Keen now to look within and round about
the wood divine, whose foliage dense and green
was tempering for mine eyes the new day's light,
waiting no longer there, I left the edge,
and entered very slowly on the plain,
across a soil which everywhere breathed fragrance.
A pleasant breeze, unvaried in itself,
smote me upon the forehead with a stroke
no greater than a gently blowing wind;
whereby the branches trembling readily
were all of them in that direction swaying,
where first the holy Mount its shadow casts;
yet ne'er deflecting from their upright state
so much, that on their tops the little birds
should give up practicing their every art;
but singing with full gladness, they received
the earliest breezes 'mong the leaves, which sang
in undertone a burden to their songs,
like that which gathers strength from bough to bough,
throughout the grove of pines on Chiassi's shore,
when Aeolus has set Scirocco free.
My slow steps now had carried me so far
inside the ancient wood, that I no longer
could see whence I had entered it; then, lo,
a stream deprived me of advancing further,
which with its little waves was toward the left
bending the grass which sprang upon its bank.
All waters which are purest here on earth
would seem to have within themselves some mixture,
if they should be compared to that one there,
which hideth naught, though very darkly flowing
'neath the perpetual shade, which ne'er allows
the rays of sun or moon to shine on it.
I checked my feet, and with mine eyes passed on
beyond the little stream, to gaze upon
the great variety of flowering trees;
and there, as when aught suddenly appears
that turns through wonder every thought aside,
a Lady all alone appeared to me,
who singing went her way, and picking flowers,
wherewith her path on every side was painted.
"Prithee, fair Lady, thou that in love's beams
art warming thee, if outward looks I trust,
which use to be a witness to the heart,
let it thy pleasure be" said I to her,
"to draw thee forward toward this stream so far,
that I may understand what thou art singing.
Thou makest me recall both where and what
Prosèrpina was at the time, when her
her mother lost, and she the flowers of spring."
As turns around a lady who, while dancing,
her feet together keeps and on the ground,
and hardly sets one foot before the other;
so on the little red and yellow flowers
turned she toward me, no otherwise than would
a virgin lowering her modest eyes;
and satisfied my prayers, for near to me
she drew in such a way, that her sweet tones
reached me with all of their significance.
As soon as she was where the grass is bathed
by that fair river's wavelets, she conferred
on me the gift of raising up her eyes.
Nor do I think so bright a light shone forth
from under Venus' eyelids, when transfixed,
wholly against his custom, by her son.
As smiling on the other bank she stood,
her hands kept picking other bright-hued flowers,
which without seed the highland there brings forth.
The river kept us still three steps apart;
but ev'n the Hellespont, where Xerxes crossed it,
a bridle still to every human pride,
endured no greater hatred from Leander,
because it surged 'tween Sestos and Abydos,
than this from me because it then oped not.
"New-comers are ye," she began, "and hence
because I smile in this place, which was chosen
for human nature as its nest, some doubt,
perhaps, still keeps you wondering here; and yet
the psalm called 'Delectasti' gives you light,
which from your minds can drive away your mist.
And thou that art in front and didst entreat me,
say whether thou wouldst hear aught else; for I
came ready for thine every question's need."
"The water and the music of the wood"
said I, "impugn in me a recent faith
in what I heard, which contradicted this."
Whence she: "I 'll tell thee how from its own cause
proceedeth that which makes thee wonder now,
and clear the mist obstructing thee. The Good
Supreme, which only by Itself is pleased,
made man both good and apt to good, and gave him
this place as earnest of eternal peace.
Through his own fault he but a little while
stayed here; through his own fault, for tears and toil
exchanged he honest laughter and sweet play.
In order that the trouble which, below,
the earth's and water's exhalations cause
by their own trend, which is to follow heat
as best they may, should wage no war on man,
this Mountain rose up toward the sky thus far;
and free from them it is from where it 's locked.
And now, since all the atmosphere revolves
and circles with the sphere of primal motion,
unless its whirling round be somewhere broken,
such motion strikes against this eminence,
which in the living air is wholly free,
and makes the forest, which is dense, resound;
and so much power hath the stricken plant,
that with its virtue it imbues the air,
which by revolving scatters it about;
the other land, as able of itself,
or through its climate, next conceives and bears
the divers qualities of divers trees.
If this were heard, it would not seem to be
a wonder yonder, when a plant takes root,
without there being evidence of seed.
And thou must know that all this holy plain
where thou art now, is full of every seed,
and fraught with fruit which yonder is not picked.
The water thou beholdest wells not up
from fountains fed by mists condensed by cold,
as doth a stream which gains and loses breath;
but issues from a sure and constant fount,
which by the will of God regains as much
as, open on both sides, it poureth forth.
On this side with a virtue it descends,
which takes from men all memory of sin;
on the other it restoreth that of all
good deeds. On this side it is Lethe called,
on the other Eunoë, and worketh not,
till tasted both on this side and on that.
This greater is than are all other savors;
and though thy thirst might be completely sated,
should I reveal no more to thee, I 'll give thee
a corollary as a further grace;
nor do I think my words will be less dear
to thee, should they extend beyond my promise.
Those who in ancient times sang of the Age
of Gold, and of its happy state, perchance
dreamed on Parnassus of this very place.
Here was the root of mankind innocent;
spring's flowers and every fruit are always here;
the nectar this, whereof all poets speak."
Thereat I turned around and, having faced
my Poets, I perceived that they had heard
this last interpretation with a smile;
then toward the Lady beautiful I turned my face.