Canto VII

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'Pape Satan, Pape Satan Aleppe!',
so Plutus started duckling with his tongue.
The sage, solicitous and wise in everything
to reassure me said, 'Don't let your fear
deter you, for whatever powers he has
he can't prevent our climbing down these rocks.'
He then swung round towards the bloated face,
and shouted, 'Silence! cursed and blighted wolf!
and choke your own insides with swallowed rage.
This is no aimless journey to the pit
but one that's willed on high, there Michael waged
his war of vengeance on proud mutiny.'
As, when a mast snaps, swollen wind-filled sails
collapse into a convoluted heap
the bestial monster slumped toward the ground.
Then down the fourth depression's sloping bank
we went, inspecting more of that sad bin
in which the universe's crime is dumped.
Justice of God! Oh, how you cram them in,
these strange new toils and tortures that I saw!
Why must our guilt destroy us in this way?
And as above Charybdis every wave
explodes against the others that it meets
so must these souls in their revolving dance.
And here I witnessed even greater crowds
all yelling loudly, coming from both sides,
who strained their chests to trundle weights along.
They clashed and crashed. Each group then suddenly
wheeled round and rolled their stones back. One lot screamed,
'Why save?', the others shouted back, 'Why spend?'
Both ways along the gloomy circle's round
they went, to take positions opposite
still barking their derisive slogans out;
then at the end each doubled back, to tread
his semicircle for another joust.
And I whose heart had all but felt the shocks
said, 'Master, now explain, who are these souls?  ■
And all those tonsured ones upon the left,
could they be clerics?' And he then replied,
'That crowd you see had such myopic minds
they practised, in their first alloted life,
no moderation of expenditure.
Their howling cries announce this openly enough
as in their circuits they approach those points
where clash of guilt keeps splitting them apart.
The ones who have no hair to thatch their heads
were clergymen and popes and cardinals
who make of avarice their masterpiece.'
'Now, Master in amongst all these.' I said,
'who've been polluted by this type of crime,
there must be some that I should recognise.'
'It's no use entertaining that idea,'
he said to me, 'the undiscerning life
that went to make them squalid, makes them now
too dimly grey to be themselves discerned.
They'll butt and butt again eternally.
One group will quit the tomb with fists clenched tight,
the others will be rid of half their hair.
It's wrongful spending, wrongful hoarding up
that took the lovely world away from them
and sent them to this rough and tumble here,
which I'll not flatter with expense of words.
So now, my son, you see the short-lived farce
played out for wealth, which is in Fortune's hands
for all that mankind squabbles over it.
Yet all the gold that lies, or ever lay
beneath the moon is powerless to bring
repose to any one of these tired souls.'
'Master,' I said, 'now please elaborate.
What is this Fortune you just touched upon
that keeps so tight a grip on worldly wealth?'
"What foolish things men are to be oppressed
by ignorance as great as this.' he said,
'Now I'll explain: you'd better take it in.
That One whose wisdom transcends all that is,
who made the heavens and gave them each a guide
that every sphere illumines every sphere
in equal dispensation of the light,
likewise ordained for worldly splendours too
a common minister and guiding force,
to bring time's alteration, and transfer
the vanity of wealth from race to race,
from one blood to another, quite beyond
the wit of human kind to counteract.
And so, while one race rules, one languishes,
according to her judgement which is kept
well-hidden like a serpent in the grass.
Your knowledge can't withstand her; she foresees
and judges and exerts her sovereignty
as other gods in realms that they control.
Against her changefulness there's no appeal;
necessity compels her to be swift
since each turns up so quickly for his turn;
it's she those people mock and pillory,
who though they should be active in her praise
erroneously vilify her name.
But she is blessed; this does not reach her ears:
with other primal creatures of delight
she turns her sphere rejoicing in her bliss.
Now let's go down to yet worse misery.
Already all those stars are in decline
which when I started out were rising up.
We mustn't stay too long, it's not allowed.'
We crossed the circle to its outer edge
and there we passed above a spring which boiled
and spilled into a channel that bore off
its water, darker than deep indigo,
whose murky swell we followed as it went
below, along an eerie passageway.
At last beneath the grey forbidding slopes
that miserable river trickles down
and drains into the marsh that men call Styx.
I stopped and stared, astonished at the sight
of mud-bespattered people in that swamp,
all naked, with their features spoilt by rage.
They fought each other, not with hands alone,
but with their heads and chests and feet as well;
their teeth they used to shred each other's flesh.
'Now here my son,' the kindly master said,
'you see the souls of those whom rage consumed:
and there's another fact you ought to know;
that underneath the water there are more
whose sighing makes its surface seethe and froth.
Just look around, confirm it with your eyes.
Embedded in the slime they chant, "Above,
morose, in that sweet sun-enlivened air,
we nursed the sullen vapour in our hearts;
now our moroseness fills this black morass."
This hymn is what they gurgle in their throats,
incapable of forming proper words.'
So, following the line of that foul bog,
we finally encompassed quite an arc
between the dry embankment and the marsh,
our eyes toward the souls that gobbled mud.
At length we reached the bottom of a tower.