by Dante Alighieri
Paradiso Language and Communication Quotes
How we cite our quotes: Citations follow this format: (Canto.Line). We used Allen Mandelbaum's translation.
If that which has been said of her so far
were all contained within a single praise,
it would be much too scant to serve me now.
The loveliness I saw surpassed not only
our human measure – and I think that, surely,
only its Maker can enjoy it fully.
I yield: I am defeated at this passage
more than a comic or a tragic poet
has ever been by a barrier in his theme;
for like the sun that strikes the frailest eyes,
so does the memory of her sweet smile
deprive me of the use of my own mind.
From that first day when, in this life, I saw
her face, until I had vision
no thing ever cut the sequence of my song,
but now I must desist from this pursuit,
in verses, of her loveliness, just as
each artist who has reached his limit must. (Par. XXX, 16-33)
Beatrice's beauty is so great here that Dante surrenders completely and admits that he cannot hope to express it linguistically. This passage is remarkable for the totality of Dante's defeat; he has conceded before, but never so totally and at such length. It also suggests that when something is beyond Dante's ability to describe in words, silence is the most appropriate response. It is somewhat degrading to dumb down something which is beyond human conception just to put it in one's own words.
because my sight, becoming pure, was able
to penetrate the ray of Light more deeply –
that Light, sublime, which in Itself is true.
From that point on, what I could see was greater
than speech can show: at such a sight, it fails –
and memory fails when faced with such excess. (Par. XXXIII, 52-58)
Interestingly, here Dante's vision has become so perfected that he can see all the divinity of Paradise in its true beauty, but cannot commit it to memory. This lack of memory, not an imperfect vision, results in his inability to describe in his poetry what he has witnessed.
O Highest Light, You, raised so far above
the minds of mortals, to my memory
give back something of Your epiphany,
and make my tongue so powerful that I
may leave to people of the future one
gleam of the glory that is Yours, for by
returning somewhat to my memory
and echoing awhile within these lines,
Your victory will be more understood. (Par. XXXIII, 67-75)
Instead of invoking the Classical Muses, Dante ends his poem with an invocation to the Christian God. Because Dante understands the link between language and memory, he asks God for "one gleam of [His] glory…to my memory," so that he can better fulfill his poetic mission when back on Earth. Of course, under normal circumstances, mortals could not possibly remember the face of God, but Dante hopes that God will make an exception in his case because his goal is well-intentioned. Since Dante describes to us his vision of the Holy Trinity (the three circles) in his last canto, we are to understand that God does indeed allow him to remember.