Circle 9

By , McKinney, TX
The giant slowly lowered us down the chasm
Where the heat was expelled in such freezing gusts
That shivers ran down my spine in violent spasms.

When my eyes adjusted to the harsh gloom
I witnessed a cold, strange sight unlike any
Else in Hell, thick with the sense of doom.

My vision was filled with the scene of a vast lake
Dotted with dark silhouettes of heads, wailing
And moaning for what they left in their wake.

I turned to my silent guide with wide eyes;
His gaze on the dark horizon, he spoke: "This place
Is Cocytus, where the sinners are not fried

But frozen forever according to their guilt
By betraying another, they denied love.
Only God knows what they must have felt

To do such things, if they felt anything at all.
They are divided by the nature of their sin
And often too cold to cry out or call."

The first group, I recalled from before, was of
Cainna; those who betrayed their kin and
Now are frozen, with only their heads above

The surface of the motionless lake.
Seeing that I recognized no one,
My poetic guide spoke of the namesake:

"For a material profit, Cain
Betrayed his own blood in his brother Abel
And has since been the icon of this gross shame.

Since his treachery was the first of such vice
This Circle is known by his crime and name
Though he has long ago sunk below the ice."

His speech stopped at the sight of pity on my face.
Like a father who assails his child to make their point
So Dante rebuked me for the pity I waste

On those whose sins are too grandiose for the heat,
Demons and hell fire of the upper levels
"Scorning such evil is the only way it can be beat!"

My face tingled from both shame and cold
As he led me through the field of peeking heads
To the fraudulent antagonists of patriots.

"Here were men who betrayed their homeland
For the sake of power or advantage
While others were dealt a heavy hand

Because of their complex fraud.
These still are not the worst to come;
There are many even more flawed."

Here I spotted a few familiar grimaces
Their heads still free but unable to pivot.
Like the others, tears flowed down their faces

In a constant waterfall of shame and regret.
One man in particular was quite familiar;
Dante supplied his identity: "In the British threat

To the liberty of the distant colonies, this man
Gave aid to the fighting patriots
Until the trap of wealth changed his plans.

Though his attempt did not complete its sabotage
And the rebels ultimately won their freedom
His eternity without love and light is his wage."

Farther beyond, and sunk more into his sin
Was an elderly man with a matted beard
Frozen into long icicles, silvery and thin.

Dante spoke again: "You may not know him,
But you have certainly read of his crimes
Of which the fantasist wrote as ever so grim.

He committed several acts of treachery
Against both friend and country, though
The latter was saved by the other's bravery.

The wiser one is now at peace, and his home
Is still basking in his magical legacy, and the
Small peoples still build their round houses on loam.

But come now; the time has nearly arrived
For the resurrection of the ultimate savior
And you have yet to see what makes humans thrive."

The next group was nearly invisible, and silent.
Only their eyes could be seen, no voice given
Their claims against the hospitality of others too violent

To warrant any plea of innocence.
Here, it was much more difficult to single out
Anyone; an endless repetition of countenance.

"Here are two in the same hole: for fortune and fame
They took advantage of an eternal child
For the chance to snatch away his good name."

"But are they still not present up above?" I asked.
"The former is still living off his feat
But his soul was condemned from the onset of his task

Over six years ago." I looked down at the face
Frozen by the tears of his regret and shame,
Knowing the man he betrayed was now in God's grace.

His companion was struggling so much more
That I asked my guide of his crime
"His was committed without remorse.


But, more recently, he took his own light,
So now his pain has refreshed itself
And will forever, such as his spite

Did to others." Dante gave a grin of pride
At the contempt in my own expression
As he saw that any remaining pity had died.

"Do you now see the nature of goodness?"
He asked. "It is so much easier to do evil
To others, be small-minded and avoid the stress

From those who let envy embitter their tongues.
While a good man may endure much pain on Earth,
He is only struggling to reach that last rung

To the heavens, and from there he will witness
All the good on Earth that he has done.
Now comes the ultimate test of your fitness."

During this segment of the journey was the presence
Of teeth-chattering gales from a source unknown.
The mystery and threat of it made me maintain adherence

To my stoic guide; he seemed to be little fazed by it.
We skated past the rest of these sinners
To a final, more concise area, that was split

At the center, in which a grotesque shadow
Was constantly moving and shifting
Like the shaking of a bereaved widow.

When we approached the center, I saw the creature
In a most terrible light. Its heads, of which
There were three, beheld the most distorted features

I cannot begin to describe with mere mortal words.
In the center face, if such a thing can be called so,
A human was cruelly flayed; his cries could be heard

As he struggled to escape his self-determined fate.
"That figure there is Cassius, the heartless
Head of Caesar's murder. Dis's teeth will grate

On his flesh with no hope of reprieve,
As his sin is too severe to be atoned for.
At the other end, Brutus, the grossly naïve

Man who was pulled into murdering his confidante
Struggles less and feels more regret
But he likewise will always feel the putrid pant

Of Satan's stinking breath. And in the center
Is the most notorious traitor of all
He betrayed the Son who is now the mentor

Of people's morality the world over."
Dante's face was never so serious
As now, as if he was to deliver

His most grievous news yet.
"We are now at the precipice of Hell
And to leave, we have no choice

But to climb down this icon of evil's spine
To the center of the world and the
Entrance of Purgatory, where the shine

Of light is visible once more." Taking my hand,
My guide led me assuredly to the vicinity of Dis
His wings, ever shrinking and expanding

Against his body, was the source of the winds
That had frightened me earlier
And now were blinding as we went behind

To his filthy back colored as icy blue
As the domain in which he was trapped.
Dante, seeing my fear, let me glue

Onto his side. We both grasped desperately
At the rough hairs of the monster's back
And slowly descended; Dante compassionately

Went first, and supported my foot whenever it slipped.
Though it took a painfully long time
Below the icy rim our figures dipped.

And we continued down his tail until a strange sense
Of vertigo nearly released my grip and I gasped
At the sight of the unexpected expanse

Of a continuously spiraling mountain
On which there were many people toiling
To reach the peak, and, as a fountain's

Water glitters like diamond on a sun-baked day,
So the stars glittered all around
And gave me, like everyone else, inspiration
To continue my way.





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