In satisfying their decennial thirst,

That all my other senses were extinct,

And upon this side and on that they had

Walls of indifference, so the holy smile

Drew them unto itself with the old net

When forcibly my sight was turned away

Towards my left hand by those goddesses,

Because I heard from them a "Too intently!"

And that condition of the sight which is

In eyes but lately smitten by the sun

Bereft me of my vision some short while;

But to the less when sight re-shaped itself,

I say the less in reference to the greater

Splendour from which perforce I had withdrawn,

I saw upon its right wing wheeled about

The glorious host returning with the sun

And with the sevenfold flames upon their faces.

As underneath its shields, to save itself,

A squadron turns, and with its banner wheels,

Before the whole thereof can change its front,

That soldiery of the celestial kingdom

Which marched in the advance had wholly passed us

Before the chariot had turned its pole.

Then to the wheels the maidens turned themselves,

And the Griffin moved his burden benedight,

But so that not a feather of him fluttered.

The lady fair who drew me through the ford

Followed with Statius and myself the wheel

Which made its orbit with the lesser arc.

So passing through the lofty forest, vacant

By fault of her who in the serpent trusted,

Angelic music made our steps keep time.

Perchance as great a space had in three flights

An arrow loosened from the string o'erpassed,

As we had moved when Beatrice descended.

I heard them murmur altogether, "Adam!"

Then circled they about a tree despoiled

Of blooms and other leafage on each bough.

Its tresses, which so much the more dilate

As higher they ascend, had been by Indians

Among their forests marvelled at for height.

"Blessed art thou, O Griffin, who dost not

Pluck with thy beak these branches sweet to taste,

Since appetite by this was turned to evil."

After this fashion round the tree robust

The others shouted; and the twofold creature:

"Thus is preserved the seed of all the just."

And turning to the pole which he had dragged,

He drew it close beneath the widowed bough,

And what was of it unto it left bound.

In the same manner as our trees (when downward

Falls the great light, with that together mingled

Which after the celestial Lasca shines)

Begin to swell, and then renew themselves,

Each one with its own colour, ere the Sun

Harness his steeds beneath another star:

Less than of rose and more than violet

A hue disclosing, was renewed the tree

That had erewhile its boughs so desolate.

I never heard, nor here below is sung,

The hymn which afterward that people sang,

Nor did I bear the melody throughout.

Had I the power to paint how fell asleep

Those eyes compassionless, of Syrinx hearing,

Those eyes to which more watching cost so dear,

Even as a painter who from model paints

I would portray how I was lulled asleep;

He may, who well can picture drowsihood.

Therefore I pass to what time I awoke,

And say a splendour rent from me the veil

Of slumber, and a calling: "Rise, what dost thou?"

As to behold the apple-tree in blossom

Which makes the Angels greedy for its fruit,

And keeps perpetual bridals in the Heaven,

Peter and John and James conducted were,

And, overcome, recovered at the word

By which still greater slumbers have been broken,

And saw their school diminished by the loss

Not only of Elias, but of Moses,

And the apparel of their Master changed;

So I revived, and saw that piteous one

Above me standing, who had been conductress

Aforetime of my steps beside the river,

And all in doubt I said, "Where's Beatrice?"

And she: "Behold her seated underneath

The leafage new, upon the root of it.

Behold the company that circles her;

The rest behind the Griffin are ascending

With more melodious song, and more profound."

And if her speech were more diffuse I know not,

Because already in my sight was she

Who from the hearing of aught else had shut me.

Alone she sat upon the very earth,

Left there as guardian of the chariot

Which I had seen the biform monster fasten.

Encircling her, a cloister made themselves

The seven Nymphs, with those lights in their hands

Which are secure from Aquilon and Auster.

"Short while shalt thou be here a forester,

And thou shalt be with me for evermore

A citizen of that Rome where Christ is Roman.

Therefore, for that world's good which liveth ill,

Fix on the car thine eyes, and what thou seest,

Having returned to earth, take heed thou write."

Thus Beatrice; and I, who at the feet

Of her commandments all devoted was,

My mind and eyes directed where she willed.

Never descended with so swift a motion

Fire from a heavy cloud, when it is raining

From out the region which is most remote,

As I beheld the bird of Jove descend

Down through the tree, rending away the bark,

As well as blossoms and the foliage new,

And he with all his might the chariot smote,

Whereat it reeled, like vessel in a tempest

Tossed by the waves, now starboard and now larboard.

Thereafter saw I leap into the body

Of the triumphal vehicle a Fox,

That seemed unfed with any wholesome food.

But for his hideous sins upbraiding him,

My Lady put him to as swift a flight

As such a fleshless skeleton could bear.

Then by the way that it before had come,

Into the chariot's chest I saw the Eagle

Descend, and leave it feathered with his plumes.

And such as issues from a heart that mourns,

A voice from Heaven there issued, and it said:

"My little bark, how badly art thou freighted!"

Methought, then, that the earth did yawn between

Both wheels, and I saw rise from it a Dragon,

Who through the chariot upward fixed his tail,

And as a wasp that draweth back its sting,

Drawing unto himself his tail malign,

Drew out the floor, and went his way rejoicing.

That which remained behind, even as with grass

A fertile region, with the feathers, offered

Perhaps with pure intention and benign,

Reclothed itself, and with them were reclothed

The pole and both the wheels so speedily,

A sigh doth longer keep the lips apart.

Transfigured thus the holy edifice

Thrust forward heads upon the parts of it,

Three on the pole and one at either corner.

The first were horned like oxen; but the four

Had but a single horn upon the forehead;

A monster such had never yet been seen!

Firm as a rock upon a mountain high,

Seated upon it, there appeared to me

A shameless whore, with eyes swift glancing round,

And, as if not to have her taken from him,

Upright beside her I beheld a giant;

And ever and anon they kissed each other.

But because she her wanton, roving eye

Turned upon me, her angry paramour

Did scourge her from her head unto her feet.

Then full of jealousy, and fierce with wrath,

He loosed the monster, and across the forest

Dragged it so far, he made of that alone

A shield unto the whore and the strange beast.