Saturday, May 11, 2013


Chapter 24: Thieves

Just as a shepherd, baffled by late spring,
  frowns upon fields where grass is white with frost
                then smiles when sunlight thaws it for his flocks,                3

my master frowned upon the broken rocks
            that must become our stair. Gazing aloft
            he chose the best line of ascent with care,                                 6

then turning, smiled and beckoned. Up we went,
            he leading till high boulders blocked our way.
            Stooping, he lifted me. I gripped the top,                               9

then dragged my body up over the edge
            and pulled him after –  he was very light.
            And so by lifts and pulls, from ledge to ledge,                         12

we climbed above that static avalanche.
Breathless, exhausted, on the highest rock      
I lay flat out, thinking the summit reached,                 15

but no! The dyke in front sloped higher yet.
            I groaned at that. My master said, “Get up!   
Sloth is no way to win enduring fame.                         18

Great works demand effort to stop your name
            fading like smoke in air, foam into sea.
Come, we have harder climbs than this ahead.”              21

Pretending to a strength I did not feel,
            rising I said, “Lead on. I’m not afraid.”
We toiled up that that sore steepness to the ridge               24

where the next bridge began. We mounted it.
            Halfway across a cry from underneath,
angry, prolonged and wordless, made me stare                27

down into dimness. I saw nothing there
and asked, “Who is below?” Said he, “You’ll see,”
and led me off the bridge.  At last appeared                         30

the seventh malebolge and what it held.
            I shudder when that vision comes to mind.     
It was not deep and squirming at our feet                           33

were reptiles of every kind – limbless,
many-legged, blind, goggle-eyed – snakes, lizards,
crocodiles, wriggling in piles or chasing                          36

naked men who raced around, their hands bound
tight behind by serpents whose heads and tails,
thrust between thighs, entwined their genitals.                         39

One of them paused beneath us by the dyke.
            A tiny lizard leapt and bit his back
where neck and shoulders meet. His head flamed up.             42

Like wooden statue blazing from the top
he stood there burning downward into ash
spreading like thin white carpet on the ground.            45       

Smoke from the burning hung in a pale cloud                                    
that did not fade but stayed, thickened, sinking
            to the ash that rose, meeting the haze                             48
in lump, hump, pillar. Ash and smoke condensed,                              
became that shape the burning had unmade.
            He stood where he had been, blinking, aghast           51
like epileptic waking from a fit,                                                           
bewildered still by recent agony.
            My master asked his name. “Vanni Fucci                   54
of Tuscany,” said he, “called too The Brute                                      
            of Pestoia, which was my town and den
            where I was absolute, me and my men.”                   57       

“Master,” I told my guide, “don’t let him go                                               
            before he says why he is here. I know
            he was brutal, bloody, caused much grief                60       

like other party bosses – never knew
The Brute of Pestoia was also thief.”
The sinner glared at me, blushing with shame.                63

Said he, “You finding me so low in Hell
hurts worse than dying did.  Since I must tell,
know it was I who, from Saint Zeno’s church,               66

stole all the holy vessels. For this crime
an honest man was jailed. Now listen more!
Learn to regret you ever met The Brute.                     69

Your party has some strength in Florence still –
not for much longer. Those who wish you ill
are growing stronger. Allied with Pistoia                 72

the party hating yours will force a war,
a stormy battle on Picene’s plain.
Your people will be thunderstruck and mine               75

will win, and give the beaten side no choice
but death or exile, therefore I rejoice! 
            You’ll never see the town you love again.               78

I’m glad that fact will bring you endless pain.”





Post a Comment

<< Home