The Divine Comedy

by Dante Alighieri

Previous Chapter Next Chapter

Canto XIX

Appeared before me with its wings outspread
The beautiful image that in sweet fruition
Made jubilant the interwoven souls;

Appeared a little ruby each, wherein
Ray of the sun was burning so enkindled
That each into mine eyes refracted it.

And what it now behoves me to retrace
Nor voice has e'er reported, nor ink written,
Nor was by fantasy e'er comprehended;

For speak I saw, and likewise heard, the beak,
And utter with its voice both 'I' and 'My,'
When in conception it was 'We' and 'Our.'

And it began: "Being just and merciful
Am I exalted here unto that glory
Which cannot be exceeded by desire;

And upon earth I left my memory
Such, that the evil-minded people there
Commend it, but continue not the story."

So doth a single heat from many embers
Make itself felt, even as from many loves
Issued a single sound from out that image.

Whence I thereafter: "O perpetual flowers
Of the eternal joy, that only one
Make me perceive your odours manifold,

Exhaling, break within me the great fast
Which a long season has in hunger held me,
Not finding for it any food on earth.

Well do I know, that if in heaven its mirror
Justice Divine another realm doth make,
Yours apprehends it not through any veil.

You know how I attentively address me
To listen; and you know what is the doubt
That is in me so very old a fast."

Even as a falcon, issuing from his hood,
Doth move his head, and with his wings applaud him,
Showing desire, and making himself fine,

Saw I become that standard, which of lauds
Was interwoven of the grace divine,
With such songs as he knows who there rejoices.

Then it began: "He who a compass turned
On the world's outer verge, and who within it
Devised so much occult and manifest,

Could not the impress of his power so make
On all the universe, as that his Word
Should not remain in infinite excess.

And this makes certain that the first proud being,
Who was the paragon of every creature,
By not awaiting light fell immature.

And hence appears it, that each minor nature
Is scant receptacle unto that good
Which has no end, and by itself is measured.

In consequence our vision, which perforce
Must be some ray of that intelligence
With which all things whatever are replete,

Cannot in its own nature be so potent,
That it shall not its origin discern
Far beyond that which is apparent to it.

Therefore into the justice sempiternal
The power of vision that your world receives,
As eye into the ocean, penetrates;

Which, though it see the bottom near the shore,
Upon the deep perceives it not, and yet
'Tis there, but it is hidden by the depth.

There is no light but comes from the serene
That never is o'ercast, nay, it is darkness
Or shadow of the flesh, or else its poison.

Amply to thee is opened now the cavern
Which has concealed from thee the living justice
Of which thou mad'st such frequent questioning.

For saidst thou: 'Born a man is on the shore
Of Indus, and is none who there can speak
Of Christ, nor who can read, nor who can write;

And all his inclinations and his actions
Are good, so far as human reason sees,
Without a sin in life or in discourse:

He dieth unbaptised and without faith;
Where is this justice that condemneth him?
Where is his fault, if he do not believe?'

Now who art thou, that on the bench wouldst sit
In judgment at a thousand miles away,
With the short vision of a single span?

Truly to him who with me subtilizes,
If so the Scripture were not over you,
For doubting there were marvellous occasion.

O animals terrene, O stolid minds,
The primal will, that in itself is good,
Ne'er from itself, the Good Supreme, has moved.

So much is just as is accordant with it;
No good created draws it to itself,
But it, by raying forth, occasions that."

Even as above her nest goes circling round
The stork when she has fed her little ones,
And he who has been fed looks up at her,

So lifted I my brows, and even such
Became the blessed image, which its wings
Was moving, by so many counsels urged.

Circling around it sang, and said: "As are
My notes to thee, who dost not comprehend them,
Such is the eternal judgment to you mortals."

Those lucent splendours of the Holy Spirit
Grew quiet then, but still within the standard
That made the Romans reverend to the world.

It recommenced: "Unto this kingdom never
Ascended one who had not faith in Christ,
Before or since he to the tree was nailed.

But look thou, many crying are, 'Christ, Christ!'
Who at the judgment shall be far less near
To him than some shall be who knew not Christ.

Such Christians shall the Ethiop condemn,
When the two companies shall be divided,
The one for ever rich, the other poor.

What to your kings may not the Persians say,
When they that volume opened shall behold
In which are written down all their dispraises?

There shall be seen, among the deeds of Albert,
That which ere long shall set the pen in motion,
For which the realm of Prague shall be deserted.

There shall be seen the woe that on the Seine
He brings by falsifying of the coin,
Who by the blow of a wild boar shall die.

There shall be seen the pride that causes thirst,
Which makes the Scot and Englishman so mad
That they within their boundaries cannot rest;

Be seen the luxury and effeminate life
Of him of Spain, and the Bohemian,
Who valour never knew and never wished;

Be seen the Cripple of Jerusalem,
His goodness represented by an I,
While the reverse an M shall represent;

Be seen the avarice and poltroonery
Of him who guards the Island of the Fire,
Wherein Anchises finished his long life;

And to declare how pitiful he is
Shall be his record in contracted letters
Which shall make note of much in little space.

And shall appear to each one the foul deeds
Of uncle and of brother who a nation
So famous have dishonoured, and two crowns.

And he of Portugal and he of Norway
Shall there be known, and he of Rascia too,
Who saw in evil hour the coin of Venice.

O happy Hungary, if she let herself
Be wronged no farther! and Navarre the happy,
If with the hills that gird her she be armed!

And each one may believe that now, as hansel
Thereof, do Nicosia and Famagosta
Lament and rage because of their own beast,

Who from the others' flank departeth not."

Return to the The Divine Comedy Summary Return to the Dante Alighieri Library

It ain't what you don't know that gets you into trouble. It's what you know for sure that just ain't so.