Posted by: frroberts | September 19, 2017

Dante’s Praises of the Virgin

“O virgin mother, daughter of thy Son,
humble beyond all creatures and more exalted;
predestined turning point of God’s intention;

Thy merit so ennobled human nature
that its divine Creator did not scorn
to make Himself the creature of His creature.

The Love that was rekindled in Thy womb
sends for the warmth of the eternal peace
within whose ray this flower has come to bloom.

Here to us, thou art the noon and scope
of Love revealed; and among mortal men,
the living fountain of eternal hope.

Lady, thou art so near God’s reckonings
that who seeks grace and does not first seek thee
would have his wish fly upward without wings.

Not only does thy sweet benignity
flow out to all who beg, but oftentimes
thy charity arrives before the plea.

In thee is pity, in thee munificence,
in thee the tenderest heart, in thee unites
all that creation knows of excellence!

Now comes this man who from the final pit
of the universe up to this height has seen,
one by one, the three lives of the spirit.

He prays to thee in fervent supplication
for grace and strength, that he may raise his eyes
to the all-healing final revelation.

And I, who never more desired to see
the vision myself that I do that he may see It,
add my own prayer, and pray that it may be

enough to move you to dispel the trace
of every mortal shadow by thy prayers
and let him see revealed the Sum of Grace.

I pray the further, all-persuading Queen,
keep whole the natural bent of his affections
and of his powers after his eyes have seen.

Protect him from the stirrings of man’s clay;
see how Beatrice and the blessed host
clasp reverent hands to join me as I pray.”

The eyes that God reveres and loves the best
glowed on the speaker, making clear the joy
with which true prayer is heard by the most blest.

Those eyes turned then to the Eternal Ray,
through which, we must indeed believe, the eyes
of others do not find such ready way.

And I, who neared the goal of all my nature,
felt my soul, at the climax of its yearning,
suddenly, as it ought, grow calm with rapture.

Bernard then, smiling sweetly, gestured to me
to look up, but I had already become
within myself all he would have me be.

Little by little as my vision grew
it penetrated faintly through the aura
of the high lamp which in Itself is true.

What then I saw is more than tongue can say.
Our human speech is dark before the vision.
The ravished memory swoons and falls away.

As one who sees in dreams and wakes to find
the emotional impression of his vision
still powerful while its parts fade from his mind –

just such am I, having lost nearly all
the vision itself, while in my heart I feel
the sweetness of it yet distill and fall.

So, in the sun, the footprints fade from snow.
On the wild wind that bore the tumbling leaves
the Sybil’s oracles were scattered so.

O Light Supreme who doth Thyself withdraw
so far above man’s mortal understanding,
lend me again some glimpse of what I saw;

make Thou my tongue so eloquent it may
of all Thy glory speak a single clue
to those who follow me in the world’s day;

for by returning to my memory
somewhat, and somewhat sounding in these verses,
Thou shalt show man more of Thy victory.

So dazzling was the splendor of that Ray,
that I must certainly have lost my senses
had I, but for an instant, turned away.

And so it was, as I recall, I could,
the better bear to look, until at last,
my Vision made one with the Eternal Good.

Oh grace abounding that had made me fit
to fix my eyes on the eternal light
until my vision was consumed in It!

I saw within Its depth how It conceives
all things in a single volume bound by Love,
of which the universe is the scattered leaves;

substance, accident, and their relation
so fused that all I say could do no more
than yield a glimpse of that bright revelation.

I think I saw the universal form
that binds these things, for as I speak these words
I feel my joy swell and my spirits warm.

Twenty-five centuries since Neptune saw
the Argo’s keel have not moved all mankind,
recalling that adventure, to such awe

as I felt in an instant. My tranced being
stared fixed and motionless upon that vision,
even more fervent to see in the act of seeing.

Experiencing that Radiance, the spirit
is so indrawn it is impossible
even to think of ever turning from It.

For the good which is the will’s ultimate object
is all subsumed in It; and, being removed,
all is defective which in It is perfect.

Now in my recollection of the rest
I have less power to speak than any infant
wetting its tongue yet at its mother’s breast;

and not because that Living Radiance bore
more than one semblance, for It is unchanging
and is forever as it was before;

rather, as I grew worthier to see,
the more I looked, the more unchanging semblance
appeared to change with every change in me.

Within the depthless deep and clear existence
of that abyss of light three circles shown –
three in color, one in circumference;

the second from the first, rainbow from rainbow;
the third, an exhalation of pure fire
equally breathed forth by the other two.

But oh how much my words miss my conception,
which is itself so far from what I saw
than to call it feeble would be rank deception!

O Light Eternal fixed in Itself alone,
by Itself alone understood, which from Itself
loves and glows, self-knowing and self-known;

that second aureole which shone forth in Thee,
conceived as a reflection of the first –
or which appeared so to my scrutiny –

seemed in Itself of Its own coloration
to be painted with man’s image. I fixed my eyes
on that alone in rapturous contemplation.

Like a geometer wholly dedicated
to squaring the circle, but who cannot find,
think as he may, the principle indicated –

so did I study the supernal face.
I yearned to know just how our image merges
into that circle, and how it there finds place;

but mine were not the wings for such a flight.
Yet, as I wished, the truth I wished for came
cleaving my mind in a great flash of light.

Here my powers rest from their high fantasy,
but already I could feel my being turned –
instinct and intellect balanced equally

as in a wheel whose motion nothing jars –
by the Love that moves the sun and other stars.


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