Even as sheep that move, first one, then two,
then three, out of the fold—the others also
stand, eyes and muzzles lowered, timidly;
and what the first sheep does, the others do,
and if it halts, they huddle close behind,
simple and quiet and not knowing why....Do you see them, the simple sheep? What about these gamblers?
When dicing’s done and players separate,
the loser’s left alone, disconsolate—
rehearsing what he’d thrown away, he sadly learns;
all of the crowd surrounds the one who won....
Ah, abject Italy, you inn of sorrows,
you ship without a helmsman in harsh seas,
no queen of provinces but of bordellos!
MILTON! thou shouldst be living at this hour:
England hath need of thee: she is a fen
Of stagnant waters: altar, sword, and pen,
Fireside, the heroic wealth of hall and bower,
Have forfeited their ancient English dower
Of inward happiness. We are selfish men;
O raise us up, return to us again,
And give us manners, virtue, freedom, power!
Thy soul was like a Star, and dwelt apart;
Thou hadst a voice whose sound was like the sea:
Pure as the naked heavens, majestic, free,
So didst thou travel on life's common way,
In cheerful godliness; and yet thy heart
The lowliest duties on herself did lay.
For both Lukács and Auerback, meaning and truth in Dante’s world reside in the afterlife, where figurae are fulfilled and totalities formed. Mortan existence is, by contrast, incomplete, illusory, secondary. But I think the opposite can be said, with equal accuracy: it’s the afterlife that is a tissue of illusions. Dante’s afterworld may be highly structured, but he invented that structure himself, synthesizing classical mythology, Christian theology, and medieval demonology. Dante’s afterworld, drawing attention to its own eccentricities, paradoxes, and loopholes—it’s Dante’s afterworld, based in his own experiences. Seen from this perspective, the only thing that’s indubitably real, the only thing everyone can see and agree on, is the stuff of this life—all the stuff that Dante himself studied with such interest and love. Is Paradise more real than all that? Is it better? Is Paradise enough to compensate for the loss of the world?