Sunday, February 17, 2013


                                           Hell: Chapter 7

 “Daddy Mephisto! Daddy Bugaboo!”                                                         
         gargled the demon. Like a bulging sack
          his bloated body almost filled the gap                                      3

torn in the cliff our track descended through.                                    
         “Never fear him,” murmured my gentle guide.
          Pointing at Plutus swollen face, he said                                    6

“Shut up, you wolfish clown! Chew your own gut!             
         Our journey into Hell is willed on high
         where archangelic swords cut rebels down!”                             9

As billowing sails of scudding ship                                                   
        crumple in tangles if the mast collapse,
        so crumpled Plutus. We descended past,                                   12
 arriving at the fourth shore round the bin                                         
            all evil sinks to, where I stared amazed
            by the insanity that raged therein.                                          15

Justice of God! I cannot understand                                                  
            why men condemn themselves to endless pain
            by madly chasing earthly loss and gain.                                 18

Think of a mighty river wild with spate                                            
            plunging in torrents till abruptly blocked
            by counter - torrents of an equal weight.                                21

Think of the smashing splash as these two crash                              
            together and the turmoil and recoil.
            Imagine now each wave of this stramash                                24

a man shoving a boulder with his chest,                                            
            each limb and muscle with the utmost strain
            holding the weight or pushing it away,                                   27

the difference impossible to say,                                                                   
         though when their boulders clashed one party yelled
         “Hold tight!”, the other shouted out, “Let go!”                        30

Disgusted by the sight , “Master, “ I cried,                                      
         “ who are they? Those with tonsures on the right,
            are they all clergymen?” “Both right and left,”                       33

said he, “ in their first life could neither keep                                    
             nor spend with decency. To hoard or waste
             is what divided them, and yes, the bald                                 36

were greedy priests and cardinals and popes                                    
             who loved gold more than souls.“ ”Point out the worst!”
             I cried, “When I am back in Italy                                           39

my book will make their vices more accursed.”                                 
             “It’s stupid to commemorate, “ said he,
             “People who’s names deserve to be forgot.                         42

How short a comedy it is, my son,                                                   
             this play of wealth that’s only blessed by luck,
             since all the gold that glows beneath the moon                      45

can’t buy a single soul one moments rest.”                                       
             Said I,” Please tell me more about this luck
             who seems to hold the worlds wealth in her fist.”                48

Said he to me,” O creatures of the dark -                                           
             you human brood unlit by reason’s spark,
             allow my sentences to do you good.                                    51

The mind who formed the universe took care                                   
              that every one could have an equal share
              of sunlight, moonlight, starlight and sweet air.                     54

On earth such widespread goodness cannot be.                                
              Most goods become a private property
              even within a small community.                                            57

inside a city or a nation state                                                             
              great force or cunning can accumulate
              properties, letting some cliques dominate                            60

until the angel with so many names –                                                            
              luck, chance, fate, fortune,  mutability -             
              makes new cliques prosper, other cliques decay,                 63

whether by vice or virtue, who can say?                                           
              But those who trust, not virtue, but to luck
              have gone astray, aye, very far astray.                                 66

A day and night have passed since we set out.                                 
              We must not linger longer on our way
               but go to look at deeper misery.”                                        69

We dodged right through that boulder-shoving mob              
              and on the far side found a bubbling spring
              of water, black as night, from which a stream                      72 

led us around to a cliff-edge crevasse                                                 
              where, tumbling in, it spilled to lower ground.
              A steep dark stair by that weird waterfall                            75

brought us to where black liquid filled a ditch                                   
              under the over hanging precipice –
              a wide, dank, moatlike ditch known as the Styx                   78 

giving off chilling mist. It’s outward bank                                         
              sloped down toward a marsh in which I saw
              great multitudes of figures in a fight,                                    81

naked and mud-stained, grappling upright                                         
              or wrestling prone, legs kicking, punching fists,
              fingers that gouged or tore and teeth that bit.                       84

Walking between the Styx and that foul sight                                   
              my master said,” Outrageous violence
              condemns these souls to mindless, endless spite.              87

Now turn your eyes and look the other way                                    
              to the black slime bubbling like boiling broth
              caused by the sighs of damned souls underneath.              90

I’ll tell you what they’d like to say but can’t.                                              
              On earth we were so full of our own woe
              we saw no good in any gift of God.                                       93

Not space, time, air, sunlight or love itself                                         
               could woo us from our miserable state.
               Eternal sullenness is now our fate.                                      96

Aye, could they speak such words would be their chant.                 
               Bubbles are all that will be seen of them.”
               Conversing, we eventually came                                          99

to base of a big tower that had no name.                                


                                               Hell: Chapter 6

Returning to my senses once again
            from sorrow that confused them utterly
            I saw a different multitude in pain,                                   3

not reeling, writhing, spirits spinning round
            but corpulences stuck in muddy ground
            under a freezing hard unending rain                                 6

of filthy water, hailstones, blasts of snow
            descending through a murkiness of fog
            to make the earth below a stinking bog                             9

from which the sunken souls half-way protrude.
            Across this mire prowls a rude vicious beast
            three-headed, each head howling like a dog.                     12

His name is Cerberus, his eyes blood-red,
            black hair and beards befouled by greasy phlegm,
            his belly gross, each paw with knife-like claws                   15

that stab and rip sinners they prance upon,
            who also howl like dogs. They cannot stop
            squirming to turn their downside up again                           18

to shield their upside from the dreadful rain.
            Cerberus, glaring on us, snarled and showed
            three pair of open jaws with dragon fangs,                            21

his body twitching, bristling to attack.
            My guide stooped swiftly, scooped up blood-rich mud,
            then accurately flung a handful down                                     24

each throat. The tongues were stopped – the beast’s snarls ceased.
                     Like hungry hound gorging on juicy bone
                     he left the damned alone as we moved on                              27

across the swamp where footsteps often sank
            down through a groaning ghost to mud below.
            Then one, twisting half up beside our way                            30

cried out, “O Dante, surely you know me?
            We met in Florence years before I died.”
            “To me you seem a stranger,” I replied,                                 33

“but hellish woe has maybe altered you.
            Please tell me who you were, the thing you did
            that brings such suffering. Worse punishments                      36

no doubt exist, but few so sickening.”
            Said he, “Within our sunlit native town
            the citizens once knew me as The Hog.                                  39

I thought good food the best thing life could give,
            so rot in rain here like a sodden log,
            but not alone, the others that you see                                      42

are also damned for selfish gluttony.”
            I said to him, “Poor Hog, I pity you!
            but ghosts can know much more than living men                   45

of what time has in store. Please tell
            if Florence which engendered us will come
            in course of time to rule her people well.                               48

Must party politics divide our state?
            No just men lead us to co-operate?”
            He told me, “Old disputes will never end.                             51

Divided still by envy, pride and greed
            our government will come to civil wars,
            bloodshed and banishment. Our councillors                           54

will fight for who pays most, changing their side
            to any that pay more. A few will fight for
            civil rights, justice for those in need                                       57

and be ignored by envy, pride and greed.”
            I wept at that, begging “Tell me about
            good men I knew who wanted to do well –                            60

Arrigo, Mosca and Tegghiaio,
        Jack Rusticucci and Farinata, –
        Where are they now?” “Go deeper in this pit,”                           63

said he. “You’ll find them there. All I ask now
        is this: when you return to Italy
        remind folk that the Hog lives on in Hell                                    66

I’ll say no more.” His eyes went squint. He fell
       down flat and blind and speechless as before.
         My leader said, “ He’ll hear no other word                               69

until the last trumpet summons bodies up
        to reunite with souls. Then will resound
        the judges final word of doom, that word                                   72 

that locks the damned forever in their tomb.”
       We waded slowly onward through the scum
       of muddy shadows, stinking fog and rain,                                   75

talking a little of the life to come.
       I asked him, “ master, will these feel their pain
       harder or lesser or with out much change                                    78

after that judgment’s passed upon the dead?”
      “Think scientifically,“ my guide said.
       “when things are more complete the more they show                  81

and feel, if sensitive, delight or pain.
       No perfect joy can live inside this pit.
       body plus soul must feel the opposite.”                                       84

We spoke of other things I don't recall
       upon that path which gradually bent
       round in a circle to the next descent.                                            87

Here we found Plutus, enemy of all