Sunday, February 17, 2013

DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 5



Hell: Chapter 5

Descending to the second ledge of Hell,                                
            a smaller circle of intenser pain,
            I heard again the sound of sorrowing.                         3
Here demon Minos with his dragon tail,
            grins as he passes judgment on the dead
            then sends them down to their due punishment.        6

Each ghost before him gibbers out it’s crimes.
            The times he winds his tail around himself
            show to which depths the evil ghost must go.            9

Hell has ten rings. The demon’s tail is long.
            The throng of souls, ceaselessly pouring in,
            are never slow in blurting out their sin,                      12

then hurl themselves down through appalling space
            onto the right ledge of the hellish pit
            that is forever now their final place.                           15

“YOU have no place here!” Minos bawled at me,
            seeing we did not pause but walked straight through
            not stopping to be judged, “Take care! Beware!        18

Hell’s open door is not kept wide for you!”
            “Minos,” my guide replied, “forces too high
            for you to know insist this man may go                     21

unhurt through every door there is in Hell.
            Our business is not yours, and so farewell.”
            New sounds of lamentation reached my ear,              24

a rushing tumult mixed with howling yell.
            We entered darkness – darkness bellowing
like ocean tempests combating together.                    27

A hurricane of ghosts went wailing past
            under the lofty cliff that was their coast.
            I saw lost souls tossed, spinning in the blast               30

and buffeted again, again, again
            against the granite wall that penned them in.
            I knew this endless storm of sorry souls                    33

must be the just and proper doom of all
            who sin because their overwhelming lust
            quelled reason’s light. A rockslide in the cliff             36

had formed the gap we came through. Seeing us
            the storm of fleeing, yelling ghosts blasphemed
            God louder, wheeling like flights of starlings,             39

screaming onward like cranes hopeless of rest
            or lesser pains. “Master,” cried I, “name some
            so mercilessly whipped by this dark air.”                  42

He said, “There’s one whose history you know –
            wife of a king who made her empress queen
            of many lands now ruled by the Sultan.                     45

Her sexual appetites were so obscene
            she legalised all kinds of visciousness.
            Her name is Semiramis :– Dido next                           48

swore she would only wed one man. Him dead,
            she took instead another mate and then
            committed suicide when he escaped :–                       51

Helen of Troy, so opportunely raped –
            Cleopatra whose expertise in love
            was legendary:–  and of course the men,                    54

Paris – Achilles – Tristan – Lancelot – ”
            He pointed out so many souls condemned
            for fleshly lust, it filled me with dismay                    57

to see such noble people led astray
            by love that ought to be our greatest joy.
            “Poet,” I said, “let me talk with that pair                   60

who seem more gently carried by the air.”
            Said he, “If they come near enough to hear
            Invite them by the love they clearly share.”               63

The wind tossing them close, “O harried souls,”
I cried, “if none forbid, please talk to me!”
Like homing doves they glided to my side.                66

One said, “Dear good and kindly living soul
            who frees us briefly from our stormy fate,
            if we could pray we’d pray that you find rest –        69

that blessed rest that cannot be our fate.
            The only way to show our gratitude
            for these few moments out of whirling Hell               72

is telling you all that you wish to know.
            My birthplace was a town where river Po
            enters the sea. I married lovelessly                             75

a hard old man. His brother at my side
            who I love still, had youth and gentleness.
            As he enjoyed my body we were found                     78

and slain. Our killer’s place in Hell will be
            among the murderers who followed Cain.”
            Sighing, I bowed my head. My guide enquired,          81

“What thought troubles you now?” “Sorrow for youth
            and what befalls youth’s sweetness,” I replied,
            “Francesca, please believe I pity you,                        84

but tell me what occurred that led you to
            the deed you knew was sin.” “Worst grief,” said she,
            “is happiness recalled in misery.                                87

Your master knows this well and if you need
            to understand, I’ll tell as you command.
            To pass an idle hour one afternoon                            90

we chanced to read of how Sir Lancelot
            was overcome by love of Guinevere.
            This youth who never shall depart from me              93

trembling all over, dared to kiss my mouth.
            That book seduced us. There’s no more to say
            except, of course, we read no more that day.”            96

She wept. The other spirit wept – me too.
            The three of us shed tears without restraint.
            Because I could not give them any help                     99

I clutched my head and fell down in a faint.


           



           
           




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