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Translated from the Italian by Mary Jo Bang

The glory of the Animator of Everything
Pervades the universe and shines more
In one area and less somewhere else.

I was in the heaven that gets more of its rays
And saw things that those who come down
From on high can’t grasp or else can’t say,

Because nearing what one wants,
Our intellect is so overcome
That our memory is left behind.

Even so, as much of the Holy Kingdom
As my mind could hold on to
Will now be the subject of my song.

O fair Apollo, for this last task,
Make me as worthy a vessel as you expect
In order to grant the beloved laurel.

Until this point, one of the two Parnassian peaks
Was enough for me, but now I need both
To enter this final playing field.

Enter my chest and inspire as you did
When you dragged Marsyas sheathe-
And shelterless from the skin of his limbs.

O divine power, if you give me enough
Of yourself to reveal even a flicker
Of the blissful realm inscribed on my mind,

You’ll see me reach the foot of your beloved tree
And crown myself with its leaves, which
My theme and you will make certain I deserve.

So seldom, god-father, are they selected
For the triumph of a Caesar or a poet—
Blame those shameful human cravings—

That whenever a heart is thirsty for the leafy
Offspring of Peneus’s daughter, it should deliver
A bundle of joy to a delighted Delphic deity.

A little spark, later a great flame: so maybe
Better voices after me will manage
To get Cyrrha to answer their prayers.

The world’s sun-lamp rises toward mortals
By various routes, but the one that fuses
Four circles with three crosses

Takes the best skyway and is linked
To the best star and sets and seals
The worldly wax more in its own image.

That way had made morning there
And evening here, and almost all
Of that hemisphere white and this one black,

When I saw Beatrice turn
And look up and to the left at the sun:
An eagle never held on for so long.

The same way a second ray usually blasts off
From the first and bounces up
Like a rocket man who longs to come back,

Seeing what she did inspired me to imagine
Doing it, and so I did—I fixed my eyes
On the sun for longer than we usually do.

Much is permitted there that our powers here
Don’t permit, since this place was designed
Only with the human race in mind.

I couldn’t bear it for very long, but not so little
That I didn’t see it outlined in starlike sparks,
The way iron comes sizzling from a fire.

It suddenly seemed like daylight plus
Daylight, as if that One had managed
To decorate the heavens with a second sun.

Beatrice stood there, her eyes fixed only
On the eternal wheels, and I turned my eyes
From what was higher up to her light.

Her look was such that it made me become inside
What Glaucus became from tasting the herb,
A true partner in an ocean of other gods.

It’s not possible to put into words what trans-
Human means, but the example suffices
For those allowed by grace to experience it.

If I were only the me you’d most recently created,
Love that governs the heavens, you would know:
It was you who lifted me with your light.

When the wheel which desire for you
Makes eternal got my attention
With that harmony you discern and direct,

It seemed so much of the sky was lit
By the flame of the sun that neither rain
Nor a river ever made a lake so wide.

The novelty of the sound and the great light
Lit a wish inside me, never before felt
So intensely, to know what caused them.

She, who saw through me as well as I saw myself,
In order to hush my excited mind
Even before I could ask, opened her mouth

And began, “You get all mixed up
By sticking with a figment of your imagination, so
You don’t see what you would see if you shook it off.

You’re not, as you believe, on earth.
In truth—lightning bolting out of the blue
Never raced as fast as you back to your beginning.”

If I was freed of the first doubt
By way of her smiling little chat,
I was already deeply enmeshed in the next one.

I said, “I was happy staying wonderstruck,
But now I’m wondering how I’m able to go
Beyond these weightless elements?”

At which she, after a charitable sigh,
Looked straight at me with that look of pity
A mother gives a kid who’s acting bonkers

And began, “All things have order
Among themselves, and this orderliness
Is what makes the universe resemble God.

Here the higher creatures observe the imprint
Of Divine Worth, which is the end goal
Of having whatever’s created obey that rule.

In the order I’m describing, all natures are inclined
Toward the primal source—some bend closer,
Some less so, depending on their type.

So they move over the Great Sea of Being
To various ports, and each brings with it
The inclination it’s been given.

This one drives fire toward the moon.
This one motivates the hearts of mortals.
This one presses tight on earth and unifies it.

It’s not only creatures without intelligence
That this bow strikes, but also those
That have intelligence and love.

Divine Providence, which settles
All of this, makes that heaven remain still,
While the fastest one spins just inside it.

And now we’re being taken there,
To that preordained place, by the power
Of a guide-rope fired at a joyful target.

It is true, forms often don’t correspond
To the intent of the art, this
Because tone-deaf material fails to respond.

Similarly, a creature, once launched,
Will sometimes depart from the course
And bend toward another realm,

The same way one sometimes sees a flash
Of fire break from a cloud, as if a natural
Instinct got twisted by a bogus pleasure.

You going up, by my lights, is no more amazing
Than that a mountaintop stream
Will flow downhill to the lowest point.

It would be shocking if you, freed
From every impediment, had stayed below,
As if on earth an active fire stood still.”

At that, she turned her face back to the heavens.



Dante Alighieri was born in Florence in 1265 and lived and wrote there until his political exile in 1302; he died in Ravenna in 1321. Writing in the vernacular Tuscan dialect at a time when most poets wrote in literary Latin, he helped to make the Tuscan dialect the basis of what would eventually become the official language of Italy.

Mary Jo Bang is the author of eight books of poems—including Elegy (Graywolf), which received the National Book Critics Circle Award—and translations of Dante’s Inferno, illustrated by Henrik Drescher, and Purgatorio (Graywolf).

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