Thursday, October 23, 2008

Inferno, Song VII

The story thus far: Dante, a poet and town prior in Florence, finds himself on a dark road of the soul. Before his spirit can fall to its ruin, he encounters Virgil, the greatest poet of classical Rome. Virgil, at the behest of Beatrice, a woman who was Dante's inspiration in life, offers Dante a journey through the realms of the afterworld, through which Dante may find his soul's salvation. He shall travel through Hell, Purgatory, and Heaven, with Virgil as his guide through the first two. Dante accepts Virgil's offer, and they embark. After passing through the gates of Hell, they encounter the souls of the cowards who took no stand in conflicts between good and evil. After crossing the river Acheron, they enter Limbo, the realm of the noble or innocent souls who were not baptized or otherwise not believers in the Christian faith. Dante and Virgil then travel to the first two circles of damnation. The first is reserved for the lustful, where they encounter the souls of Dante's adulterous countrymen Paolo Malatesta and Francesca da Rimini. The second holds the gluttonous, and Dante briefly talks with his fellow Florentine Ciacco.

Virgil and Dante encounter the souls of the wrathful

Pape Satàn, pape Satàn, aleppe!,”
Plutus, with his clucking voice, began.
And that genial sage, who knew all,

Said, in order to comfort me, “Do not be harmed by
Your fear, for the power he may have
Shall not thwart us in our descent down this cliff.”

Then he turned to those swollen lips
And said, “Be silent, accurséd wolf!
Let your anger eat out your own insides.

This trip through the darkness is not without reason.
It is willed from on high, where Michael
Took vengeance on the proud rebellion.”

As puffed-out sails, by the wind,
Are made to flap around as the mast weakens, breaking,
So did that cruel beast crumple to the earth.

We thus descended into the fourth ring,
Making further headway along the banks of sorrow
Which contain all the universe’s evil.

O Justice of God! Accumulating so many
New travails and punishments--how many did I see?
And why do our sins wither us so?

Like the waves above Charybdis
That break over those they crash upon,
Thus are the people here who gather to dance their circling dance.

I saw more people here than elsewhere--too many--
And from one side and the other, with great screams,
They were rolling weights by pushing with their chests.

They collide and then
Turn themselves back,
Crying, “Why do you hoard?” and “Why do you squander?”

Thus they came back along the gloomy circle,
From either side to the opposite point
Again crying out their shameful chant.

Then each turned, when confronted,
Along his half-circle to the other confrontation.
And I, whose heart was all but impaled,

Said, “My Master, now explain to me
Who these people are, and if clergy were all
These tonsured ones on our left?”

He replied, “All of these were askew
In their minds to such an extent that, in the first life,
They made no expenditure with moderation.

Their voices bark this clear enough
When they come to the two points of the circle
Where opposing sins separate them.

These were clergy, those who have no
Hair on their heads, as well as popes and cardinals,
Whom greed used for its excesses.”

And I said, “Among such as these,
Well should I recognize a few
Whom these evils befouled.”

He replied, “You gather vain thoughts.
The indiscriminate life with which they soiled themselves
Now makes them dim to all recognition

They will collide one way and the other for eternity.
From the grave, they will rise again--these
Tight-fisted, and these with their hair sheared.

Sinful spending and sinful hoarding--the beautiful world
Has been taken from them, placing them in this conflagration.
As for what that is, I am not embellishing it with words.

Now you can, my son, see the slapstick
In dedicating fortune to the possessions
For which humanity struggles among itself.

For all the gold underneath the moon
Which ever was, these weary souls
Could not rest.”

“My Master,” I said, “now also tell me this:
This Fortune that you mention,
What is it, that it has the world’s possessions so within its clutches?”

He replied, “Oh, foolish creatures,
How much ignorance assails you all!
Now, through you, my judgment of her will be imparted to everyone.

He whose wisdom transcends everything
Made the heavens and gave them guides
So there is splendor from every part to every part,

Distributing the light equally.
Similarly, for the earthly splendors,
He ordained a general minister and leader

Who at times shifts the goods of vanity
From tribe to tribe and one bloodline to another,
Beyond the defenses of human judgment.

As such, one tribe reigns and the other languishes,
Following her decree,
She who is hidden like a snake in the grass.

To her, your wisdom has no resistance.
She foresees, judges, and exercises
Her rule like the others who are divine.

The changes she brings cannot be bargained with.
She is quick out of necessity.
Turning, for one, is followed by turning, and often.

This is she who is so crucified
Even by those who ought to give her praise,
Unjustly blaming her up and down and slandering her.

But she is blissful and does not hear it.
She, with the others of the First Created, is happy.
She turns her sphere and rejoices in her bliss.

We now descend into greater woe.
Already every star is falling that rose
When I set out. And loitering is not permitted.”

We crossed the circle to the other bank
Which stood upon a spring that boils and pours
Through a ditch which it had carved out.

The water was darker than the deepest purple,
And we, in the company of the gloomy waves,
Proceeded downward by a different path.

It goes into the swamp named Styx,
This stream of sorrow, when it has descended
To the foot of these noxious gray slopes.

And I, who was standing, watching intently,
Saw people muddied in that bog,
All of them naked with angry faces.

They struck each other, not only with hands
But with the head and the chest and the feet,
Tearing each other to pieces with their teeth.

The good master said, “Son, now you see
The souls of those whom wrath overcame.
And, also, I want you to know for certain

That underwater are people who sigh,
Making the water teem at the surface,
As your eyes tell you wherever you turn.

Fixed in slime, they say, “We were glum
In the sweet air with which the sun cheers itself;
We were carrying torpor inside.

Now we are glum in this black, scum-choked tide.”
They gurgle this hymn in their throats,
As they cannot speak in unbroken words.”

And so we turned from this filthy pond
And the great arc between its center and the dry bank.
With eyes turned towards those swallowing mud,

We came at last to the foot of a tower.

Continue to Song VIII

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