Canto XVI

English Edition, translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

1   DARKNESS of hell and of a night deprived
2   Of every planet under a poor sky,
3   As much as may be tenebrous with cloud,
4   Ne’er made unto my sight so thick a veil,
5   As did that smoke which there enveloped us,
6   Nor to the feeling of so rough a texture;
7   For not an eye it suffered to stay open;
8   Whereat mine escort, faithful and sagacious,
9   Drew near to me and offered me his shoulder.
10   E’en as a blind man goes behind his guide,
11   Lest he should wander, or should strike against
12   Aught that may harm or peradventure kill him,
13   So went I through the bitter and foul air,
14   Listening unto my Leader, who said only,
15   Look that from me thou be not separated.
16   Voices I heard, and every one appeared
17   To supplicate for peace and misericord
18   The Lamb of God who takes away our sins.
19   StillAgnus Dei their exordium was;
20   One word there was in all, and metre one,
21   So that all harmony appeared among them.
22   Master,I said, are spirits those I hear?
23   And he to me: Thou apprehendest truly,
24   And they the knot of anger go unloosing.
25   Now who art thou, that cleavest through our smoke
26   And art discoursing of us even as though
27   Thou didst by calends still divide the time?
28   After this manner by a voice was spoken;
29   Whereon my Master said: Do thou reply,
30   And I: O creature that dost cleanse thyself
31   To return beautiful to Him who made thee,
32   Thou shalt hear marvels if thou follow me.
33   Thee will I follow far as is allowed me,
34   He answered; and if smoke prevent our seeing,
35   Hearing shall keep us joined instead thereof.
36   Thereon began I: With that swathing band
37   Which death unwindeth am I going upward,
38   And hither came I through the infernal anguish.
39   And if God in his grace has me infolded,
40   So that he wills that I behold his court
41   By method wholly out of modern usage,
42   Conceal not from me who ere death thou wast,
43   But tell it me, and tell me if I go
44   Right for the pass, and be thy words our escort.
45   Lombard was I, and I was Marco called;
46   The world I knew, and loved that excellence,
47   At which has each one now unbent his bow.
48   For mounting upward, thou art going right.
49   Thus he made answer, and subjoined: I pray thee
50   To pray for me when thou shalt be above.
51   And I to him: My faith I pledge to thee
52   To do what thou dost ask me j but am bursting
53   Inly with doubt, unless I rid me of it.
54   First it was simple, and is now made double
55   By thy opinion, which makes certain to me,
56   Here and elsewhere, that which I couple with it.
57   The world forsooth is utterly deserted
58   By every virtue, as thou tellest me,
59   And with iniquity is big and covered;
60   But I beseech thee point me out the cause,
61   That I may see it, and to others show it;
62   For one in the heavens, and here below one puts it.
63   A sigh profound. that grief forced into Ai!
64   He first sent forth, and then began he: Brother,
65   The world is blind, and sooth thou comest from it!
66   Ye who are living every cause refer
67   Still upward to the heavens, as if all things
68   They of necessity moved with themselves.
69   lf this were so, in you would be destroyed
70   Free will, nor any justice would there be
71   In having joy for good, or grief for evil.
72   The heavens your movements do initiate,
73   I say not all; but granting that I say it,
74   Light has been given you for good and evil,
75   And free volition; which, if some fatigue
76   In the first battles with the heavens it suffers,
77   Afterwards conquers all, if well ’tis nurtured.
78   To greater force and to a better nature,
79   Though free, ye subject are, and that creates
80   The mind in you the heavens have not in charge.
81   Hence, if the present world doth go astray,
82   In you the cause is, be it sought in you;
83   And I therein will now be thy true spy.
84   Forth from the hand of Him, who fondles it
85   Before it is, like to a little girl
86   Weeping and laughing in her childish sport,
87   Issues the simple soul, that nothing knows,
88   Save that, proceeding from a joyous Maker,
89   Gladly it turns to that which gives it pleasure.
90   Of trivial good at first it tastes the savour;
91   Is cheated by it, and runs after it,
92   If guide or rein turn not aside its love.
93   Hence it behoved laws for a rein to place,
94   Behoved a king to have, who at the least
95   Of the true city should discern the tower.
96   The laws exist, but who sets hand to them?
97   No one; because the shepherd who precedes
98   Can ruminate, but cleaveth not the hoof;
99   Wherefore the people that perceives its guide
100   Strike only at the good for which it hankers,
101   Feeds upon that, and farther seeketh not.
102   Clearly canst thou perceive that evil guidance
103   The cause is that has made the world depraved,
104   And not that nature is corrupt in you.
105   Rome, that reformed the world, accustomed was
106   Two suns to have, which one road and the other,
107   Of God and of the world, made manifest.
108   One has the other quenched, and to the crosier
109   The sword is joined, and ill beseemeth it
110   That by main force one with the other go,
111   Because, being joined, one feareth not the other;
112   If thou believe not, think upon the grain,
113   For by its seed each herb is recognized.
114   In the land laved by Po and Adige,
115   Valour and courtesy used to be found,
116   Before that Frederick had his controversy;
117   Now in security can pass that way
118   Whoever will abstain, through sense of shame,
119   From speaking with the good, or drawing near them.
120   True, three old men are left, in whom upbraids
121   The ancient age the new, and late they deem it
122   That God restore them to the better life:
123   Currado da Palazzo, and good Gherardo,
124   And Guido da Castel, who better named is,
125   In fashion of the French, the simple Lombard:
126   Say thou henceforward that the Church of Rome,
127   Confounding in itself two governments,
128   Falls in the mire, and soils itself and burden.
129   ‘O Marco mine,I said, thou reasonest well;
130   And now discern I why the sons of Levi
131   Have been excluded from the heritage.
132   But what Gherardo is it, who, as sample
133   Of a lost race, thou sayest has remained
134   In reprobation of the barbarous age?
135   Either thy speech deceives me, or it tempts me,
136   He answered me,for speaking Tuscan to me,
137   It seems of good Gherardo naught thou knowest.
138   By other surname do I know him not,
139   Unless I take it from his daughter Gaia.
140   May God be with you, for I come no farther.
141   Behold the dawn, that through the smoke rays out,
142   Already whitening; and I must depart–
143   Yonder the Angel is–ere he appear.
144   Thus did he speak, and would no farther hear me.