Monday, February 18, 2013

Alasdair Gray: an excerpt from "Dante's Sublime Comedy"

(illustration from Dante's Inferno Journal)

HELL: Chapter 7

"Daddy Mephisto! Daddy Buguboo!"
      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 of 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 earthy loss and gain.                          18

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 until reason's spark,
      allow my sentences to do you good.                             51 

The mind who formed the universe tool 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 cumming 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

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 sights 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
      should 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 a base of a big tower that had no name.                     100

"Dante's Sublime Comedy," a continuing translation by Alasdair Gray of Scotland, appears on his blog. With appreciation to wood s lot.

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