Monday, December 23, 2013


                            Chapter 6: Italian States

Gamblers breaking the bank are thronged upon
by some hoping good luck rubs off on them
and more wanting a share of what they gain.                                3

Souls pressed on me like that, so very thick
            I waved my hands in air to drive them back,
            promising all these violently slain                                                       6

to do the best I could: for the good judge 
            that man of blood, Tacco, had stabbed in court—
            Guccio who, fleeing Campoldino,                                                        9

was swallowed too by Arno’s stormy flood—
            the Pisan who forgave the enemies
            who slew his son— Frederick Novello—                                           12

Count Orso— Peter Brosse wrongly hanged
by the Queen of Brabant. (Let her beware
of joining ugly company in Hell.)                                                       15

When free of these and others begging me
to tell their kindred they needed prayers
I begged my guide, “Master, enlighten me.                              18

Your Aeneid says that divine decree
            cannot be altered by the human will.
Surely that means the souls here pray in vain?”                         21

 “I wrote plain truth,” said he, “but wrote before                             
            God came in mercy to humanity,
was born as a divinely honest man                                                    24

who suffered and defeated wretched death.                                       
            Since then, when justice is embraced by love
in a last moment of pure penitence,                                                   27 

justice and mercy form one healing flame.                                         
            be patient if you do not understand.
Enlightenment awaits you high above,                                     30    
smiling in bliss. Her name is Beatrice.”
I shouted, Master, let us hurry up!
I am not tired now, and before sunset                              33                  
will now climb very fast to reach the top.”
            “Before that Heavenly event, said he,
it will set twice more. By the path ahead                            36          

sits one who may know an easier way up.”
            He we approached was Lombard. With calm pride
he gazed at us out of unmoving eyes                                             39

like a lion at rest. When Virgil asked
            where lay the best ascent he did not say,
            but asked from where we came. My leader said,               42                  

“Mantua . . .” at which the soul, leaping up,
embraced him, cried, “My city! know that I
am Sordello, poet of Mantua,                                                          45

only excelled by one born long ago.”
Then Virgil happily embraced him too.
O Italy, you hostelry of slaves!,                                                    48

You vessel, captainless in stormy sea!,
Why cannot souls who love their cities well                                     
            co-operate to keep their country whole?                                       51

Even within a single city wall
new money fights with old, each wrestling for                                  
            a strangle-hold, making alliances                                                 54

with foreigners through bribery, bad pacts
         which are not kept, preventing unity.                                                           
            There is no peace within Italian shores.                                       57

Unlike those courts that recognize a queen
you are a brothel, ruled by squabbling whores.
            The Emperor Justinian once made                                              60

a legal code to pacify this land
            which other lands employ— not Italy
which won’t submit to legal spurs and bit                                  63   
since there is none to take the reigns in hand.
Devout priests should obey our Lord’s command                            
            and let Caesar astride our Latin steed.                                        66

O German Albert, Holy Roman King,
all Europe should be yours, but you don’t heed                               
            it’s central garden which has run to seed.                                  69

Come, govern us! Our wretched noblemen,
Montagues, Capulets, Filippeschi,                                                    
            Monaldi dread each other – reconcile                                        72

us under one head we all recognize!
         Rome, a poor widow, weeps for your great work                                         
            of restoration. Pity and help her                                               75
become the Queen of Christendom again                                         
            or pity your reputation. And may
            almighty Jove once crucified for us                                         78
 not turn away from our chaotic state.                                  
            Tyrants dominate Italian towns
where mob-rule is not led by rascal clowns.                           81      

My Florence, this digression won’t touch you
where citizens take public good to heart
and to their tongue. You are too smart for rule                        84      
by mob or tyrant. Athens and Sparta
did not legislate constantly like you.
Elsewhere folk dodge the burdens of the state—                   87                  

your folk gladly grab these jobs before asked,
            so are peaceful and rich, except when not.
They alter laws, customs, coins, those in charge        90                  

in a week or two, restlessly changing
            improving nothing, like a sick woman                                               
            tossing and turning in bed, and still sure                                 93

the next posture she adopts may work a cure.


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