Thursday, April 18, 2013

DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 21


Chapter 21: Swindlers

We went from height of bridge to bridge’s height
            of the fourth malebolge, the blackest moat
by far to greet my sight, brimful of tar                                               3

from side to side, boiling like the vats in
            Venice’s great arsenal where the state
            builds its new ships, makes old ships water-tight.                       6         

No furnace lit by hand but wrath divine
made bubbles in the pitch welter, expand,
burst, rise again within that scalding ditch                                          9
           
at which I stared down till my leader cried,
“Take care!” pulled me aside. Fearful, amazed,
I gazed at a black demon speeding by,                                          12

batwings spread, claws clutching a sinner’s feet,
with thigh over each shoulder, roaring out,
            “Come comrades! See a new town councilor                                      15

from Lucca – I am flying back for more.
            No lack of politicians there to swear
            that yea is nae for cash, then for more pay                                    18       

 to vote the other way.” He flung his freight
            face down into the pitch. The victim shrieked,
            arched back, tried to rise. From below the bridge                               21

leapt demons wielding hooks and pitchforks who    
forced him down as cooks plunge boiling meat,
yelling, “You cannot swindle us, so sink                                   24

you bastard, sink! Go under! Drink our tar
            or feel us rip and scar!” My master said,
            “These boys are rough. You go behind that rock                               27

while I talk sense to them.” Gladly I hid
            and saw the horrid crew rush out at him
            as dogs attack a beggar. Unafraid                                                        30

he told them, “Before you risk prodding me,
            a word first with your captain. Which is he?”
            “Old Stinkytail!” they cried and moved aside                                    33

from one who grunted, “Talk will not save your hide.”
            My guide replied, “See I have reached this place
            clean and unhurt, proving that heavenly grace                                    36

is leading me. This force you must obey,
            to help me and a friend upon our way
            down to Hell’s deepest pit. This you must do                                    39

or boil in your own stew.” I never saw
            a villain so downcast as Stinkytail.
            He gulped then panted, “Bring your pal out here –                           42

I’ll see what I can do.” Trembling with fear                                      
           I joined his crew like Pisans I have seen
           pass between ranks of Tuscans, who they must                                  45

trust not to kill them, but can’t wholly trust,
           I clung close to my leader’s side among
           these glaring demons wielding blades and prongs.                            48

“One wee jag in the arse will do no harm?”
            “Why wee?  Why not a few?” two whispered, but
            “Scratcher and Gasher, shut your stupid gobs                                  51

or feel me fork your bums!” roared Stinkytail,
            then to my leader said, “The bridge ahead
            fell in an earthquake twelve hundred, sixty-six                                  54

years ago yesterday at noon. You need
            a bridge much further round this dyke. I’ll pick—
            that’s if you like— good men to take you there.                               57

I whispered, “Master, please let us go alone.”
he murmured,” Please control your cowardice.
            These demons hate us, yes, but fear me more,                    60

so stop those scowls which show how foul they are
            so must exasperate.” He said aloud,
            “Thank you, we accept.” Stinkytail grinned and cried,                   63

“Clartyclaw, take command of these: Snotbeard,
              Dogspew ,Ratsnout, Toadspit, Tusker, Pigshit,
              Snatcher, Scratcher, Gasher and Cuntycrab.                                 66

Aye, these good men will do, so now you lot,
            give both my guests the care that is their due                                    
            to the next bridge’s arch, but let no part                                         69

of swindlers arse show above tar you pass.
           Now, forward march!” He gave a bugle call
           out of his anus, very loud and clear.                                               72

As counter sign each fiend stuck out his tongue
             and farted just as loudly in the rear.
             Dreading each one I started marching too                                 75

along beside my guide, sweating with fear.                                           

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