Choosing a favorite canto in the Commedia is an impossible task. I can say, though, that Canto 23 in the Paradiso always takes my breath away. It's appropriate that a canto devoted to the beauty of Beatrice and the flames love for Mary reaches such poetic heights. Here Dante sees Beatrice as she is. Here he notes the impotence of his words. Here he witnesses the heavenly host surrounding Mary. Sometimes the best we can do when commenting is get out of the way. In that spirit, here are my favorite lines from that canto:

Beatrice said: 'Behold the hosts / of Christ in triumph and all the fruit / gathered from the wheeling of these spheres!' / It seemed to me her face was all aflame, / her eyes so full of gladness / that I must leave that moment undescribed
(Par. 23:19-24)

O Beatrice, my sweet belov'd guide! / To me she said: 'What overwhelms you / is a force against which there is no defense.' / Here is the Wisdom and the Power that repaired / the roads connecting Heaven and the earth / that had so long been yearned for and desired
(Par. 23:34-39)

Open your eyes and see me as I am. / The things that you have witnessed / have given you the strength to bear my smile. / I was like a man who finds himself awakened / from a dream that has faded and who strives / in vain to bring it back to mind / when I heard this invitation, deserving / of such gratitude as can never be erased / from the book that registers the past. / If at this moment all the tongues / that Polyhymnia and her sisters nurtured / with their sweetest, richest milk / should sound to aid me now, their song could not attain / one thousandth of the truth in singing of that holy smile / and how it made her holy visage radiant. / And so, in representing Paradise, / the sacred poem must make its leap across, / as does a man who finds his path cut off. / But considering the heavy theme / and the mortal shoulder it weighs down, / no one would cast blame if it trembled with its load. (Par. 23:46-66)


Like a baby reaching out its arms / to mamma after it has drunk her milk, / its inner impulse kindled into outward flame, / all these white splendors were reaching upward / with their fiery tips, so that their deep affection / for Mary was made clear to me.Then they remained there in my sight, / singing Regina Coeli with such sweetness / that my feeling of delight has never left me. / Oh, how great is the abundance / that is stored in granaries so rich above, / that down on earth were fields ripe for the sowing! / There they live, rejoicing in the treasure / they gained with tears of exile, / in Babylon, where they spurned the gold. / Beneath the exalted Son of God and Mary, / up there he triumphs in his victory, / with souls of the covenants old and new, / the one who holds the keys to such great glory.
Par 23:121-139)

I can't believe we've almost made it through the entire Commedia. I'll post again on Sunday, and I'll try to tie things together.

[For part one of our discussion of the Paradiso, see here. For our discussion on the Purgatorio, see here, and for the Inferno, see here.]  

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Scott D. Moringiello is an an assistant professor in the Department of Catholic Studies at DePaul University, where he teaches courses in Catholic theology and religion and literature. He blogs at dotCommonweal.

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