Sunday, February 17, 2013

DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 6



                                               Hell: Chapter 6

Returning to my senses once again
            from sorrow that confused them utterly
            I saw a different multitude in pain,                                   3

not reeling, writhing, spirits spinning round
            but corpulences stuck in muddy ground
            under a freezing hard unending rain                                 6

of filthy water, hailstones, blasts of snow
            descending through a murkiness of fog
            to make the earth below a stinking bog                             9

from which the sunken souls half-way protrude.
            Across this mire prowls a rude vicious beast
            three-headed, each head howling like a dog.                     12

His name is Cerberus, his eyes blood-red,
            black hair and beards befouled by greasy phlegm,
            his belly gross, each paw with knife-like claws                   15

that stab and rip sinners they prance upon,
            who also howl like dogs. They cannot stop
            squirming to turn their downside up again                           18

to shield their upside from the dreadful rain.
            Cerberus, glaring on us, snarled and showed
            three pair of open jaws with dragon fangs,                            21

his body twitching, bristling to attack.
            My guide stooped swiftly, scooped up blood-rich mud,
            then accurately flung a handful down                                     24

each throat. The tongues were stopped – the beast’s snarls ceased.
                     Like hungry hound gorging on juicy bone
                     he left the damned alone as we moved on                              27

across the swamp where footsteps often sank
            down through a groaning ghost to mud below.
            Then one, twisting half up beside our way                            30

cried out, “O Dante, surely you know me?
            We met in Florence years before I died.”
            “To me you seem a stranger,” I replied,                                 33

“but hellish woe has maybe altered you.
            Please tell me who you were, the thing you did
            that brings such suffering. Worse punishments                      36

no doubt exist, but few so sickening.”
            Said he, “Within our sunlit native town
            the citizens once knew me as The Hog.                                  39

I thought good food the best thing life could give,
            so rot in rain here like a sodden log,
            but not alone, the others that you see                                      42

are also damned for selfish gluttony.”
            I said to him, “Poor Hog, I pity you!
            but ghosts can know much more than living men                   45

of what time has in store. Please tell
            if Florence which engendered us will come
            in course of time to rule her people well.                               48

Must party politics divide our state?
            No just men lead us to co-operate?”
            He told me, “Old disputes will never end.                             51

Divided still by envy, pride and greed
            our government will come to civil wars,
            bloodshed and banishment. Our councillors                           54

will fight for who pays most, changing their side
            to any that pay more. A few will fight for
            civil rights, justice for those in need                                       57

and be ignored by envy, pride and greed.”
            I wept at that, begging “Tell me about
            good men I knew who wanted to do well –                            60

Arrigo, Mosca and Tegghiaio,
        Jack Rusticucci and Farinata, –
        Where are they now?” “Go deeper in this pit,”                           63

said he. “You’ll find them there. All I ask now
        is this: when you return to Italy
        remind folk that the Hog lives on in Hell                                    66

I’ll say no more.” His eyes went squint. He fell
       down flat and blind and speechless as before.
         My leader said, “ He’ll hear no other word                               69

until the last trumpet summons bodies up
        to reunite with souls. Then will resound
        the judges final word of doom, that word                                   72 

that locks the damned forever in their tomb.”
       We waded slowly onward through the scum
       of muddy shadows, stinking fog and rain,                                   75

talking a little of the life to come.
       I asked him, “ master, will these feel their pain
       harder or lesser or with out much change                                    78

after that judgment’s passed upon the dead?”
      “Think scientifically,“ my guide said.
       “when things are more complete the more they show                  81

and feel, if sensitive, delight or pain.
       No perfect joy can live inside this pit.
       body plus soul must feel the opposite.”                                       84

We spoke of other things I don't recall
       upon that path which gradually bent
       round in a circle to the next descent.                                            87

Here we found Plutus, enemy of all                                                  

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