Saturday, March 23, 2013


             Chapter 16: More Florentines

A hum like distant beehives filled the air
from where the stream fell to Hell’s lower pit,
then three souls left a crowd and ran to us                             3         

yelling, “Tell us the news from Florence, you
            whose clothing tells us that you come from there.”
            Alas, the ugly scabs burnt into them,                                                 6

old, fresh, big, small, I hated to behold,
            grieve to recall.  My guide said, “Be polite.
            Another chat wont hurt you.” As we paused                              9         

they moved by the dyke like wrestlers about
            to grapple in a ring, but wheeling round
            sideways while moving feet, bodies and heads                       12       

to keep faces toward me, and then one said,
            “Our blistered baldness on this ledge of Hell
             may cause contempt, but let our fame incline                       15

to some respect in you.  He, naked and flayed
            in whose steps I tread, served Florence well
            with counsel and with sword – Guido Guerra                        18

was his name.  He behind me was the lord
Tegghiagio Aldobrandi, whose word
if heeded, would have saved us hopeless strife.                     21       

I am Jack Rusticucci, driven here
through vices fostered by my prudish wife.”
I wanted to leap down, embrace each one,                             24

which my good master surely had allowed,
            but dread of roasting held me back.  Instead
            I bowed and said, “Not contempt but dismay                                   27

is mine on seeing you in such a state –
            heroes of our old city’s government
            which once kept Florence gloriously great.                            30

I will return there in due course, but first
            must pass among the lowest of the cursed.”
            He cried, “Long life and fame to you, but say                        33

how Florence is today.  Does courtesy
            and courage still survive?  Are they quite gone?
            Some recently who joined our company                                36       

brought word that increased our pain.”  With raised face
            I cried, “New men enriched by trade parade
            in Florence – use excessive gain to rule                                   39

in ways to make you weep.”  My hearers stared
            at each other, sharing that dismal truth,
            praised me for talking straight of what I knew,                      42       

begged when beneath Italian skies again
            I’d speak of them, then broke their wheel and ran
            with legs as quick as wings over the plain,                             45

vanishing before I could say, “Amen.”
            We too moved on until the waterfall
            blattered so loud it almost drowned our speech.                    48       

Just as at Forli in the Appenines
            the river Acquacheta from an edge
            leaps down a height a thousand falls might use,                     51

the thunder of the waters stunned my mind. 
I wore a cord around my waist, the kind
Franciscans wear to tell them to stay chaste.                         54

At his request I gave it to my guide
            who cast it far out into the abyss.
            “Surely,” I thought, “now something very strange                57

will come of this,” and so indeed it did. 
            To state a fact that people wont believe
            is most unwise – they’ll think that you deceive,                    60

but if I do not tell truth here my tale,
            this Comedy is surely bound to fail.
            As I gazed deep down through the murky air                                    63

I saw come swimming slowly up a shape
            that would amaze the bravest of the brave.
            Like a huge thing long drowned below the tide                       66

but freed to rise, it rose with arms spread wide. 


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