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Dante's Divine Comedy


Cantos XV(82) to XVII (75)

English Edition, translated by Allen Mandelbaum

from the ELF Presents Website

See this website for other translations.  These translations are not

necessarily the best in English but they are in the public domain.


Canto  XV (82-145)

Canto  XVI

Canto XVII (1-75)



Canto XV


The Third Circle: The Irascible Dante's Visions. The Smoke.
82   But wanting then to say, You have appeased me,
83   I saw that I had reached another circle,
84   and my desiring eyes made me keep still.
85   There I seemed, suddenly, to be caught up
86   in an ecstatic vision and to see
87   some people in a temple; and a woman
88   just at the threshold, in the gentle manner
89   that mothers use, was saying: O my son,
90   why have you done this to us?  You can see
91   how we have sought you sorrowing, your father
92   and I.  And at this point, as she fell still,
93   what had appeared at first now disappeared.
94   Then there appeared to me another woman:
95   upon her cheeks the tears that grief distills
96   when it is born of much scorn for another.
97   She said: If you are ruler of that city
98   to name which even goddesses once vied
99   where every science had its source of light
100   revenge yourself on the presumptuous
101   arms that embraced our daughter, O Pisistratus.
102   And her lord seemed to me benign and mild,
103   his aspect temperate, as he replied:
104   What shall we do to one who'd injure us
105   if one who loves us earns our condemnation?
106   Next I saw people whom the fire of wrath
107   had kindled, as they stoned a youth and kept
108   on shouting loudly to each other: Kill!
109   Kill! Kill! I saw him now, weighed down by death,
110   sink to the ground, although his eyes were bent
111   always on Heaven they were Heaven's gates
112   praying to his high Lord, despite the torture,
113   to pardon those who were his persecutors;
114   his look was such that it unlocked compassion.
115   And when my soul returned outside itself
116   and met the things outside it that are real,
117   I then could recognize my not false errors.
118   My guide, on seeing me behave as if
119   I were a man who's freed himself from sleep,
120   said: What is wrong with you? You can't walk straight;
121   for more than half a league now you have moved
122   with clouded eyes and lurching legs, as if
123   you were a man whom wine or sleep has gripped!
124   Oh, my kind father, if you hear me out,
125   I'll tell you what appeared to me, I said,
126   when I had lost the right use of my legs.
127   And he: Although you had a hundred masks
128   upon your face, that still would not conceal
129   from me the thoughts you thought, however slight.
130   What you have seen was shown lest you refuse
131   to open up your heart unto the waters
132   of peace that pour from the eternal fountain.
133   I did not ask 'What's wrong with you?' as one
134   who only sees with earthly eyes, which once
135   the body, stripped of soul, lies dead can't see;
136   I asked so that your feet might find more force:
137   so must one urge the indolent, too slow
138   to use their waking time when it returns.
139   We made our way until the end of vespers,
140   peering, as far ahead as sight could stretch,
141   at rays of light that, although late, were bright.
142   But, gradually, smoke as black as night
143   began to overtake us; and there was
144   no place where we could have avoided it.
145   This smoke deprived us of pure air and sight.




Canto XVI

The Third Circle: The Irascible Marco Lombardo. Lament over the State of the World.
1   Darkness of Hell and of a night deprived
2   of every planet, under meager skies,
3   as overcast by clouds as sky can be,
4   had never served to veil my eyes so thickly
5   nor covered them with such rough-textured stuff
6   as smoke that wrapped us there in Purgatory;
7   my eyes could not endure remaining open;
8   so that my faithful, knowledgeable escort
9   drew closer as he offered me his shoulder.
10   Just as a blind man moves behind his guide,
11   that he not stray or strike against some thing
12   that may do damage to or even kill him,
13   so I moved through the bitter, filthy air,
14   while listening to my guide, who kept repeating:
15   Take care that you are not cut off from me.
16   But I heard voices, and each seemed to pray
17   unto the Lamb of God, who takes away
18   our sins, for peace and mercy. Agnus Dei
19   was sung repeatedly as their exordium,
20   words sung in such a way in unison
21   that fullest concord seemed to be among them.
22   Master, are those whom I hear, spirits?  I
23   asked him.  You have grasped rightly, he replied,
24   and as they go they loose the knot of anger.
25   Then who are you whose body pierces through
26   our smoke, who speak of us exactly like
27   a man who uses months to measure time?
28   A voice said this. On hearing it, my master
29   turned round to me: Reply to him, then ask
30   if this way leads us to the upward path.
31   And I: O creature who that you return
32   fair unto Him who made you cleanse yourself,
33   you shall hear wonders if you follow me.
34   I'll follow you as far as I'm allowed,
35   he answered, and if smoke won't let us see,
36   hearing will serve instead to keep us linked.
37   Then I began: With those same swaddling-bands
38   that death unwinds I take my upward path:
39   I have come here by way of Hell's exactions;
40   since God's so gathered me into His grace
41   that He would have me, in a manner most
42   unusual for moderns, see His court,
43   do not conceal from me who you once were,
44   before your death, and tell me if I go
45   straight to the pass; your words will be our escort.
46   I was a Lombard and I was called Marco;
47   I knew the world's ways, and I loved those goods
48   for which the bows of all men now grow slack.
49   The way you've taken leads directly upward.
50   So he replied, and then he added: I pray you to
51   pray for me when you're above.
52   And I to him: I pledge my faith to you
53   to do what you have asked; and yet a doubt
54   will burst in me if it finds no way out.
55   Before, my doubt was simple; but your statement
56   has doubled it and made me sure that I
57   am right to couple your words with another's.
58   The world indeed has been stripped utterly
59   of every virtue; as you said to me,
60   it cloaks and is cloaked by perversity.
61   Some place the cause in heaven, some, below;
62   but I beseech you to define the cause,
63   that, seeing it, I may show it to others.
64   A sigh, from which his sorrow formed an Oh,
65   was his beginning; then he answered: Brother,
66   the world is blind, and you come from the world.
67   You living ones continue to assign
68   to heaven every cause, as if it were
69   the necessary source of every motion.
70   If this were so, then your free will would be
71   destroyed, and there would be no equity
72   in joy for doing good, in grief for evil.
73   The heavens set your appetites in motion
74   not all your appetites, but even if
75   that were the case, you have received both light
76   on good and evil, and free will, which though
77   it struggle in its first wars with the heavens,
78   then conquers all, if it has been well nurtured.
79   On greater power and a better nature
80   you, who are free, depend; that Force engenders
81   the mind in you, outside the heavens' sway.
82   Thus, if the present world has gone astray,
83   in you is the cause, in you it's to be sought;
84   and now I'll serve as your true exegete.
85   Issuing from His hands, the soul on which
86   He thought with love before creating it
87   is like a child who weeps and laughs in sport;
88   that soul is simple, unaware; but since
89   a joyful Maker gave it motion, it
90   turns willingly to things that bring delight.
91   At first it savors trivial goods; these would
92   beguile the soul, and it runs after them,
93   unless there's guide or rein to rule its love.
94   Therefore, one needed law to serve as curb;
95   a ruler, too, was needed, one who could
96   discern at least the tower of the true city.
97   The laws exist, but who applies them now?
98   No one the shepherd who precedes his flock
99   can chew the cud but does not have cleft hooves;
100   and thus the people, who can see their guide
101   snatch only at that good for which they feel
102   some greed would feed on that and seek no further.
103   Misrule, you see, has caused the world to be
104   malevolent; the cause is clearly not
105   celestial forces they do not corrupt.
106   For Rome, which made the world good, used to have
107   two suns; and they made visible two paths
108   the world's path and the pathway that is God's.
109   Each has eclipsed the other; now the sword
110   has joined the shepherd's crook; the two together
111   must of necessity result in evil,
112   because, so joined, one need not fear the other:
113   and if you doubt me, watch the fruit and flower,
114   for every plant is known by what it seeds.
115   Within the territory watered by
116   the Adige and Po, one used to find
117   valor and courtesy that is, before
118   Frederick was met by strife; now anyone
119   ashamed of talking with the righteous or
120   of meeting them can journey there, secure.
121   True, three old men are there, in whom old times
122   reprove the new; and they find God is slow
123   in summoning them to a better life:
124   Currado da Palazzo, good Gherardo,
125   and Guido da Castel, whom it is better
126   to call, as do the French, the candid Lombard.
127   You can conclude: the Church of Rome
128   confounds two powers in itself; into the filth, it
129   falls and fouls itself and its new burden.
130   Good Marco, I replied, you reason well;
131   and now I understand why Levi's sons were
132   not allowed to share in legacies.
133   But what Gherardo is this whom you mention
134   as an example of the vanished people whose
135   presence would reproach this savage age?
136   Either your speech deceives me or would tempt me,
137   he answered then, for you, whose speech is Tuscan,
138   seem to know nothing of the good Gherardo.
139   There is no other name by which I know him,
140   unless I speak of him as Gaia's father.
141   God be with you; I come with you no farther.
142   You see the rays that penetrate the smoke
143   already whitening; I must take leave
144   the angel has arrived before he sees me.
145   So he turned back and would not hear me more.







Remember, reader, if you've ever been
caught in the mountains by a mist through which
you only saw as moles see through their skin,




how, when the thick, damp vapors once begin
to thin, the sun's sphere passes feebly through them,
then your imagination will be quick




to reach the point where it can see how I
first came to see the sun again-when it
was almost at the point at which it sets.




So, my steps matched my master's trusty steps;
out of that cloud I came, reaching the rays
that, on the shores below, by now were spent.




O fantasy, you that at times would snatch
us so from outward things-we notice nothing
although a thousand trumpets sound around us-




who moves you when the senses do not spur you?
A light that finds its form in Heaven moves you-
directly or led downward by God's will.




Within my fantasy I saw impressed
the savagery of one who then, transformed,
became the bird that most delights in song;




at this, my mind withdrew to the within,
to what imagining might bring; no thing
that came from the without could enter in.




Then into my deep fantasy there rained
one who was crucified; and as he died,
he showed his savagery and his disdain.




Around him were great Ahasuerus and
Esther his wife, and the just Mordecai,
whose saying and whose doing were so upright.




And when this image shattered of itself,
just like a bubble that has lost the water
beneath which it was formed, there then rose up




in my envisioning a girl who wept
most bitterly and said: "O queen, why did
you, in your wrath, desire to be no more?




So as to keep Lavinia, you killed
yourself; now you have lost me! I am she,
mother, who mourns your fall before another's."




Even as sleep is shattered when new light
strikes suddenly against closed eyes and, once
it's shattered, gleams before it dies completely,




so my imagination fell away
as soon as light-more powerful than light
we are accustomed to-beat on my eyes.




I looked about to see where I might be;
but when a voice said: "Here one can ascend,"
then I abandoned every other intent.




That voice made my will keen to see the one
who'd spoken-with the eagerness that cannot
be still until it faces what it wants.




But even as the sun, become too strong,
defeats our vision, veiling its own form,
so there my power of sight was overcome.




"This spirit is divine; and though unasked,
he would conduct us to the upward path;
he hides himself with that same light he sheds.




He does with us as men do with themselves;
for he who sees a need but waits to be
asked is already set on cruel refusal.




Now let our steps accept his invitation,
and let us try to climb before dark falls-
then, until day returns, we'll have to halt."




So said my guide; and toward a stairway, he
and I, together, turned; and just as soon
as I was at the first step, I sensed something




much like the motion of a wing, and wind
that beat against my face, and words: "Beati
pacifici, those free of evil anger!"



Above us now the final rays before;
the fall of night were raised to such a height
that we could see the stars on every side.




"O why, my strength, do you so melt away?"
I said within myself, because I felt
the force within my legs compelled to halt.



We'd reached a point at which the upward stairs
no longer climbed, and we were halted there
just like a ship when it has touched the shore.


... (click to continue the ascent)