DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: PARADISE: Chapter 26
CHAPTER 26: Saint John
While dreading blindness from the splendid flame
that sealed my eyes I heard these words breathed out:
“You will not be sightless long. Your Lady 3
will mend your vision soon, and until then
attend my words. Tell me all your desires.”
Said I, “Sight may return as soon or late 6
as she requires. My eyes were doors open
to her. She entered them, starting the fires
that burn within me still. She is the court, 9
Alpha and Omega, all the love that
the Old and New testaments mean to me.”
He said, “Make that point clearer. Your target, 12
what is that? What is it directs your bow?”
Said I, “The logic of philosophy
plus Authority established here, prove 15
Love stamps it’s form on all that it creates.
That Great Good is the essence of us all.
Nothing exists outside it but stray rays 18
seeking their souls, as Aristotle knows,
Plato demonstrates. Christians also know
Eternity loves the products of time. 21
The Bible Author told Moses this, said
I will make all my goodness pass before
your eyes, Exodus, Chapter 33. 24
You wrote that too starting your Gospel with,
In the beginning was the Word! More than
any other words, these announce the Love 27
that made the universe is meant for all.”
Said John, “Human reason and both Scriptures
all harmonize for you in Beatrice 30
your strongest love does look to God above.
Tell me, what other cords tie you to Him?
Name all the teeth with which love’s biting you.” 33
John the Evangelist, eagle of Christ,
thus made his purpose plain to me. I saw
where he was directing my confession. 36
I began again. “All that bites my heart
turns it Godward. His charity is seen
in the death He bore that everyone 39
might live and enjoy His works forever.
I hope for that as all believers do.
Love of lesser things, Beatrice expels. 42
Only Heaven’s justice remains,” said I.
As soon as I fell silent through the air
of Paradise resounded a sweet song 45
in which my Lady joined with all the rest:
“Holy, holy, holy.” When piercing light
breaks through sleep, driving clouds of night away, 48
wakened, we may recoil from what at first
we see, but need some time to recognise.
Beatrice by her brightness now dispersed 51
my darkness. I saw better than before
and gazed amazed at a fourth brilliance
shining at our side. My Lady explained, 54
“This radiance now shows the love he feels
for being first man made to be like God.”
As saplings bend before a gust of wind 57
then spring up straight again by their own force
so did I while she spoke, first bowing low
in wonder, then erect, burning to say: 60
“You only fruit created wholly ripe!
O ancient father of all folk who are
your grandsons or daughters! Please tell me what 63
you know I want to know. I will not now
delay your reply with another word.”
Sparkles within that splendour made me sure 66
he answered gladly as he said, “I see
your mind can truly mirror anything
that is less than God. You are keen to know 69
how long we lived in earthly paradise –
and Hell before raised here – and the real cause
of His wrath – and language in which I spoke. 72
My son, know that Eve and me were exiled
for not only eating that fruit, but for
our pride in knowing more than people should. 75
In Limbo we longed to be here for four
thousand, three hundred and two years before
your Lady went there five days ago to 78
summon Virgil for your aid. When on earth
I saw the sun go round the zodiac
nine hundred and thirty times. Long before 81
Nimrod’s folk built what they could not complete
the tongue I spoke had vanished totally.
No work of human reason lasts more than 84
a few centuries. Your minds need Heaven
to renew them when a generation
starts again. Nature forces speech on men 87
but lets them please themselves how it will go.
Before I went to Hell the Supreme Good
that gives me now such joy I then called El. 90
Later He was as suitably named Jah.
Mortal doings are much like leaves on trees.
One goes, another comes. On that mountain 93
rising highest from the sea we lived pure
then guilty from my first day’s brightest noon
until the sixth day when the sun declined
leaving we two feeling ashamed at night.” 97