Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Paradiso I: A new translation

This translation of Paradiso I is from an unpublished work in progress by Peter D'Epiro, author of Sprezzatura: 50 Ways Italian Genius Shaped the World, What are the Seven Wonders of the World?and most recently The Book of Firsts: 150 World Changing People and Events from Caesar Augustus to the InternetMany thanks to the author for permission to post it here.

The glory of the One who moves all things
Penetrates through the universe, and shines
In one part more and in another less.
Within the heaven that most receives His light
Was I, and saw such things as who descends
From there has neither wit nor power to tell—
Because, in drawing near to its desire,
Our understanding enters such a depth
That it must leave the memory behind.
Nevertheless, as much of the holy realm                 10
As I could treasure up within my mind
Shall now be made the subject of my song.

O good Apollo, for this final task
Make of me such a vessel of your power
As you require for your beloved laurel.
Up to this point, one summit of Parnassus
Has served me well, but now I need them both,
Entering on the arena that remains.
Come into my breast and, there within me, breathe,
As once, on that occasion when you drew                20
Marsyas from the scabbard of his limbs.
O power divine, but grant me of yourself
So much that I may figure forth the shadow
Of the blest realm imprinted in my mind,
And you shall see me come to your chosen tree
And crown myself beneath it with those leaves
Of which my theme and you will make me worthy.
So seldom, father, are they gathered now
For triumphing of Caesar or of poet—
The fault and bitter shame of human wills—            30
That certainly the Peneian bough begets
New joy within the joyous Delphic god
Whenever it makes any long for it.
A tiny spark gives rise to mighty flames.
Perhaps by my example sweeter voices
Will offer prayer, and Cyrrha may respond.

Through different points the lantern of the world
Rises on mortals, but through that which joins
Four circles with three crosses, it sets forth
Upon a better course and in conjunction                     40
With better stars, tempering the wax of the world
And stamping it more after its own fashion.
Its entrance by a portal near that point
Had made it morning there and evening here—
That hemisphere all bright, the other dark—
When I saw Beatrice turned to her left
And looking at the sun—no eagle ever
Fixed so intent a gaze upon its orb.
And as a second ray will issue from
The first and, by reflection, reascend,                         50
Just like a pilgrim yearning for his home,
So by her action, which my eyes infused
Into my mind, was my own action guided:
Against our wont I gazed upon the sun.
So much is granted to our powers there
That here is not, by virtue of the place,
Made as the proper home of humankind.
I could not bear it long, yet not so briefly
As not to see it sparkling all around,
Like iron that comes molten from the fire--                60
And suddenly it seemed that day to day
Was added, as if He who has the power
Had decked the heavens with a second sun.

Wholly intent upon the eternal wheels
Were Beatrice’s eyes: on her I fixed
My own, when I had lowered them from there.
Gazing on her, I was transformed within,
Like Glaucus when he tasted of the herb
That made him a companion of the sea gods.
Transcendence of humanity cannot                       70
Be told in words; thus let the example stand
For those to whom His grace reserves the experience.

If I was only then that part of me
Which You created last—O Love that rule
The heavens—You know, who raised me with your light.

And when the wheeling that You, being desired,
Render eternal had drawn me to itself
By the harmony You temper and distribute,
So vast a portion of the sky appeared
Enkindled by the flaming sun that never                         80
Did rain or river make so broad a lake.
The newness of the sound and the great light
Aroused in me such keenness of desire
To know their cause as I had never felt.
And she, who saw me as I saw myself,
To set my agitated mind at ease,
Opened her lips before I framed my question,
Saying to me: “You make yourself obtuse
With false surmise, so that you cannot see
What you would see if you had cast it off.                       90
You are not now on earth, as you believe;
For lightning, fleeing from its proper site,
Moves not so fast as you return to yours.”

If I was freed from one perplexity
By the brief words she uttered with a smile,
I yet was more entangled in a new one,
And so I said: “I was content to rest
From one great wonder—now I wonder how
I rise above these lighter substances.”

And she, when she had heaved a sigh of pity      100
And bent her eyes upon me with the look
A mother casts on her delirious child,
Began to say: “All things that are, have order
Among themselves: this order is the form
That makes the universe resemble God.

The higher creatures here behold the trace
Of the Eternal Excellence, which is
The end for which that system was created.
Within this order that I now explain,
All natures are inclined by different lots--                    110
Some to their principle nearer, some less near.
And so it is they move to different ports
On the great sea of being, and each one
Receives the instinct that will bear it on.
This instinct bears the fire toward the moon;
This is the motive force in mortal hearts;
This holds the earth together and makes it one.
And not only do the arrows of this bow
Shoot creatures void of all intelligence,
But those endowed with intellect and love.                   120
The Providence ordaining all these things
Makes ever quiet with Its light the heaven
In which the sphere with the greatest speed revolves.
And to that place, as to a site decreed,
The virtue of that bow-string bears us on,
Which, shooting, always aims at joyful targets.

But truly, as a shape will often not
Accord with the intention of the art
When material is deaf in its response,
The creature too will sometimes leave this course,       130
Because it has the power, thus impelled,
To swerve aside and aim its journey elsewhere.
And just as sometimes fire from a cloud
Falls downward, even so the primal impulse,
Diverted by false pleasure, turns toward earth.
If I can judge correctly in these matters,
You should not wonder at your rising more
Than at a stream that falls from a mountain top.
The wondrous thing would be if, free from hindrance,
You would have settled down below, just as                 140
A fire that is still would be a marvel.”

And then she turned her gaze toward heaven again.

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