[from “In the Underworld” by Paul “Whitberg” Burgess]
We came then to a place where figures scoff
Eternally at those they call “unclean”.
Through verbal clouds of scorn that made me cough,
I spied that justly famous Florentine
Who put in Hell all men who’d pissed him off.
[…I shouldn’t use a phrase so damn obscene
To speak of he who used his words to paint
What Hell is plus a bit of what it ain’t].
Although the cloudy place was poorly lit,
I could perceive that Dante was quite sore,
And Will explained the cause of Dante’s fit:
“The poet, being one whom most adore,
Resents that some aspiring modern wit
Has housed him on the Righteous Scoffers’ Shore.
To Purgatory, Hell, or worlds below,
The Florentine had planned no more to go.
And now he feels as though he’s being mocked
And skewered by a batty youthful hack
[Not even thirty years from being rocked
Inside a cradle; lest he’d meet the rack,
The little lad should keep his dwelling locked
And, as you Yankees say it, watch his back.
[…but shields for blocking blows from weaponry
Don’t stop Assaults by Means of Poetry].
Increasing Dante’s rage, despair, and grief
Is that he’s been removed from Paradise
(To dwell in Hades’) by that scoundrel-thief.
This heathen underworld of fire and ice
Has gained his hate but never his belief.
To clarify, this couplet will suffice:
“I loathe this pagan place,” he oft insists
While still denying that the place exists.
The fruit produced by Dante’s fertile mind—
The works which landed him among the greats—
Include a realm of tortures he designed
[Where, by him, people were to hellish fates
And never-ending pain and woe consigned].
Into the pits of Hell they all were heaved
If not believing as he had believed.
He nonetheless will hold a stubborn grudge
Against this fledgling poet who now dares
To judge the man who likes to play the judge.
Although he whines, his torture’s one that bears
A gentler stamp…he pushed but gets a nudge:
He’s forced to visit all the lonely lairs
Where those condemned before (by him) now dell
[That is, he visits those he sent to Hell].”
Although I didn’t verbally reply,
I thought, “It’s sad but not the least unjust
To see believers in “an eye for eye”
Enraged when that belief in which they trust
Is plucked from dwelling in the holy sky
And brought to where one might perceive its rust.
But soon I had a change of attitude
[Which better fits a kind, compassionate dude].
[It’s only fair to say he does presume
To place some souls in Paradise, as well…
But readers mostly like to read of gloom
And tend to focus on the book of Hell.
(Of Milton’s epics, it’s the one of doom
That English teachers have to learn so well…)
Unless you have an academic post,
The happy books are where your cup might coast.]”