as a shepherd, baffled by late spring,
frowns upon fields where grass is white with frost
then smiles when sunlight thaws it for his flocks, 3
frowned upon the broken rocks
that must become our stair. Gazing aloft
he chose the best line of ascent
with care, 6
turning, smiled and beckoned. Up we went,
he leading till high boulders
blocked our way.
Stooping, he lifted me. I gripped
the top, 9
dragged my body up over the edge
and pulled him after – he was very light.
And so by lifts and pulls, from ledge
to ledge, 12
climbed above that static avalanche.
Breathless, exhausted, on the highest rock
I lay flat out, thinking the summit reached, 15
no! The dyke in front sloped higher yet.
I groaned at that. My master said, “Get
Sloth is no way to win enduring fame. 18
works demand effort to stop your name
fading like smoke in air, foam into
Come, we have harder climbs than this ahead.” 21
to a strength I did not feel,
rising I said, “Lead on. I’m not
We toiled up that that sore steepness to the ridge 24
the next bridge began. We mounted it.
Halfway across a cry from underneath,
angry, prolonged and wordless, made me stare 27
into dimness. I saw nothing there
and asked, “Who is below?” Said he, “You’ll see,”
and led me off the bridge.
At last appeared 30
seventh malebolge and what it held.
I shudder when that vision comes to
It was not deep and squirming at our feet 33
reptiles of every kind – limbless,
many-legged, blind, goggle-eyed – snakes, lizards,
crocodiles, wriggling in piles or chasing 36
men who raced around, their hands bound
tight behind by serpents whose heads and tails,
thrust between thighs, entwined their genitals. 39
of them paused beneath us by the dyke.
A tiny lizard leapt and bit his back
where neck and shoulders meet. His head flamed up. 42
wooden statue blazing from the top
he stood there burning downward into ash
spreading like thin white carpet on the ground. 45
from the burning hung in a pale cloud
that did not fade but stayed, thickened, sinking
to the ash that rose, meeting the
lump, hump, pillar. Ash and smoke condensed,
became that shape the burning had unmade.
He stood where he had been,
blinking, aghast 51
epileptic waking from a fit,
bewildered still by recent agony.
My master asked his name. “Vanni Fucci 54
Tuscany,” said he, “called too The Brute
of Pestoia, which was my town and
where I was absolute, me and my
I told my guide, “don’t let him go
before he says why he is here. I
he was brutal, bloody, caused much
other party bosses – never knew
The Brute of Pestoia was also thief.”
The sinner glared at me, blushing with shame. 63
he, “You finding me so low in Hell
hurts worse than dying did.
Since I must tell,
know it was I who, from Saint Zeno’s church, 66
all the holy vessels. For this crime
an honest man was jailed. Now listen more!
Learn to regret you ever met The Brute. 69
party has some strength in Florence still –
not for much longer. Those who wish you ill
are growing stronger. Allied with Pistoia 72
party hating yours will force a war,
a stormy battle on Picene’s plain.
Your people will be thunderstruck and mine 75
win, and give the beaten side no choice
but death or exile, therefore I rejoice!
You’ll never see the town you love
glad that fact will bring you endless pain.”