Wednesday, March 18, 2015

DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PARADISE: Chapter 4


CHAPTER 4: More Moonlight


Between two equally enticing meals
            an idiot might starve before he chose.
            A lamb between two wolves would also doubt           3

which way to turn, or hound between two does.
            I hungered after what my guide might say
            if asked why Heaven’s justice seemed unkind,           6

but can a man God made doubt God is good?
            I feared to ask that question choking me,
            but Beatrice, who understood my mind                      9

replied at once, “What ties your tongue is this:
            how can good vows and wills deserve the less
            if broken by another’s wickedness?                            12

Your other doubt is astrological.
            Plato wrote after death all souls return
            to planets ruling them. Did moons decree                   15

these nuns’ inconstancy? Both these doubts need
            an answer. I will take the second first,
            It is most poisonous, so listen hard.                             18

No seraphim that is most one with God –
            not Abraham, Moses or Samuel –
            neither John Baptist or Evangelist –                            21

not even Mary in the highest Heaven
            is separated from the two you’ve met
            although they chose to greet you in this sphere.          24

All share alike in the eternal bliss
            according to their soul’s capacity.
            To indicate the nature of life here                                27

I am compelled to talk to you as if
            Heavenly Paradise has social ranks
like those on earth. This is not so, but I                       30

can only make the highest things more clear
            by speaking of them in the words you know,
although they may mislead. God’s Scriptures say       33
  
He sees, acts, speaks with eyes, hands, mouth because
            only thus men and women can conceive
One seeing with all light, whose deeds are days,        36

whose voices teach in all that can be heard:
            thunder and waves, birdsong and whispered speech.
Plato says after death all souls return                           39

to stars they left at birth, meaning perhaps
            natural forces shape our characters
to some extent. If so this partial truth                           42

has misled worshippers of sun and moon,
Venus and Mars, who treat these stars as gods.
Your other doubt can do no mischief here                  45

or lose the smallest droplet of my love.
            That in your eyes justice seems cruelty
            is not a sign of heresy, but faith.                                  48

By all who know that Jesus Christ is God
            doubts can be logically overcome.
Doubt should make faith more sure. The facts are these.  51
           
No force can make a flame burn upside down
            or alter any wholly pure good will,
            though force may twist them sideways or depress.      54

To show that torture could not change his mind
            Saint Lawrence chose to roast upon a grill
            and Mucius compelled his hand to burn.                     57

Rare are heroic virtues of that kind.
            When stronger forces make good nuns break vows
            and leave their cloisters, they are not to blame,           60
           
yet must feel shame if the strong force withdraws
            and she does not return because the rape           
            has cracked her spirit, left her in the wrong.               63

If that is understood your doubts are solved.
            Here is a greater doubt you can’t resolve
            without my aid. I told you Piccarba                            66

is at the source of truth, so cannot lie.
            She said that Constance, forced to be a queen
            and breed an emperor, stayed nun at heart.                 69
  
This means she did not linger in the wrong
            by choosing to conform with what was forced.
            Why was this so? Some sin against their will,            72

thinking to save themselves from something worse.
            Alcmaon slew his mother to escape
            his father’s curse. Perverse good will enforced          75

is a Hell brew, but brother, know Constance
            suffered by violence, but she forced none.
            Only goodness came from her suffering,                   78

so absolute Good Will took no offence
            but the reverse, as Piccarba told you,
            and also in these other words do I.”                           81

Such were the ripples of that holy stream
            whose source was the clear fountain of all truth.
            They quenched and satisfied my thirsty soul.            84

I told her, “You who the First Lover loves,
            whose speech raises my thinking nearer His
            I now see intellects can never rest                             87

until at last the One Truth shines on them
            and further truth beyond cannot exist.
            Doubt is a sturdy tree rooted in truth.                        90

Nature demands we fly from branch to branch,
            from height to height up to the topmost twig.
            Only when that is reached can active mind               93

rest like contented bird inside its nest.
            Were that not so then all desire is vain.
            Lady, these facts lead to a new request.                    96

Could all who fail to act as they have vowed
            provide what God requires? Redeem themselves
            through other acts of generosity?”                            99

The eyes of Beatrice now sparkled bright
            with the new interest that lifted me
            so far above normality that I                                              

could hardly bear the sight of so much love.                        103


           
             

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