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 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.
Previous poems in this Dante Series: