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Paradise

Paradise

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Add This - Paradise

Written by DanteAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Dante
Illustrated by Gustave DoreAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Gustave Dore
Translated by Anthony EsolenAuthor Alerts:  Random House will alert you to new works by Anthony Esolen

  • Format: Hardcover, 544 pages
  • Publisher: Modern Library
  • On Sale: November 2, 2004
  • Price: $27.95
  • ISBN: 978-0-679-64269-5 (0-679-64269-2)
Also available as an eBook and a trade paperback.
EXCERPT

Canto One

Dante and Beatrice are at the threshold of Heaven. She explains to him
that it is the nature of the human soul to rise.

The glory of the One who moves all things

penetrates the universe with light,

more radiant in one part and elsewhere less:

I have been in that heaven He makes most bright,4

and seen things neither mind can hold nor tongue

utter, when one descends from such great height,

For as we near the One for whom we long,7

our intellects so plunge into the deep,

memory cannot follow where we go.

Nevertheless what small part I can keep10

of that holy kingdom treasured in my heart

will now become the matter of my song.

O good Apollo, for this last work of art,13

make me as fit a vessel of your power

as you demand when you bestow the crown

Of the beloved laurel. Till this hour16

one peak of twin Parnassus has sufficed,

but if I am to enter the lists now

I shall need both. Then surge into my breast19

and breathe your song, as when you drew the vain

Marsyas from the sheath of his own limbs.

Father, virtue divine, should you but deign22

that I make manifest a shadow of

the blessed kingdom sealed upon my brain,

At the foot of that tree whose wood you love25

you’ll see me stand and crown my brows with green,

made worthy by the subject, and by you.

Poets and Caesars now so rarely glean28

those leaves to celebrate a victory

(man’s fault and shame, for our desires are mean),

the Peneian branches must give birth to joy31

when any man should thirst for their high fame,

in the glad heart of the Delphic deity.

A little spark gives birth to a great flame.34

Better voices perhaps will follow mine,

praying to hear what Cyrrha shall proclaim!

By various spills of light the sun will shine37

dawning upon the world of men that die,

but at the three-cross intersection of

Four rings it rises in the company40

of a more favorable time of year,

happier stars, to stamp this worldly clay

With its most perfect seal. One hemisphere43

lay brightening in that stream and one grew dim,

as it made morning there and evening here,

When I saw Beatrice turn upon her left46

and look to Heaven to gaze into the sun:

no eagle ever held a gaze so firm.

As a reflecting ray will follow upon49

the first and in a glance, an instant, rise

just like a pilgrim longing to turn home,

So she instilled her gazing–through my eyes–52

into my powers of fancy, and I too

stared at the sun more than our sight can bear.

With our weak powers on earth one may not do55

what there one may–thanks to the special place

created as the proper home for man.

Not long could I sustain the brilliant rays58

before they seemed to flash like sparks that play

round steel still white-hot from the forge’s blaze,

And suddenly it seemed that day and day61

were fused, as if the One who wields the might

adorned the heavens with a second sun.

Into the everlasting wheels of light64

Beatrice gazed with silent constancy;

on her I gazed, far from that central sight.

Her countenance had the same effect in me67

as did the plant that Glaucus tasted when

it made him share the godhood of the sea.

To signify man’s soaring beyond man70

words will not do: let my comparison

suffice for them for whom the grace of God

Reserves the experience. If I bore alone73

that part of me which you created last,

O Love that steers the heavens, you surely know,

For your light lifted me. And when the vast76

wheel you have made eternal by desire

held me intent to hear the harmony

You tune in all its parts, the sunlight-fire79

lit so much of the sky, no flooding stream

or rain could ever fill so broad a lake.

The newness of the sound, the swelling gleam82

lighted desire in me to learn their cause–

keener than any appetite I’d known.

And she, who saw within me what I was,85

to still the troubled waters of my soul,

opened her lips before I could inquire,

And thus began: “You’re making your mind dull88

with false imagining–you don’t perceive

what you would see, if you could shake it off.

You are not on the earth, as you believe.91

Lightning that flees its proper realm is not

so swift as your returning to your own.”

I admit I was shorn of my first doubt94

by the brief words she flashed me with a smile,

but in another net my feet were caught:

“My first amazement is at peace–but still97

I am amazed that I should rise so high,

beyond the lightness of the air and fire.”

She turned her eyes to me then with a sigh100

of pity, as a mother in distress

whose child is ill and talks deliriously,

So she made matters plain: “All things possess103

order amongst themselves: this order is

the form that makes the world resemble God.

Thence the high beings read the signs, the trace106

of that eternal Power who is the end

for which the form is set in time and place.

All natures in this order lean and tend109

each in distinctive manner to its Source,

some to approach more near and others less–

Whence from their various ports all creatures move112

on the great sea of being, with each one

ferried by instinct given from above.

This is what makes the fire rise toward the moon;115

this, the prime mover of the mortal heart;

this makes the heavy earth condense in one;

Nor does this bow with target-cleaving art118

strike only things that lack intelligence,

but beings made with intellect and love.

The glorious world-ordaining providence121

forever stills the highest heaven with light,

beyond the spinning of the swiftest sphere,

And to that place as to our destined site124

we’re speeded by the power of that cord

shooting each arrow in its happy flight.

Often it’s true a form may not accord127

with the intent of him who works the art

because the matter’s deaf and won’t respond:

So, from this course, a creature may depart130

if it should have the power, despite the push,

to swerve away and veer off from its start,

And as you’ll see a fall of lightning flash133

from the high clouds, so cheating pleasures skew

that first urge, and they plunge it to the earth.

No more amazement should it bring to you136

that you ascend, than if a mountain stream

should tumble rushing to the plains below.

But it would be a cause of just surprise139

if, free of every bar, you should remain

like a still flame on earth, and not arise.”

Then to the heavens she turned her gaze again.142

Excerpted from Paradise by Dante Copyright © 2004 by Dante. Excerpted by permission of Modern Library, a division of Random House LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.