Wednesday, July 31, 2013


Chapter 33: More Traitors

Ceasing to eat, the sinner wiped bloody mouth
            on hair that still grew on his victim’s head
            and said, “You ask me to a renew a grief                    3

so desperate that speaking of the cause
            will wring my heart. Let it! If words can blast
            this traitor’s name, then listen while I weep.             6

Names first. I was the Count Ugolino,
            he Archbishop Roger, friend and ally
            so I thought. Listen well and be taught why              9

I gnaw his head in Hell. That he had me
            trapped, fooled and killed is well known, but few know
            how cruelly death came, although they call                12

the prison where I died the Hunger Tower.
            Through a thin loophole in the dungeon wall
            I saw several moons grow full then wane                   15

before a bad dream prophesied our pain.
            On hills dividing Pisa and Lucca,
            Roger on horseback, wearing hunting gear,                 18

whipped on a pack of dogs. Beside him rode
            all the chief Tories with their lean, fierce hounds,
            hunting a wolf and cubs. After short run                    21

I saw father and sons fall, saw sharp fangs
            tear them apart. I woke before dawn,
            heard sons and grandsons weeping in their sleep,      24

begging for bread, then I knew our jailor
            had been told to lose his key. You must be
            heartless not to shed tears for my children,                27

innocent in spite of guilty me. All
            were now awake. It became the hour when
            food used to be brought but instead we heard                        30

the door of the tower being nailed shut.
            I stared at their faces and I could not weep,
            feeling like stone inside. I heard them weep.              33

My little Anselm said, “Daddy, what’s wrong?”
            Even then I shed no tear throughout that day
            or the next night. A new day dawned. One ray          36

of light shone in on us. By it I saw
            their faces were like mine and bit my hands
            for grief. They thought it was for food. One said,      39

“Father, you gave us flesh – eat ours instead.”
            I became calm to save them from more pain.
            On the fourth day Gaddo fell at my feet,                   42

cried, “Father, can you do nothing?” and died.
            During days five and six the other three
            fell one by one and I, now blind, groped round,         45

stroking their faces, calling them by name
            till famine finished me as grief could not.”
            Having said this his eyes went blank. He bit              48

that wretched skull again as dog bites bone.
            O Pisa, you disgrace to Italy –
            famous as Thebes for all atrocity!                              51

Perhaps strongholds were lost by treachery
            of Ugolino – it was still a crime
            to kill Ugguccione, Brigata                                          54

and the two others mentioned in my rhyme.
            We walked on to a place where rugged ice
            fixed heads of sinners in a way that made                  57

all faces stare straight upward so that tears
            could not be wept away. They filled the space
            under the brows with a hard layer of ice                    60

whose icicles pierced eyes. The freezing air
            drove feeling from my face although I sensed
            a wind and asked, “Master, what moves this air?      63

No heat makes motion here.” “What makes that wind
            you’ll see,” said he. From near our feet a cry
            went up: “O please remove this icy mask                  66

that I may weep a while before my tears
            freeze up again.” “Say who you are,” said I,
            “then if I don’t do what you ask, let me                    69

be under thicker ice than you.” He said,
            “I am Fra Alberiga, Jovial Friar,
            who gave feast of reconciliation                                  72

to show my brother who’d insulted me
            that I forgave him, though my pudding course
            for he and son was assassination.                               75

In ice I get my just dessert.” I cried,
            “But you are still alive!” He said, “Not me.
            I will explain why, as you offer to                              78

unglaze my eyes. Some sinners yield to fiends
            before death is due, so at once fall down
            into this pit’s worst part. The fiend takes on                        81

their body, moving it as it used to do.
            Branca Doria, shivering nearby,
            is just like me and has been here for years.”               84

“Impossible!” I cried, “Branca still lives,
            eats, drinks and sleeps and put clothes on and off.”
            Alberiga said, “So I hear. The fiend                            87

replacing him enjoys the life he led.
            Now, as you promised, please let free my tears.”
            Treason to such is highest courtesy                           90

so I did not. He was a Genoese
            whose town deserves the fate of Pisa too.
            O Genoa, must you still grieve the world                   93

with your foul cluster of corrupting dens?
Many you bred have been hurled into Hell
            and fiends are now your richest citizens.                   96
My guide reminded me, “Now we must leave.”





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4:05 pm  

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