Wednesday, June 12, 2013
Chapter 28: Subvertors
If unrhymed prose could easier describe
the blood and wounds appearing in that ditch,
I’d certainly resort to it, Hell knows. 3
All speech falls short, there are no words to tell
of all the carnage we enact on earth
and re-enact repeatedly in Hell. 6
Below the bridge there seemed an endless flow
of all those mutilated in the wars
with Troy, Greece, Italy and Africa. 9
Gashed bloody bodies with sliced heads, stumped limbs,
staggered along or hopped or crawled or reeled,
their inner parts obscenely unconcealed. 12
From chin to fart-hole one was so far split
that all his entrails hung between his thighs
with under those the bags of piss and shit. 15
Seeing me stare he raised hands to his chest
declaring, “See me divide myself,” then
pulled the gap wider still, shouting aloud, 18
“Thus is Mohammed maimed! Ali ahead
is cleft from chin to hair. Everyone here
created what the cowards call discord. 21
Behind us stands a demon with a sword
who chops us up like this. Trailing again,
again again around, we slowly heal 24
until feeling yet again his slicing steel.
But who are you, standing upon that dyke?
Is viewing punishment a thing you like 27
before you have to suffer with us too?”
My master said, “He is not damned like you.
I, who am dead, conduct this living man 30
to see all the conditions of the dead.”
At this over a hundred in that ditch
halted, forgot their wounds. Each raised his head 33
to gape at me. Mohammed said, “When back
in Italy, see Brother Dolcino
leader of those who would restore the faith 36
of Christians to old simplicity.
Crusaders menace them and Muslims too.
Tell them to get in food before the snows 39
give victory to their Novarese foes.”
Mohammed lurched away and then came one
half-headed, with an ear, nose, mouth sheared off. 42
Out of his severed windpipe red with blood
with sides that moved like lips, these words wheezed up:
“O you alive and innocent! Unless 45
appearances deceive, we’ve met before
on that sweet plain sloping from Vercello
down to the mouth of Po. If you return, 48
speak of Pier da Medicino. I
was a scandal-monger there. Tell my friends
who govern Fano of their dreadful ends 51
prepared by one who means to grab their town.
He will invite them for a peaceful talk
and send a ship. Unless my words from Hell 54
prevent, at sea they’ll be flung in to drown
by Malestino, Whelp of Rimini.”
He was silenced by a yell, then explained 57
“The name of Rimini is agony
to one damned here for something he said there
forty-nine years before the birth of Christ.” 60
I said, “Yes, I will speak of you on earth,
but first say why that name causes such woe.”
At once Pier, gripping the yeller’s jaw, 63
wrenched the mouth open wide so that I saw
the tongue slashed to a wordless stump inside.
I cried, “But why, for what?” Pier replied, 66
“A stream near Rimini called Rubicon
was Italy’s frontier. Gaul’s conqueror
and governor once halted there: Caesar, 69
his army too. Rome’s Senate had commanded
that returning armies be disbanded
before they entered Italy, and so 70
crossing that stream would lead to civil war.
no wonder Caesar hesitated till
Curio spoke: “Delay is dangerous 73
to men prepared. March on before too late.”
Both he and Caesar marched on to their fate.
He and I share the fate of those whose tongue 76
has overflowed with bad persuasive speech.”
A handless wretch came waving stumps which spouted
blood that befouled his face. He shouted, 79
“I, Mosca the Florentine began our
civil war when I said, ‘Done is ended’ –
words that killed the Buendelmonte.” 82
I said, “Your kindred too”. He staggered off,
maddened by grief. And then I saw a sight
almost beyond belief. A headless man 85
ran to the bridge. One had held by the hair
a head. He stopped and raised it lantern-like
to see me nearer, help me hear it speak. 88
After a moan of deep despair it said,
“O breathing soul, look at this mournful thing.
Does greater misery than mine exist? 91
I am thus for dividing a young king
from his father Henry King of England,
as Achitophel goaded Absalom, 94
David’s son, to rebel against the head
of Israel. So I am divided,
body from brain. But carry news of me 97
back to the light of day – Betran de Born,
lord of the great High Fort in Perigord,
poet whose minstrelsy is known to you. 100
Say also this retribution is my due.”
Saturday, June 08, 2013
DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 27
Chapter 27: More Liars
The flame now burned erect and silently
till my sweet poet said that it might go
and so it did, but then another came 3
that clearly wished to speak with him also.
The noise it made was first a roaring din
like what poured from that red-hot metal bull 6
when its inventor baked to death therein.
Breaths in each flame were cries of agony
till they articulated at the tip. 9
We heard it say, “I aim my words at you
who in my dialect, dismissed that Greek.
Though scorching in this ditch I crave the speech 12
of lovely Italy, and my ears know
that you, like me, come from high lands between
Urbino and the Tiber’s upper flow. 15
Romagna is where I committed crimes
for which I burn. If newly come from there,
please tell me if its states are still at war.” 18
My guide, nudging my side said, “You reply.”
Having leaned down to hear I quickly said,
“You, hidden in flame below, should know 21
your Romagna never will lack warfare
in many scheming hearts of tyrants there.
None were openly fighting when I left. 24
Ravenna stands as it has done for years.
Speaking heraldically, I will say
the Eagle of Polenta’s pinions still 27
guard it and Cervia. Forli, once saved
by Guido Montefeltro from the French,
is under the Green Lion’s claws. The jaws 30
of dogs – Mastiff and Whelp – chew Rimini.
Blue Lion, switching politics each year
holds onto Faenza and Imola. 33
Casena, between mountains and the plain,
is torn between freedom and tyranny.
Having replied, I beg to know your name, 36
and make it spoken in the world again.”
The flame roared louder, waved its point about
more wildly, longer, before words came out. 39
“If you could make my name spoken again
by living men I would be dumb, but since
only the dead come here I need not fear 42
to say how damnable I’ve been. I, Guido
Montefeltro, am he who beat the French,
as you have said – a thorough man of war 45
who, in the flesh my mother bore, was more
a fox than lion, skillful to mislead
my many enemies in word and deed. 48
Thus I earned fame and praise, yet knew of One
on high who forbids bloodshed, lying too.
Time came when evil ways no longer pleased. 51
I hauled in sails and punted to the shore.
Confession and repentance made me friar
wearing the slender cord St Francis wore. 54
Alas, that did not save my soul from Hell.
The highest priest of all Pope Boniface,
that princely Pharisee, asked me to help 57
destroy – not Saracens or Jews – his foes
were a Christian family, and those
had signed with him a pact to keep the peace. 60
Emperor Constantine sent for a Pope
to cure his leprosy. Pride infected
Pope Boniface. ‘You, only you,’ he said, 63
‘Can cure the burning fever of my rage!’
He sounded drunk. I was afraid to speak.
Forgetting all he knew to keep us right – 66
his supreme office, holy vows, himself,
the cord I wore to make me meek – he said,
‘Trust me, my son! I hold those keys the Pope 69
who held them last and did not use, the keys
of Heaven and Hell where my will is done,
as it is not on earth without a fight. 72
Show me how to defeat the Colonna and you
need not fear Hell. I absolve you of sin
if here and now you tell me how to beat 75
their stronghold down and absolutely win.’
He ceased talking, waited for a reply
until silence must give offence. I said, 78
‘Holy father, if you have saved my soul
before I counsel you to act a lie,
you must now break your vow to keep peace.’ 81
He did. I sickened. To my deathbed came
Saint Francis and a coal-black cherubim
who roared, ‘No cheating! Penitence alone 84
lets sinners dodge Hell. None can repent sin
while willing it – that is contradiction.
Amazed, are you, to find fiends logical?’ 87
He dragged my wretched soul down to Minos
who, enraged, wrapped his tail eight times around
then bit it, howling, ‘Send him to where frauds 90
wear the scorching gown that truly teaches
penitence,’ and it does! It does! It does!”
Waving and twisting, the flame moved away, 93
roaring aloud in wordless agony.
We left that ridge by climbing the next bridge
over the ninth malebolge, which was full 96
of vile souls who divide humanity.
Saturday, May 25, 2013
DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 26
Chapter 26: Liars
Florence rejoice, famous on land and sea
where florins are the common currency.
That crowds of thieves swarm from you into Hell 3
cannot delight does not astonish me.
Cardinal Prato tried and failed to quell
the bitter feuding that corrupts your state 6
and prayed for a total overthrow
to end your boastful posturing. I too
pray that this happens soon. The more I wait 12
the horrider must be my city’s fate.
We left that dyke, set foot on the next bridge,
surmounting rocks so jagged and abrupt 15
we could not move without the help of hands
and as we struggled up I grimly thought
of how so often mighty powers betray, 18
mislead so many. Being a Florentine
I swell with hope and pride when I survey
the scope of what I plan to say in rhyme. 21
What if my talent leads me far astray?
I too must pray for more humility.
At last we rested on the bridge’s height. 24
As peasants, with the coming of the night,
pause on a hillside before going down
into a valley where the fireflies glow, 27
we stared into the malebolge below
and saw a flow of sparks. “Each is a flame,”
my master said, “Clothing a counsellor 30
whose lying words fooled people into war.”
I shuddered, wondered could such words be mine?
Could things I write become excuse for sin? 33
I clutched the crag to stop me falling in
before we climbed down to a nearer view
some spires of moving fire within that ditch 36
were taller than the rest and cleft in two.
My master said, “Each of these double flames
contains a pair united by their crime. 39
Here comes inventor of the wooden horse,
Ulysees, with beside him Diomed
who made the Trojans think it was a gift 42
proving the war was past, the Greeks had left.
Both mourn within that fire their stratagem
which burned down Troy, home of Aeneas 45
who fled and founded Rome, as I have sung.
They bemoan also other crafty tricks
whose outcomes they did not see.” I cried out, 48
“Master, if they can speak within their flame,
please I pray you, please let them speak to me!”
He said, “I like that prayer, so I agree. 51
Leave talk to me. Greeks will dispise your speech.”
When the flame came to where my guide thought best
I heard him cry, “Please pause, hear our request. 54
We are poets wishing to be your friends.
You alone can tell us what we never read
in Homer’s poems – how you met your ends.” 57
One flaming horn, the biggest of the pair
first roared and wavered, as if struck by wind,
then the point flickered, speaking like a tongue. 60
“Bound home from Troy I lost my way, my men,
my ships through storms, monsters and women’s wiles,
so winning home at last I found myself 63
unfit for quiet life with wife and son.
Choosing a crew of some I knew from Troy
we put to sea, sailed west and reached that strait 66
between Africa and Spain with before
only the boundless ocean. Then Hercules
has put a pillar on each shore inscribed 69
with DO NOT GO THROUGH, so not many do.
‘Shipmates!’ said I, ‘Did we dare, share, survive
a thousand dangers in search of rest? No. 72
Greeks seek virtue and knowledge sought through strife
the best part of life. Let us sail ahead,
discover a new world, and if we fail 75
what grander way to end can old men find?’
They cheered and plied their oars, would not have ceased
to drive us onward had I changed my mind. 78
We sailed for five moons south. Equator crossed,
strange constellations shone above at night.
Then to the east one day as dawn light spread 81
we saw, dimmed by distance, a splendid sight –
a land wider than Italy, rising
high like a mountain far into the sky. 84
Our joy soon changed to grief. From that land came
a storm that struck and whirled us three times round,
heaved our stern high, plunged the prow under waves 87
that closed above us. As fate willed, we drowned.”