(S 1)
Then the scene changed, but kept its dreadful core:
Altering its form the life remained the same.
(S 2)
A capital was there without a State:
It had no ruler, only groups that strove.
(S 3)
240 He saw a city of ancient Ignorance
Founded upon a soil that knew not Light.
(S 4)
There each in his own darkness walked alone:
Only they agreed to differ in Evil’s paths,
To live in their own way for their own selves
245 Or to enforce a common lie and wrong;
There Ego was lord upon his peacock seat
And Falsehood sat by him, his mate and queen:
The world turned to them as Heaven to Truth and God.
(S 5)
Injustice justified by firm decrees
250 The sovereign weights of Error’s legalised trade,
But all the weights were false and none the same;
Ever she watched with her balance and a sword,
Lest any sacrilegious word expose
The sanctified formulas of her old misrule.
(S 6)
255 In high professions wrapped self-will walked wide
And licence stalked prating of order and right:
There was no altar raised to Liberty;
True freedom was abhorred and hunted down:
Harmony and tolerance nowhere could be seen;
260 Each group proclaimed its dire and naked Law.
(S 7)
A frame of ethics knobbed with scriptural rules
Or a theory passionately believed and praised
A table seemed of high Heaven’s sacred code.
(S 8)
A formal practice mailed and iron-shod
265 Gave to a rude and ruthless warrior kind
Drawn from the savage bowels of the earth
A proud stern poise of harsh nobility,
A civic posture rigid and formidable.
(S 9)
But all their private acts belied the pose:
270 Power and utility were their Truth and Right,
An eagle rapacity clawed its coveted good,
Beaks pecked and talons tore all weaker prey.
(S 10)
In their sweet secrecy of pleasant sins
Nature they obeyed and not a moralist God.
(S 11)
275 Inconscient traders in bundles of contraries,
They did what in others they would persecute;
When their eyes looked upon their fellow’s vice,
An indignation flamed, a virtuous wrath;
Oblivious of their own deep-hid offence,
280 Moblike they stoned a neighbour caught in sin.
(S 12)
A pragmatist judge within passed false decrees,
Posed worst iniquities on equity’s base,
Reasoned ill actions just, sanctioned the scale
Of the merchant ego’s interest and desire.
(S 13)
285 Thus was a balance kept, the world could live.
(S 14)
A zealot fervour pushed their ruthless cults,
All faith not theirs bled scourged as heresy;
They questioned, captived, tortured, burned or smote
And forced the soul to abandon right or die.
(S 15)
290 Amid her clashing creeds and warring sects
Religion sat upon a blood-stained throne.
(S 16)
A hundred tyrannies oppressed and slew
And founded unity upon fraud and force.
(S 17)
Only what seemed was prized as real there:
295 The ideal was a cynic ridicule’s butt;
Hooted by the crowd, mocked by enlightened wits,
Spiritual seeking wandered outcasted, —
A dreamer’s self-deceiving web of thought
Or mad chimaera deemed or hypocrite’s fake,
300 Its passionate instinct trailed through minds obscure
Lost in the circuits of the Ignorance.
(S 18)
A lie was there the truth and truth a lie.
(S 19)
Here must the traveller of the upward Way —
For daring Hell’s kingdoms winds the heavenly route —
305 Pause or pass slowly through that perilous space,
A prayer upon his lips and the great Name.
(S 20)
If probed not all discernment’s keen spear-point,
He might stumble into falsity’s endless net.
(S 21)
Over his shoulder often he must look back
310 Like one who feels on his neck an enemy’s breath;
Else stealing up behind a treasonous blow
Might prostrate cast and pin to unholy soil,
Pierced through his back by Evil’s poignant stake.
(S 22)
So might one fall on the Eternal’s road
315 Forfeiting the spirit’s lonely chance in Time
And no news of him reach the waiting gods,
Marked “missing” in the register of souls,
His name the index of a failing hope,
The position of a dead remembered star.
(S 23)
320 Only were safe who kept God in their hearts:
Courage their armour, faith their sword, they must walk,
The hand ready to smite, the eye to scout,
Casting a javelin regard in front,
Heroes and soldiers of the army of Light.
(S 24)
325 Hardly even so, the grisly danger past,
Released into a calmer purer air,
They dared at length to breathe and smile once more.
(S 25)
Once more they moved beneath a real sun.
(S 26)
Though Hell claimed rule, the spirit still had power.
(S 27)
330 This No-man’s-land he passed without debate;
Him the heights missioned, him the Abyss desired:
None stood across his way, no voice forbade.
(S 28)
For swift and easy is the downward path,
And now towards the Night was turned his face.