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CANTO XXXIII

ST. BERNARD LOVINGLY praises the Virgin Mary and chen


recounts che Pilgrim's journey through Hell, Purgatory, and the
celestial spheres , entreating the Virgin to clear away the obstacles
from che Pilgrim's eyes so chat he may behold God's glory. Ber
nard chen signals the Pilgrim co look upward, but he has already
done so, spurred on by his clearer sight. He sees the multiform
world bound in a single unity with love. Then, as he gazes into
the Divine Light, he sees three rings of three different colors all
of which share and are bound by one and che same circumference.
The first ring of color reflects the second; both reflect the third:
che miracle of the 'Ihnity. Again the poet's words begin co fail
him. He fixes his eyes on the second ring of reflected light and
perceives God in the image of man, but he is unable co grasp
how the forms coincide. Then with a sudden flash the Pilgrim's
mind is illuminated by the 'fruch and he feels, now chat che
ultimate vision has been granted him, his desire and will turning
in harmony with Divine Love, "the Love chat moves the sun and
the ocher scars . "

"Oh Virgin Mother, daughter of your son,


most humble, most exalced of all creatures
chosen of God in His eternal plan, 3

you are the one who ennobled human nacure


co che extent chat He did not disdain,
Who was its Maker, co make Himself man. 6

Within your womb rekindled was the love


that gave the warmth that did allow this flower
to come to bloom within this timeless peace. 9

For all up here you are the noonday corch


.
of chari ty, and down on earth, for men,
the living spring of their eternal hope. 12

Lady, you are so great , so powerful,


that who seeks grace without recourse to you
would have his wish fly upward without wings.

390 f C A NTO X X X I I I
Not only does your loving kindness rush
co chose who ask for ic, but often rimes
it flows spontaneously before the plea. 18

I n you is tenderness, in you i s pity,


in you munificence--i n you unites
all chat is good in God's created beings. 21

This i s a man who from the deepest pic


of all the universe up co chis height
has witnessed , one by one, the lives of souls, 24

who begs you chat you grant him through your grace
che power co raise his vision higher still
co penetrate the final blessedness . 27

And I who never burned for my own vision


more chan I burn for his, with all my prayers
I pray you-and I pray they are enough- 30

chat you through your own prayers dispel che mise


of his mortality, chat he may have
che Sum of Joy revealed before his eyes. 33

I pray you also, Queen who can achieve


your every wish, keep his affections sound
once he has had che vision and returns. 36

Procecc him from the stirrings of the flesh:


you see, with Beatrice, all che Blest,
hands clasped in prayer, are praying for my prayer. " 39

Those eyes so loved and reverenced by God,


now fixed on him who prayed , made clear co us
how precious true devotion is co her; 42

chen she looked into the Eternal Light,


into whose being, we muse believe, no eyes
of ocher creatures pierce with such insight. 45

And I who was approaching now the end


of all man's yearning, strained with all che force
in me co raise my burning longing high. 48
Bernard chen gestured co me with a smile
chat I look up, but I already was
instinctively what he would have me be: 51

CA NTO X X X I I I / 391
for now my vision as it grew more clear
was penerraring more and more the Ray
of that exalted Light of Truch Itself. 54

And from then on my vision rose ro heights


higher than words, which fail before such sight,
and memory fails, roo, at such extremes . 57

As he who sees things in a dream and wakes


ro feel the passion of the dream still there
although no parr of it remains in mind, 6o

just such am I : my vision fades and all


buc ceases , yet the sweetness born of it
I still can feel distilling in my heart: 6j

so imprints on the snow fade in the sun,


and rhus the Sibyl's oracle of leaves
was swept away and lost inro the wind . 66

0 Light Supreme, so far beyond the reach


of morral understanding, ro my mind
relend now some small parr of Your own Self,
and give ro my rongue eloquence enough
ro capture just one spark of all Your glory
that I may ieave for future generations;
for, by returning briefly ro my mind
and sounding, even faintly, in my verse,
more of Your might will be revealed ro men. 75

If I had turned my eyes away, I think,


from the sharp brilliance of the living Ray
which they endured , I would have lost my senses.
And this , as I recall , gave me more strength
ro keep on gazing rill I could unite
my vision with the Infinite Worth I saw. Br

0 grace abounding and allowing me ro dare


to fix my gaze on the Eternal Light,
so deep my vision was consumed in It!
I saw how it contains within irs depths
all things bound in a single book by love
of which creation is the scattered leaves:

392 / CANTO XXXIII


how substance, accident, and their relation
were fused in such a way that what I now
describe is but a glimmer of that Light.
I know I saw the universal form,
the fusion of all things, for I can feel ,
while speaking now, my heart leap up in joy. 93

One instant brings me more forgetfulness


than five and twenty centuries brought the quest
that stunned Neptune when he saw Argo's keel .
And so my mind was totally entranced
in gazing deeply, motionless, intent;
the more ir saw rhe more ir burned to see. 99

And one is so transformed within that Light


that it would be impossible to think
of ever turning one's eyes from rhat sight, 1 02

because the good which is the goal of will


is all collected rhere, and ourside it
all is defective that is perfect there. 1 05

Now, even in the thi ngs I do recall


my words have no more strength than does a babe
wetting its tongue, still ar irs mother's breast. 108

Nor that within the Living Light there was


more than a sole aspect of the Divine
which always is what It has always been, Ill

yet as I learned to see more, and the power


of vision grew in me, that single aspect
as I changed , seemed to me to change Itself. 1 14

Within Irs depthless clarity of substance


I saw the Great Light shine into three circles
in three clear colors bound in one same space; 1 17

the first seemed to reflect the nexr like rainbow


on rainbow, and the third was like a flame
equally breathed forth by the other two. 120

How my weak words fall short of my conception,


which is irself so far from what I saw
that "weak" is much too weak a word to use! 1 23

CANTO X X X I I I / 393
0 Light Eternal fixed in Self alone,
known only to Yourself, and knowing Self,
You love and glow, knowing and being known!
That circling which, as I conceived it, shone
in You as Your own first reflected light
when I had looked deep into It a while, 12 9

seemed in Itself and in Its own Self-color


to be depicted with man's very image.
My eyes were totally absorbed in It. lj2

As the geometer who tries so hard


to square the circle, but cannot discover,
think as he may, the principle involved, lj j

so did I strive with this new mystery:


I yearned to know how could our image fi t
into that circle, how could it conform; 1 38

but my own wings could not take me so high


then a great flash of understanding struck
my mind, and suddenly its wish was granted .
At this point power failed high fantasy
but , like a wheel in perfect balance turning,
I felt my will and my desire impelled 1 44

by the Love that moves the sun and the other stars.

NOTES
I - 39
The preceding canto announced St. Bernard's prayer to the
Virgin on behalf of the Pilgrim that he be accorded the grace to
see God. As this canto opens, the prayer begins. St. Bernard also
asks Mary's assistance so that, after his vision of God, Dante can
continue to lead a life of righteousness. With its liturgical style
(especially with the use of antithesis in the opening two verses)
the prayer is also a hymn in praise of the Virgin Mary.
7 - 9 Within your womb rekindled was the Love: The origin of the
Celestial Rose is the same as that of Christ: the womb of the
Blessed Virgin. At the same time, it was Christ that gave true
life to the flower.

394 / CANTO X X X I I I