Dante and Beatrice
More than six hundred years have passed since a little Italian boy, named Durante Alighieri, was born in Florence.
The boy grew under the sunny skies, even as the flowers grew in the beautiful city of his birth, tall, straight, strong.
While he was still a little lad, his school-fellows, as schoolboys will, found a name of their own for their comrade.
Dante they called him, finding thus a shorter, easier name than his baptismal one, Durante. Dante was the name that clung to the lad when schooldays were left behind, and Dante was still the name by which he was known when in long after years he became Italy's most famous poet.
Spring was a gladsome time in the City of Flowers, as Florence was often called. Spring! She was welcomed with the smiles and the laughter of little children; she was greeted with the tears and the memories of the old.
Early in the month of May, when cold winds no longer blew down from the mountains, when green leaves danced and flowers bloomed fragrant in the sunlight, early in the month of May merry festivals were held.
May-day, indeed, in the City of Flowers, was the children's day.
When Dante was nine years old his father took him to one of these May-day festivals.
At the feast Dante saw among the boys and girls one little maiden, so fair, so beautiful, that his eyes had no sooner fallen upon her than he loved her with all his heart.
Beatrice was the maiden's name, and she was but a year younger than Dante himself.
The little boy watched Beatrice as she ran hither and thither among the bright spring flowers, but no word did he speak. Perhaps he was too shy.
However that may be, it was many years later that he first heard the voice of Beatrice. Yet never did he forget the May-day when his eyes had lighted on the little maid and love had sprung up in his heart. The colour of her frock, the girdle which she wore, the ornaments that bedecked her simple beauty, Dante could tell you all about them in long after years.
And because he remembered so well, we have a picture of Beatrice, the little Florentine maiden, clad in her frock of rich dark crimson. We can see the girdle that held the little gown in place fastened around her waist; we can catch the gleam of her necklace as she tosses back her long, fair hair.
Though Dante and Beatrice both lived in Florence they did not often see one another. Yet so great was Dante's love for the maiden that he would watch the narrow streets for many a long hour, that he might catch if it were but a glimpse of her whom he reverenced and adored.
Once, nine long years after the May-day when first he saw her, Dante heard the voice of Beatrice. She was walking in the street between two ladies, when, seeing him, she turned to greet him graciously ere she passed onward. Dante stood quite still when Beatrice had left him, glad, bewildered.
A few days later Dante grew ill, so ill indeed that he lay in bed suffering great pain. And as he lay thus a terrible thought crept into his mind, perhaps because he himself was so weak.
"Beatrice, the most noble Beatrice, must one day die," was the thought that came to trouble Dante as he tossed upon his bed. Nor would it leave him, but ever as he grew weaker he cried, "Beatrice must one day die, the noble Beatrice must die."
Then, as he grew yet more feeble, Dante had a strange vision. He beheld many ladies passing along a road, and they were weeping and wondrous sad. The sun grew dark and the stars grew pale, and birds, even as they spread their wings for flight, fell stricken to the ground, while the earth shook as with a great storm.
And it seemed to Dante that a man stood by his bed and said to him, "Hast thou not heard the tidings? Dead is thy lady that was so fair."
Hearing these words Dante wept and gazed toward heaven, and behold, a multitude of angels were flying upward, and before them they bore a little cloud of exceeding whiteness.
In his dream Dante knew that the little cloud was the soul of Beatrice. He heard also the angels, as they floated upward, singing Hosanna, Hosanna!"
Then said the man who stood beside his bed, "Come and behold thy lady." And Dante saw the body of Beatrice, and her women were covering her head with a white veil.
Now those who were nursing Dante saw the tears falling from his eyes, and they wondered why he wept. And he, waking from his dream, told them how he had seen his lady's soul, as a little white cloud, soaring upward, and his lady's body lying quiet and still on earth.
Then they who tended him soothed his trouble and told him he had but dreamed, and Dante, knowing their words were true, rested, and ere long grew strong and well.
But he did not forget his dream. He would sit in his own room writing love-songs in honour of his lady and thinking of the vision he had seen. And then one day as he wrote he heard that Beatrice was indeed dead.
Dante was crushed with grief. Florence, the city that was so full of people, seemed all at once to have become empty. Beatrice was dead.
He would sit for long hours quiet and listless, caring for nothing, heedless too of all that was passing in his beloved city. Beatrice had left him, and to Dante nothing seemed of any worth.
Then, when his sadness was deepest, Dante dreamed a wonderful dream. In this dream he saw once more the lady whom he loved so well. She was dwelling in the Paradise of God, among the angels, more fair, more radiant than of old.
Dante awoke, sad no longer. He had seen his lady, and he believed that she could see him and could help him too, though she no longer dwelt upon earth.
He knew he would never forget the wonderful vision he had seen, yet he determined to write his dream in a book. It should be a book singing the praises of his lady who dwelt beyond the stars.
And in after years, when Dante had studied, that he might write more worthily than ever before of her he loved, he did indeed tell his dream in a wonderful poem. It was thus that the Divine Comedy was given to the world.