Saturday, March 30, 2013


Chapter 20: Magicians

This, the twentieth chapter of my book,
            first section of my triple enterprise
            must put new matter here before your eyes.                          3

Along that circling valley I could see
            a wailing crowd of folk approaching me
            at pace of priests chanting the litany.                                     6

I saw their nakedness from feet to necks
            but higher they were faceless – there appeared
            the backs of heads. No epileptic fit                                        9

could twist a human head so wholly round.
            I turned, saw grieving faces move away
            with tears flooding each spine to buttock cleft,                      12
and these distortions of our human shape
made me weep too until my guide said, “Stop!
            To pity those God damns is impious,                                    15

so lift your head.  See Amphiareus.
            An earthquake swallowed him because he hid
            from death he had foretold. His chest is now                         18

his shoulder-blades. He goes backward with the rest
            who used black arts to see too far ahead
            so can’t see forward now.  See Tiresias.                                 21

His belly is in front of Aruns’ bum,
            prophet who read the stars from his high home,
            the cave of marble in Carrara’s cliff.                                       24

See her with breasts concealed by flowing hair,
            Manto, the daughter of Tiresias
            and virgin witch who founded Mantua,                                  27

my birthplace, of which I will tell you more.
            Forced out of Thebes, Manto first roamed afar
            in search of a new home.  In Italy                                           30

among the mountain ramparts of the North
            she saw Lake Garda fed by Alpine snow.
            The overflow led her to Mincio,                                             33 

a sluggish stream spreading in marshes round
            a plot of firm ground, uninhabited.
            On this she lived secure until she died.                                   36

Over her bones the scattered folk nearby
            built, fortified the town of Mantua.
            Tell all you know the truth of my account                             39       

which some misguided fools deny.” “O yes!”
            cried I, “but please, first tell me more about
            the sinners trudging in this dreary ditch.                                42

Which is that brown old man with the white beard?”
            “Eurypylus,” my guide explained, “the priest
            who chose when Greeks should sail to Trojan war.               45

I’ve written of him in my Aeneid.
            On his lean shanks see stalking Michael Scott,
            the Caledonian astrologer –                                                     48

Guido Bonatti, another sly cheat
            who told the Montefeltro when to fight –
            Asdente, Parma’s toothless shoemaker                                  51

sorry he’d not stuck to his former trade –
            with many wretched women who betrayed
            their sex and sold to neighbours magic drinks,                        54

curses, revengeful hocusses and worse.
            But let us leave this place, for high above
            moon sets and day dawns.  It is Saturday,                             57

a golden morning before Easter day.

Completed 30th March 2013.






Thursday, March 28, 2013


Chapter 19: Simoniacs

O Simon Magus, first of phoney priests
            to sniff for money in the wounds of Christ,  
            and you simoniacs who coin it there,                                                 3

wearing Christ’s garments, stripping bare the poor
            who gladly serve Christ well without rich feasts,
            now is the time to see your doom in Hell.                                          6         

At the third malebolge we climbed the bridge
            and saw strict justice underneath, supreme
            in Heaven, earth and also in that ditch.                                               9

Bottom and sides were pierced by same-size holes,
            round like the font in Saint John’s baptistery
            I broke to save a boy who would have drowned                                12

had I not, a fact which several doubt.
            From each stuck out a sinner’s feet and legs
            up to the knees – the rest was underground –                                                15       
and every foot-sole was on vivid fire,
            the legs writhing so madly that I thought
            the joints were bound to snap like broken strings.                             18

Like flames on surfaces of oily things           
            so moved these flames about on toes and heels.
            “Who is that kicking harder than the rest,                                       21

in redder flames?” I asked.  My master said,
            “Ask him yourself.” On the fourth dyke he turned,
            lifted me down the bank and at the base                                             24

deposited me in a narrow space
            by he complaining wildly with his feet.
            “Though you are planted downward on your head                            27

unhappy soul, tell me your name,” I said.
            A muffled voice cried, “Is that Boniface?
            They lied who said many more years would pass                             30

before you came.  Are you dead so soon from
            gluttonising on the Church you raped?”
            Speechless I gaped until my guide murmured,                                    33

“Tell him you are not who he thinks.” I did.
            The ghost, twisting his feet together, groaned,
            said, “Since you ask, I was Pope Nicholas.                                        36

who cared less for my flock than for my kin.
            I pursed gold for them. Pursing is the sin
            that pens me in this fissure. Under me                                               39

are former popes guilty of simony.
            I must be driven further in when he
            I took you for arrives.  Longer than I                                                 42

he’ll lie within this trench with roasting feet
            before the papacy, sold to the French,
            is torn in two by greedier deceit.”                                                       45

In rage I cried, “What was Saint Peter’s fee
            when Christ said follow me? Briefly the Jews
            worshipped one golden calf with just one head.                                     48

Your thousand golden gods have each a head,
            tail too. Are coins the Christ that popes should preach?
            When Constantine made Christianity                                                 51       

the Roman Empire’s one official creed
            he acted well, but pensioning the popes ­—
            his great donation — stimulated greed.                                               54

Forgiveness for their sins can now be bought
            by the kings of every wealthy nation.
            This fornication between Church and State                                        57

brings endless warfare and profanity
            foretold to us in St. John’s Revelation.”                                
            I chanted all this to the holy cheat                                                      60

as, moved by anger or by conscience,
           he kicked hard with both feet. This pleased my guide.
           Carrying me back up the ditch’s side                                                  63

he did not stop until he put me down
           upon the highest point of the next bridge
           from which the dreadful fate was clearly seen                                     66
of those who walked around the next ravine.