Dante, Inferno Canto 28 (1st part)

The Ninth Bolgia: Schismatics. Mahomet and Ali. Bertrand de Born.

Speech cannot hold it,
Because the Thought cannot hold it,
It’s hard.
Even practised and attemptedly perfected.
Reporters try to bring sheer taste of the action on the ground,
Rough and raw and nothing left out,
Punditi recite from safety rearwards, presenters witter,
Even historians sometimes have their day in the sun.
Maybe even Poetry can’t hold it,
It’s hard, it’s below.

Bring back the fallen, yes, return them forcibly to life,
From the Somme or Hiroshima, and could the corpses stand again?
From Waterloo and Bull Run, could they stand again?
The burned, the maimed, the green-gassed, the cannon-blasted,
If they could, they would show their mutilation,
And it would be nothing compared with that of the ninth pit.

One cleft through from chin to coccyx,
By a perfect scimitar slashed in half,
A barrel burst, a stave removed and zambezi of blood,
Hanging the rich grey and violet of intestines between the legs,
His heart smeared in filth, colon and stomach burst open,
And with his own hands – putting fingers to the gash and wrenching:

—Look, I’m doing it to myself,
Mangled is Mohammed.

And look at Alì…

Ahead of him proceeds Alì, in tears,
His head split open from his chin to scalp.

—Two faces have been made for Alì.
And all the rest you see here,
We sowed scandal and schism while we lived,
And that is why a devilish angel is posted for us,
As the wounds begin heal,
Another slash with the scimitar, every time we go round,
Just make sure.

But why are you hanging around here?
Perhaps you’re putting off your punishment,
Confessed, sentenced, but finding some delaying tactic…

My guide replied,

—He has not paid his penny to the ferryman
So Death does not have him at all – yet,
Nor is his guilt punished at present,
He journeys, to give him greater knowledge.

I, on other hand, am dead, and must be the good shepherd
As we spiral, circle to circle, down.
That’s the truth of it.

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