He knew that he had follies of his own, and had the good sense to accept the fact and enjoy it

From Thomas Merton’s introductory essay to his The Way of Chuang Tzu (=Zhuangzi):

That Chuang Tzu should be able to take one side of a question in one place, and the other side in another context, warns us that in reality he is beyond mere partisan dispute. Though he is a social critic, his criticism is never bitter or harsh. Irony and parable are his chief instruments, and the whole climate of his work is one of tolerant impartiality which avoids preaching and recognizes the uselessness of dogmatizing about obscure ideas that even the philosophers were not prepared to understand. Though he did not follow other men in their follies, he did not judge them severely—he knew that he had follies of his own, and had the good sense to accept the fact and enjoy it. In fact he saw that one basic characteristic of the sage is that he recognizes himself to be as other men are. He does not set himself apart from others and above them. And yet there is a difference; he differs “in his heart” from other men, since he is centered on Tao and not on himself. But “he does not know in what way he is different.” He is also aware of his relatedness to others, his union with them, but he does not “understand” this either. He merely lives it. (7)

The key to Chuang Tzu’s thought is the complementarity of opposites, and this can be seen only when one grasps the central “pivot” of Tao which passes squarely through both “Yes” and “No,” “I” and “Not-I.” Life is a continual development. All beings are in a state of flux. Chuang Tzu would have agreed with Herakleitos. What is impossible today may suddenly become possible tomorrow. What is good and pleasant today may, tomorrow, become evil and odious. What seems right from one point of view may, when seen from a different aspect, manifest itself as completely wrong.

What, then, should the wise man do? Should he simply remain indifferent and treat right and wrong, good and bad, as if they were all the same? Chuang Tzu would be the first to deny that they were the same. But in so doing, he would refuse to grasp one or the other and cling to it as to an absolute. When a limited and conditioned view of “good” is erected to the level of an absolute, it immediately becomes an evil, because it excludes certain complementary elements which are required if it is to be fully good. To cling to one partial view, one limited and conditioned opinion, and to treat this as the ultimate answer to all questions is simply to “obscure the Tao” and make oneself obdurate in error.
He who grasps the central pivot of Tao, is able to watch “Yes” and “No” pursue their alternating course around the circumference. He retains his perspective and clarity of judgment, so that he knows that “Yes” is “Yes” in the light of the “No” which stands over against it. He understands that happiness, when pushed to an extreme, becomes calamity. That beauty, when overdone, becomes ugliness. Clouds become rain and vapor ascends again to become clouds. To insist that the cloud should never turn to rain is to resist the dynamism of Tao.
…….
One of the most famous of all Chuang Tzu’s “principles” is that called “three in the morning,” from the story of the monkeys whose keeper planned to give them three measures of chestnuts in the morning and four in the evening but, when they complained, changed his plan and gave them four in the morning and three in the evening. What does this story mean? Simply that the monkeys were foolish and that the keeper cynically outsmarted them? Quite the contrary. The point is rather that the keeper had enough sense to recognize that the monkeys had irrational reasons of their own for wanting four measures of chestnuts in the morning, and did not stubbornly insist on his original arrangement. He was not totally indifferent, and yet he saw that an accidental difference did not affect the substance of his arrangement. Nor did he waste time demanding that the monkeys try to be “more reasonable” about it when monkeys are not expected to be reasonable in the first place. It is when we insist most firmly on everyone else being “reasonable” that we become, ourselves, unreasonable. Chuang Tzu, firmly centered on Tao, could see these things in perspective. His teaching follows the principle of “three in the morning,” and it is at home on two levels: that of the divine and invisible Tao that has no name, and that of ordinary, simple, everyday existence.

I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing

In shared lament for the upcoming semester a colleague left me a cake pop with this message attached – it is Stubb from ch. 39 of Moby Dick, one of Melville’s theatrically-conceived chapters:

Fore-Top.
(Stubb solus, and mending a brace.)
Ha! ha! ha! ha! hem! clear my throat!—I’ve been thinking over it ever since, and that ha, ha’s the final consequence. Why so? Because a laugh’s the wisest, easiest answer to all that’s queer; and come what will, one comfort’s always left—that unfailing comfort is, it’s all predestinated. I heard not all his talk with Starbuck; but to my poor eye Starbuck then looked something as I the other evening felt. Be sure the old Mogul has fixed him, too. I twigged it, knew it; had had the gift, might readily have prophesied it—for when I clapped my eye upon his skull I saw it. Well, Stubb, wise Stubb—that’s my title—well, Stubb, what of it, Stubb? Here’s a carcase. I know not all that may be coming, but be it what it will, I’ll go to it laughing. Such a waggish leering as lurks in all your horribles! I feel funny. Fa, la! lirra, skirra! What’s my juicy little pear at home doing now? Crying its eyes out?—Giving a party to the last arrived harpooneers, I dare say, gay as a frigate’s pennant, and so am I—fa, la! lirra, skirra! Oh—

We’ll drink to-night with hearts as light,
To love, as gay and fleeting
As bubbles that swim, on the beaker’s brim,
And break on the lips while meeting.

A brave stave that—who calls? Mr. Starbuck? Aye, aye, sir—(Aside) he’s my superior, he has his too, if I’m not mistaken.—Aye, aye, sir, just through with this job—coming.

Stubb is always an easy target for critics for his express refusal to engage anything with seriousness. I don’t think the character should be believed on that point – he takes an oblique, jocular angle to engagement and multiple times must warn himself away from hard thinking – but even if he is, it doesn’t discount the rich intuitive sense Melville allows him. See the sequence of chs 29-31:

CHAPTER 29. Enter Ahab; to Him, Stubb.
Some days elapsed, and ice and icebergs all astern, the Pequod now went rolling through the bright Quito spring, which, at sea, almost perpetually reigns on the threshold of the eternal August of the Tropic. The warmly cool, clear, ringing, perfumed, overflowing, redundant days, were as crystal goblets of Persian sherbet, heaped up—flaked up, with rose-water snow. The starred and stately nights seemed haughty dames in jewelled velvets, nursing at home in lonely pride, the memory of their absent conquering Earls, the golden helmeted suns! For sleeping man, ’twas hard to choose between such winsome days and such seducing nights. But all the witcheries of that unwaning weather did not merely lend new spells and potencies to the outward world. Inward they turned upon the soul, especially when the still mild hours of eve came on; then, memory shot her crystals as the clear ice most forms of noiseless twilights. And all these subtle agencies, more and more they wrought on Ahab’s texture.

Old age is always wakeful; as if, the longer linked with life, the less man has to do with aught that looks like death. Among sea-commanders, the old greybeards will oftenest leave their berths to visit the night-cloaked deck. It was so with Ahab; only that now, of late, he seemed so much to live in the open air, that truly speaking, his visits were more to the cabin, than from the cabin to the planks. “It feels like going down into one’s tomb,”—he would mutter to himself—“for an old captain like me to be descending this narrow scuttle, to go to my grave-dug berth.”

So, almost every twenty-four hours, when the watches of the night were set, and the band on deck sentinelled the slumbers of the band below; and when if a rope was to be hauled upon the forecastle, the sailors flung it not rudely down, as by day, but with some cautiousness dropt it to its place for fear of disturbing their slumbering shipmates; when this sort of steady quietude would begin to prevail, habitually, the silent steersman would watch the cabin-scuttle; and ere long the old man would emerge, gripping at the iron banister, to help his crippled way. Some considering touch of humanity was in him; for at times like these, he usually abstained from patrolling the quarter-deck; because to his wearied mates, seeking repose within six inches of his ivory heel, such would have been the reverberating crack and din of that bony step, that their dreams would have been on the crunching teeth of sharks. But once, the mood was on him too deep for common regardings; and as with heavy, lumber-like pace he was measuring the ship from taffrail to mainmast, Stubb, the old second mate, came up from below, with a certain unassured, deprecating humorousness, hinted that if Captain Ahab was pleased to walk the planks, then, no one could say nay; but there might be some way of muffling the noise; hinting something indistinctly and hesitatingly about a globe of tow, and the insertion into it, of the ivory heel. Ah! Stubb, thou didst not know Ahab then.

“Am I a cannon-ball, Stubb,” said Ahab, “that thou wouldst wad me that fashion? But go thy ways; I had forgot. Below to thy nightly grave; where such as ye sleep between shrouds, to use ye to the filling one at last.—Down, dog, and kennel!”

Starting at the unforseen concluding exclamation of the so suddenly scornful old man, Stubb was speechless a moment; then said excitedly, “I am not used to be spoken to that way, sir; I do but less than half like it, sir.”

“Avast! gritted Ahab between his set teeth, and violently moving away, as if to avoid some passionate temptation.

“No, sir; not yet,” said Stubb, emboldened, “I will not tamely be called a dog, sir.”

“Then be called ten times a donkey, and a mule, and an ass, and begone, or I’ll clear the world of thee!”

As he said this, Ahab advanced upon him with such overbearing terrors in his aspect, that Stubb involuntarily retreated.

“I was never served so before without giving a hard blow for it,” muttered Stubb, as he found himself descending the cabin-scuttle. “It’s very queer. Stop, Stubb; somehow, now, I don’t well know whether to go back and strike him, or—what’s that?—down here on my knees and pray for him? Yes, that was the thought coming up in me; but it would be the first time I ever did pray. It’s queer; very queer; and he’s queer too; aye, take him fore and aft, he’s about the queerest old man Stubb ever sailed with. How he flashed at me!—his eyes like powder-pans! is he mad? Anyway there’s something on his mind, as sure as there must be something on a deck when it cracks. He aint in his bed now, either, more than three hours out of the twenty-four; and he don’t sleep then. Didn’t that Dough-Boy, the steward, tell me that of a morning he always finds the old man’s hammock clothes all rumpled and tumbled, and the sheets down at the foot, and the coverlid almost tied into knots, and the pillow a sort of frightful hot, as though a baked brick had been on it? A hot old man! I guess he’s got what some folks ashore call a conscience; it’s a kind of Tic-Dolly-row they say—worse nor a toothache. Well, well; I don’t know what it is, but the Lord keep me from catching it. He’s full of riddles; I wonder what he goes into the after hold for, every night, as Dough-Boy tells me he suspects; what’s that for, I should like to know? Who’s made appointments with him in the hold? Ain’t that queer, now? But there’s no telling, it’s the old game—Here goes for a snooze. Damn me, it’s worth a fellow’s while to be born into the world, if only to fall right asleep. And now that I think of it, that’s about the first thing babies do, and that’s a sort of queer, too. Damn me, but all things are queer, come to think of ’em. But that’s against my principles. Think not, is my eleventh commandment; and sleep when you can, is my twelfth—So here goes again. But how’s that? didn’t he call me a dog? blazes! he called me ten times a donkey, and piled a lot of jackasses on top of that! He might as well have kicked me, and done with it. Maybe he did kick me, and I didn’t observe it, I was so taken all aback with his brow, somehow. It flashed like a bleached bone. What the devil’s the matter with me? I don’t stand right on my legs. Coming afoul of that old man has a sort of turned me wrong side out. By the Lord, I must have been dreaming, though—How? how? how?—but the only way’s to stash it; so here goes to hammock again; and in the morning, I’ll see how this plaguey juggling thinks over by daylight.”

CHAPTER 31. Queen Mab.
Next morning Stubb accosted Flask.

“Such a queer dream, King-Post, I never had. You know the old man’s ivory leg, well I dreamed he kicked me with it; and when I tried to kick back, upon my soul, my little man, I kicked my leg right off! And then, presto! Ahab seemed a pyramid, and I, like a blazing fool, kept kicking at it. But what was still more curious, Flask—you know how curious all dreams are—through all this rage that I was in, I somehow seemed to be thinking to myself, that after all, it was not much of an insult, that kick from Ahab. ‘Why,’ thinks I, ‘what’s the row? It’s not a real leg, only a false leg.’ And there’s a mighty difference between a living thump and a dead thump. That’s what makes a blow from the hand, Flask, fifty times more savage to bear than a blow from a cane. The living member—that makes the living insult, my little man. And thinks I to myself all the while, mind, while I was stubbing my silly toes against that cursed pyramid—so confoundedly contradictory was it all, all the while, I say, I was thinking to myself, ‘what’s his leg now, but a cane—a whalebone cane. Yes,’ thinks I, ‘it was only a playful cudgelling—in fact, only a whaleboning that he gave me—not a base kick. Besides,’ thinks I, ‘look at it once; why, the end of it—the foot part—what a small sort of end it is; whereas, if a broad footed farmer kicked me, there’s a devilish broad insult. But this insult is whittled down to a point only.’ But now comes the greatest joke of the dream, Flask. While I was battering away at the pyramid, a sort of badger-haired old merman, with a hump on his back, takes me by the shoulders, and slews me round. ‘What are you ’bout?’ says he. Slid! man, but I was frightened. Such a phiz! But, somehow, next moment I was over the fright. ‘What am I about?’ says I at last. ‘And what business is that of yours, I should like to know, Mr. Humpback? Do you want a kick?’ By the lord, Flask, I had no sooner said that, than he turned round his stern to me, bent over, and dragging up a lot of seaweed he had for a clout—what do you think, I saw?—why thunder alive, man, his stern was stuck full of marlinspikes, with the points out. Says I, on second thoughts, ‘I guess I won’t kick you, old fellow.’ ‘Wise Stubb,’ said he, ‘wise Stubb;’ and kept muttering it all the time, a sort of eating of his own gums like a chimney hag. Seeing he wasn’t going to stop saying over his ‘wise Stubb, wise Stubb,’ I thought I might as well fall to kicking the pyramid again. But I had only just lifted my foot for it, when he roared out, ‘Stop that kicking!’ ‘Halloa,’ says I, ‘what’s the matter now, old fellow?’ ‘Look ye here,’ says he; ‘let’s argue the insult. Captain Ahab kicked ye, didn’t he?’ ‘Yes, he did,’ says I—‘right here it was.’ ‘Very good,’ says he—‘he used his ivory leg, didn’t he?’ ‘Yes, he did,’ says I. ‘Well then,’ says he, ‘wise Stubb, what have you to complain of? Didn’t he kick with right good will? it wasn’t a common pitch pine leg he kicked with, was it? No, you were kicked by a great man, and with a beautiful ivory leg, Stubb. It’s an honor; I consider it an honor. Listen, wise Stubb. In old England the greatest lords think it great glory to be slapped by a queen, and made garter-knights of; but, be your boast, Stubb, that ye were kicked by old Ahab, and made a wise man of. Remember what I say; be kicked by him; account his kicks honors; and on no account kick back; for you can’t help yourself, wise Stubb. Don’t you see that pyramid?’ With that, he all of a sudden seemed somehow, in some queer fashion, to swim off into the air. I snored; rolled over; and there I was in my hammock! Now, what do you think of that dream, Flask?”

“I don’t know; it seems a sort of foolish to me, tho.’”

“May be; may be. But it’s made a wise man of me, Flask. D’ye see Ahab standing there, sideways looking over the stern? Well, the best thing you can do, Flask, is to let the old man alone; never speak to him, whatever he says. Halloa! What’s that he shouts? Hark!”

“Mast-head, there! Look sharp, all of ye! There are whales hereabouts!

“If ye see a white one, split your lungs for him!

“What do you think of that now, Flask? ain’t there a small drop of something queer about that, eh? A white whale—did ye mark that, man? Look ye—there’s something special in the wind. Stand by for it, Flask. Ahab has that that’s bloody on his mind. But, mum; he comes this way.”

As for me, I’ve been trying a long time to be of no use, and though I almost died, I’ve finally got it

From part 4, In The World of Men, of The Complete Works of Zhuangzi (trans. Burton Watson):

Carpenter Shi went to Qi and, when he got to Crooked Shaft, he saw a serrate oak standing by the village shrine. It was broad enough to shelter several thousand oxen and measured a hundred spans around, towering above the hills. The lowest branches were eighty feet from the ground, and a dozen or so of them could have been made into boats. There were so many sightseers that the place looked like a fair, but the carpenter didn’t even glance around and went on his way without stopping. His apprentice stood staring for a long time and then ran after Carpenter Shi and said, “Since I first took up my ax and followed you, Master, I have never seen timber as beautiful as this. But you don’t even bother to look, and go right on without stopping. Why is that?”
“Forget it—say no more!” said the carpenter. “It’s a worthless tree! Make boats out of it and they’d sink; make coffins and they’d rot in no time; make vessels and they’d break at once. Use it for doors and it would sweat sap like pine; use it for posts and the worms would eat them up. It’s not a timber tree—there’s nothing it can be used for. That’s how it got to be that old!”
After Carpenter Shi had returned home, the oak tree appeared to him in a dream and said, “What are you comparing me with? Are you comparing me with those useful trees? The cherry apple, the pear, the orange, the citron, the rest of those fructiferous trees and shrubs—as soon as their fruit is ripe, they are torn apart and subjected to abuse. Their big limbs are broken off, their little limbs are yanked around. Their utility makes life miserable for them, and so they don’t get to finish out the years Heaven gave them but are cut off in mid-journey. They bring it on themselves—the pulling and tearing of the common mob. And it’s the same way with all other things.
“As for me, I’ve been trying a long time to be of no use, and though I almost died, I’ve finally got it. This is of great use to me. If I had been of some use, would I ever have grown this large? Moreover, you and I are both of us things. What’s the point of this—things condemning things? You, a worthless man about to die—how do you know I’m a worthless tree?”
When Carpenter Shi woke up, he reported his dream. His apprentice said, “If it’s so intent on being of no use, what’s it doing there at the village shrine?”
“Shhh! Say no more! It’s only resting there. If we carp and criticize, it will merely conclude that we don’t understand it. Even if it weren’t at the shrine, do you suppose it would be cut down? It protects itself in a different way from ordinary people. If you try to judge it by conventional standards, you’ll be way off!”

Would they thinke it well if the day were spent in dressing, mistressing and complement

From John Donne’s To Mr. Tilman After He Had Taken Orders, with Helen Gardner’s readings from her edition of The Divine Poems. ‘Mistressing’ is a verbal form of the noun ‘mistress’ and ‘complement’ here is an obsolete spelling on ‘compliment’ (OED 8.b – ‘observance of ceremony in social relations; ceremoniousness; formal civility, politeness, or courtesy. to keep complement: to observe ceremony’).

Why doth the foolish world scorn that profession,
Whose joyes pass speech? Why do they think unfit
That Gentry should join families with it?
Would they thinke it well if the day were spent
In dressing, mistressing and complement.
Alas poor joyes, but poorer men, whose trust
Seemes richly placed in refined dust,
(For such are clothes and beauties, which though gay,
Are, at the best, but of sublimed clay)
Let then the world thy calling disrespect,
But go thou on, and pity their neglect.

Do not know the truth by men, but rather, know the truth and you will know its adherents

From Al-Ghazali‘s Deliverance from Error (R.J. Mccarthy, S.J. translation). The core of the passage – attend to the truth, not the person who says it – seems a favorite of his as he makes several times.

This is the practice of those dim-witted men who know the truth by men, and not men by the truth. The intelligent man, on the contrary, follows the advice of the Master of the Intelligent, Ali – God be pleased with him! – where he says: “Do not know the truth by men, but rather, know the truth and you will know its adherents.” The intelligent man, therefore, first knows the truth, then he considers what is actually said by someone. If it is true, he accepts it, whether the speaker be wrong or right in other matters. Indeed, such a man will often be intent on extracting what is true from the involved utterances of the erring, since he is aware that gold is usually found mixed with dirt. The money-changer suffers no harm if he puts his hand into the sack of the trickster and pulls out the genuine pure gold from among the false and counterfeit coins, so long as he can rely on his professional acumen. It is not the expert money-changer, but rather the inexperienced bumpkin who must be restrained from dealing with the trickster. Likewise, a clumsy and stupid person must be kept away from the seashore, not the proficient swimmer; and a child must be prevented from handling a snake, not the skilled snake charmer.

Such things do not make a Socrates

From Soren Kierkegaard’s Journals and Papers (v.2, pg. 278) – borrowed from Jonathan Lear’s lecture, To Become Human Does Not Come That Easily (now printed in his A Case for Irony):

In what did Socrates’ irony really lie? In expressions and turns of speech, etc? No, such trivialities, even his virtuosity in talking ironically, such things do not make a Socrates. No, his whole existence is and was irony; whereas the entire contemporary population of farm hands and business men and so on, all those thousands, were perfectly sure of being human and knowing what it means to be a human being, Socrates was beneath them (ironically) and occupied himself with the problem – what does it mean to be a human being? He thereby expressed that actually the Trieben [drives] of those thousands was a hallucination, tom-foolery, a ruckus, a hubbub, busyness … Socrates doubted that one is a human being by birth; to become human or to learn what it means to be human does not come that easily.

The shooter and farmer hypotheses

From Cixin Liu’s The Three-Body Problem:

Two words suddenly floated into his consciousness: “shooter” and “farmer.”

When the members of the Frontiers of Science discussed physics, they often used the abbreviation “SF.” They didn’t mean “science fiction,” but the two words “shooter” and “farmer.” This was a reference to two hypotheses, both involving the fundamental nature of the laws of the universe.

In the shooter hypothesis, a good marksman shoots at a target, creating a hole every ten centimeters. Now suppose the surface of the target is inhabited by intelligent, two-dimensional creatures. Their scientists, after observing the universe, discover a great law: “There exists a hole in the universe every ten centimeters.” They have mistaken the result of the marksman’s momentary whim for an unalterable law of the universe.

The farmer hypothesis, on the other hand, has the flavor of a horror story: Every morning on a turkey farm, the farmer comes to feed the turkeys. A scientist turkey, having observed this pattern to hold without change for almost a year, makes the following discovery: “Every morning at eleven, food arrives.” On the morning of Thanksgiving, the scientist announces this law to the other turkeys. But that morning at eleven, food doesn’t arrive; instead, the farmer comes and kills the entire flock.

As humorous is my contritione as my prophane love, and as soone forgott

From John Donne’s Divine Poems (no. 3 in the Holy Sonnets from the Westmoreland MS):

Oh, to vex me, contraryes meete in one:
Inconstancy unnaturally hath begott
A constant habit; that when I would not
I change in vowes, and in devotione.
As humorous is my contritione
As my prophane love, and as soone forgott:
As ridlingly distemperd, cold and hott,
As praying, as mute; as infinite, as none.
I durst not view heaven yeserday; and to day
In prayers, and flattering speaches I court God:
To morrow I quake with true feare of his rod.
So my devout fitts come and go away
Like a fantastique Ague: save that here
Those are my best dayes, when I shake with feare.

The editor of my edition – Helen Gardner for the 1952 Oxford English Texts volume- had nothing to say on this in her commentary.

All the wise world is little else, in nature, but parasites, or sub-parasites

From Ben Jonson’s Volpone (3.1). Mosca the parasite’s apotheosis of parasites.

I fear, I shall begin to grow in love
With my dear self, and my most prosperous parts,
They do so spring and burgeon; I can feel
A whimsy in my blood: I know not how,
Success hath made me wanton. I could skip
Out of my skin, now, like a subtle snake,
I am so limber. O! your parasite
Is a most precious thing, dropt from above,
Not bred ‘mongst clods and clot-poles, here on earth.
I muse, the mystery was not made a science,
It is so liberally professed! almost
All the wise world is little else, in nature,
But parasites, or sub-parasites. And yet,
I mean not those that have your bare town-art,
To know who’s fit to feed ’em; have no house,
No family, no care, and therefore mould
Tales for men’s ears, to bait that sense; or get
Kitchen-invention, and some stale receipts
To please the belly, and the groin; nor those,
With their court-dog-tricks, that can fawn and fleer,
Make their revenue out of legs and faces,
Echo my-Lord, and lick away a moth:
But your fine, elegant rascal, that can rise,
And stoop (almost together) like an arrow;
Shoot through the air, as nimbly as a star;
Turn short as doth a swallow; and be here,
And there, and here, and yonder, all at once;
Present to any humour, all occasion;
And change a visor swifter than a thought!
This is the creature had the art born with him;
Toils not to learn it, but doth practise it
Out of most excellent nature: and such sparks
Are the true parasites, others but their zanies.

The OED gives zany/zanies as “A comic performer attending on a clown, acrobat, or mountebank, who imitates his master’s acts in a ludicrously awkward way; a clown’s or mountebank’s assistant, a merry-andrew, jack-pudding; sometimes used vaguely for a professional jester or buffoon in general.”

From shore they well may glimpse the bottom, but not once out upon the open sea

A passage of Dante’s (Paradiso XIX 40-66) I was reminded of while reading of Stanislaw Lem’s Solaris, partially for the ocean metaphor and partially for the intellectual humility (whether taken in a religious sense or otherwise). Here are Charles Singleton’s prose – because it is clearest – and Robert Hollander’s verse versions (online here). The Italian is at bottom.

Then it began, “He that turned His compass round the limit of the world, and within it marked out so much both hidden and revealed, could not so imprint His power on all the universe that His word should not remain in infinite excess; and this is certified by that first proud one [Lucifer], who was the highest of all creatures and who, through not awaiting light, fell unripe; from which it is plain that every lesser nature is too scant a vessel for that Good which has no limit and measures Itself by Itself. Thus your vision, which must needs be one of the rays of the Mind with which all things are replete, cannot of its own nature be of such power that it should not perceive its origin to be far beyond all that is apparent to it. Therefore the sight that is granted to your world penetrates within the Eternal Justice as the eye into the sea; which, though from the shore it can see the bottom, in the open sea it sees it not, and none the less it is there, but the depth conceals it. There is no light unless it comes from that serene which is never clouded, else is it darkness, either shadow of the flesh or its poison.


Then it began: ‘He who with His compass
drew the boundaries of the world and then, within them,
created distinctions, both hidden and quite clear,
‘did not imprint His power so deep
throughout the universe that His Word
would not with infinite excess surpass His making.
‘In proof of this, the first and prideful being,
who was created highest of all creatures,
by not waiting for the light, plummeted unripe.
‘And thus it is clear that every lesser nature
is too small a vessel for that goodness
which has no limit, which is measured by itself alone.
‘Thus your vision, which must be
but a single ray of many in the mind
of Him of whom all things are full,
‘by its nature must not have such power
that it should not perceive its source
as lying far beyond all it can see.
‘Thus, the vision granted to your world
may make its way into eternal justice
as deep as eyes may penetrate the sea.
‘From shore they well may glimpse the bottom,
but not once out upon the open sea,
and yet it is there, hidden in the depths.
‘No light is never overcast unless it comes
from that clear sky which always shines. All others
darken in the shadow or the bane of flesh.

and the Italian:

Poi cominciò: “Colui che volse il sesto
a lo stremo del mondo, e dentro ad esso
distinse tanto occulto e manifesto,

non poté suo valor sì fare impresso
in tutto l’universo, che ‘l suo verbo
non rimanesse in infinito eccesso.

E ciò fa certo che ‘l primo superbo,
che fu la somma d’ogne creatura,
per non aspettar lume, cadde acerbo;

e quinci appar ch’ogne minor natura
è corto recettacolo a quel bene
che non ha fine e sé con sé misura.

Dunque vostra veduta, che convene
essere alcun de’ raggi de la mente
di che tutte le cose son ripiene,

non pò da sua natura esser possente
tanto, che suo principio non discerna
molto di là da quel che l’è parvente.

Però ne la giustizia sempiterna
la vista che riceve il vostro mondo,
com’ occhio per lo mare, entro s’interna;

che, ben che da la proda veggia il fondo,
in pelago nol vede; e nondimeno
èli, ma cela lui l’esser profondo.

Lume non è, se non vien dal sereno
che non si turba mai; anzi è tenèbra
od ombra de la carne o suo veleno.