Saturday, April 15, 2017

"Those bites of love": Enter Adam

E come a lume acuto si disonna 
per lo spirto visivo che ricorre 
a lo splendor che va di gonna in gonna,  
e lo svegliato ciò che vede aborre, 
sì nescïa è la sùbita vigilia 
fin che la stimativa non soccorre; 
così de li occhi miei ogne quisquilia
fugò Beatrice col raggio d'i suoi,
che rifulgea da più di mille milia:

onde mei che dinanzi vidi poi;
e quasi stupefatto domandai
d'un quarto lume ch'io vidi tra noi. 
And as at some keen light one wakes from sleep
By reason of the visual spirit that runs
Unto the splendour passed from coat to coat,

And he who wakes abhorreth what he sees,
So all unconscious is his sudden waking,
Until the judgment cometh to his aid,

So from before mine eyes did Beatrice
Chase every mote with radiance of her own,
That cast its light a thousand miles and more.

Whence better after than before I saw,
And in a kind of wonderment I asked
About a fourth light that I saw with us.   (Par. 26:73-81)
At the center of Paradiso 26, the canto of love / caritate, Dante's vision returns - he sees "better after than before."

What preceded this moment with its showy simile has been the catachetical Q and A with John, the eagle of Christ, about love. Dante has just spoken of "those bites" - quei morsi - that turned his love towards God. They are some of the most beautiful lines in the Commedia, and speak of the fallen world, its devouring of our being, as a giant Edenic garden whose fronde - leaves - Dante avers he loves:
"quanto da lui a lor di bene è porto.” (66)

"As much as he has granted them of good."
"quanto . . . è porto": Proportion and number proliferate in this canto of love. Somehow caritate and our ability to see even our fallen world as Edenic seem to be bound up with quantity.

"He" of course is the ortolano etterno. The world we have -- our being and time -- has teeth that strangely turn us toward the garden's maker.

Dante's vision (vista) was consunta in trying to see the material body of John. Are we on earth devoured in our mad flight to grasp something we cannot possibly imagine, let alone experience?

Enter Adam

The loss of Eden surely is factored into those morsi. If we stand back a bit, we note that the entire sphere of the stars is bracketed by two moments. In both, Dante looks back upon Earth, upon the entire course of his journey. We've spoken of the first, in canto 22. In another post, we'll compare it with the latter retrospective gaze in 27.

The point now is, between these two moments of closure, of taking "it all" in (each time the "all" is, paradoxically, more) - Dante has this return to vision. He likens it to an awakening from unconsciousness that begins with the terror of total absence of judgment, of stimativa - a word that surely conveys the power of measure, estimation, as well as judgment.

More precisely, can we call it "vision" when we see nothing that our minds can make sense of? Dante is dramatizing a moment that isn't so much vision as a sort of blind seeing - he experiences a sensory datum devoid of any intellectual or cognitive dimension, and it provokes fear.

As Beatrice, with a radiance that shines more than mille milia, clarifies his sight, Dante realizes that the three figures of theological virtue have been joined by a fourth light. Beatrice's words introduce the first man:
E la mia donna: “Dentro da quei rai
vagheggia il suo fattor l'anima prima
che la prima virtù creasse mai.”  (26:82-84)
The primacy of Adam is underscored. Another eye-catching simile likens the pilgrim to a fronda - again a leaf or branch, in any case an offspring of a tree - being bent by wind, that now springs back by its own virtù:
Come la fronda che flette la cima
nel transito del vento, e poi si leva
per la propria virtù che la soblima,
The pilgrim reels, amazed - stupendo - but he gathers himself, burning with questions for Adam, questions he knows he need not ask.

The next simile is itself stupendous. It will be the incipit for the next post.

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