On Reading the Commedia 7: Look Up!

image from Danteworlds

image from Danteworlds

Having been through Hell (as it were), climbed together the steep terraces of the Holy Mountain of Purgatory and danced through the fire at its summit, back into the garden of our beginnings, we come now to the final section of my Dante Sequence. This is the first of my three poems responding to the Paradiso the poem in which, reunited with his beloved Beatrice, Dante ascends through the spheres of the heavens to attain at last a mystical vision of the God who is all in all, three in one and yet looks on us with a human face.

In some ways Inferno and Purgatorio are easier to read because they chart, with harrowing honesty, the familiar territory of our own experience, whereas Paradiso challenges us with a way of seeing reality, utterly itself, in all its variety and particularity, and bathed in the light of Love, which we have not yet attained. But the key I think is to recognise that just sometimes, and by sheer grace, we get a glimpse of the Paradisal or Beatific view of things, as the disciples did at the transfiguration, and from there we can begin to imagine, and so learn to love and grow into our paradise.

The key verbs throughout the Paradiso are ‘Look’ and ‘Love’; Dante is gradually transformed by learning to look at everything, himself and Beatrice included with the gaze of Love with which God beholds his creation and this prepares him gradually for the final look, the beatific vision in which he himself, together with the sun and the other stars becomes and is moved by the Love he beholds.

In this first poem I reflect on Dante’s ascent through the first three spheres of heaven, the Moon, Mercury and finally the third Heaven, Venus, the sphere in which our Eros is perfected by Agape.

The image above comes from the University of Texas’s excellent web resource Danteworlds and the image which follows the poem is by Margot Krebs Neale. As always you can hear me read the poem by clicking on the title or the ‘play’ button. If you have missed the other poems in this series i have put a list of links to them at the bottom of this page.

Look Up!

Look up at the resplendent lights of heaven

In all the glory of their otherness,

Within you and beyond you, simply given!


Let go your grandeur, love your littleness,

Begin a journey into clarity

And find again the love in loveliness,


The constant love in your inconstancy.

Reflected light you’re not yet fit to bear,

Pearlescent preface to eternity,


She glimmers through the veils you make her wear,

Delights and glories in each difference,

In every variation everywhere.


Now let love raise and ravish every sense,

Quicksilver scatterings of consciousness,

She makes you myriad-minded, you can dance


In her swift sway and swing, the suddenness

of ecstasy, third heaven’s heady swirl,

That lifts and flings her lovers into bliss.


Remember tenderly, you glimpsed a girl

Whose smile transfigured all without her knowing,

The tangles of your loving here unfurl


And find their freedom, every knot undoing,

Mistakes unmade, and unkind words unsaid

The spring released at last and freely flowing


As freely you forgive yourselves. The seed

of love, long-planted, breathes and blossoms here

Where you in-other one another, freed


And ensphered where love has cast out fear.


She glimmersSM

Previous poems in this Dante Series:


1 In Medias Res

2 Through the Gate

3 Vexila Regis


4 De Magistro

5 Love in Idleness

6 Dancing Through the Fire


Filed under imagination, literature, Poems

6 responses to “On Reading the Commedia 7: Look Up!

  1. Thank you for inviting me to comment further on the three poems you write on Paradise. Thank you too for your thoughts on learning to enter Paradise and the importance of glimpses. In your title and first line I could not help but be reminded of that line in the Sursum Corda, “Lift up your hearts”. That line and the rest of the poem is an invitation to keep on gazing. That seems to me to be the kind of invitation I can cope with. It has a certain modesty of ambition about it. Newman’s Gerontius has come to mind a lot in the last few days & his cry when brought into the divine presence, “Take me away from here!” Elgar sets that so poignantly in his setting of the poem. Then his angel begins the long, patient and loving work of enabling him to go back again, unafraid & ready to receive the love. I guess what I am saying is that I can begin to cope with the work of looking and starting to love, delight inm with the distance involved in that. I still do not yet feel ready to be taken into the love itself.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Stephen. I think the whole of the Paradiso is itself a kind of Sursum Corda. I agree entirely with what you say about not being ready yet for the fullness of love. As dentate rises with Beatrice through the different spheres of the Paradiso we see him being gradually made ready and strengthened to see a little more each time of love and light of God. As CS Lewis says Heaven is an acquired taste!

  2. Pingback: On Reading the Commedia 8: Circle Dance | Malcolm Guite

  3. Laura Mettler

    I love that: “Reflected light you’re not fit to bear.” It reminds me of Blake’s learning to bear the beams of love. This poem invites me in to the dance, and I too am finding myself slow on the uptake. It takes time to learn to bear the glory of all I’ve hoped for coming true.

  4. Pingback: On Reading the Commedia 9:The Rose | Malcolm Guite

  5. Pingback: Dante and the companioned journey 7-9: Paradise! | Malcolm Guite

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