Singing as an enamoured lady would,
when once her words were ended, she went on:
"Blessèd are they whose sins are covered up!"
And like the nymphs who used to go alone
through woodland shades, desiring, one to see,
the other to avoid, the sun; she then
moved counter to the stream's course, going up
along its bank, and I at even pace,
matching her little steps with steps as small.
Her paces were with mine not yet a hundred,
when both the margins equally were bent
in such a way, that toward the East I faced.
Nor had we yet as far again moved on,
when round toward me the Lady wholly turned,
and said: "My brother, look and listen now!"
And lo, so bright a luster suddenly
traversed the mighty wood in all directions,
that I of lightning was compelled to think;
but since this ceases as it comes, while that,
the longer it endured, the brighter grew,
within me I kept saying: "What is this?"
And through the illumined air was running now
a gentle melody; hence righteous zeal
made me reproach the hardihood of Eve,
who, while both earth and heaven obedient were,
the only woman, and but just created,
could not endure to stay beneath a veil;
'neath which if she had but devoutly kept,
I should have tasted those unspeakable
delights before, and for a longer time.
While I mid such first fruits of bliss eternal
was going all enrapt, and eager still
for further joys,
in front of us the air
'neath the green boughs became a blazing fire,
and that sweet sound was now known as a song.
O Virgins sacrosanct, if I have ever
been hungry, cold or sleepless for your sake,
good reasons spur my claiming a reward.
For me now Helicon must pour her streams,
and with her choir Urania give me help
to set in verse things difficult to think.
A little further on, the lengthy space
still intervening 'tween ourselves and them,
showed falsely what appeared seven trees of gold;
but when I'd drawn so near to them, that now
the common object which deceiveth sense,
because of distance lost no attribute;
the virtue which prepares discourse for reason
perceived that they were candlesticks, and heard
'Hosanna!' in the voices of the song.
Above, the fair array flamed far more brightly
than in unclouded skies the midnight moon,
when at the middle of her monthly course.
Filled with astonishment, I turned around
to my good Virgil, and he answered me
with looks no less with wonder fraught. I then
gazed back again at those exalted things,
which toward us moved so slowly, that outrun
they would have been by newly wedded brides.
The Lady chided me: "Why dost thou gaze
so ardently at those bright lights alone,
and dost not look at that which follows them?
I then saw people who were coming on,
as if behind their leaders, clothed in white;
and never was such whiteness here on earth.
The water was resplendent on my left,
and, like a mirror, if I looked in it,
reflected back my body's left to me.
When I was on my bank so placed, that now
only the river kept me at a distance,
I checked my steps that I might better see,
and I beheld the little flames advance,
leaving the air behind them bright with color,
and look like strokes a painter's brush had drawn;
so that, above, the air remained marked out
by seven long bands, all in the hues wherewith
the sun his bow, and Delia makes her belt.
These standards further to the rear extended
than I could see; as far as I could judge,
the outermost ten paces were apart.
There now were coming 'neath as fair a sky
as I describe here, four and twenty Elders,
two at a time, and crowned with fleur-de-lys.
And all of them were saying: "Blest be thou
'mong Adam's daughters, aye, and blessèd be
throughout eternity thy beauty's charms!"
After the flowers and other tender blooms
in front of me upon the other bank,
had been set free from that elected folk,
as in the sky star follows after star,
so after these, four living Creatures came,
each with a wreath of verdant foliage crowned.
And each of them was feathered with six wings,
their feathers full of eyes; and these were such,
as, were they living, Argus' eyes would be.
I 'll waste no more rhymes, Reader, to describe
their forms; for other spending so constrains me,
that I in this one cannot be profuse.
But read thou in Ezechiel, who depicts them,
as from the sky's cold parts he saw them move,
accompanied by wind, and clouds and fire;
and such as in his pages thou wilt find them,
such were they here, except that, as to wings,
John is with me, and disagrees with him.
The space extending 'tween the four contained
a triumph-Chariot moving on two wheels,
which came along drawn by a Griffon's neck.
Both of His wings the latter stretched on high
'tween the mid banner and the three and three,
so that, by cleaving it, He injured none;
so high they rose that they were lost to sight.
His members were of gold as far as bird
He was, and white the others mixed with red.
Not only Rome ne'er with so fair a Car
made Africanus or Augustus glad,
but ev'n the Sun's were poor, compared with this -
the Sun's, which, when it lost its way, was burned
in answer to the suppliant Earth's request,
when Jupiter inscrutably was just.
At its right wheel three Ladies in a ring
came dancing on; the first so red, that hardly
would she be noticed, if in fire she were;
and such the second was, as if her flesh
and very bones were made of emerald;
the third one looked like newly fallen snow;
and now led by the white one they appeared,
now by the red; and from the latter's song
the others took their time, both slow and fast.
Upon the left hand four, in purple clothed,
were making glad, according to the gait
of one of them with three eyes in her head.
Behind the whole group I have here described,
two old men I beheld, unlike in clothes,
but like in mien, both dignified and grave;
one showed himself a pupil of that great
Hippocrates, whom for the animals
she loves most dearly, Nature made; the other
revealed the opposite intention with a sword
so glittering and sharp, that though I stood
on this side of the stream, it caused me fear.
Then four I saw who were of humble mien;
and, back of all, an agèd, keen-faced man
advancing by himself and lost in sleep.
These seven were robed in garments which resembled
those of the primal company, though on their heads
they wore not lily garlands, but were crowned
with roses and with other crimson flowers;
a distant sight of them had made one swear
that all on fire they were above their brows.
And when the Chariot was abreast of me,
thunder was heard; whereat those worthy people
appeared to have advance forbidden them,
and stopped there with the standards in their van.