Wednesday, June 12, 2013

DANTE'S SUBLIME COMEDY: HELL, Chapter 28


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
            of 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 Navarese foes.” 
Mohammed lurched away and then came one
half-headed, with 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.”
          In answer Pier, gripped 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?” and 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

overflows with bad persuasive speeches.”
            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, Do in the lot
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.”

                                   

3 Comments:

Blogger Beowulf's Lair said...

Dear A
As a new poetry publication on the net I am writing to ask if you would consider letting us have some material for the first issue of The Ghent Review –an ezine based in Belgium? I especially like your version of Dante and if new chapters could not be available then perhaps you would allow us to republish two or three of the work already available on your blog.
This may be a strange intrusion into your work but I hope it is one to which you feel you will be able to respond
Warmly, from Flanders
Martin Burke

5:42 pm  
Blogger Beowulf's Lair said...

Dear A.G.:- did I forget to include an email address in my previous mail requesting work from you for The Ghent Review?

Its
burkedelphicghent@mail.com

With thanks
Martin Burke

6:27 pm  
Blogger craig mj said...

You, sir, are a master. When you shuffle-the-coil I can see you now, on the same table as Blake, Dickens, and Joyce . . .

You may have been their waiter, but I'm sure, by the last course, when the second white-wine bottle's been emptied, they'd ask you to sit.

10:01 pm  

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