Saturday, March 16, 2013


Chapter 15: Sodomites

In misty steam that quenched the falling flames
              we sped on the firm track beside the stream
              along a dyke like those shielding Dutch fields                      3

From North Sea tide, or saving Padua
             from Brenta’s springtime flood. Not wide or tall
             as those, it raised our feet man-high above                            6

the scorching plain on which impious hordes
             suffered their fiery rain.  On looking back
             I could not see the wood, but saw a pack                              9

of nearby racers peering up at us
   like tailors squinting through their needles’ eye.
   One gripped my coat hem, crying, “Marvelous!”            12

I, staring down upon that baked-black face,
                knew him, cried out, “Brunetto! Are you here?”
                Said he, “Oh my son, let your old teacher                          15

jog by your side a little further on.”
                “I want that too,” said I, “and a good chat
                if my guide lets me sit a while with you.”                          18

“Oh son,” cried he, “if one of us should pause
                he must lie flat out for a hundred years
                under this fire. Let us go side by side                                 21

until I meet my team of damned again.”
                I dared not join him on the plain, but bent
                respectfully to him as on we went.                                  24

He said, “What chance or fate brings you down here
                 alive? Who is your guide?” “In middle-age,”
                 I said, “I went astray, but yesterday                                 27

this poet came to lead me the right way.”
              “Then follow him to Heaven’s height!” said he,
               “I died too soon to strengthen your great work.                 30

Inside our city two main cliques contend –
                 the worst descended from Attila’s huns,
                 the other one from Rome’s nobility.                                 33

Both, envying your work, will hate your name.
                 Let the fools nourish weeds and kill with hoes
                 anything great that sprouts on their dunghill.                    36

When Italy’s great writing grows again
     and other states are honouring your fame
                  they’ll try to claim, too late, a part in you.                      39
Such goats won’t cultivate our golden grain.”
     “You would not suffer as you do,” I said,
                 “had my prayers any force, for I recall                             42

how well you taught me, many hours each day
      how good work fits us for eternity. 
                  What I say now I will write down elsewhere                   45

so that my gratitude is widely known,
      and by a lovely lady close to God.
      Despite what folk say, how Chance turns her wheel,    48

I will obey my own uncommon sense –
                 your teaching –Virgil’s – my experience,
                 joined by good hope into one conscience.”                        51

At this my guiding spirit turned and said,
              “Words worth remembering,” but even so
                I asked Brunetto if his company                                   54

were men worth knowing. “Some were good priests,”
                 said he, “and scholars, both sorts damned like me
                 by a single sin. Some, of course, are scum.                        57

I see a cloud arising from the sand,
      showing folk come with whom I must not be.
      My worth lives in The Treasure, my best book.      60

Please, back on earth, make sure it still is read.
                 That’s all I ask!” and away he sped
                 like one who begins racing for a prize,                               63

not like a loser, but like one who’ll win.        


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