Sacred Texts  Christianity Index  Divine Comedy Index  Previous: Paradise Canto 2  Next: Paradise Canto 4 

 Canto III
      In the moon Dante meets with Piccarda, the sister of Forese, who tells
 him that this planet is allotted to those, who, after having made profession
 of chastity and a religious life, had been compelled to violate their vows;
 and she then points out to him the spirit of the Empress Costanza.
 That sun,[1] which erst with love my bosom warmed,
 Had of fair truth unveil'd the sweet aspect,
 By proof of right, and of the false reproof;
 And I, to own myself convinced and free
 Of doubt, as much as needed, raised my head
 Erect for speech. But soon a sight appear'd,
 Which, so intent to mark it, held me fix'd
 That of confession I no longer thought.
 [1: "That sun." Beatrice.]
 As through translucent and smooth glass, or wave
 Clear and unmoved, and flowing not so deep
 As that its bed is dark, the shape returns
 So faint of our impictured lineaments,
 That, on white forehead set, a pearl as strong
 Comes to the eye; such saw I many a face,
 All stretch'd to speak; from whence I straight conceived,
 Delusion[2] opposite to that, which raised,
 Between the man and fountain, amorous flame.
 [2: "Delusion." "An error the contrary to that of Narcissus; because
 he mistook a shadow for a substance; I, a substance for a shadow."]
 Sudden, as I perceived them, deeming these
 Reflected semblances, to see of whom
 They were, I turn'd mine eyes, and nothing saw;
 Then turn'd them back, directed on the light
 Of my sweet guide, who, smiling, shot forth beams
 From her celestial eyes. "Wonder not thou,"
 She cried, "at this my smiling, when I see
 Thy childish judgment; since not yet on truth
 It rests the foot, but, as it still is wont,
 Makes thee fall back in unsound vacancy.
 True substances are these, which thou behold'st,
 Hither through failure of their vow exiled.
 But speak thou with them; listen, and believe,
 That the true light, which fills them with desire,
 Permits not from its beams their feet to stray."
 Straight to the shadow, which for converse seem'd
 Most earnest, I address'd me; and began
 As one by over - eagerness perplex'd:
 "O spirit, born of joy! who in the rays
 Of life eternal, of that sweetness know'st
 The flavour, which, not tasted, passes far
 All apprehension; me it well would please,
 If thou wouldst tell me of thy name, and this
 Your station here." Whence she with kindness prompt
 And eyes glist'ring with smiles: "Our charity,
 To any wish by justice introduced,
 Bars not the door; no more than She above,
 Who would have all her court be like herself.
 I was a virgin sister in the earth;
 And if thy mind observe me well, this form,
 With such addition graced of loveliness,
 Will not conceal me long; but thou wilt know
 Piccarda,[3] in the tardiest sphere thus placed,
 Here 'mid these other blessed also blest.
 Our hearts, whose high affections burn alone
 With pleasure from the Holy Spirit conceived,
 Admitted to His order, dwell in joy.
 And this condition, which appears so low,
 Is for this cause assign'd us, that our vows
 Were, in some part, neglected and made void."
 [3: "Piccarda." The sister of Corso Donati, and of Forese, whom we
 have seen in the Purgatory, Canto xxiv. Petrarch has been supposed to allude
 to this lady in his "Triumph of Chastity," v. 160, etc.]
 Whence I to her replied: "Something divine
 Beams in your countenances wondrous fair;
 From former knowledge quite transmitting you.
 Therefore to recollect was I so slow.
 But what thou say'st hath to my memory
 Given now such aid, that to retrace your forms
 Is easier. Yet inform me, ye, who here
 Are happy; long ye for a higher place,
 More to behold, and more in love to dwell?"
 She with those other spirits gently smiled;
 Then answer'd with such gladness, that she seem'd
 With love's first flame to glow: "Brother! our will
 Is, in composure, settled by the power
 Of charity, who makes us will alone
 What we possess, and naught beyond desire:
 If we should wish to be exalted more,
 Then must our wishes jar with the high will
 Of Him, who sets us here; which in these orbs
 Thou wilt confess not possible, if here
 To be in charity must needs befall,
 And if her nature well thou contemplate.
 Rather it is inherent in this state
 Of blessedness, to keep ourselves within
 The Divine Will, by which our wills with His
 Are one. So that as we, from step to step,
 Are placed throughout this kingdom, pleases all,
 Even as our King, who in us plants His will;
 And in His will is our tranquillity:
 It is the mighty ocean, whither tends
 Whatever it creates and Nature makes."
 Then saw I clearly how each spot in Heaven
 Is Paradise, though with like gracious dew
 The supreme virtue shower not over all.
 But as it chances, if one sort of food
 Hath satiated, and of another still
 The appetite remains, that this is ask'd,
 And thanks for that return'd; e'en so did I,
 In word and motion, bent from her to learn
 What web it was,[4] through which she had not drawn
 The shuttle to its point. She thus began:
 "Exalted worth and perfectness of life
 [4: "What vow of religious life it was that she had been hindered
 from completing, had been compelled to break."]
 The Lady[5] higher up inshrine in Heaven,
 By whose pure laws upon your nether earth
 The robe and veil they wear; to that intent,
 That e'en till death they may keep watch, or sleep,
 With their great Bridegroom, who accepts each vow,
 Which to His gracious pleasure love conforms.
 I from the world, to follow her, when young
 Escaped; and, in her vesture mantling me,
 Made promise of the way her sect enjoins.
 Thereafter men, for ill than good more apt,
 Forth snatch'd me from the pleasant cloister's pale.
 God knows[6] how, after that, my life was framed.
 This other splendid shape, which thou behold'st
 At my right side, burning with all the light
 Of this our orb, what of myself I tell
 May to herself apply. From her, like me
 A sister, with like violence were torn
 The saintly folds, that shaded her fair brows.
 E'en when she to the world again was brought
 In spite of her own will and better wont,
 Yet not for that the bosom's inward veil
 Did she renounce. This is the luminary
 Of mighty Constance,[7] who from that loud blast,
 Which blew the second[8] over Suabia's realm,
 That power produced, which was the third and last."
 [5: St. Clare, the foundress of the order called after her. She was
 born at Assisi, in 1193, and died in 1253.]
 [6: Rodolfo da Tossignano, Hist. Seraph. Relig., relates the
 following legend of Piccarda: "Her brother Corso, inflamed with rage against
 his virgin sister, having joined with him Farinata, an infamous assassin, and
 twelve other abandoned ruffians, entered the monastery by a ladder, and
 carried away his sister forcibly to his own house; and then tearing off her
 religious habit, compelled her to go in a secular garment to her nuptials.
 Before the spouse of Christ came together with her new husband, she knelt down
 before a crucifix and recommended her virginity to Christ. Soon after her
 whole body was smitten with leprosy; in a few days, through the divine
 disposal, she passed with a palm of virginity to the Lord.]
 [7: Daughter of Ruggieri, King of Sicily, who being taken by force
 out of a monastery was married to the Emperor Henry VI and by him was mother
 of Frederick II. She was fifty years old or more at the time, and "because it
 was not credited that she could have a child at that age, she was delivered in
 a pavilion, and it was given out that any lady, who pleased, was at liberty to
 see her."]
 [8: Henry VI, son of Frederick I, was the second emperor of the house
 of Suabia; and his son Frederick II "the third and last."]
 She ceased from further talk, and then began
 "Ave Maria" singing; and with that song
 Vanish'd, as heavy substance through deep wave.
 Mine eye, that, far as it was capable,
 Pursued her, when in dimness she was lost,
 Turn'd to the mark where greater want impell'd
 And bent on Beatrice all its gaze.
 But she, as lightning, beam'd upon my looks;
 So that the sight sustain'd it not at first.
 Whence I to question her became less prompt.