Still, therefore, the Soul
weeps, “The tender stir,”
It says, “of thought that once consoled me flies!”
That troubled one asks, “When into thine eyes
Looked she? Why doubted they my words of her?”
I said, “Her eyes bear death to such as I:
Yet, vainly warned, I gaze on her and die.
“Thou art not dead,
but in a vain dismay,
Dear Soul of ours so lost in thy distress,”
Whispers a spirit voice of tenderness.
“This Lady’s beauty darkens all your day,
Vile fear possesses you; see, she is lowly
Pitiful, courteous, though so wise and holy.
“Think thou to call
her Mistress evermore:
Save thou delude thyself, then shall there shine
High miracles before thee, so divine
That thou shalt say, O Love, when I adore,
True Lord, behold the handmaid of the Lord,
Be it unto me according to thy Word!”
My song, I do believe there
will be few
Who toil to understand thy reasoning;
But if thou pass, perchance, to those who bring
No skill to give thee the attention due,
Then pray I, dear last-born, let them rejoice
To find at least a music in my voice.
Since I, the servant, with preliminary discourse in the preceding Treatise, have with all due care prepared my bread, the time now summons, and requires my ship to leave the port: wherefore, having trimmed the mizen-mast of reason to the wind of my desire, I enter the ocean with the hope of an easy voyage, and a healthful happy haven to be reached at the end of my supper. But in order that my food may be more profitable, before the first dish comes on the table I wish to show how it ought to be eaten. I say then, as is narrated in the first chapter, that this exposition must be Literal and Allegorical; and to make this explicit one should know that it is possible to understand a book in four different ways, and that it ought to be explained chiefly in this manner.
The one is termed Literal, and this is that which does not extend beyond the text itself, such as is the fit narration of that thing whereof you are discoursing, an appropriate example of which is the third Song, which discourses of Nobility.
Another is termed Allegorical, and it is that which is concealed under the veil of fables, and is a Truth concealed under a beautiful Untruth; as when Ovid says that Orpheus with his lute made the wild beasts tame, and made the trees and the stones to follow him, which signifies that the wise man with the instrument of his voice makes cruel hearts gentle and humble, and makes those follow his will who have not the living force of knowledge and of art; who, having not the reasoning life of any knowledge whatever, are as the stones. And in order that this hidden thing should be discovered by the wise, it will be demonstrated in the last Treatise. Verily the theologians take this meaning otherwise than do the poets: but, because my intention here is to follow the way of the poets, I shall take the Allegorical sense according as it is used by the poets.