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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.



Canto XXII


The Eighth Heaven, the Heaven of the Fixed Stars

St. Benedict. His Lamentation over the Corruption of Monks.


1   Amazement overwhelming me, I like
2   a child who always hurries back to find
3   that place he trusts the most turned to my guide;
4   and like a mother quick to reassure
5   her pale and panting son with the same voice
6   that she has often used to comfort him,
7   she said: Do you not know you are in Heaven,
8   not know how holy all of Heaven is,
9   how righteous zeal moves every action here?
10   Now, since this cry has agitated you
11   so much, you can conceive how had you seen
12   me smile and heard my song here you would have been
13   confounded; and if you had understood
14   the prayer within that cry, by now you would
15   know the revenge you'll see before your death.
16   The sword that strikes from Heaven's height is neither
17   hasty nor slow, except as it appears
18   to him who waits for it who longs or fears.
19   But turn now toward the other spirits here;
20   for if you set your sight as I suggest,
21   you will see many who are notable.
22   As pleased my guide, I turned my eyes and saw
23   a hundred little suns; as these together
24   cast light, each made the other lovelier.
25   I stood as one who curbs within himself
26   the goad of longing and, in fear of being
27   too forward, does not dare to ask a question.
28   At this, the largest and most radiant
29   among those pearls moved forward that he might
30   appease my need to hear who he might be.
31   Then, in that light, I heard: Were you to see,
32   even as I do see, the charity
33   that burns in us, your thoughts would have been uttered.
34   But lest, by waiting, you be slow to reach
35   the high goal of your seeking, I shall answer
36   what you were thinking when you curbed your speech.
37   That mountain on whose flank Cassino lies
38   was once frequented on its summit by
39   those who were still deluded, still awry;
40   and I am he who was the first to carry
41   up to that peak the name of Him who brought
42   to earth the truth that lifts us to the heights.
43   And such abundant grace had brought me light
44   that, from corrupted worship that seduced
45   the world, I won away the nearby sites.
46   These other flames were all contemplatives,
47   men who were kindled by that heat which brings
48   to birth the blessed flowers and blessed fruits.
49   Here is Macarius, here is Romualdus,
50   here are my brothers, those who stayed their steps
51   in cloistered walls, who kept their hearts steadfast.
52   I answered: The affection that you show
53   in speech to me, and kindness that I see
54   and note within the flaming of your lights,
55   have given me so much more confidence,
56   just like the sun that makes the rose expand
57   and reach the fullest flowering it can.
58   Therefore I pray you, father and may you
59   assure me that I can receive such grace
60   to let me see, unveiled, your human face.
61   And he: Brother, your high desire will be
62   fulfilled within the final sphere, as all
63   the other souls' and my own longing will.
64   There, each desire is perfect, ripe, intact;
65   and only there, within that final sphere,
66   is every part where it has always been.
67   That sphere is not in space and has no poles;
68   our ladder reaches up to it, and that
69   is why it now is hidden from your sight.
70   Up to that sphere, Jacob the patriarch
71   could see that ladder's topmost portion reach,
72   when it appeared to him so thronged with angels.
73   But no one now would lift his feet from earth
74   to climb that ladder, and my Rule is left
75   to waste the paper it was written on.
76   What once were abbey walls are robbers' dens;
77   what once were cowls are sacks of rotten meal.
78   But even heavy usury does not
79   offend the will of God as grievously
80   as the appropriation of that fruit
81   which makes the hearts of monks go mad with greed;
82   for all within the keeping of the Church
83   belongs to those who ask it in God's name,
84   and not to relatives or concubines.
85   The flesh of mortals yields so easily
86   on earth a good beginning does not run
87   from when the oak is born until the acorn.
88   Peter began with neither gold nor silver,
89   and I with prayer and fasting, and when Francis
90   began his fellowship, he did it humbly;
91   if you observe the starting point of each,
92   and look again to see where it has strayed,
93   then you will see how white has gone to gray.
94   And yet, the Jordan in retreat, the sea
95   in flight when God had willed it so, were sights
96   more wonderful than His help here will be.
97   So did he speak to me and he drew back
98   to join his company, which closed, compact;
99   then, like a whirlwind, upward, all were swept.
100   The gentle lady simply with a sign
101   impelled me after them and up that ladder,
102   so did her power overcome my nature;
103   and never here below, where our ascent
104   and descent follow nature's law, was there
105   motion as swift as mine when I took wing.
106   So, reader, may I once again return
107   to those triumphant ranks an end for which
108   I often beat my breast, weep for my sins
109   more quickly than your finger can withdraw
110   from flame and be thrust into it, I saw,
111   and was within, the sign that follows Taurus.
112   O stars of glory, constellation steeped
113   in mighty force, all of my genius
114   whatever be its worth has you as source:
115   with you was born and under you was hidden
116   he who is father of all mortal lives,
117   when I first felt the air of Tuscany;
118   and then, when grace was granted me to enter
119   the high wheel that impels your revolutions,
120   your region was my fated point of entry.
121   To you my soul now sighs devotedly,
122   that it may gain the force for this attempt,
123   hard trial that now demands its every strength.
124   You are so near the final blessedness,
125   so Beatrice began, that you have need
126   of vision clear and keen; and thus, before
127   you enter farther, do look downward, see
128   what I have set beneath your feet already:
129   much of the world is there. If you see that,
130   your heart may then present itself with all
131   the joy it can to the triumphant throng
132   that comes in gladness through this ether's rounds.
133   My eyes returned through all the seven spheres
134   and saw this globe in such a way that I
135   smiled at its scrawny image: I approve
136   that judgment as the best, which holds this earth
137   to be the least; and he whose thoughts are set
138   elsewhere, can truly be called virtuous.
139   I saw Latona's daughter radiant,
140   without the shadow that had made me once
141   believe that she contained both rare and dense.
142   And there, Hyperion, I could sustain
143   the vision of your son, and saw Dione
144   and Maia as they circled nearby him.
145   The temperate Jupiter appeared to me
146   between his father and his son; and I
147   saw clearly how they vary their positions.
148   And all the seven heavens showed to me
149   their magnitudes, their speeds, the distances
150   of each from each. The little threshing floor
151   that so incites our savagery was all
152   from hills to river mouths revealed to me
153   while I wheeled with eternal Gemini.
154   My eyes then turned again to the fair eyes.