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Singing the way a lady sings in love,
she continued, after saying the last word,
“Blessèd are they whose sins are covered,”
and like the nymphs who once wandered alone
through the shadows of the forest, one
longing to see, one avoiding the sun
then she went, against the flow of the river,
walking along the bank, and I went with her,
following her small steps with my own small steps.
We had not taken a hundred steps between us
when the banks turned to the right as one,
so that I was facing the east again.
And we had not gone far in that direction
when the lady turned around toward me
saying, “My brother, look and listen.”
And all at once there was a shining
that raced through the great forest on all sides
making me wonder whether it was lightning,
but whereas lightning is gone as swiftly
as it comes, this stayed, shining brighter and brighter,
and in my mind I was saying, “What can this be?”
And running through the luminous air was
a sweet melody, so that a good zeal
led me to blame Eve for her recklessness,
that there, where the earth and heaven obeyed,
a woman, alone, and who had just been made,
could not bear to be veiled by anything.
If she had only stayed devoutly under
her own, I could have tasted these pleasures
beyond words earlier, and for longer.
While I walked on among so many
first-fruits of eternal happiness,
enraptured, and longing for still greater joys,
before us, the air under the green boughs
came to be like a fire blazing
and we could hear that the sweet sound was singing.
Oh, most holy virgins, if I have endured
fasting, cold, and vigils for you ever,
need drives me now to ask for the reward.
Now is the time for Helicon to brim over
and Urania to help me with her choir
to put into verse things hard to hold in thought.
A little farther, seven golden trees
appeared as an illusion the long space
gave rise to, that was still between us,
but when I had come so near to them that
the common object which deceives the sense
lost none of its features because of distance,
the faculty that nourishes the discourse
of reason saw that they were candlesticks
and heard “Hosanna” in the singing voices.
Above us flamed the beautiful panoply,
far brighter than the moon in the clear sky
at midnight in the middle of the month.
Full of wonder, I turned around toward
the good Virgil, and he answered
with a look as amazed as my own.
Then I turned my face to the high things again
moving so slowly in our direction
that newly wed brides would have overtaken them.
The lady scolded me: “Why are you so
intent on the living lights that you pay no
attention to what there is behind them?”
Then I saw people coming after them
as after their leaders; they were dressed in white
and here there was never whiteness like that.
The water held my image on my left
and like a mirror showed me my own left
in a reflection, when I looked at it.
When I was at a point along the bank
where my distance from them was only
the river’s width, I stood still, the better to see,
and I saw the flames moving ahead, leaving
the air painted behind them, and they
looked the way pennons do, streaming
so that overhead was striped with seven
bands, in all the colors which the sun
makes his bow from, and Delia her girdle.
Those standards went back farther than I
could see, and to my mind there seemed to be
ten paces between the outer ones.
Under a sky as beautiful as I
have said came four and twenty elders, and they
walked two by two, wearing crowns of lilies.
All of them were singing, “Blessèd are you
among the daughters of Adam, and to
all eternity may your beauty be blessed.”
After the flowers and other tender growth
opposite to me on the other shore
were without those elect people once more,
in the way star succeeds star in heaven
four animals came following them, each one
wearing green leaves made into a crown.
Each one of them was winged with six wings,
the feathers full of eyes, and Argo’s eyes,
if they were living, would be like those.
I will not waste more rhymes describing their
forms, reader, for I am pressed by another
demand that does not leave me scope for this,
but read Ezekiel who portrays them as
he saw them, out of the cold places
coming with wind and cloud and fire,
and as in his pages you will find them
so were they here, all except for the wings,
where John is with me and departs from him.
The space in the middle of these four contained
a two-heeled triumphal chariot
with the neck of a griffon drawing it:
he stretched one wing and the other upward
between the middle streamer and the three and three
so that he did not cut or damage any.
They rose so high that they were out of sight.
The bird parts of him were made of gold
and the rest of him, mingled with red, was white.
Not only did Rome with so fine a chariot
never rejoice Africanus nor even Augustus,
but that of the sun would be poor beside it,
that of the sun which, leaving its track, was
burned up at the devout prayer of the earth
when Jove secretly acted with justice.
Beside the right wheel, dancing in a ring,
came three ladies; one of them so red
that in a fire she would not be noted,
another was as though her flesh and bone
were made of emeralds; the third one
seemed to be snow that only then had fallen.
and it seemed they were led now by the white,
now by the red, the others taking
their pace, slowing and quickening, from her song.
On the left there were four, making a festival,
dressed in purple, following the lead
of the one who had three eyes in her head.
Behind the whole knot that I have portrayed
I saw two old men, different in dress
but equally vulnerable and dignified.
One showed that he was among the descendants
of that supreme Hippocrates, whom nature
formed for those creatures who are dearest to her.
The other showed the opposite intent,
with a sword so sharp and shining that
on the other side of the river I was frightened.
Then I saw four of humble appearance
and behind all of them an old man alone
came in his sleep, with a sharp countenance.
And these seven were like the group who led,
in their garments, except that they had
no garlands of lilies around their heads
but instead roses and other red flowers.
One would have sworn, from a little distance,
that from the eyebrows up they were on fire.
And when the chariot was across from me
a sound of thunder was heard and that noble company
seemed forbidden to go any farther,
stopping there with the banners before them.
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