Return to the Inferno

Engraving by Gustave Doré for Dante's Inferno
Engraving by Gustave Doré for Dante’s Inferno — Public Domain.

Set thirty years in the future

As I reclined upon a heavenly cloud,
Imbibing a celestial Chianti,
I heard a voice crying my name aloud;

‘Twas Virgil in his toga, calling, ‘Dante,
There’s work to do, we must go back to Hell.’
‘Old friend,’ I said, ‘I’ll come with you. Avanti!

But why the need? If I remember well,
I wrote a full description of what’s there.’
‘There’s more to see,’ he said, ‘and more to tell.’

As we were going down the golden stair,
Virgil said, ‘Hell is wider than the world.
God made it thus, so Satan need not care

How many souls into the pit are hurled.
But there are circles for each kind of sin,
As we saw long ago, each ring unfurled

To house the wicked and to pen them in:
The violent, greedy, lecherous, thieving dead
Punished together with their sorry kin.

But what if a new sin should raise its head,
A horror that surpasses Hell’s traditions?
Into what circle should their souls be led?’

‘Aha!’ I cried. ‘You speak of politicians.’
‘Indeed,’ he said. ‘They mostly end below,
Driven to evil by their vain ambitions;

But over the last hundred years or so
Their numbers and their vileness both increased,
And the foul throng in Hell began to grow

Ten thousandfold, to say the very least.
The lower circles were completely crammed
With every kind of money-grubbing beast

Till no more in those regions could be rammed.
Satan then turned to God, saying, “My Lord,
I have a surfeit of the newly damned;

Pray grant a new space where they may be stored.”
God listened graciously to his request
And carved a cavern with his flaming sword,

Wider than ocean, higher than Everest,
Darker than night and hot enough to roast,
So cruel that even Satan was impressed,

Who rounded up the souls that irked him most
And herded them into his new domain:
Full many a king’s and many an emperor’s ghost,

Viziers, ministers, to a new realm of pain.
Ten millions passed along that sorry way,
Never to see the light of hell again.’

We reached the ground. Before us a road lay,
Leading to Pandemonium’s gilded spires.
A narrower path led off the other way

Towards a cloud of sullen, smoky fires.
Virgil said, ‘There we must go, it is our goal;
Though when I see it, my whole being tires

Of seeing what befalls each evil soul
Damned to endure the direst pains of hell
Meted without remorse in that black hole.

So Dante, write: make sure you write it well
Of what you see in that severe domain;
However vile, now must you truly tell,

And by God’s grace, never go there again.’
But then we saw, running along the sand,
Three figures: one a woman, thin and plain,

Weeping and moaning, fettered hand to hand,
Herded along by demons pitiless.
Virgil cried, ‘In God’s name, foul creatures, stand,

Till you the truth of this pursuit confess.
What has this lady done, to pain her so,
And to subject her to this foul duress?’

The woman started on her tale of woe:
‘My name is Carrie Johnson, and I was
The wife of a prime minister, and so

Prime minister in all but name, because
He weakly ceded to my every whim
Until he died. I used to call him Boz,

And soon in hell I’ll meet again with him.’
‘Why are you here?’ I asked. What deadly deed
Has brought you both into these regions dim?’

‘Alas!’ she cried, ‘The pestilential creed
Of the false Green religion gripped my soul:
I counselled acts which, with amazing speed

Turned a fine nation to a septic hole.
Soon families were poor, and dark, and cold,
While I exulted in my ruinous role;

They had to struggle for their daily food.
Meanwhile he played in a musician’s bed
While I endured the pains of motherhood.

A sniper put a bullet in his head;
I cannot say what caused that fatal score –‘
‘O yes you can,’ one of the demons said,

‘And you will scream the truth for ever more
While you are racked with hell’s enduring pain,
As you will find, vile murderess and whore.’

He whipped her once, and twice, and yet again,
Until she screamed, ”Twas I who did for him!’
We left that scene and marched across the plain.

Soon we beheld a gatehouse tall and grim
Guarded by demons clad in red attire.
The gateway was inscribed about its rim

In letters glowing with a sullen fire
With ‘Build Back Better.’ ‘Virgil,’ I asked, ‘Why write
This hopeful motto in a place so dire?’

He answered, ‘Though the slogan may seem trite,
It was the war cry of the Woke brigade
Who crushed the people with their stealthy might.

Aided by Satan’s power, they swiftly made
A hell on earth in which no good could thrive
And honest folk were bullied and afraid.

And they lie here, though some are still alive
And working their fell magic on the land,
But time is passing: they too will arrive,

Go through this gate, and swiftly understand
That Satan gives, but then calls back his loan
A thousandfold with unforgiving hand.

Come, let us see.’ We passed the gates of stone
Into a hall, incredibly immense,
Ringing with many a howl and shriek and groan.

The air was stained with smoke, greasy and dense,
Yet we could see, stretching for miles each way,
Millions of souls meeting their recompense.

‘We’ll view the Europeans straight away,’
Virgil remarked. ‘As loyal Italians we
Are sad to see our nation sunk today

Into the great morass — the EEC
Which morphed into the EC, then EU,
Each time more evil to the nth degree —

Yet this is where Italian traitors stew.’
I saw a bubbling lake of melted lead
Where Monti, Letta, Renzi, all that crew,

With Conte, screaming — he was newly dead —
Weltered with with Draghi and with Gentiloni.
Demons with iron rods struck every head

As you would stir when cooking macaroni,
To keep the stuff from sticking to the pan.
‘Virgil,’ I asked. ‘Say, where is Berlusconi?’

He laughed and said, ‘The bunga-bunga man!
Despite his faults, heaven is not denied.
He’ll be in Purgatory for a span.’

The damned swept onward on the bubbling tide
With souls from France and Germany and Spain,
Ireland and Netherlands on every side.

Curses in many tongues rang out — again
And yet again — as they bewailed their lot,
Trapped in an eternity of pain.

‘These are small fry,’ said Virgil. ‘They are not
The major players in the evil game.
Come, we shall see the ones who hatched the plot.’

A little way we walked until we came
Into a space lit by an orange glow:
A pool of molten iron bright as a flame,

And in it writhed those folk we used to know —
Merkel, Lagarde, Barnier, van der Leyen,
Juncker and all — screaming in endless woe.

Demons with tungsten tridents stirred the iron
Lest any linger in a cooler spot;
There was no respite in that sad environ.

I ventured, ‘Virgil, surely is that not
The ultimate in suffering hell can afford?’
And he replied, ‘No, sad may be their lot,

But do not underestimate hell’s lord.’
He led me down a path of red-hot stone;
I saw that he had spoken a true word.

The foetid air was rent by many a groan,
Lit by blue-white oxy-acetylene.
‘Here,’ Virgil said, Satan receives his own.’

Old Bosch could not have painted such a scene:
Spitted on spikes like a rotisserie
The damned revolved in an immense machine

Charring them to the bone with searing flame.
Johnson was there, with Cameron, May and Blair
And British ministers I could not name.

‘Not only Britons,’ Virgil said, burn there,
But all who brought a mighty nation down
And made a foulness of what once was fair.’

And so I saw, for beside Gordon Brown
Patel and Sunak roasted, and Sadiq
Was seared for what he he did to a great town.

Such horror filled me that I could not speak.
But Virgil said, ‘Prepare to see yet more:
Hell’s punishment has not attained its peak.’

So on we went across the burning floor
Until there loomed in front of us a wall,
Windowless, high, and in it a small door.

‘There,’ he said, ‘lie the very worst of all,
Whom even Satan found too much to bear.
Highest on earth, the most extreme their fall:

Tyrant, dictator, greedy billionaire,
All are confined in this atrocious spot.
Many from the old hell have been brought there.’

We entered: what a change from fire so hot
To cold that seared more than a welder’s spark,
From blazing brightness to where light was not!

When my eyes grew accustomed to the dark,
Faces were visible: Hitler, Stalin, Mao —
Those who had made the deepest, sorest mark

On the fair visage of the world — and how
They suffered for it! Once, they could every hour
Feast upon all that they could gorge; but now,

Maddened with hunger, all they could devour
Was others of the damned; each torn-off limb
Was instantly restored by Satan’s power.

Gates bit on Soros, Hillary on him,
Blair had Obama’s arm between his jaws,
While his own legs were chewed in silence grim

By Beria and Pol Pot without a pause;
Bezos and Fauci tore their flesh away.
Shreds of skin hung from Merkel’s bloody claws

Raked from the backs of Castro and of Che;
Chávez and Sánchez ripped her with their teeth
Till there was no more skin for them to flay.

A mass of bones lay on the floor beneath,
Covered in time by the infernal snow
But ever growing from repeated death.

‘Virgil,’ I cried, ‘That is enough, let’s go.’
But he responded, ‘There is more to see,
Less horrible, but yet you need to know.’

We hastened out from that obscenity
Back to the far less searing fires of pain,
Which we alone were privileged to flee.

So on we trekked across the burning plain,
And as we covered each new weary mile
On the horizon loomed a growing stain,

And, as we neared, we saw a lofty pile
Of massive, black, slowly turning machines
Whose screeching was intolerably vile.

I asked my guide, ‘I know not what this means:
What industry goes on in such a place?’
And he replied, ‘This hell is for the Greens

Who, looking right and reason in the face,
Perversely chose to wreck the way we live,
Caught in their false religion’s cold embrace.

They spurned the power the earth alone can give,
Instead, relying on the fleeting wind
Which failed and froze us. Hell does not forgive.’

I looked up, and my gaze at once was pinned
To human figures toiling up each wheel,
Treadmills for all the millions who had sinned.

‘The fires of hell,’ Virgil explained, ‘are real,
With energy required to keep them hot.
This labour generates the flames they feel.’

‘Is Greta here?’ I asked. — ‘No, she is not.
She lives yet, but will scape the pains of hell.
Her scheming parents sweat in this dire spot.’

I smiled, for I myself had for a spell
Been swayed by her shrill voice and homely face;
She talked mere nonsense, but she spoke it well.

‘Come,’ Virgil said, ”Tis time to leave this place
And climb again to your celestial bliss.
Recall what you have seen, think for a space,

And write a poem: take care not to miss
Each fate that fells the mighty and the proud,
Fitting their evil. Go, and think on this.’

Copyright © Tachybaptus 2021