The 21st Century Inferno

A few years ago, I came upon a poem mimicry I had created back in high school. My favorite English teacher, Mr. M, gave out the assignment to create our own level of Hell in Dante Alighieri’s The Inferno. Hippie that I was (am), my level was for “The Litterers,” those who disrespect the earth.

Finding the poem after the fact, I decided to expand upon it and create what I am calling “The 21st Century Inferno.” The rhyme scheme and cadence are in direct parallel to the original epic poem.

Without further hesitation, here are my first four “cantos”:

CANTO I

As Virgil was the guide of Dante Alighieri, so Dante becomes mine into his own infamous Inferno. Having reached a pinnacle when his life was half through, mine has come earlier as I seek reason for all of the world’s horrors that have descended upon the earth.

 

 

A quarter of my life had come to pass

            when I made my way into a wood,

            seeking solace in nature’s trees and grass.

My Piscean nature lured me to water, good

            for my mood to be by a stream

            despite the reason, then misunderstood.

Reposing by moss, hoping to dream,

            I was jostled before drifting to sleep

            by a voice in the forest, strange it did seem.

 “Follow my voice,” it said from the deep

            darkness within the timberland.

            “Curious you are, but don’t make a peep.

“These thickets spell danger so heed my demand.”

            Rising I did, just as he told,

            meeting a shaded figure who held out his hand.

My breath caught when I took hold,

            noting his face and his headband, a wreath.

            “Dante!” I shouted, to which he did scold.

“Shh, my dove, your volume must be sheathed,

            so as not to disturb the demons and souls

            that are always around, though right now, beneath.”

He motioned with his chin to a cavernous hole.

            “If you trust me we will enter there

            so as to take you on patrol;

“over 600 years under my care,

            have these sinners suffered viciously

            for their lives’ heinous affairs.”

Thinking back on books read ambitiously,

            this man’s Divine Comedy and Inferno

            came to me expeditiously.

“This can’t be real,” I started, slow.

            “You died in 1321,

            688 years ago!”

“Man I may not be, but do not shun

            this opportunity I give to you

            to see the punishments seen by none,

“at least no one alive, tis true.

            A gift to me from Virgil, my master,

            just as it is me that you view.

“Knowing the world now in all its disaster,

            mirroring my own Florence in time,

            you must come now, all the faster

“since your earth may perish under these crimes

            that I intend to show you now

            within the inferno, opposing the sublime.”

Thrusting disbelief aside, I wiped my brow,

            nodding to this new guide of mine 

   to lead on. I’ll come, my spoken vow.

 

CANTO II

Recalling Dante’s own uncertainty before readily following Virgil into the underworld, I pause to voice my own:

 

Knowing the cause must be divine,

            for me to be standing there

            with Dante, a true sign

that I was meant to prepare

            for a journey like his

            that I’d studied, though unaware

I could follow a path that is

            like that of my mentor.

            “Is this a test? A quiz?”

I questioned. “Shall I enter

            that which you did,

            going down to the center

of the world as I know, to bid

            adieu to the life I now know

            in lieu of this, to so many forbid?”

With a pause he said, “Follow

            and you will be sure

            that you were meant to be below.

“So few will ever venture,

            you are only number two.

            Intentions like yours, pure

“and impossibly true,

            to better the planet and humankind,

            such a travel is meant for nobody but you.”

His assurance at the forefront of my mind,

            I breathed in and was ready

            knowing that fate had assigned

this as my destiny, no matter how heady.

            I nodded to Dante then

            and walked forward, steady.

           

CANTO III

As it was written in my guide’s own book, the same inscription above the Gate of Hell stood before us as we entered a place where no life is meant:

 

“THROUGH ME THE WAY INTO THE SUFFERING CITY,

THROUGH ME THE WAY TO THE ETERNAL PAIN,

THROUGH ME THE WAY THAT RUNS AMONG THE LOST.

JUSTICE URGED ON MY HIGH ARTIFICER;

MY MAKER WAS DIVINE AUTHORITY,

THE HIGHEST WISDOM, AND THE PRIMAL LOVE.

BEFORE ME NOTHING BUT ETERNAL THINGS

WERE MADE, AND I ENDURE ETERNALLY.

ABANDON EVERY HOPE, WHO ENTER HERE.”

Dante read the words, once and again,

            cementing them within my head

            as if I’d ever forget that which he’d penned.

With chin in the air I shed any dread

            that may have taken over

            seeing that gate ahead.

“You’ve learned, dear clover,

            from those words of mine,

            to leave behind cowardice, and hesitation moreover.

“These traits won’t serve you in this shrine

            of malice and cruelty and all other sins

            that will be before you as we decline.”

I startled when much to my chagrin,

            the laments and cries he had heard

            when his past travels did begin

came to my ears, though obscured and slurred,

            setting my very hair on end.

            As Virgil had done, so Dante was stirred

to place his hand on mine, trying to lend

            me his own courage and lack of fear

            that he had gained when he first did descend.

“As you know my work, you know we’re near

            to many a frightful sight,

            but you are also aware, my dear,

“that I made it out, as you will despite

            viewing abuses shelled out

            to those whose lives invited such blight

“onto themselves and others, no doubt,

            each is deserving of their

            penance without

“pity from you, but do be aware

            that they’ll try to solicit

            just that, should they dare.”

Taking his advice, to memory I’d commit,

            all my guide told me,

            I made sure of it.

Seeing a banner, white, flying free,

            I noticed the NEUTRALS that

            had no place to be.

Without taking a stand for God through combat,

            now as bad as angels, gutless,

            standing apart from any spat,

they trailed the sheet without progress.

            Aloof in life now suffered in their end,

            stung by wasps and flies in excess.

Gruesome, yes, but deserved to amend

            for their lack of action,

            never to transcend.

Unknown while alive, even by a fraction,

            I recognized none of them then

            and kept walking without distraction.

Reaching the River Acheron, an aged man of men

            rowed fore to meet us two

            in a boat suited for ten.

“Charon!” my guide greeted the slight crew.

            “Take us across please,

            we’ve a goal to pursue.”

“It’s you again,” Charon said with disease,

            “But you’ve died and now here

            is another lively one to tease.”

Pointing at me with an expression, queer,

            he asked Dante, “Is it so?”

            Does he command you across this frontier?”

My guide then affirmed and Charon showed

            us into his craft to take us away,

            his demon eyes of fire aglow.

 

CANTO IV

CIRCLE ONE                                                                                                                     Limbo

The first circle of Hell has historically been reserved for those who are virtuous in life, yet lacked religious conviction; LIMBO used to encompass the eternal resting place for a great many unbaptised children, virtuous pagans, thinkers, scientists, artists, philosophers and more. They were relegated to spend the rest of time in a peaceful yet sorrowful valley with a seven-walled castle, as per Dante’s past description. The so-called “light of reason” illuminates the meadows within. Since Dante’s own passing, however, the Higher Power has allowed a majority of LIMBO’s occupants to ascend to Purgatory and, some, to Paradise.

 

I first heard the wailing, approaching the bay,

            of a number of spirits who

            inhabited a valley, misty and grey.

“Sorrow without torments,” Dante reviewed,

            recalling his own words

            that then proved to be true.

“There used to be more, but something occurred,

            bringing up the pagans and unbaptised youth,

            their reasoning finally heard.

“He from above learned of the truth,

            that these souls did not deserve

            an eternity as uncouth

“even as LIMBO, so he drummed up the nerve,

            to bring them higher,

            as you may soon observe.”

I took from his meaning a future desire

            to bring me to Purgatory or perhaps

            Paradise where I too hoped to retire.

Merely nodding then, lacking a map,

            I continued to follow

            amidst thunderclaps.

Still some remained, only to wallow

            with longing, devoid of hope,

            an endless certainly hard to swallow.

I worried then of my own slippery slope

            that I might soon befall

            despite the scope

of good deeds committed for one and all,

            living a life for others

            even with no god to recall.

“Tell me, Dante, my guide, my brother,

            as an Agnostic or skeptic,

            am I bound to be smothered

“by the despair of LIMBO? It’d make me sick

            to be punished for believing

            that which makes me tick.

“Why should I suffer for conceiving

            of personal morals

            of which others are disbelieving?”

This elicited a smile instead of a quarrel;

            with a hand on my head

            his thoughts became aural.

“Worry not, I promise that once you’ve fled

            from the world of the living you surely will

            be spared from here, ascending instead.”

His assurance within me, my concerns were killed,

            at least for the moment as we

            approached a walled castle just barely uphill.

Advancing on, a descension was seen.

            From Circle One down to the second,

 the sound of thunder became the cry of a banshee.

 

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