The gloom of Hell and of a night deprived
of every planet, 'neath a narrow sky,
darkened as much as possible by clouds,
ne'er made so thick a veil before my face,
nor to my feeling was so rough in tissue,
as was the smoke which covered us up there;
for that permitted not of opened eyes;
because of which my wise and trusty Escort
drew near to me, and offered me his shoulder.
Even as a blind man walks behind his guide,
in order not to go astray, and strike
aught that might hurt him, or might even kill;
so, going through that foul and bitter air,
I listened to my Leader, who said only:
"Take care that thou be not cut off from me!"
Voices I heard, and each appeared to pray
for peace and mercy to the Lamb of God,
who taketh sins away. Their only prelude
was "Lamb of God"; and all had but one word
and intonation, hence among them all
there seemed to be the fullest harmony.
"Are those, then, spirits, Teacher, whom I hear?"
said I; and he to me: "Thou judgest rightly;
as on they go, they loosen anger's knot."
"Now who art thou, that cleavest thus our smoke,
and yet dost speak of us, as if thou still
by monthly calends wert dividing time?"
These words were uttered by a single voice;
my Teacher therefore said to me: "Reply,
and ask him if on this side one goes up."
And I: "O creature, that dost cleanse thyself,
that beautiful thou mayst return to Him
who made thee, thou'lt hear marvels, following me."
"I 'll follow thee as far as I 'm allowed,"
he answered, "and, if smoke permit not sight,
hearing, instead, will keep us linked together."
I thereupon began: "I go on high
while in that swathing-band which death dissolves;
and through the infernal anguish came I here;
and whereas God hath wrapt me in His Grace
so much, that He would have me see His court
by means entirely out of modern use,
conceal not who thou wast before thy death,
but tell it me, and whether toward the pass
I rightly go; and be thy words our guides."
"Lombard I was, and Marco was I called;
familiar with the world, I loved the worth,
toward which all men have now unbent their bows.
For mounting upward thou art going rightly."
He thus replied, and added: "I beseech thee,
pray for me there, when thou shalt be above."
And I to him: "I pledge my faith to thee
that what thou askest of me I will do;
but with a doubt I 'll burst, unless therefrom
I free myself. Simple at first, it now
is doubled by thy speech, which makes me, here
and elsewhere, sure of that wherewith I link it.
The world is certainly as wholly void
of every virtue as thou tellest me,
and is with evil big and overspread;
but, pray, point out its cause, that I may see,
and show it unto other men; for one
puts it in heaven, another, here below."
At first he heaved a sigh profound, which grief
to "Ah me!" changed; then "Brother," he began,
"the world is blind, and thou, indeed, com'st hence.
Ye that are living still attribute upward
each cause to heaven alone, as though it moved
everything with it of necessity.
If this were so, Free Will would be destroyed
within you, and no justice would there be
in having joy for good, and grief for ill.
Heaven starts your inclinations, though I say
not all; but ev'n supposing that I did,
light has been giv'n to you for good and evil,
with Free Will, which, if it endure fatigue
in its first fights with heaven, will afterward,
if duly nourished, conquer everything.
Beneath a greater Power and better Nature
ye freely lie; and that creates within you
the mind, which heaven hath not in its control.
Hence, if the present world go wrong, the cause
is in yourselves, and should in you be sought;
of this I 'll now a true spy be for thee.
Forth from the hand of Him, who ere it lives
delights in it, ev'n like a little maid,
who weeps and laughs, and wantons like a child,
issues the simple soul, which knoweth nought,
save that, proceeding from a Joyous Maker,
it gladly turns to that which pleases it.
At first it tasteth things of little good;
deceived thereby, it runneth after them,
unless a guide or check divert its love.
Hence, as a bit, a law must needs be set;
a king must needs be had, who should at least
the tower of the truthful town discern.
The laws exist, but who sets hand to them?
No one; because the Shepherd who precedes
can chew the cud, but hath not cloven hoofs;
the people, hence, who see their guide strive solely
for those good things for which it longs itself,
feedeth thereon, and asks for nothing more.
Well canst thou see that evil leadership,
and not that Nature in you is corrupt,
is what has caused the world to be so wicked.
Rome, which once made it good, was wont to have
two Suns, which rendered visible both roads,
that of the world, and that of God. One now
hath quenched the other; to the bishop's staff
the sword is joined, and badly needs must one
fare with the other, since, together joined,
neither the other fears; recall to mind,
if thou believe me not, the ear of corn;
for every grass is by its own seed known.
Throughout the country watered by the Po
and Adige, one used to find both virtue
and courtesy, ere Frederick had his strife;
with safety it can nowadays be crossed
by any who, through shame, refrained from speech
with good men, or avoided intercourse.
There are, indeed, three old men still, in whom
the old age chides the modern, and who long
for God to give them back a better life:
Corrado da Palazzo, good Gherardo,
and Guido da Castello, better called,
the simple Lombard, as in France he is.
Say, therefore, that today the Church of Rome,
by joining in herself two kinds of rule,
falls in the mire, and fouls her self and load!"
"O Marco mine," said I, "thine arguments
are good; and now I see why Levi's sons
were from inheriting debarred. But which
Gherardo is the one, who, as thou sayst,
as sample of the people now extinct,
remaineth to reproach this savage age?"
"Thy speech deceives or tests me," he replied,
"for, thou, addressing me in Tuscan speech,
seemst not to know who good Gherardo was.
I know him not by other added name,
unless I took it from his daughter, Gaia.
God keep you, for with you I come no further!
Already whitening now, behold the light,
which rays out through the smoke, and I must go -
the Angel 's there - ere I be seen by him."