DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PURGATORY: Chapter 28
CHAPTER 28: Eden
The pleasure of exploring such a wood
by easy strolling over fragrant turf
did my heart good. The green boughs overhead 3
filtered the sunlight into golden gleams.
The sweet air fanned my brows and shook the leaves
around wee tuneful birds whose vocal art 6
cheered us by blending with an undertone
of branches softly murmuring like pines
beside Ravenna when Sirocco blows. 9
We strayed so far among these ancient glades
that where we entered them was lost to sight.
Then, just ahead, a stream three paces wide 12
ran past from left to right, grass on each side
wet by small waves. I never saw water
darker and yet so clear. Earth’s purest wells 15
are cloudier, though density of shade
prevented sunshine entering, and made
the richly coloured petals of the blooms 18
on the far bank much more astonishing.
A lady plucking them was singing there.
“Lady,” I called, “if kindliness belongs 21
to so majestically fair a face,
come nearer please, to let me hear your songs.
You gather blossoms like Persephone, 24
dear daughter of the Goddess, Mother Earth,
before the King of Hell abducted her,
thus robbing us of Spring for half the year.” 27
She turned and danced toward me and her feet
did not depress the crimson and yellow
petals she trod. Erect, at the streams edge, 30
still holding this high garden’s flowering sprays,
she raised her modest head and smiled at me
with lovely eyes bright as two morning stars. 33
The strait dividing Asia from Greece
bound both the scope of human pride and love,
from Persia’s great king who lost his fleet, 36
to amorous Leander, who it drowned.
They loathed the Hellespont. I hated more
that little stream which would not part for me. 39
“This place, though new to you,” the lady said,
“should not feel strange, for it was made by God
exactly to delight the human race. 42
The first man and woman thought it paradise.
Yet wonder (which I notice on your face)
is natural, for God’s creation is 45
almost too wonderful to understand.
Ask what you wish to know. I will reply.”
“Lower down this hill of stairs,” said I, 48
“someone said running streams and moving airs
could not happen here.” “They can’t elsewhere,”
said she. “This summit is exceptional.” 51
God who delights in generosity
made Adam good, giving him Eve for wife,
this lovely, perfect garden for their home 54
raised far above the stormy seas and lands
of Earth and Hell where Satan is interred.
Here they enjoyed both peaceful ease and mirth, 57
where all good kinds of tree, herb, fruit, flower
flourish abundantly. By sin they lost
this best and first human nest, exchanged it 60
for grief, pain, toil in nations you know well.
From these their children graduate to Hell
or rise to Paradise by climbing here. 63
Clouds are sucked upward by the sun, and so
the triple steps of penitence are raised
so high that nothing misty reaches them, 66
so no one being purified by pain
is hurt by harsher natures than their own.
Air stirring tree tops gently at this height 69
circles the globe, as the First Mover wills
who turns bodies of Celestial light –
moon, sun, planets, starry constellations. 72
Thus, seeds from here are carried by the air
world-wide to all the nations, taking root
in soil that suits them best. No rain falls here 75
so far above the clouds. A fountain fed
by God’s will flows out in two steady streams.
This we call Lethe, the other Eunoë. 78
Who drink this lose all memory of sin;
the next renews all memory of good.
Drunk later, it has sweetest taste of all. 81
Soon these will quench your thirst, but first of all
you may welcome news I’d like to add.
Ancient poets spoke of a Golden Age 84
when all was good and nothing went amiss.
Here is the former home of which they dreamed.
Nectar they sang about was in these streams.” 87
My fellow poets smiled, nodded at this.