Paradiso -- Canto XXXIII

The Final Vision



1 Saint Bernard’s prayer to the Virgin praises her as the aim and purpose of creation since through her the Son of God was a human being; through her, in turn, human beings return to the Son.







































65 The Sibyl of Cumae wrote her prophecies, inspired by Apollo, on the leaves of trees that then blew away on the wind from the rocky cave where she had stored them (Aeneid III, 441-452).


















96 So overwhelming is Dante’s vision that he forgets more of it in an instant than has been lost in the account of the Argonauts through twenty-five centuries. Neptune, the god of the ocean, here looks up in amazement to see the Argo, first boat ever built, sailing above him.
















127 Dante reaches his final vision of Christ, his third in Paradise and fourth in the poem (see Cantos XIV, ll. 94-129; XXIII, ll. 28-45; and; Purgatorio XXXI, ll. 118-126). The vision takes him into the mystery of human nature in the Being of God, the Son mirroring the Father and the Love of the Holy Spirit between them both. His final epic simile compares his effort to that of squaring the circle, reconciling humanity with Godhood (ll. 133-135). For the poet, as for the geometer, it is not achieving the impossible that finally matters, but attempting that harmony. Dante does discover the secret in the last lines as he moves in harmony with the spheres, with God, and with himself.



144  The wheel may be the Great Wheel of cathedral towers.

          "Virgin mother, daughter of your Son,
          Humbler and higher than all other creatures,
          Fixed aim and goal of the eternal plan,
          "You are the one who lifted human nature
5        To such nobility that its own Maker
          Did not disdain to be made of its making.
          "Within your womb was lit once more the flame
          Of that love through whose warmth this flower opened
          To its full bloom in everlasting peace.
10       "To us up here you are the torch of noon
          Blazing with love, and for the mortals down there
          You are the living fountainhead of hope.
          "Lady, you are so highly placed and helpful,
          Whoever seeks grace and does not call on you
15       Wants his desires to fly up without wings.
          "Your loving heart not only offers aid
          To those who ask for it, but oftentimes
          Free-handedly anticipates the asking.
          "In you is mercy, in you largeheartedness,
20       In you compassion, and in you is found
          Whatever good exists in any creature.
          "Now this man who from down the deepest pit
          Of the whole universe up to this point
          Has seen the lives of spirits, one by one,
25       "Begs by your grace that you will give him strength
          To enable him to rise on with his eyes
          Still higher to the summit of salvation.
          "And I, who never burned for my own vision
          More than I burn for his, pour out to you
30       All of my prayers, and pray they be sufficient
          "For you to scatter from him by your prayers
          Every last cloud of his mortality
          That he may see revealed the highest Pleasure.
          "I pray you also, Queen, for you can do
35       Whatever you will, that after he has seen
          This vision, you keep his affections wholesome.
          "Watch and restrain his human impulses:
          See Beatrice with so many blessed spirits
          Clasping their hands to join me in this prayer."
40         The eyes God loves and reverences the most,
          Fastened upon this praying saint, displayed
          How deeply she is pleased by devout prayer.
          Then her eyes turned to the eternal Light
          Into whose depth we may believe the eyes
45       Of no other creature penetrates more clearly.
          And I, now drawing closer to the end
          Of every longing, lifted to that end,
          Just as I should, the flame of all my longing.
          Bernard gave me a signal and a smile
50       To look straight up, but by myself already
          I was intent as he would have me be,
          Because my sight, becoming crystal clear,
          Was piercing deeper and deeper through the rays
          Of that deep Light which in itself is true.
55       From that point on, my power to see was stronger
          Than speech that fails before such sights can show,
          As memory falls short of the beyond.
          As someone who while dreaming sees a vision
          And, after he has dreamed, the feeling stays
60       Impressed, but all the rest slips from his mind,
          I am like that, for almost all my seeing
          Now falls away, but sweetness sprung from it
          Still drips down, drop by drop, into my heart.
          So is the snow unsealed beneath the sunlight;
65       So were the sayings of the Sibyl upon
          The light leaves left to drift off in the wind.
          O highest Light, lifted up so far
          Above all mortal thinking, lend my mind,
          Once more, a little of what you were like,
70       And grant my tongue such powerful expression
          That it may leave behind a single spark
          Of glory for a people still to come.
          For by returning some spark to my mind
75       And sounding out a little in these lines,
          Your triumph shall be thought of more profoundly.
          I think I would have been lost in a daze
          With the dazzling I endured from that live beam
          If my eyes once had turned away from it.
          I remember I grew bolder for this reason
80       In bearing up with it, until I merged
          My gazing with the infinite Goodness.
          O grace abounding, by which I have dared
          To fix my eyes through the eternal Light
          So deeply that my sight was spent in it!
85      Within its depths I saw gathered together,
          Bound by love into a single volume,
          Leaves that lie scattered through the universe.
          Substance and accidents and their relations
          I saw as though they fused in such a way
90       That what I say is but a gleam of light.
          The universal pattern of this knot
          I believe I saw, because in telling this,
          I feel my gladness growing ever larger.
          One moment made more slip my memory than
95       Twenty-five centuries reft from the adventure
          That awed Neptune with the shadow of the Argo.
          So my mind, held in absolute suspense,
          Was staring fixed, intent, and motionless,
          And by its staring grew the more inflamed.
100     Within that Light a person is so changed
          It is impossible to give consent
          Ever to turn from it to other sights
          Because the Good, the object of the will,
          Is gathered all in it, and out of it
105     The thing that there is perfect has some flaw.
          Now shall my telling of what I remember
          Fall far below the babbling of a baby
          Still bathing its tongue at the mother’s breast.
          Not that there is more than a single semblance
110     Within that living Light on which I looked
          And which is always what it was before,
          But by the sight that gathered strength in me
          As I gazed on, what was One in appearance
          Was altering for me as I was changing.
115      In the profound and shining-clear Existence
          Of the deep Light appeared to me three circles
          Of one dimension and three different colors.
          One seemed to be reflected by the other,
          Rainbow by rainbow, while the third seemed fire
120      Breathed equally from one and from the other.
          O how pale now is language and how paltry
          For my conception! And for what I saw
          My words are not enough to call them meager.
          O everlasting Light, you dwell alone
125      In yourself, know yourself alone, and known
          And knowing, love and smile upon yourself!
          That middle circle which appeared in you
          To be conceived as a reflected light,
          After my eyes had studied it a while,
130     Within itself and in its coloring
          Seemed to be painted with our human likeness
          So that my eyes were wholly focused on it.
          As the geometer who sets himself
          To square the circle and who cannot find,
135      For all his thought, the principle he needs,
          Just so was I on seeing this new vision
          I wanted to see how our image fuses
          Into the circle and finds its place in it,
          Yet my wings were not meant for such a flight —
140      Except that then my mind was struck by lightning
          Through which my longing was at last fulfilled.
          Here powers failed my high imagination:
          But by now my desire and will were turned,
          Like a balanced wheel rotated evenly,
145      By the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.
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