Canto XXVIII

 

Eager already to search in and round

  The heavenly forest, dense and living-green,

  Which tempered to the eyes the new-born day,

 

Withouten more delay I left the bank,

5  Taking the level country slowly, slowly

  Over the soil that everywhere breathes fragrance.

 

A softly-breathing air, that no mutation

  Had in itself, upon the forehead smote me

  No heavier blow than of a gentle wind,

 

10Whereat the branches, lightly tremulous,

  Did all of them bow downward toward that side

  Where its first shadow casts the Holy Mountain;

 

Yet not from their upright direction swayed,

  So that the little birds upon their tops

15  Should leave the practice of each art of theirs;

 

But with full ravishment the hours of prime,

  Singing, received they in the midst of leaves,

  That ever bore a burden to their rhymes,

 

Such as from branch to branch goes gathering on

20  Through the pine forest on the shore of Chiassi,

  When Eolus unlooses the Sirocco.

 

Already my slow steps had carried me

  Into the ancient wood so far, that I

  Could not perceive where I had entered it.

 

25And lo! my further course a stream cut off,

  Which tow'rd the left hand with its little waves

  Bent down the grass that on its margin sprang.

 

All waters that on earth most limpid are

  Would seem to have within themselves some mixture

30  Compared with that which nothing doth conceal,

 

Although it moves on with a brown, brown current

  Under the shade perpetual, that never

  Ray of the sun lets in, nor of the moon.

 

With feet I stayed, and with mine eyes I passed

35  Beyond the rivulet, to look upon

  The great variety of the fresh may.

 

And there appeared to me (even as appears

  Suddenly something that doth turn aside

  Through very wonder every other thought)

 

40A lady all alone, who went along

  Singing and culling floweret after floweret,

  With which her pathway was all painted over.

 

"Ah, beauteous lady, who in rays of love

  Dost warm thyself, if I may trust to looks,

45  Which the heart's witnesses are wont to be,

 

May the desire come unto thee to draw

  Near to this river's bank," I said to her,

  "So much that I might hear what thou art singing.

 

Thou makest me remember where and what

50  Proserpina that moment was when lost

  Her mother her, and she herself the Spring."

 

As turns herself, with feet together pressed

  And to the ground, a lady who is dancing,

  And hardly puts one foot before the other,

 

55On the vermilion and the yellow flowerets

  She turned towards me, not in other wise

  Than maiden who her modest eyes casts down;

 

And my entreaties made to be content,

  So near approaching, that the dulcet sound

60  Came unto me together with its meaning

 

As soon as she was where the grasses are.

  Bathed by the waters of the beauteous river,

  To lift her eyes she granted me the boon.

 

I do not think there shone so great a light

65  Under the lids of Venus, when transfixed

  By her own son, beyond his usual custom!

 

Erect upon the other bank she smiled,

  Bearing full many colours in her hands,

  Which that high land produces without seed.

 

70Apart three paces did the river make us;

  But Hellespont, where Xerxes passed across,

  (A curb still to all human arrogance,)

 

More hatred from Leander did not suffer

  For rolling between Sestos and Abydos,

75  Than that from me, because it oped not then.

 

"Ye are new-comers; and because I smile,"

  Began she, "peradventure, in this place

  Elect to human nature for its nest,

 

Some apprehension keeps you marvelling;

80  But the psalm Delectasti giveth light

  Which has the power to uncloud your intellect.

 

And thou who foremost art, and didst entreat me,

  Speak, if thou wouldst hear more; for I came ready

  To all thy questionings, as far as needful."

 

85"The water," said I, "and the forest's sound,

  Are combating within me my new faith

  In something which I heard opposed to this."

 

Whence she: "I will relate how from its cause

  Proceedeth that which maketh thee to wonder,

90  And purge away the cloud that smites upon thee.

 

The Good Supreme, sole in itself delighting,

  Created man good, and this goodly place

  Gave him as hansel of eternal peace.

 

By his default short while he sojourned here;

95  By his default to weeping and to toil

  He changed his innocent laughter and sweet play.

 

That the disturbance which below is made

  By exhalations of the land and water,

  (Which far as may be follow after heat,)

 

100Might not upon mankind wage any war,

  This mount ascended tow'rds the heaven so high,

  And is exempt, from there where it is locked.

 

Now since the universal atmosphere

  Turns in a circuit with the primal motion

105  Unless the circle is broken on some side,

 

Upon this height, that all is disengaged

  In living ether, doth this motion strike

  And make the forest sound, for it is dense;

 

And so much power the stricken plant possesses

110  That with its virtue it impregns the air,

  And this, revolving, scatters it around;

 

And yonder earth, according as 'tis worthy

  In self or in its clime, conceives and bears

  Of divers qualities the divers trees;

 

115It should not seem a marvel then on earth,

  This being heard, whenever any plant

  Without seed manifest there taketh root.

 

And thou must know, this holy table-land

  In which thou art is full of every seed,

120  And fruit has in it never gathered there.

 

The water which thou seest springs not from vein

  Restored by vapour that the cold condenses,

  Like to a stream that gains or loses breath;

 

But issues from a fountain safe and certain,

125  Which by the will of God as much regains

  As it discharges, open on two sides.

 

Upon this side with virtue it descends,

  Which takes away all memory of sin;

  On that, of every good deed done restores it.

 

130Here Lethe, as upon the other side

  Eunoe, it is called; and worketh not

  If first on either side it be not tasted.

 

This every other savour doth transcend;

  And notwithstanding slaked so far may be

135  Thy thirst, that I reveal to thee no more,

 

I'll give thee a corollary still in grace,

  Nor think my speech will be to thee less dear

  If it spread out beyond my promise to thee.

 

Those who in ancient times have feigned in song

140  The Age of Gold and its felicity,

  Dreamed of this place perhaps upon Parnassus.

 

Here was the human race in innocence;

  Here evermore was Spring, and every fruit;

  This is the nectar of which each one speaks."

 

145Then backward did I turn me wholly round

  Unto my Poets, and saw that with a smile

  They had been listening to these closing words;

 

Then to the beautiful lady turned mine eyes.