by birth, but not in morals.’1
The poem consists of three parts, Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise.
Each part is divided into thirty-three cantos, in allusion to the years of the Saviour
's life; for though the Hell contains thirty-four, the first canto is merely introductory.
In the form of the verse (triple rhyme) we may find an emblem of the Trinity
, and in the three divisions, of the threefold state of man, sin, grace, and beatitude.
Symbolic meanings reveal themselves, or make themselves suspected, everywhere, as in the architecture of the Middle Ages
An analysis of the poem would be out of place here, but we must say a few words of Dante
's position as respects modern literature.
If we except Wolfram von Eschenbach
, he is the first Christian poet, the first (indeed, we might say the only) one whose whole system of thought is colored in every finest fibre by a purely Christian theology.
Lapse through sin, mediation, and redemption, these are the subjects of the three parts of the poem: or, otherwise stated, intellectual conviction of the result of sin, typified in Virgil (symbol also of that imperialism whose origin he sang); moral conversion after repentance, by divine grace, typified in Beatrice
; reconciliation with God, and actual blinding vision of him,—‘The pure in heart shall see God.’
Here are general truths which any Christian may accept and find comfort in. But the poem comes nearer to us than this.
It is the real history of a brother man, of a tempted, purified, and at last triumphant human soul; it teaches the benign ministry of sorrow, and that the ladder of that faith by which man climbs to the actual fruition of things not seen ex quovis ligno non fit
, but only of the cross manfully borne.
The poem is also, in a very intimate sense,