Steven Sametz Publications
distributed by NoteNova

8 min.
2013

Commissioned and premiered by The Princeton Singers
Steven Sametz, director

Program Notes

Dante’s Dream (“l’amor che move il sole e altre stelle”) sets the last thirty-three lines of the thirty-third (final) canto of Dante’s Il Paradiso, the third section of his Divina Commedia.  The three choirs should be spaced separately around the audience if possible.

In the Commedia, Dante descends the nine pits of Hell and then, after Purgatorio, rises through nine rings of Paradise to arrive at the “Empyrean,” the realm of the Godhead. At this source, Dante sees three dazzling circles:  in the second, the human face of the Christ.  This is the trinity and the primum mobile, or the source of all holiness.  It is the point where intellect fails; in citing the medieval arithmetical problem of finding the same area in a square and a circle, Dante likens himself to the geometer (arithmetician) who cannot think his way to the divine, but must trust to faith.

The entire Commedia is a work of vision, but alas, when Dante tries to recall it, it seems like a waking from a dream.

Just as the dreamer, after he awakens, 
still stirred by feelings that the dream evoked,
cannot bring the rest of it to mind,
such am I, my vision almost faded from my mind,
while in my heart there still endures
the sweetness that was born of it.

He is left with a remembrance, a glimpse of that “love which moves the sun and other stars.”

Text

from Commedia Divina Il Paradiso, XXXIII (112-145)

ma per la vista che s’avvalorava
in me guardando, una sola parvenza,
mutandom’ io, a me si travagliava.

Ne la profonda e chiara sussistenza
de l’alto lume parvermi tre giri
di tre colori e d’una contenenza;

e l’un da l’altro come iri da iri
parea reflesso, e ‘l terzo parea foco
che quinci e quindi igualmente si spiri.

Oh quanto è corto il dire e come fioco
al mio concetto! e questo, a quel ch’i’ vidi,
è tanto, che non basta a dicer “poco.”

O luce etterna che sola in te sidi,
sola t’intendi, e da te intelletta
e intendente te ami e arridi!

Quella circulazion che sì concetta
pareva in te come lume reflesso,
da li occhi miei alquanto circunspetta,

dentro da sé, del suo colore stesso,
mi parve pinta de la nostra effige:
per che ‘l mio viso in lei tutto era messo.

Qual è ‘l geomètra che tutto s’affige
per misurar lo cerchio, e non ritrova,
pensando, quel principio ond’ elli indige,

tal era io a quella vista nova:
veder voleva come si convenne
l’imago al cerchio e come vi s’indova;

ma non eran da ciò le proprie penne:
se non che la mia mente fu percossa
da un fulgore in che sua voglia venne.

A l’alta fantasia qui mancò possa;
ma già volgeva il mio disio e ‘l velle,
sì come rota ch’igualmente è mossa,

l’amor che move il sole e l’altre stelle.

— Dante Alighieri, (c. 1265–1321)

Translation

but that my sight was gaining strength, even
as I gazed at that sole semblance and, as I changed,
it too was being, in my eyes, transformed.

In the deep, transparent essence of the lofty Light
there appeared to me three circles
having three colors but the same extent,

and each one seemed reflected by the other
as rainbow is by rainbow, while the third one seemed fire,
equally breathed forth by one and by the other.

O how scant is speech, too weak to frame my thoughts.
Compared to what I still recall my words are faint –
to call them little is to praise them much.

O eternal Light, abiding in yourself alone,
knowing yourself alone, and, known to yourself
and knowing, loving and smiling on yourself!

That circling which, thus conceived,
appeared in you as light’s reflection,
once my eyes had gazed on it a while, seemed,

within itself and in its very color,
to be painted with our likeness,
so that my sight was all absorbed in it.

Like the geometer who fully applies himself
to square the circle and, for all his thought,
cannot discover the principle he lacks,

such was I at that strange new sight.
I tried to see how the image fit the circle
and how it found its where in it.

But my wings had not sufficed for that
had not my mind been struck by a bolt
of lightning that granted what I asked.

Here my exalted vision lost its power.
But now my will and my desire, like wheels revolving
with an even motion, were turning with

the Love that moves the sun and all the other stars.

(translation Hollander)

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