Saturday, June 08, 2013


Chapter 27: More Liars

The flame now burned erect and silently
            till my sweet poet said that it might go
            and so it did, but then another came                                       3

that clearly also wished to speak with him.
            The noise it made was first a roaring din
            like uttered by that red-hot roaring bull                        6

when its inventor baked to death therein.
            Breaths in each flame were cries of agony
            till they articulated at the tip.                                                 9

We heard it say, “I aim my words at you
            who in my dialect, dismissed that Greek.
            Though scorching in this ditch I crave the speech                  12

of lovely Italy, and my ears know
            that you, like me, come from high lands between
            Urbino and the Tiber’s upper flow.                                       15

Romagna is where I committed crimes
            for which I burn. If newly come from there,
            please tell me if its states are still at war.”                             18

My guide, nudging my side said, “You reply.”
            Having leaned down to hear I quickly said,
            “You, hidden in flame below, should know                            21

your Romagna never will lack warfare
            in many scheming hearts of tyrants there.
            None were openly fighting when I left.                                  24

Ravenna stands as it has done for years.
            Speaking heraldically, I will say
            the Eagle of Polenta’s pinions still                                         27

guard it and Cervia. Forli, once saved
            by Guido Montefeltro from the French,
            is under the Green Lion’s claws. The jaws                             30

of dogs – Mastiff and Whelp – chew Rimini.
            Blue Lion, switching politics each year
holds onto Faenza and Imola.                                                 33 

Casena, between mountains and the plain,
            is torn between freedom and tyranny.
            Having replied, I beg to know your name,                              36

and make it spoken in the world again.”
            The flame roared louder, waved its point about
            more wildly, longer, before words came out.                          39

“If you could make my name spoken again
            by living men I would be dumb, but since
            only the dead come here I need not fear                                 42

to say how damnable I’ve been. I, Guido
            Montefeltro, am he who beat the French,
            as you have said – a thorough man of war                              45

who, in the flesh my mother bore, was more
            a fox than lion, skillful to mislead
            my many enemies in word and deed.                                      48

Thus I earned fame and praise, yet knew of One
            on high who forbids bloodshed, lying too.
            Time came when evil ways no longer pleased.                       51

­­ I hauled in sails and punted to the shore.     
Confession and repentance made me friar
wearing the slender cord St Francis wore.                              54

Alas, that did not save my soul from Hell.    
The highest priest of all Pope Boniface,
that princely Pharisee, asked me to help                                57

 destroy – not Saracens or Jews – his foes
were a Christian family, and those
had signed with him a pact to keep the peace.                       60
Emperor Constantine sent for a Pope
to cure his leprosy. Pride infected
Pope Boniface. ‘You, only you,’ he said,                               63

‘Can cure the burning fever of my rage!’
He sounded drunk. I was afraid to speak.
Forgetting all he knew to keep us right –                                66

his supreme office, holy vows, himself,
the cord I wore to make me meek – he said,
‘Trust me, my son! I hold those keys the Pope                     69 

who held them last and did not use, the keys
of Heaven and Hell where my will is done,
as it is not on earth without a fight.                                        72

Show me how to defeat the Colonna and you
need not fear Hell. I absolve you of sin
if here and now you tell me how to beat                                75

their stronghold down and absolutely win.’
He ceased talking, waited for a reply
until silence must give offence. I said,                                    78

‘Holy father, if you have saved my soul
before I counsel you to act a lie,
you must now break your vow to keep peace.’                     81

He did. I sickened. To my deathbed came
Saint Francis and a coal-black cherubim
who roared, ‘No cheating! Penitence alone                             84

lets sinners dodge Hell. None can repent sin
while willing it – that is contradiction.
Amazed, are you, to find fiends logical?’                               87

He dragged my wretched soul down to Minos
who, enraged, wrapped his tail eight times around    
then bit it, howling, ‘Send him to where frauds                      90

wear the scorching gown that truly teaches
            penitence,’ and it does! It does! It does!”
Waving and twisting, the flame moved away,                        93

roaring aloud in wordless agony.
We left that ridge by climbing the next bridge
over the ninth malebolge, which was full                      96                   

of vile souls who divide humanity.




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