Purgatorio Purgatory Canto XXVIII (The Earthly Paradise) Summary
Dante now leaves to explore the forest of the Earthly Paradise. It is lush, green, and fragrant.
A gentle wind blows on him and he notices that the wind bends the branches of the trees gently, but not enough to disturb the songbirds singing so sweetly there. Indeed, the place is so perfect that the wind harmonizes with the birdsong.
By now Dante has wandered so far into the forest that he can't tell where he entered; this might be scary if this weren’t the Earthly Paradise.
He comes across a stream of the purest water imaginable, but – Dante notices – the water is very dark, untouched by the sun or moonlight. It is like a stream of moving shadows.
Not disturbed in the least by this, Dante gazes at the far bank and is astonished to see a young woman gathering flowers there.
So he uses his charm on her, asking the lovely lady to move nearer the bank so that Dante can hear more fully what song she is singing. Her singing is so lovely that it reminds Dante of the song Ceres sings every winter when her daughter Proserpina (or Persephone) must leave her for the Underworld.
The lady turns coyly to Dante, her eyes lowered. She inches nearer the bank and keeps singing.
When she reaches the edge of the bank, where the waves can lap at her feet, she lifts her eyes and looks at Dante.
Dante is completely taken aback by her breathtaking beauty, calling her glance a “gift”; he thinks that she is even more beautiful than Venus when she was struck by Cupid’s arrow.
Now the stream keeps them only three steps apart and Dante compares his situation to that of Leander, kept apart from his beloved Hero by the hated sea.
Finally, the young woman speaks. She understands, she says, why he might be perplexed that here she smiles and takes such delight in a place where original sin was committed. But to understand why, she directs him to the Psalm beginning Delectasti, which translates as “gladdened.”
She asks him if he has any more questions, because she’s here to satisfy him.
Perplexed by the wind that seems to be blowing, Dante asks about it, since Statius told him before that Purgatory doesn’t experience any atmospheric changes.
The lovely lady explains that here man made the mistake of committing original sin and that for this his stay here has been cut short, as he exchanges “frank laughter and sweet sport for lamentation and for anxiousness.” It’s true what Statius told him, that all the atmospheric disturbances occur far below them, not up on the mountain. This place is indeed free of such earthly weather.
But the sky above revolves in a circle and the music of the spheres – made by the stars – is echoed here in the Earthly Paradise.
Because the foliage is so thick here, whenever this heavenly wind strikes a plant, it releases some seeds into the air; these are carried into the other hemisphere (the northern), where they might land in the soil and sprout. That is why, she explains, he shouldn’t be surprised if he sees plants growing where no seeds can be seen. They come from here.
She continues, reveling in her knowledge, that Dante should know that every type of plant flourishes here, even species not seen on earth. Even the water from the stream does not come from such a mundane source as melted snow or some watery runoff, but from a “pure and changeless fountain.” On one side, she brags, it flows with the power of making one forget all his past sins, and on the other side, it has the power to restore memories of good deeds. The former is called Lethe and the latter called Eunoe, but in order for their powers to work, they must be drunk one right after the other.
At this point, she stops to take a breath. Finally. Just when we think she’s done, she continues.
She says that she realizes Dante’s thirst may be satisfied, but that she’ll give him one last tidbit of info: this is the place that old poets used to dream of, the only place in the world where man was once innocent.
Hearing this, Dante turns to his two poet guides and finds them smiling; they’re loving this information.
Seeing them happy, Dante turns back to the beguiling lady.