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Dante's Paradise [Divine Comedy]

Part 4 out of 4

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Blind covetousness, that casts its spell upon you,
Has made you like unto the little child,
Who dies of hunger and drives off the nurse.

And in the sacred forum then shall be
A Prefect such, that openly or covert
On the same road he will not walk with him.

But long of God he will not be endured
In holy office; he shall be thrust down
Where Simon Magus is for his deserts,

And make him of Alagna lower go!"

Paradiso: Canto XXXI

In fashion then as of a snow-white rose
Displayed itself to me the saintly host,
Whom Christ in his own blood had made his bride,

But the other host, that flying sees and sings
The glory of Him who doth enamour it,
And the goodness that created it so noble,

Even as a swarm of bees, that sinks in flowers
One moment, and the next returns again
To where its labour is to sweetness turned,

Sank into the great flower, that is adorned
With leaves so many, and thence reascended
To where its love abideth evermore.

Their faces had they all of living flame,
And wings of gold, and all the rest so white
No snow unto that limit doth attain.

From bench to bench, into the flower descending,
They carried something of the peace and ardour
Which by the fanning of their flanks they won.

Nor did the interposing 'twixt the flower
And what was o'er it of such plenitude
Of flying shapes impede the sight and splendour;

Because the light divine so penetrates
The universe, according to its merit,
That naught can be an obstacle against it.

This realm secure and full of gladsomeness,
Crowded with ancient people and with modern,
Unto one mark had all its look and love.

O Trinal Light, that in a single star
Sparkling upon their sight so satisfies them,
Look down upon our tempest here below!

If the barbarians, coming from some region
That every day by Helice is covered,
Revolving with her son whom she delights in,

Beholding Rome and all her noble works,
Were wonder-struck, what time the Lateran
Above all mortal things was eminent,--

I who to the divine had from the human,
From time unto eternity, had come,
From Florence to a people just and sane,

With what amazement must I have been filled!
Truly between this and the joy, it was
My pleasure not to hear, and to be mute.

And as a pilgrim who delighteth him
In gazing round the temple of his vow,
And hopes some day to retell how it was,

So through the living light my way pursuing
Directed I mine eyes o'er all the ranks,
Now up, now down, and now all round about.

Faces I saw of charity persuasive,
Embellished by His light and their own smile,
And attitudes adorned with every grace.

The general form of Paradise already
My glance had comprehended as a whole,
In no part hitherto remaining fixed,

And round I turned me with rekindled wish
My Lady to interrogate of things
Concerning which my mind was in suspense.

One thing I meant, another answered me;
I thought I should see Beatrice, and saw
An Old Man habited like the glorious people.

O'erflowing was he in his eyes and cheeks
With joy benign, in attitude of pity
As to a tender father is becoming.

And "She, where is she?" instantly I said;
Whence he: "To put an end to thy desire,
Me Beatrice hath sent from mine own place.

And if thou lookest up to the third round
Of the first rank, again shalt thou behold her
Upon the throne her merits have assigned her."

Without reply I lifted up mine eyes,
And saw her, as she made herself a crown
Reflecting from herself the eternal rays.

Not from that region which the highest thunders
Is any mortal eye so far removed,
In whatsoever sea it deepest sinks,

As there from Beatrice my sight; but this
Was nothing unto me; because her image
Descended not to me by medium blurred.

"O Lady, thou in whom my hope is strong,
And who for my salvation didst endure
In Hell to leave the imprint of thy feet,

Of whatsoever things I have beheld,
As coming from thy power and from thy goodness
I recognise the virtue and the grace.

Thou from a slave hast brought me unto freedom,
By all those ways, by all the expedients,
Whereby thou hadst the power of doing it.

Preserve towards me thy magnificence,
So that this soul of mine, which thou hast healed,
Pleasing to thee be loosened from the body."

Thus I implored; and she, so far away,
Smiled, as it seemed, and looked once more at me;
Then unto the eternal fountain turned.

And said the Old Man holy: "That thou mayst
Accomplish perfectly thy journeying,
Whereunto prayer and holy love have sent me,

Fly with thine eyes all round about this garden;
For seeing it will discipline thy sight
Farther to mount along the ray divine.

And she, the Queen of Heaven, for whom I burn
Wholly with love, will grant us every grace,
Because that I her faithful Bernard am."

As he who peradventure from Croatia
Cometh to gaze at our Veronica,
Who through its ancient fame is never sated,

But says in thought, the while it is displayed,
"My Lord, Christ Jesus, God of very God,
Now was your semblance made like unto this?"

Even such was I while gazing at the living
Charity of the man, who in this world
By contemplation tasted of that peace.

"Thou son of grace, this jocund life," began he,
"Will not be known to thee by keeping ever
Thine eyes below here on the lowest place;

But mark the circles to the most remote,
Until thou shalt behold enthroned the Queen
To whom this realm is subject and devoted."

I lifted up mine eyes, and as at morn
The oriental part of the horizon
Surpasses that wherein the sun goes down,

Thus, as if going with mine eyes from vale
To mount, I saw a part in the remoteness
Surpass in splendour all the other front.

And even as there where we await the pole
That Phaeton drove badly, blazes more
The light, and is on either side diminished,

So likewise that pacific oriflamme
Gleamed brightest in the centre, and each side
In equal measure did the flame abate.

And at that centre, with their wings expanded,
More than a thousand jubilant Angels saw I,
Each differing in effulgence and in kind.

I saw there at their sports and at their songs
A beauty smiling, which the gladness was
Within the eyes of all the other saints;

And if I had in speaking as much wealth
As in imagining, I should not dare
To attempt the smallest part of its delight.

Bernard, as soon as he beheld mine eyes
Fixed and intent upon its fervid fervour,
His own with such affection turned to her

That it made mine more ardent to behold.

Paradiso: Canto XXXII

Absorbed in his delight, that contemplator
Assumed the willing office of a teacher,
And gave beginning to these holy words:

"The wound that Mary closed up and anointed,
She at her feet who is so beautiful,
She is the one who opened it and pierced it.

Within that order which the third seats make
Is seated Rachel, lower than the other,
With Beatrice, in manner as thou seest.

Sarah, Rebecca, Judith, and her who was
Ancestress of the Singer, who for dole
Of the misdeed said, 'Miserere mei,'

Canst thou behold from seat to seat descending
Down in gradation, as with each one's name
I through the Rose go down from leaf to leaf.

And downward from the seventh row, even as
Above the same, succeed the Hebrew women,
Dividing all the tresses of the flower;

Because, according to the view which Faith
In Christ had taken, these are the partition
By which the sacred stairways are divided.

Upon this side, where perfect is the flower
With each one of its petals, seated are
Those who believed in Christ who was to come.

Upon the other side, where intersected
With vacant spaces are the semicircles,
Are those who looked to Christ already come.

And as, upon this side, the glorious seat
Of the Lady of Heaven, and the other seats
Below it, such a great division make,

So opposite doth that of the great John,
Who, ever holy, desert and martyrdom
Endured, and afterwards two years in Hell.

And under him thus to divide were chosen
Francis, and Benedict, and Augustine,
And down to us the rest from round to round.

Behold now the high providence divine;
For one and other aspect of the Faith
In equal measure shall this garden fill.

And know that downward from that rank which cleaves
Midway the sequence of the two divisions,
Not by their proper merit are they seated;

But by another's under fixed conditions;
For these are spirits one and all assoiled
Before they any true election had.

Well canst thou recognise it in their faces,
And also in their voices puerile,
If thou regard them well and hearken to them.

Now doubtest thou, and doubting thou art silent;
But I will loosen for thee the strong bond
In which thy subtile fancies hold thee fast.

Within the amplitude of this domain
No casual point can possibly find place,
No more than sadness can, or thirst, or hunger;

For by eternal law has been established
Whatever thou beholdest, so that closely
The ring is fitted to the finger here.

And therefore are these people, festinate
Unto true life, not 'sine causa' here
More and less excellent among themselves.

The King, by means of whom this realm reposes
In so great love and in so great delight
That no will ventureth to ask for more,

In his own joyous aspect every mind
Creating, at his pleasure dowers with grace
Diversely; and let here the effect suffice.

And this is clearly and expressly noted
For you in Holy Scripture, in those twins
Who in their mother had their anger roused.

According to the colour of the hair,
Therefore, with such a grace the light supreme
Consenteth that they worthily be crowned.

Without, then, any merit of their deeds,
Stationed are they in different gradations,
Differing only in their first acuteness.

'Tis true that in the early centuries,
With innocence, to work out their salvation
Sufficient was the faith of parents only.

After the earlier ages were completed,
Behoved it that the males by circumcision
Unto their innocent wings should virtue add;

But after that the time of grace had come
Without the baptism absolute of Christ,
Such innocence below there was retained.

Look now into the face that unto Christ
Hath most resemblance; for its brightness only
Is able to prepare thee to see Christ."

On her did I behold so great a gladness
Rain down, borne onward in the holy minds
Created through that altitude to fly,

That whatsoever I had seen before
Did not suspend me in such admiration,
Nor show me such similitude of God.

And the same Love that first descended there,
"Ave Maria, gratia plena," singing,
In front of her his wings expanded wide.

Unto the canticle divine responded
From every part the court beatified,
So that each sight became serener for it.

"O holy father, who for me endurest
To be below here, leaving the sweet place
In which thou sittest by eternal lot,

Who is the Angel that with so much joy
Into the eyes is looking of our Queen,
Enamoured so that he seems made of fire?"

Thus I again recourse had to the teaching
Of that one who delighted him in Mary
As doth the star of morning in the sun.

And he to me: "Such gallantry and grace
As there can be in Angel and in soul,
All is in him; and thus we fain would have it;

Because he is the one who bore the palm
Down unto Mary, when the Son of God
To take our burden on himself decreed.

But now come onward with thine eyes, as I
Speaking shall go, and note the great patricians
Of this most just and merciful of empires.

Those two that sit above there most enrapture
As being very near unto Augusta,
Are as it were the two roots of this Rose.

He who upon the left is near her placed
The father is, by whose audacious taste
The human species so much bitter tastes.

Upon the right thou seest that ancient father
Of Holy Church, into whose keeping Christ
The keys committed of this lovely flower.

And he who all the evil days beheld,
Before his death, of her the beauteous bride
Who with the spear and with the nails was won,

Beside him sits, and by the other rests
That leader under whom on manna lived
The people ingrate, fickle, and stiff-necked.

Opposite Peter seest thou Anna seated,
So well content to look upon her daughter,
Her eyes she moves not while she sings Hosanna.

And opposite the eldest household father
Lucia sits, she who thy Lady moved
When to rush downward thou didst bend thy brows.

But since the moments of thy vision fly,
Here will we make full stop, as a good tailor
Who makes the gown according to his cloth,

And unto the first Love will turn our eyes,
That looking upon Him thou penetrate
As far as possible through his effulgence.

Truly, lest peradventure thou recede,
Moving thy wings believing to advance,
By prayer behoves it that grace be obtained;

Grace from that one who has the power to aid thee;
And thou shalt follow me with thy affection
That from my words thy heart turn not aside."

And he began this holy orison.

Paradiso: Canto XXXIII

"Thou Virgin Mother, daughter of thy Son,
Humble and high beyond all other creature,
The limit fixed of the eternal counsel,

Thou art the one who such nobility
To human nature gave, that its Creator
Did not disdain to make himself its creature.

Within thy womb rekindled was the love,
By heat of which in the eternal peace
After such wise this flower has germinated.

Here unto us thou art a noonday torch
Of charity, and below there among mortals
Thou art the living fountain-head of hope.

Lady, thou art so great, and so prevailing,
That he who wishes grace, nor runs to thee,
His aspirations without wings would fly.

Not only thy benignity gives succour
To him who asketh it, but oftentimes
Forerunneth of its own accord the asking.

In thee compassion is, in thee is pity,
In thee magnificence; in thee unites
Whate'er of goodness is in any creature.

Now doth this man, who from the lowest depth
Of the universe as far as here has seen
One after one the spiritual lives,

Supplicate thee through grace for so much power
That with his eyes he may uplift himself
Higher towards the uttermost salvation.

And I, who never burned for my own seeing
More than I do for his, all of my prayers
Proffer to thee, and pray they come not short,

That thou wouldst scatter from him every cloud
Of his mortality so with thy prayers,
That the Chief Pleasure be to him displayed.

Still farther do I pray thee, Queen, who canst
Whate'er thou wilt, that sound thou mayst preserve
After so great a vision his affections.

Let thy protection conquer human movements;
See Beatrice and all the blessed ones
My prayers to second clasp their hands to thee!"

The eyes beloved and revered of God,
Fastened upon the speaker, showed to us
How grateful unto her are prayers devout;

Then unto the Eternal Light they turned,
On which it is not credible could be
By any creature bent an eye so clear.

And I, who to the end of all desires
Was now approaching, even as I ought
The ardour of desire within me ended.

Bernard was beckoning unto me, and smiling,
That I should upward look; but I already
Was of my own accord such as he wished;

Because my sight, becoming purified,
Was entering more and more into the ray
Of the High Light which of itself is true.

From that time forward what I saw was greater
Than our discourse, that to such vision yields,
And yields the memory unto such excess.

Even as he is who seeth in a dream,
And after dreaming the imprinted passion
Remains, and to his mind the rest returns not,

Even such am I, for almost utterly
Ceases my vision, and distilleth yet
Within my heart the sweetness born of it;

Even thus the snow is in the sun unsealed,
Even thus upon the wind in the light leaves
Were the soothsayings of the Sibyl lost.

O Light Supreme, that dost so far uplift thee
From the conceits of mortals, to my mind
Of what thou didst appear re-lend a little,

And make my tongue of so great puissance,
That but a single sparkle of thy glory
It may bequeath unto the future people;

For by returning to my memory somewhat,
And by a little sounding in these verses,
More of thy victory shall be conceived!

I think the keenness of the living ray
Which I endured would have bewildered me,
If but mine eyes had been averted from it;

And I remember that I was more bold
On this account to bear, so that I joined
My aspect with the Glory Infinite.

O grace abundant, by which I presumed
To fix my sight upon the Light Eternal,
So that the seeing I consumed therein!

I saw that in its depth far down is lying
Bound up with love together in one volume,
What through the universe in leaves is scattered;

Substance, and accident, and their operations,
All interfused together in such wise
That what I speak of is one simple light.

The universal fashion of this knot
Methinks I saw, since more abundantly
In saying this I feel that I rejoice.

One moment is more lethargy to me,
Than five and twenty centuries to the emprise
That startled Neptune with the shade of Argo!

My mind in this wise wholly in suspense,
Steadfast, immovable, attentive gazed,
And evermore with gazing grew enkindled.

In presence of that light one such becomes,
That to withdraw therefrom for other prospect
It is impossible he e'er consent;

Because the good, which object is of will,
Is gathered all in this, and out of it
That is defective which is perfect there.

Shorter henceforward will my language fall
Of what I yet remember, than an infant's
Who still his tongue doth moisten at the breast.

Not because more than one unmingled semblance
Was in the living light on which I looked,
For it is always what it was before;

But through the sight, that fortified itself
In me by looking, one appearance only
To me was ever changing as I changed.

Within the deep and luminous subsistence
Of the High Light appeared to me three circles,
Of threefold colour and of one dimension,

And by the second seemed the first reflected
As Iris is by Iris, and the third
Seemed fire that equally from both is breathed.

O how all speech is feeble and falls short
Of my conceit, and this to what I saw
Is such, 'tis not enough to call it little!

O Light Eterne, sole in thyself that dwellest,
Sole knowest thyself, and, known unto thyself
And knowing, lovest and smilest on thyself!

That circulation, which being thus conceived
Appeared in thee as a reflected light,
When somewhat contemplated by mine eyes,

Within itself, of its own very colour
Seemed to me painted with our effigy,
Wherefore my sight was all absorbed therein.

As the geometrician, who endeavours
To square the circle, and discovers not,
By taking thought, the principle he wants,

Even such was I at that new apparition;
I wished to see how the image to the circle
Conformed itself, and how it there finds place;

But my own wings were not enough for this,
Had it not been that then my mind there smote
A flash of lightning, wherein came its wish.

Here vigour failed the lofty fantasy:
But now was turning my desire and will,
Even as a wheel that equally is moved,

The Love which moves the sun and the other stars.




Oft have I seen at some cathedral door
A laborer, pausing in the dust and heat,
Lay down his burden, and with reverent feet
Enter, and cross himself, and on the floor
Kneel to repeat his paternoster o'er;
Far off the noises of the world retreat;
The loud vociferations of the street
Become an undistinguishable roar.
So, as I enter here from day to day,
And leave my burden at this minster gate,
Kneeling in prayer, and not ashamed to pray,
The tumult of the time disconsolate
To inarticulate murmurs dies away,
While the eternal ages watch and wait.


How strange the sculptures that adorn these towers!
This crowd of statues, in whose folded sleeves
Birds build their nests; while canopied with leaves
Parvis and portal bloom like trellised bowers,
And the vast minster seems a cross of flowers!
But fiends and dragons on the gargoyled eaves
Watch the dead Christ between the living thieves,
And, underneath, the traitor Judas lowers!
Ah! from what agonies of heart and brain,
What exultations trampling on despair,
What tenderness, what tears, what hate of wrong,
What passionate outcry of a soul in pain,
Uprose this poem of the earth and air,
This mediaeval miracle of song!


I enter, and I see thee in the gloom
Of the long aisles, O poet saturnine!
And strive to make my steps keep pace with thine.
The air is filled with some unknown perfume;
The congregation of the dead make room
For thee to pass; the votive tapers shine;
Like rooks that haunt Ravenna's groves of pine,
The hovering echoes fly from tomb to tomb.
From the confessionals I hear arise
Rehearsals of forgotten tragedies,
And lamentations from the crypts below
And then a voice celestial that begins
With the pathetic words, "Although your sins
As scarlet be," and ends with "as the snow."


With snow-white veil, and garments as of flame,
She stands before thee, who so long ago
Filled thy young heart with passion and the woe
From which thy song in all its splendors came;
And while with stern rebuke she speaks thy name,
The ice about thy heart melts as the snow
On mountain heights, and in swift overflow
Comes gushing from thy lips in sobs of shame.
Thou makest full confession; and a gleam
As of the dawn on some dark forest cast,
Seems on thy lifted forehead to increase;
Lethe and Eunoe--the remembered dream
And the forgotten sorrow--bring at last
That perfect pardon which is perfect peace.


I Lift mine eyes, and all the windows blaze
With forms of saints and holy men who died,
Here martyred and hereafter glorified;
And the great Rose upon its leaves displays
Christ's Triumph, and the angelic roundelays,
With splendor upon splendor multiplied;
And Beatrice again at Dante's side
No more rebukes, but smiles her words of praise.
And then the organ sounds, and unseen choirs
Sing the old Latin hymns of peace and love
And benedictions of the Holy Ghost;
And the melodious bells among the spires
O'er all the house-tops and through heaven above
Proclaim the elevation of the Host!


O star of morning and of liberty!
O bringer of the light, whose splendor shines
Above the darkness of the Apennines,
Forerunner of the day that is to be!
The voices of the city and the sea,
The voices of the mountains and the pines,
Repeat thy song, till the familiar lines
Are footpaths for the thought of Italy!
Thy fame is blown abroad from all the heights,
Through all the nations; and a sound is heard,
As of a mighty wind, and men devout,
Strangers of Rome, and the new proselytes,
In their own language hear thy wondrous word,
And many are amazed and many doubt.


'Ich habe unter meinen Papieren ein Blatt gefunden,
wo ich die Baukunst eine erstarrte Musik nenne.'
(Johann Wolfgang Goethe, 1829 March 23)

I found Dante in a bar. The Poet had indeed lost the True Way to be found
reduced to party chatter in a Capitol Hill basement, but I had found him at
last. I must have been drinking in the Dark Tavern of Error, for I did not
even realize I had begun the dolorous path followed by many since the
Poet's journey of A.D. 1300. Actually no one spoke a word about Dante or
his Divine Comedy, rather I heard a second-hand Goethe call architecture
"frozen music." Soon I took my second step through the gate to a people
lost; this time on a more respectable occasion--a lecture at the Catholic
University of America. Clio, the muse of history, must have been aiding
Prof. Schumacher that evening, because it sustained my full three-hour
attention, even after I had just presented an all-night project. There I
heard of a most astonishing Italian translation of 'la Divina Commedia' di
Dante Alighieri. An Italian architect, Giuseppi Terragni, had translated
the Comedy into the 'Danteum,' a projected stone and glass monument to Poet
and Poem near the Basilica of Maxentius in Rome.

Do not look for the Danteum in the Eternal City. In true Dantean form,
politics stood in the way of its construction in 1938. Ironically this
literature-inspired building can itself most easily be found in book form.
Reading this book I remembered Goethe's quote about frozen music. Did
Terragni try to freeze Dante's medieval miracle of song? Certainly a
cold-poem seems artistically repulsive. Unflattering comparisons to the
lake of Cocytus spring to mind too. While I cannot read Italian, I can read
some German. After locating the original quotation I discovered that
'frozen' is a problematic (though common) translation of Goethe's original
'erstarrte.' The verb 'erstarren' more properly means 'to solidify' or 'to
stiffen.' This suggests a chemical reaction in which the art does not
necessarily chill in the transformation. Nor can simple thawing yield the
original work. Like a chemical reaction it requires an artistic catalyst, a
muse. Indeed the Danteum is not a physical translation of the Poem.
Terragni thought it inappropriate to translate the Comedy literally into a
non-literary work. The Danteum would not be a stage set, rather Terragni
generated his design from the Comedy's structure, not its finishes.

The poem is divided into three canticles of thirty-three cantos
each, plus one extra in the first, the Inferno, making a total of
one hundred cantos. Each canto is composed of three-line tercets,
the first and third lines rhyme, the second line rhymes with the
beginning of the next tercet, establishing a kind of overlap,
reflected in the overlapping motif of the Danteum design. Dante's
realms are further subdivided: the Inferno is composed of nine
levels, the vestibule makes a tenth. Purgatory has seven
terraces, plus two ledges in an ante-purgatory; adding these to
the Earthly Paradise yields ten zones. Paradise is composed of
nine heavens; Empyrean makes the tenth. In the Inferno, sinners
are organized by three vices--Incontinence, Violence, and
Fraud--and further subdivided by the seven deadly sins. In
Purgatory, penance is ordered on the basis of three types of
natural love. Paradise is organized on the basis of three types
of Divine Love, and further subdivided according to the three
theological and four cardinal virtues.
(Thomas Schumacher, "The Danteum,"
Princeton Architectural Press, 1993)

By translating the structure, Terragni could then layer the literal and the
spiritual meanings of the Poem without allowing either to dominate. These
layers of meaning are native to the Divine Comedy as they are native to
much medieval literature, although modern readers and tourists may not be
so familiar with them. They are literal, allegorical, moral, and
anagogical. I offer you St. Thomas of Aquinas' definition of these last
three as they relate to Sacred Scripture:

. . .this spiritual sense has a threefold division. . .so far as
the things of the Old Law signify the things of the New Law,
there is the allegorical sense; so far as the things done in
Christ, or so far as the things which signify Christ, are types
of what we ought to do, there is the moral sense. But so far as
they signify what relates to eternal glory, there is the
anagogical sense. (Summa Theologica I, 1, 10)

Within the Danteum the Poet's meanings lurk in solid form. An example: the
Danteum design does have spaces literally associated with the Comedy--the
Dark Wood of Error, Inferno, Purgatorio, and the Paradiso--but these spaces
also relate among themselves spiritually. Dante often highlights a virtue
by first condemning its corruption. Within Dante's system Justice is the
greatest of the cardinal virtues; its corruption, Fraud, is the most
contemptible of vices. Because Dante saw the papacy as the most precious of
sacred institutions, corrupt popes figure prominently among the damned in
the Poet's Inferno. In the Danteum the materiality of the worldly Dark Wood
directly opposes the transcendence of the Paradiso. In the realm of error
every thought is lost and secular, while in heaven every soul's intent is
directed toward God. The shadowy Inferno of the Danteum mirrors the
Purgatorio's illuminated ascent to heaven. Purgatory embodies hope and
growth where hell chases its own dark inertia. Such is the cosmography
shared by Terragni and Dante.

In this postscript I intend neither to fully examine the meaning nor the
plan of the Danteum, but rather to evince the power that art has acted as a
catalyst to other artists. The Danteum, a modern design inspired by a
medieval poem, is but one example. Dante's poem is filled with characters
epitomizing the full range of vices and virtues of human personalities.
Dante's characters come from his present and literature's past; they are
mythological, biblical, classical, ancient, and medieval. They, rather than
Calliope and her sisters, were Dante's muses.

'La Divina Commedia' seems a natural candidate to complete Project

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