Longing now to search in and around
         The heavenly woods — dense and green with life —
         Which softened the new sunlight for my eyes,
         Not waiting any longer, I left the cliff,
5        Making my slow, slow way on level ground,
         Over the soil which everywhere spread fragrance.
         A sweetly scented breeze, which did not vary
         Within itself, struck me across the forehead
         With no more force than would a gentle wind.
10       The branches quivering at its touch all bent
         Spontaneously in the direction where
         The holy mountain casts its shadow first;
         Yet the trees weren't so swayed from standing straight
         That little birds among the topmost boughs
15       Had to leave off the practice of their art,
         But with their song they welcomed, full of joy,
         The early morning hours among the leaves
         Which kept up an accompaniment to their rhymes,
         As sound accumulates from branch to branch
20       Through the pine forest on the shore of Chiassi
         When Aeolus lets the Sirocco loose.
         Now my slow steps had brought me on so far
         Into the ancient woodland that I could
         Not see back to the point where I had entered —
25       And look! a stream stopped me from going farther.
         With its little waves it bent toward the left
         The grass that sprouted up along its bank.
         All of the clearest waters here on earth
         Would seem to carry clouds of sediment
30       Compared to that stream which keeps nothing hidden,
         Although its dark, dark waters flow beneath
         The ever-present shade which never lets
         A beam of sun or moon to glimmer there.
         I stayed my feet and passed my eyes across
35       The far side of the river to survey
         The lush variety of blossoming boughs,
         And I saw there — as something suddenly
         Appears that causes such astonishment
         It drives all other thought out of the mind —
40       A woman all alone, who walked along
         Singing, and picking flower after flower,
         For her whole path was painted with their colors.
         "Ah, lovely lady, you who warm yourself
         In rays of love, if I am to believe
45       Those looks which often witness to the heart,"
         I said to her, "may you be pleased to come
         Forward toward this river, close enough
         That I may comprehend what you are singing.
         "You make me remember where and what
50       Proserpine was when her mother lost her,
         And she too lost the flowers of the spring."
         Even as a woman, dancing, turns around
         With feet close to the ground and to each other,
         And scarcely places foot in front of foot,
55       She turned upon the red and yellow flowers
         In my direction, no differently than would
         A virgin lowering her modest eyes.
         And in this way she satisfied my prayers,
         Approaching me so near that the sweet sound
60       That came to me was comprehensible.
         As soon as she had come to where the waves
         Of the untainted stream just touched the grass,
         She favored me with the lifting of her eyes.
         I do not think a light so splendid shone
65       Beneath the lids of Venus when her son,
         Without intending, pierced her with an arrow.
         Standing straight, she smiled on the far bank,
         Weaving in her hands the colored flowers
         Which that high land produces without seeds.
70       The stream kept us a mere three strides apart,
         And yet the Hellespont where Xerxes crossed
         (It still serves as a curb to human pride)
         Stirred no more hatred in Leander for
         Its surging flood from Abydos to Sestos
75       Than I felt at that stream’s not opening then.
         "You are new here, and maybe," she began,
         "Because I smile in this place which was chosen
         For the human race as its first nest,
         "A doubt of some kind keeps you wondering,
80       But the psalm ‘You made me glad’ sheds light
         That can clear up the mist that clouds your minds.
         "And you who are in front, and called on me,
         Speak if you would hear more, since I came ready
         For all your questions till you’re satisfied."
85       "The water and the woodland sounds," I said,
         "Contend in me against my recent faith
         In something I heard contrary to this."
         To this she answered, "I will tell you how
         The thing that makes you wonder has been caused,
90       And I will clear the mist that troubles you.
         "The highest Good, Self pleasing Self alone,
         First made man good and for good, and this place
         He gave him as a pledge of endless peace.
         "Through his own sin his stay here was cut short;
95       Through his own sin he changed innocent laughter
         And wholesome sport to tearfulness and toil.
         "So that the tempests — which the exhalations
         Of earth and water, drawn up by the heat
         As far as possible, produce below —
100     "Should not make war on man in any way,
         This mountain rose to such a height toward heaven
         That it is free, above the gate, from storms.
         "Now, since the whole air rotates in a circuit,
         Moving with the primal revolution,
105     Unless its circling breaks off at some point,
         "Upon this height, which is completely open
         To the pure air, this whirling motion strikes
         And makes the forest, since it’s dense, resound;
         "And, being struck, each tree has so much power
110      That with its seed it makes the same breeze pregnant
         Which, in its whirling, scatters seed abroad;
         "And other land conceives and reproduces
         The different plants that grow with different powers
         According to the soil itself and climate.
115     "It should not seem a wonder, then, on earth,
         Once this account is heard, when some plant there
         Takes root without a seed that can be seen.
         "And you should know here that the holy field
         Where you now stand is full of every growth
120      And has in it fruit never plucked on earth.
         "Water you see does not spring from a source
         Restored by vapors which the cold condenses,
         Like rivers gaining and then losing force,
         "But pours out from a sure and steady fountain
125     Which by the will of God regains as much
         As it gushes freely down on either side.
         "On this side it flows down with the power
         To wipe away the memory of sin,
         On that side to bring all good deeds to mind.
130     "It is called Lethe here, Eunoè there;
         And its waters will not work unless they first
         Be tasted on one side and then the other:
         "Their flavor is above all other sweetness.
         And though your thirst may now be fully quenched
135      If I disclose to you no more than that,
         "I’ll give you, as a gift, a corollary;
         Nor do I think you’ll welcome my words less
         If they extend beyond my promise to you

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