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Dante's Divine Comedy


English Edition, translated by Allen Mandelbaum

from the ELF Presents Website

See their website for other translations.  These translations are not

necessarily the best in English but they are in the public domain.


from Canto XXI


The Seventh Heaven, Saturn, the Contemplative

The Celestial Stairway.

St. Peter Damiano.



28   I saw a ladder rising up so high
29   that it could not be followed by my sight:
30   its color, gold when gold is struck by sunlight.
31   I also saw so many flames descend
32   those steps that I thought every light displayed
33   in heaven had been poured out from that place.
34   And just as jackdaws, at the break of day,
35   together rise such is their nature's way
36   to warm their feathers chilled by night; then some
37   fly off and never do return, and some
38   wheel back to that point where they started from,
39   while others, though they wheel, remain at home;
40   such were the ways I saw those splendors take
41   as soon as they had struck a certain step,
42   where they had thronged as one in radiance.
43   The flame that halted nearest us became
44   so bright that in my mind I said: I see
45   you clearly signaling to me your love.
46   But she from whom I wait for word on how
47   and when to speak and to be silent, pauses;
48   thus, though I would, I do well not to ask.
49   And she who, seeing Him who sees all things,
50   had seen the reason for my silence, said
51   to me: Do satisfy your burning longing.
52   And I began: My merit does not make
53   me worthy of reply, but for the sake
54   of her who gives me leave to question you
55   a blessed living soul who hide within
56   your joy, do let me know the reason why
57   you drew so near to me. And tell me, too,
58   why the sweet symphony of Paradise
59   is silent in this heaven, while, below,
60   it sounds devoutly through the other spheres.
61   Your hearing is as mortal as your sight;
62   thus, here there is no singing, he replied,
63   and Beatrice, in like wise, did not smile.
64   When, down the sacred staircase, I descended,
65   I only came to welcome you with gladness
66   with words and with the light that mantles me.
67   The love that prompted me is not supreme;
68   above, is love that equals or exceeds
69   my own, as spirit-flames will let you see.
70   But the deep charity, which makes us keen
71   to serve the Providence that rules the world,
72   allots our actions here, as you perceive.
73   O holy lamp, I said, I do indeed
74   see how, within this court, it is your free
75   love that fulfills eternal Providence;
76   but this seems difficult for me to grasp:
77   why you alone, of those who form these ranks,
78   were he who was predestined to this task.
79   And I had yet to reach the final word
80   when that light made a pivot of its midpoint
81   and spun around as would a swift millstone.
82   Then, from within its light, that love replied:
83   Light from the Deity descends on me;
84   it penetrates the light that enwombs me;
85   its power, as it joins my power of sight,
86   lifts me so far beyond myself that I
87   see the High Source from which that light derives.
88   From this there comes the joy with which I am
89   aflame; I match the clearness of my light
90   with equal measure of my clear insight.
91   But even Heaven's most enlightened soul,
92   that Seraph with his eye most set on God,
93   could not provide the why, not satisfy
94   what you have asked; for deep in the abyss
95   of the Eternal Ordinance, it is
96   cut off from all created beings' vision.
97   And to the mortal world, when you return,
98   tell this, lest men continue to trespass
99   and set their steps toward such a reachless goal.
100   The mind, bright here, on earth is dulled and smoky.
101   Think: how, below, can mind see that which hides
102   even when mind is raised to Heaven's height?
103   His words so curbed my query that I left
104   behind my questioning; and I drew back
105   and humbly asked that spirit who he was....