Friday, February 15, 2013




A Very Free Version
in Prosaic English Rhyme
Alasdair Gray

A Vision of Hell
begun 29-10-2012, completed 07-08-2013.

CHAPTER 1: Introduction

In middle age I wholly lost my way
           and found myself within an evil wood
           far from the right straight road we all should tread            3

and what a wood! So densely tangled, dark,
           jaggily, thorned, so hard to press on through,
           even the memory renews my dread.                                       6

My misery, my almost deadly fear
          led on to such discovery of good,
          I'll tell you of it, if you care to hear.                                         9

I cannot say how I wandered there,    
         when dozy, dull and desperate for sleep
         my feet strayed out of the true thoroughfare,                       12

till deep among the trees an upward slope
         gave to my fearful soul a thrill of hope
         as rising ground at last became a hill,                                    15
and looking up I saw a summit bright,
         with dawn  – the rising sun that show us all
         where we should travel by it's heavenly light.                       18

This quieted a little while the fright
         that churned the blood within my heart's lagoon
         through the long journey of that gloomy night.                    21

Like shipwrecked swimmer in a stormy sea
         who, tired and panting but at last ashore
         looks back on swamping breakers thoughtfully,                   24

I turned to view, though wishing still to leave
         the terrifying forest in the glen
         no living soul but mine had struggled through.                     27

My weary body rested then until,
         rising, I climbed the sloping wilderness,
         so that each footstep raised me higher still.                           30
But see! The uphill climb had just begun
         when suddenly a leopard, light, quick, gay
         and brightly spotted, sprang before my feet,                          33

dodging from side to side, blocking the way
         so swiftly and with such determination
         she sometimes nearly forced me to retreat.                            36

The sun had reached a height dimming the stars
         created with him on the second day,
         after the birth of time and space and light                              39

and this recalled God's generosity,
         letting me feel some of good at least might be
         within the leopard's carnival ferocity,                                     42

so dappled, bright and jolly was the beast,
        but not so bright to stop me shuddering
        at a fresh shock – a lion came in sight,                                    45

his mighty head held high, his savage glare
        fixed upon me in such a hungry way
        it seemed to terrify the very air.                                               48

A wolf beside him, rabid from starvation,
        horribly hungrier, far more dangerous,
        has driven multitudes to desperation,                                     51

me too! For she established my disgrace,
       (that worst of beasts) by killing my desire
        to climb higher to a better place.                                              54

A millionaire made glorious by gain
        then hit by sudden loss of all he has,
        cries out in vast astonishment and pain                                 57

as i did, shoved down backward, foot by foot,
        by pressure of that grim relentless brute
        till forced into the sunless wood again.                                  60

Appearing in it's shade a human shape
        both seemed and sounded centuries away,
        murmuring woods nearly beyond my hearing,                     63

therefore I yelled, "Pity and help me please,
        whether you be living man or ghost!"
        and pleaded, crouched down before his knees.                    66

"Not man(though once i was) in Lombardy,
        where both my parents dwelled in Mantua,
        and i was born in Caesar's reign," said he,                            69

but educated in Augustan Rome
        when the false gods were worshiped everywhere.
        I sang the epic of Anchise's son                                               72

pious Aeneas, who fled blazing Troy
        and founded Rome. I was a poet there.
        "Why are you here? Why turn back from your climb          75

toward the bright height of eternal bliss
        and come again to a bad place like this?"
        "You must be Vergil!" awestruck, I replied,                           78

"Fountain of every pure Italian speech!"
        Rising I bowed and told him, "All i know
        of poetry was learned from what you teach!                          81

That style which makes me famed in Italy
        i learned from you who are my dominie! 
        Help me again for see at the hill foot                                      84

the brute whose threats have rendered me distraught.
        Master, please save me — show me the right way.
        That rabid wolf has driven me so mad                                   87

my pulse and every sense have gone agley."
        I wept and, "Take another road," he said,
        "and leave this wasteland, leave that wolfish whore           90

who lets none pass before she bites them dead.
        Her starving greedy lust is never sated.
        Her appetite increased as she feasts.                                     93

Mated with many beasts, she'll mate with more
        til one great greyhound comes to hunt her down 
        whose fangs will end her life in deadly pain.                        96

Wisdom, love, courage are his nourishment,
        not gold nor land nor earthly gain.
        From birth among the lowly he will rise,                              99

bringing new glory to the Italian plain
        like the old Trojan colonist and kings
        whose wars created Rome's establishment.                        102

Out of each city state he will expel
        the wolf before he fixes her at last
        back in the place she came from, which is Hell.                105

That is not yet; so now you'll come with me
        on a straight downward path into the jail
        envy released her from, and see God's wrath                     108

afflicting sinners who forever wail —
        no second death will end their agony!
        Then a high fiery mountain we'll ascend                             111

past burning climbers, happy in their flame,
        or they will one day join the heavenly choir.
        The summit reached, since Heaven is your aim,               114

we two must part. A better guide than me                            
            will lead you then. Living I did not know,
            could not obey the last great law of He                     117

who made the whole celestial universe.
        His highest city, capital and throne
        are places I can not hope to see.                                            120

Happy are those chosen to join Him there!"
        I answered, "Poet, sent bu the God who you  
        (alas) can't know, let us be gone, I pray,                              123

out of this danger, down that hard hard road,
        then to the heavenly gate Saint Peter guards,
        seeing the poor damned souls upon our way."                   126

We walked, I followed as he led me on.                                        127


Blogger Tavia said...

Great to find this here - and FREE! - in this world /day and age of Capitalism gone mad (although is it ever a sane way of doing this really?)! My interest was piqued by your reading in Aberdeen recently. I was the one who told the story about getting on the wrong train once and only realising when I saw the sea - and you kindly signed my copy of Five Letters from An Eastern Empire. OH!! What a huge wee story. Manipulation in the extreme ... Love Bohu.
Thank you.

10:31 pm  
Blogger No-Name said...

this is wonderful, thank you for generously sharing your work (in progress?). will you be drawing the Commedia too? Rachel (a long-term, far-distant fan)

11:08 pm  

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