Saturday, March 16, 2013


Hell: Chapter 10

Round between iron wall and flaming graves                         
            my leader led me by a hidden track
            until I said, “Master, each ring of Hell                        3

is known to you. Tell me, would it be hard                                       
            for me to speak with people in these tombs?
            Their lids are off. No one is standing guard.”                  6

“On judgment’s final day,” responded he,                                        
            “bodies join souls, the lids are clamped down tight.
            These heretics thought Epicurus right                  9

who taught souls die with bodies. What you say                              
            is said for reasons you withhold from me,
            but knowing them I’ll let you have your way.”      12

“Master, you understand my inmost thought                                               
            so why waste words?” said I. “O Florentine –”
            this cry came from a fiery tomb nearby –               15

“O you who walk alive between Hell fires,                                       
            please pause and talk with me. Your dialect
            proves you too are native of my city            18

to which I sometime showed hostility.”                                                        
In terror I moved closer to my guide
            who said, “What’s wrong? Did you not ask for this?       21

See Farinata standing in his flame,                                                     
            well-known to you by name, so speak with him.”
            I gazed on one waist deep within his grave           24

whose face appeared contemptuous of Hell.                                     
            As I approached he gazed as hard at me
            then, with disdain, asked who my people were.      27
I told him willingly. His eyebrows rose.                                           
            “My enemies!” he said, “They led those Whigs
            I twice expelled.” “The Whigs came back,” said I.    30

“Your folk did not.” There popped up at his side                            
            the face of someone risen to his knees
            who stared about for one he could not see            33
then weeping cried, “Where is my son? Surely,                                
            if poetry lets living souls through here
            my Guido should be standing beside you.”               36

I said “A greater poet is my guide.”                                                  
            “Then tell me, does he live and breathe sweet air?”
            Because I hesitated to reply                                  39

he sank from sight with cries of great despair                                   
            while great-souled Farinata stayed erect,
            with dauntless face continuing our talk.           42

 “My family in exile still?” said he,                                                 
            “That is a more tormenting agony
            than are the pains of burning in this bed.             45

Not fifty months will pass before you know                                                
            the pains of exile too. Tell me the cause
            that Florence and its laws are merciless        48

to members of a noble family?”                                                                     
            I said, “The blood you shed – that victory
            staining a river red. It’s still recalled               51
and will not be forgot.” He shook his head                                        
            sighing and said, “My side had also cause,
            but when the Tuscan aristocracy                   54           

would have demolished Florence utterly                                           
            my opposition stopped that happening.”
            “May your descendants find a resting place,”    57

I said, “but what I cannot understand                                                           
            is how you can tell what future years will bring
            and not what happens now.” “ Defective sight,”       60

said he. “Heaven allows us light to see                                              
            what lies ahead, but nothing earlier.
            News of today depends on visitors,           63

so after judgment day we dead in Hell                                                           
            will have no memories or thoughts at all –
            knowledge of nothing but our suffering.”              66

That horrid thought recalled me to a fault.                                        
            “Please tell the father who fell back,” said I,
            “his son still breathes the air and is my friend.         69
Absence of mind alone made me unkind.”                                         
            I heard my master call. In haste I begged
            to know who else was there. “A thousand plus,”     72

Farinata said, "Naming emperors                                        
            and cardinals." Refusing to say more
            he sank from sight and I, pondering hard,       75

followed my guide again. "Why lost in thought?"                              
            he asked. Said I, “A prophecy of pain –
            exile from home.” “Remember that,” said he         78

and raised a finger, “this too! When you stand                                 
            in the sweet sight of she who cares for you
            your life may look more perfect than you think.”     81
Leaving the wall we went across the plain                                        
            between the flaming graves that covered it
            and down a slope toward the nether pit                  84

from which arose a most disgusting stink.                                                   


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