Singing like a woman who is in love,
         She — after finishing her speech — continued,
         "Blessed are they whose sins are covered over!"
         And just as nymphs who used to roam alone
5        Through woodland shadows, one solicitous
         To see the sun, another to avoid it,
         So she then moved, walking along the bank,
         Against the stream, and I kept pace with her,
         Following her short steps with my short ones.
10       Between us we’d not gone a hundred steps,
         When both banks turned a bend at the same angle,
         In such a way that I once more faced east.
         And we had not yet gone far on our way
         When the lady turned around full-face,
15       Saying to me, "My brother, watch and listen!"
         And look! a sudden glowing brightness coursed
         Throughout the lofty forest on all sides,
         So that at first I thought it must be lightning.
         But since as soon as lightning comes it goes,
20       While this light, glowing brighter, lasted brightly,
         I asked within my mind, "What thing is this?"
         And a sweet-sounding melody ran through
         The light-filled air; at that, a holy zeal
         Made me reproach the impudence of Eve,
25       In that, where earth and heaven were obedient,
         A solitary woman, just then formed,
         Would not endure the veil before her eyes:
         Had she but stayed devout beneath that veil,
         I could have tasted — and for much more time —
30       These ineffable delights before this moment.
         While I walked on among so many first fruits
         Of everlasting pleasure, all in raptures,
         And longing for still deeper happiness,
         Ahead of us, beneath the greening boughs,
35       The air became just like a blazing fire,
         And now the sweet sound could be heard as song.
         O Virgins, sacrosanct, if for your sake
         I’ve ever endured fastings, cold, or vigils,
         Occasion spurs me now to claim reward!
40       Now Helicon should pour its streams for me,
         Urania should help me with her choir
         To put in verse things difficult to ponder.
         A short way farther on, we seemed to see
         Seven golden trees, a false impression
45       Caused by the vast space between the trees and us;
         But when I had come up so close to them
         That the broad likenesses which fool the senses
         Did not let distance blur their true details,
         The power which forms matter for the reason
50       Made out that they in fact were candlesticks
         And that the voices sang the word "Hosanna."
         Atop that beautiful arrangement flamed
         Light far more brilliant than the mid-month moon
         At midnight in a calm and cloudless sky.
55       I turned around, all full of wonderment,
         To my good Virgil, but he answered me
         With a look no less bewildered than my own.
         Then I returned my gaze to those lofty things
         Moving towards us at so slow a pace
60       That even newly wedded brides move faster.
         The lady chid me, "Why are you so ardent
         Only for the sight of the living lights
         And do not look at what comes after them?"
         Then I saw people following the lights,
65       As if behind their lords, and clothed in white:
         Whiteness so pure has never been on earth!
         The water on my left took in my likeness,
         And like a mirror, when I looked in it,
         Reflected back to me my left-hand side.
70       When I had reached the point along my bank
         Where only the stream now separated us,
         I stayed my steps so that I could see better,
         And I beheld the glowing flames glide forward,
         Leaving the air behind them streaked with pigment,
75       Like moving strokes a painter’s brush might make,
         So that the air above them remained marked
         With seven bands, all in those colors which
         Make up the rainbow and Delia’s girdle.
         These banners streamed on to the rear and far
80       Beyond my sight; as well as I could judge,
         The outside bands were full ten feet apart.
         Beneath the vivid sky I have described,
         Twenty-four elders, two by two, approached,
         With crowns of woven lilies on their brows.
85       They all were singing, "Blessed are you among
         The daughters of Adam, and blessed be
         Your beauties throughout all eternity!"
         After the flowers and fresh-growing grass
         Across from me on the opposing bank
90       Were clear again of the elected people,
         As star replaces star within the heavens,
         Behind the elders came four living creatures,
         Each with a crown of green leaves on his head.
         Each had six wings with feathers full of eyes.
95       And were the eyes of Argus still alive
         They would have looked exactly like his eyes.
         I shall not spend more of my verses, reader,
         Describing their forms, since I have other charges
         So pressing that I can’t be lavish here.
100      But read Ezekiel who pictures them
         As he saw them come from the frozen north
         Out of a storm of wind and cloud and fire.
         And just as you will find them in his pages,
         Such were they here, except that, for the wings,
105     John is with me and disagrees with him.
         The space between the four of them contained
         A chariot of triumph on two wheels,
         Coming drawn at the neck of a griffin.
         And he stretched upward one wing and the other
110     Midway between the bands — three here, three there —
         So that by splitting them he did no damage.
         They rose so high the wings were lost to sight;
         His limbs were golden where he was a bird
         And all the rest was white mixed in with red.
115     Never did Africanus or Augustus
         Please Rome with such a splendid chariot,
         But even the sun’s cannot compare to it —
         The sun’s, which veering off its course burnt out
         At the devout petition of the earth,
120     When Jove in his mysterious ways was just.
         Three women in a circle next came dancing
         At the right wheel; the first one was so red
         She scarcely would be noticed in a flame;
         The second seemed as if her flesh and bone
125     Had been cut out of emerald; and the third
         Appeared to be of freshly fallen snow.
         And now the white one seemed to lead them round
         And now the red, and from their leader’s song
         The others took the measure fast and slow.
130     By the left wheel, four women clad in purple
         Celebrated, dancing to the cadence
         Of one of them with three eyes in her head.
         After all the group I have described,
         I saw two old men, different in their dress
135     But like in bearing, straightforward and staid:
         One showed himself to be by his attire
         A follower of great Hippocrates

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