Darkness of hell and of a night devoid
         Of all the planets, under a dingy sky
         As overcast with clouds as it can be,
         Never made for my eyes so thick a veil,
5         Nor yet a cloth so prickly to the touch,
         As was the smoke that there wrapped us around,
         For it would not let me keep my eyes open:
         At sight of this my wise and trusted escort
         Drew close to me and offered me his shoulder.
10       Just as a blind man goes behind his guide
         So that he may not stray or strike against
         Some thing that could cause hurt or maybe kill him,
         So I walked through that vile and smarting air
         Listening to my guide who kept repeating,
15       "Watch out that you are not cut off from me."
         Voices I heard and each one seemed to pray
         The Lamb of God who takes away our sins
         To grant his mercy to us and his peace.
         "Agnus Dei" their response began,
20       As if one word and measure were in all
         So that full harmony appeared among them.
         "Are those whom I am hearing, master, spirits?"
         I asked. And he told me, "You grasp the truth,
         And they go loosening the knot of anger."
25       "Now who are you who penetrate our smoke
         And speak of us exactly as if you
         Still counted time according to calendars?"
         These words a voice called out. On hearing it,
         My master said to me, "Reply to him
30       And ask if by this way we can climb upward."
         And I: "O creature who cleanse yourself of sin
         To return, beautiful, up to your Maker,
         You shall hear wonders if you follow me."
         "As far as I’m allowed I’ll follow you,
35       And if the smoke won’t let us see," he answered,
         "Hearing instead will let us stay in touch."
         Then I began, "Still with those fleshly bonds
         Which death unbinds I make my upward journey,
         And I have come here through the throes of hell.
40       "Since God has so enclosed me in his grace
         That he had willed that I should see his court
         In a way wholly strange to modern custom,
         "Don’t hide from me who you were before death,
         But tell me, and say if I’m headed straight
45       For the pass: your words shall be our guide."
         "A Lombard was I and Marco I was called.
         I knew the world and yet I loved the worth
         At which the bows of men no longer aim.
         "For mounting up you are on the right path."
50       This he replied — then added: "I pray you
         To pray for me when you are up on high."
         And I told him, "My faith I pledge to you
         To do what you have asked me — but I burst
         Inwardly with doubt I must be rid of:
55       "First my doubt was simple, now it’s doubled
         By your statement which makes me certain here,
         As elsewhere, by the words I couple with it.
         "The world indeed is now completely void
         Of every virtue, as you observed to me,
60       And burdened with iniquity, and buried.
         "But I pray you to point me out the cause
         That I may see it and then show it to others
         For some place it in heaven, some below."
         Deep sighs, which sorrow strained into an "Ah!"
65       He first heaved out, and then began, "Brother,
         The world is blind and surely you come from it.
         "You who are living refer every cause
         Solely up to heaven, as if it moved
         All things with it out of necessity.
70       "If this were so, the free will you possess
         Would be destroyed, and there would be no justice
         In having joy in good or grief in evil.
         "The heavens set your impulses in motion —
         I don’t say all of them, but suppose I did,
75       A light is dealt you to tell good from evil
         "And know free will, which, though it be worn out
         In its first struggles with the heavens, later
         It shall yet conquer all, if nourished well.
         "To a mightier power and a higher nature
80       You, though free, are subject, and that engenders
         The mind in you the heavens do not sway.
         "If, then, the world today has gone astray,
         In you the cause lies, in you it’s to be sought!
         And now I’ll prove a true informant for you.
85       "From out the hands of Him who fondly loves her
         Before she comes to be, there issues forth,
         Like a child at play in tears and laughter,
         "The simple soul without a shred of knowledge,
         Except that, springing from a joyous Maker,
90       Willingly she turns to what delights her.
         "With trifles she first satisfies her taste:
         She is beguiled and gambols after them
         Unless a guide or bridle bend her love.
         "Therefore, law was needed as a curb,
95       And needed also was a king who could
         Discern at least the tower of the true city.
         "The laws exist, but who sets hand to them?
         No one! For the shepherd who heads the flock
         Can chew the cud but has no cloven hooves.
100      "And so the people who behold their guide
         Reaching for that good they’re greedy for
         Feed themselves on that and seek no further.
         "You now can clearly see that evil guidance
         Has been the cause which made the world go wrong
105     And not that nature is corrupt in you.
         "Rome, which made the world good, used to have
         Two suns that made one and the other roadway
         Visible, of God and of the world.
         "One has eclipsed the other, and the sword
110      Has joined the crozier, but the two together
         By force of their conjunction must go wrong
         "Because, so joined, one need not fear the other.
         If you do not believe me, regard the grain,
         Since by the seed it bears the plant is known.
115      "In land the Adige and Po flow through,
         Honor and courtesy once could be found
         Before Frederick met with strong opposition.
         "Now anyone can safely travel there
         Who out of shame avoids conversing with
120      The upright or shuns having contact with them.
         "True, three old men are still there, in whom
         The old days rebuke the new, and long they pine
         Until God calls them to a nobler life:
         "Currado da Palazzo, good Gherardo,
125      And Guido da Castel who is better named,
         In fashion of the French, ‘the simple Lombard.’
         "From this time on, say that the Church of Rome,
         Confounding in itself two sovereignties,
         Falls in the filth, and fouls itself and office."
130      "O my Marco, you reason well," I said,
         "And now I realize why the sons of Levi
         Were not allowed to have inheritances.
         "But what Gherardo is this who you say
         Remains a sample of the race long-gone,
135      In strict reproach against this barbarous age?"
         "Either your speech deceives me or would test m

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