The Nine Towers of Fillindo the Faithful

The Nine Towers of Fillindo the Faithful

By Bruce Sterling


Why have I translated these nine obscure poems by a 17th-century Savoyard courtier?

Well, the author happens to be my landlord. I worked on these poems while in residence in the attic of one of his Turinese villas — a historic palace called the “Vineyard of the Royal Madame.” The Count Philip Saint Martin of Agliè (1604–1667) was a central figure in the Turinese Baroque building boom. He was also one of the inventors of ballet and opera.

D’Agliè was best known in his day as a dazzling showman. He designed, created, and directed the public festivals for the Duchy of Savoy, a small, yet regally ambitious, European autocracy. D’Agliè, born and bred in Savoy of a prominent local family, was a soldier, singer, composer, dancer, musician, diplomat, political strategist, costume and set designer, and the manager/financier of many massive urban construction projects. As the right-hand man of his sovereign, d’Agliè did most anything and everything she asked from him.

The life of il Conte Filippo San Martino d’Agliè was all about a polished public front. A gentleman of glamour himself, he created glamour for the public, and he made his ruler majestic, within a magnificent city. This lifetime effort was a full-time career for him.

He also left some written traces of his private thoughts, especially these nine poems.

I have some understanding of what d’Agliè did as a Savoyard public official, because his Baroque architectural legacy is everywhere in Turin, and I work inside the building where he died. However, I’ve always wondered what d’Agliè himself thought he was doing. By translating these poems of his, I’ve tried to get closer to his sensibility.

These poems come from a book, or rather pamphlet, called “The Prison of Fillindo the Constant.” This arcane little book contains all the known poems written by d’Agliè while he was a political prisoner in France, in the period 1641–1643.

So I have translated nine of them, which are a linked cycle of poems, and I must warn the reader that these English texts of mine are more like decryptions, or re-inventions, than proper translations. I’m neither a poet nor a translator.

However, D’Agliè wasn’t having an easy time with these strange compositions of his, either. This is work in the highly difficult genre of prison writing. As poetry it’s not much good, but as a political intervention, it made his reputation for the ages.

The “Fillindo the Constant” in the title is, of course, d’Agliè himself. “Fillindo” was his courtly nickname, which he used as a star intellectual of the “Academy of Soligno,” an elite clique of Baroque culturati in the Savoy court in Turin.

So, although d’Agliè wrote these poems in prison, and with incarceration weighing heavy on his soul, this is not a private diary meant for himself. He’s not jotting down his passing mental impressions: this is a literary contribution to the prestigious Soligno Academy of Turin. D’Agliè is struggling to write to the highest rhetorical level of his brilliant fellows there, prominent thinkers such as Emanuel Tesauro, the Jesuit, poet, eulogist and official Savoy court historian.

So, in accord with period belles-lettres, d’Agliè is required to pile some Pelion on plenty of Ossa. Classical references abound, running metaphors are strained past the breaking-point, capitalized Symbols and Emblems add an air of somber refinement, and his emotion is expressed in full-throated operatic arias. And, of course, it’s all done in rhyming Italian verse with proper meter.

Also, as an additional layer of baroque masquerade, D’Agliè, as a political prisoner, is living under surveillance. He can’t simply write a searing tell-all, with names, dates and places, about how the French minister, Cardinal Richelieu, had him kidnapped from Turin during a New Year’s party and then held him hostage in a French castle. If D’Agliè speaks too directly, his warden, the commander of the French fortress of Vincennes, can bring in some musketeer heavies in helmets and cuirasses, and they can bind his wrists behind his back and string him up, dislocating his shoulders (quite a common punishment in this rough-and-ready era).

So these refined and enigmatic poems serve to remind his captors that Count Filippo San Martino d’Agliè is a learned gentleman of distinction, and not some nameless victim to be trifled with. His poems are high-flown and abstract, and not intended for mere common consumption. When the Duchess Christina appears in the text, she is “The Muse,” or a reference to a “diamond.” Richelieu is called “Rigor.” There are no given names, no dates, and no places. D’Agliè doesn’t even name himself.

As a final structural complication, d’Agliè, who like all baroque Savoyards was obsessed with fortress construction, has decided to frame his poem in occult sympathy with the architecture of his prison. The castle walls of Vincennes have nine watch-towers. Since the towers look inward as well as outward, the towers are spying on d’Agliè; the watchtowers prevent his escape, much like the spies who are reading his poems.

So he decides to metaphorically associate the towers with the miseries of his imprisonment. As a master of construction himself, d’Agliè is not just “in” the enemy fortress, he is “of” the enemy fortress, a political actor who transforms the cold stone of Vincennes into his operatic stage-set.

I sympathize with these unusual constraints under which d’Agliè poetically labored. His text has the clotted, baroque, trompe l’oeil feeling that is typical of Savoy decor, including the villa that I myself write in, which d’Agliè once decorated. Sometimes his overstrained verse has almost an Oulipo feeling of an experimental text with hidden invented parameters. Whenever he seems most abstruse, tentative and foggy, it is usually political satire.

Sometimes his rococo flourishes become comically surreal, with some faint echo of Vaclav Havel acting the witty comic under totalitarianism, deliberately slipping-one past the censor, and winking to see if we can catch it.

A literal word-for-word translation of these poems would be hard to parse. So I’ve taken many liberties, and probably blundered many times. However, it’s important to understand that the poems were successful. Although d’Agliè was trapped in a French prison-fortress, and could easily have cracked under stress, turned his coat and become a double-agent, once he returned to Savoy, everybody in Savoy regarded him forever more as a stainless patriot whose loyalty to the state was beyond question.

D’Agliè gave himself that public reputation. It was Fillindo himself who named himself “The Constant,” and his reputation for good faith has been constant ever since these poems appeared. He’s an archetypical Turinese cultural figure: the selfless patriot devoted to a higher national good. The legendary “Bel Filippo” is a moving figure of tragic devotion, the handsome and gallant cavalier-patriot who loyally serves the woman he loves, and yet, sadly, can never marry, because she is above his station. The notoriety of his love affair with the Duchess Cristina just adds some spicy galanterie to his branding.

However, the French certainly never liked Count Filippo D’Agliè. The Spanish and Austrians cared for him even less. He and his ambitious court family had plenty of powerful, angry enemies within his own country. He was also having a long-term, notorious love affair as the much-indulged court favorite of a female head of state. As a further demerit, he was a posh and fancy dancing-master who spent huge sums making up ballets and opera-costumes.

Framed in that way, d’Agliè sounds like a decadent, lustful Machiavellian intriguer, so it’s an impressive feat of public relations that he’s still regarded as the most devoted patriot of his era.

However, prison can certainly do that for a political activist. D’Agliè had done some hard time for his beliefs. His potential critics had not. These poems were his manifesto about that situation. Nobody refuted it. That was his poetic achievement.

We now come to the interesting problem of what actually happened to d’Agliè in reality, as opposed to what he claims about it in rhymed baroque verse much adorned with Sphinxes.

First, let’s explain how he became a kidnapped political hostage.

Imagine the era of the Three Musketeers, when war and intrigue swirled. D’Agliè, the younger son of a prominent Savoy family, had spent some time in the fleshpots of Rome and Paris, fought a duel, and ridden in war with the cavalry. Handsome, well-spoken and always well-dressed, he was chosen as a captain of the Ducal bodyguard, and was therefore in the busy center of Turinese court life.

Then the Duke of Savoy died suddenly of illness, and handsome Captain D’Agliè had to guard the widowed Duchess. The Duchess Cristina was a vivacious French aristocrat with small children, who had never thought to run a country herself. So D’Agliè went right on guarding his Duchess, through an ever-mounting panoply of rising threats against her. The captain of bodyguards had her trust, and he never left the widow’s elbow. Intimate complications ensued.

The Duchess Cristina declared herself Regent of the child Duke, but her faltering authority was challenged in the Piedmontese Civil War. The Duchy of Savoy, which ruled the mountains, rivers and valleys of northwest Italy, was split between armed factions. These two power-cliques were the proxies of two rival great powers, Richelieu’s France and the huge Hapsburg Empire, which, at the time, included Spain, Austria and most of Italy (as well as much of the New World).

Savoy was normally a buffer state between these bristling combatants, but with their capital Turin in crisis, luck ran out for the Piedmontese in their fruitful Alpine foothills. The Hapsburgs and the French quickly turned hapless Savoy into yet another killing-zone of the ongoing Thirty Years War.

The partisans of the widowed Duchess-Regent Cristina, the “Royal Madame,” were the pro-French “Madamisti” faction. The pro-Spanish “Principisti” faction followed the two younger brothers of the late Duke, armed rebels who were known as “the Princes.”

The civil warfare inside Savoy was often broken by long truces while the Madamisti and Principisti had to wait for more muskets, pikes, cannon and cash from their foreign backers. D’Agliè spent a lot of time handling the paperwork for this, and also running spy rings and writing to ambassadors.

The Savoyard factions soon realized they’d committed a dreadful folly in inviting rapacious foreign troops into their Duchy. Occupation troops from France and Spain were seizing towns and castles all over Savoy. D’Agliè understood this major threat to the survival of his state. He was a pro-Madamisti extremist, since he was in bed with Cristina, but he was never pro-French. He was a Savoy nationalist.

D’Agliè soon understood that both the Spanish Hapsburgs and the French regarded the Savoyards like himself as expendable hillbillies. Both Civil War factions foolishly imagined that they had powerful foreign friends, but in reality, they were all prey. That was his nation’s tragedy: that was why Savoy bled.

D’Agliè resented this national humiliation. D’Agliè had made it his cause to demonstrate that magnificent Turin ranked with London, Paris, Madrid, Vienna, and Rome as a major center of culture and refinement. As a gallant knight, he didn’t care to be treated as a pawn, although events soon proved that he was one.

After years of fitful slaughter and negotiation, the Madamisti won the Piedmontese Civil War, for they were the better-organized faction. Madame Cristina’s partisans behaved like a French national administration, while the Princes’ faction resembled an old-fashioned Spanish court. The future of Europe was with Richelieu’s methods, and not with yesterday’s conquistadors.

Unfortunately for D’Agliè himself, Richelieu’s clever methods included strategic abductions. Richelieu aimed to dominate Savoy as a French province, and D’Agliè stood in his way.

So at the end of the eventful, war-torn year 1640, D’Agliè was invited to a glittering New Year’s victory celebration at the French embassy in Turin. Of course d’Agliè attended this important political event, kitted-up in his court finery, and French troops simply pounced on him, bundled him up and hauled him across the French border. They left him only enough time to pen one courtly letter to Cristina explaining that he hadn’t been assassinated.

D’Agliè soon found himself confined as guest-hostage inside the French Castle of Vincennes. To judge by the poems he wrote within this fortress, you’d think that Vincennes was much worse than Hell. In fact, the castle of Vincennes was a posh, if heavily armed, royal French residence. Vincennes still stands centuries later, in pretty good shape, and tourists enjoy it.

D’Agliè was placed in a castle suite that had formerly belonged to a prominent mercenary general. He was assigned one servant for his meals and wardrobe, a personage who was, of course, a French police spy.

Despite his endless references to iron chains and cruel torments, there is no evidence that d’Agliè was physically maltreated at Vincennes. He was allowed to walk in the hunting woods, to ride a horse sometimes, and to play sports.

D’Agliè never names another human being in his prison poems, but there was a large French garrison busy inside Vincennes, and d’Agliè spoke and wrote excellent French. He was not the only prisoner in there, so he must have talked to somebody. Sometimes the Savoy ambassador was allowed to visit him at the fortress. On occasion, his nephew showed up, because his d’Agliè nephew was being educated to high standards in Paris, despite the fact that his uncle was a French hostage.

With that much made clear, though, D’Agliè was in deadly trouble inside Vincennes. He was a kidnapped foreign hostage, a non-person, one of the disappeared. Having grabbed d’Agliè, the French had no particular motive to ever let him go. D’Agliè certainly knew that a predecessor of his, a fellow Savoy patriot named Pierre Monod, had died mad in endless French captivity.

Furthermore, the mighty Cardinal Richelieu was d’Agliè’s committed enemy. Richelieu had directly warned d’Agliè, face-to-face, not to cross him, and d’Agliè had defied him in support of Savoy independence, so a pardon was not in the cards there. Worse yet, even if Richelieu himself died, the next French government might be even more hostile to a stubborn Savoy patriot.

It’s historic fact that Cardinal Richelieu, who was rather a theater and opera fan, once sprung D’Agliè from his captivity in Vincennes, and put him on display at a Paris court ballet. Some historians claim that Richelieu was politely entertaining d’Agliè by allowing him this artistic excursion. It seems more plausible to me that Richelieu was putting d’Agliè on public display as a warning to other insolent gigolos.

Since he was never a character in an Alexander Dumas novel, Filippo d’Agliè had no realistic chance to thrillingly escape from the prison-castle of Vincennes. He was dismally stuck in there. If the Duchess Cristina had decided to write off her handsome bodyguard in favor of some other handsome bodyguard, d’Agliè would likely have died in there.

However, even while imprisoned, d’Agliè still had political allies. His older brother, the head of the San Martino d’Agliè family, was an accomplished diplomat, and had been Ambassador in London, where Cristina’s sister was the Queen of England. D’Agliè’s sister-in-law was the most glamorous lady-in-waiting to Cristina, a clever confidante that the Duchess trusted implicitly. And lastly, d’Agliè’s other brother, the family’s obligatory cleric, was a rising Churchman with a hotline to Mazarin, the Pope and other Catholic power-players. So the d’Agliè clan, who owed their rising good fortunes to his own, would never abandon him.

Also, none of the other Madamisti wanted to be kidnapped next, which rather steeled their resolve about the plight of the Turinese court’s most entertaining and glamorous figure. Cristina was surrounded by loyal Savoy retainers who were keen to remind her of Richelieu’s insult.

So Duchess Cristina did not forget d’Agliè, although he was out of sight, and she commenced a long moral-support campaign for her imprisoned favorite. By hook and by crook — and the skills of the Duchess steadily increased there — she managed to get him musical instruments, proper cozy bedsheets, and even two tobacco pipes with symbolic messages.

These tobacco pipes meant so much to d’Agliè that he chose to be buried with them. This strange fact was not revealed until d’Agliè was accidentally disinterred in the late 1980s. Cristina’s charities must have meant a lot to him in his dire straits.

Romance is attractive, so the personal relationship of the Count Filippo d’Agliè and his sovereign Cristina has attracted a lot of attention. I work in the attic of a structure, the “Vineyard of the Royal Madame,” which was built by d’Agliè and Cristina as their love-nest. This building was also the subject of d’Agliè’s second and last book, a text chock-full of poetic license. There’s not one honest word in it about the function that the building actually served.

There are those who consider Filippo d’Agliè the brains of the Cristina government; they tend to write off Cristina as a ditzy fashion-plate obsessed with her festivals, jewelry and gardens. I don’t believe that was the truth of their situation, and my evidence is, that during d’Agliè’s absence in captivity, Cristina’s ability to govern visibly improved. Fillindo the Constant was not the only Piedmontese patriot. While d’Agliè was composing these poems in French captivity, Cristina came to rely on the services of Count Pianezza, an ugly, charmless, but strict and efficient administrator. With Pianezza as her Prime Minister, Cristina’s court was much less romantic, but rather better organized.

To his own credit, when d’Agliè finally returned to Savoy from his French captivity, he was cordial with Pianezza. He and Pianezza understood one another as patriots, staked out different areas of complementary operations, and got on with the pressing business of promoting, developing and defending their state. Also, the two ministers stayed out of war and Cristina reigned successfully until she died.

However, poetry offers its own rewards. Today, nobody has ever heard of the unromantic, strait-laced Count Pianezza. The Count Filippo d’Agliè still owns his secure position within the long legacy of Italian nationalists who spent hard time in foreign jails.

Why did d’Agliè write these poems? What was their purpose? What did he think he was doing?

Lacking documentary evidence, I will speculate. I know I shouldn’t do that. I love historians, I respect their discipline, I will follow them faithfully down to the last footnote. However, I’m a novelist, and my purpose in the essay here is to revive my dead landlord.

So what, psychologically and literarily, seems to be going on, with these nine poems about nine towers in a prison? If you read them without context, they seem like overwrought screeds by a miserable, if highly erudite, captive who suffers nine different severe mood disorders.

But consider this: who is the intended audience? Who does d’Agliè think will read these poems? It’s not himself, or they would be his diary entries, as with Pepys or maybe Montaigne. It’s not the French (although the French thoughtfully kept his prison manuscript in one of their national archives until the present day). It’s Italian poetry, so the audience has to be Italians, but who are these mysterious readers?

They might be his erudite pals in the Academy of Soligno. But these men are soldiers, scholars, engineers, architects — warriors hardened by power-struggle, and this poetry is too inward-looking, contemplative, anguished and sobbing for them. This is not the poetry of a martial tough-guy in the slammer defying the screws. It’s a martyr crying out for tender sympathy.

So I think Fillindo’s intended readership are the literate ladies of Cristina’s court. I surmise that d’Agliè’s poems were meant to be read aloud in female Madamista court circles, in the same way that Duchess Cristina’s chosen ladies used to gather and recite the endless novel “Astrea” by Honoré d’Urfé. This work of fiction was composed in the court of Turin and was a huge international hit among the baroque ladies-of-sentiment.

Fillindo wants these court ladies — led by his brother’s wife — to believe he’s the faithful one, the “constant” one. These women are the key demographic that he needs to convince of his sincerity. It’s the women around Cristina who will cherish these outpourings of his heart. If they believe him in his constancy, they’ll tell everybody else about him, including, of course, their sovereign the Duchess.

Although these d’Agliè poems were never popular, or ever meant to be popular, either, they probably hit the elite clique of readers they were aimed at. This must have been a long and much-considered publicity campaign. Today we have the text of the book, “The Prison of Fillindo the Constant,” but Filippo d’Agliè was never sitting down in his prison intending to write a book.

The book is the composition that d’Agliè edited and printed after he was well out of the prison. The book is therefore a souvenir relic of what must have been some different, larger, open-ended propaganda scheme.

He wrote the poems in order to get himself out of a jam, or at least to vindicate himself to posterity. In the long run, his poems achieved both those things.

I suspect that these nine poems about the nine towers were released one by one, secretly smuggled out of prison, as a kind of thriller-serial. They’re hand-written missives, likely direct from d’Agliè’s own hand, that are circulated hand-to-hand, among the ladies of the court of Savoy. The prison poems have a semi-covert, samizdat-dissident air about them; they’re probably tear-stained.

If you imagine the nine poems circulated in this way, one after another, slowly over the course of two years, with the readers kept on tenterhooks as to whether the author has died a martyr’s death in his alien chains, you can see their emotional power.

Likely these poems went through many careful drafts, because prisoners have plenty of time on their hands. At first, d’Agliè is just wandering around the prison courtyard, maybe dancing and skipping a bit in metric rhythm, muttering his verses to himself — as a prisoner, he has no other resources left for entertainment, all he has left is words.

Then he hand-writes some draft version, thinks it over, destroys it. Then he writes a much better version, has it smuggled out from prison to the readership in distant Turin — but those fugitive texts are long lost.

Finally, after many vicissitudes, he’s back to his homeland, and restored to power. His sovereign is graciously allowing him to print his memento of patriotic devotion. So d’Agliè gathers up the verses and does his definitive edition, “The Prison of Fillindo the Constant” — probably cleans it up some, tidies the classical metaphors, maybe even gets a professional Savoy court-poet, such as his uncle, to help him polish it to a sheen.

That’s the book that we can read today. It’s not the original, wracked outpouring of prisoner Filippo weeping into his French wine-cup. No, it’s an aristocratic souvenir public-relations document, and even a kind of brag.

Imagine yourself as a Savoyard court woman reading the d’Agliè poem collection. You know (because everybody who matters knows), that the author is the lover of the Duchess. Your ruler, Royal Madame Cristina, has won her civil war. She controls the state and the army and she dispenses all the favors. She has become Royal Madame Cristina “The Diamond,” whose new motto as ruler of Savoy (quite likely invented by d’Agliè) is “More Solid than Splendid.”

The victorious Cristina aka “The Diamond” is still glamorous and shiny just like her famous jewelry, but politically, she is solid as a rock. That’s why she allows her minister to print this book about his former woes. She once lost her minister to foreign captivity — but she also redeemed him and she got him back. So Fillindo has outlasted his enemies, he’s back in the marbled halls of power in Turin, and she’s still kissing him and the book proves all that.

In addition to this titillating situation, you’re supposed to admire Fillindo’s devotion and fortitude as you page through his poems, and maybe even cry for him a little.

So it’s a nifty little book to possess. It makes you feel important, clued-in and very much in the know, palace-intrigue-wise. Even though the returned Fillindo is spending a ton of public money on horse-parades, street dancing and fireworks displays, as well as kissing the Duchess behind closed doors, you actually feel almost proud of him.

If he’s breaking the state budget building a romantic palace up in some vineyard across the river — if your husband complains about dear Fillindo, you will stoutly defend him. Because he’s one of ours and always will be, he’s Fillindo the Constant! He spent such hard time in that prison, you just don’t understand how he suffered! Let Fillindo build the pretty palace! He deserves it.

The Nine Towers
Where the miseries of prison dwell


The Tower of Solitude

So long without people, almost out of this world
Behind horrid walls, in this profound abyss,
I am solitary, obscure, and unknowable,
In the desert of imprisonment.

These stone walls become my laws,
And in the midst of this empty courtyard,
My bound soul, following pathways
Remote and little-known to mankind
Wants to flee even from itself.

This is Solitude, and alas, even my soul,
Who was the first-created, and friend to the gods,
Is inside this gloomy marble urn with me,
Wrapped in shadows among the phantoms,
Under these sad bastion towers,
A prisoner buried alive, victimized by injustice,
Sacrificed to the Furies in this Temple of Pain,
A hermetic soul with a derelict heart.

Every comfort is far above my reach,
For my soul is low among the monsters,
These cloisters, remote from my life, offer only death to me,
And when Terror attacks me,
I cry out in vain, without one human helpmeet,
And with nowhere to flee.

Limp with anguish, all alone in here,
I see that even Pity is in bondage,
Pity long pre-occupied, and ungracious to me.

What has become of the prizes, the treasures of living?
On some remote shore, gems and gold scatter free;
Are they more pleasing when I can’t see them?
Those pearls to me are bitter tears,
Every palm a funereal cypress.
Every delight is a bitterness,
And here I am in this valley recess,
In an arsenal of the rocky Alps,
A covert prison full of weaponry.

Give life some ease, give wings to ingenuity;
Put the brake to the course of the years,
And in some kingdom of tranquillity,
Open the fields of pleasure, and scatter the fears;
I have this subterranean river of verse,
Which has waves of weeping, waves of longing,
And there is poetic peace in that river,
For the turbulence of all these pains and tears,
Flows toward a quiet sea, my martyrdom in chains.

It is vain to sweeten my raw torment
With verses so suave and smooth,
In this hard solitary confinement,
I must sing my duet with lazy Sleep.
I hear snores, and to my wavering soul,
Every object seems obnoxious.
Every living thing is my enemy.
And to a heart so sensitized,
Succumbing to sickness, yet more loathsome,
Every new phantom brings some new pang.

Alas this is madness, and a faraway confidence,
Has long since fled my ardent bosom,
And while my eyes failed to see them,
My emotions fluttered off on brooding wings.
As I struggled to free myself, ever more urgently,
My thoughts scattered like arrows,
Wounding me right in my torso,
Fixed there, like a puncture to evil,
The portal for wandering Death.

Even the firefly at night carries her fire with her,
But these are such dark woods,
And such sloughs of despondency,
That griefs attack me worse than wild beasts.
These internal wounds can never be healed,
By remembering my witch-lights of lost glories.

With this thorn lodged so deep in my being,
My every breath can only be a sigh,
And every desire a source of infection.

Tormented in this armed foreign camp,
Fillindo of the Soligno Academy,
Passes his unhappy days.
I am bound here in exile, imprisoned by the avarice
Of a country that feeds you and then abducts you.
My thoughts of that faraway war
Make my heart long to flee here to there;
Let my heart be abandoned, I will still be the victor,
If only through dying here alone.

Oh silent poem no one hears, and no one responds to,
Carry your wail to the deserts,
To those mute rocks and taciturn stones.

2 )

The Tower of Silence

The Memphis of Taccian, and Athens with her splendor,
And Babel forever muted, would gaze in blind horror
At this Tower of confusion, for whenever the stars rise,
The Sun is forced to flee beneath the earth.
The Night shelters me in eternal silence,
Forever deaf to painful laments, founded in Hell.

Under Night’s dark veil shroud the tall obelisks,
And in museums dim the fame of exhausted gods.
Here where all is silent, see the Alps rise
As the enemies of Heaven.
In this bleak, uneasy peace,
What peaks, what abysses, flee all sound
Like hunted animals frightened by thunder
And the music of the spheres.

From this dark center of a hidden world,
Arises Weariness herself,
And with Silence, they seize both my hands;
This, this is the method
That confounds me doubly in a double prison;
When I listen to my own heart,
I feel proven useless in warfare;
These atrocious towers,
Crush my heart as they silence my voice.

Among these walls Silence nestles,
Here the soul is sepulchered;
Oppression cannot speak, wail, or sigh
For the torment is too stark:
Stone walls lack senses, and never heed
Complaints and lamentations.
The stones respond only with echoes,
Treacherous, unfeeling noises,
That redouble the rattle of chains.

The sounds of Echo are flatteries,
Deceitful phantoms, vain auras,
Even worse with each repetition,
As when a voice trapped in a cavern,
Resounding among inhuman shadows,
Has all its melodies truncated,
Into howls, shrieks, a market crowd babbling,
Like talking with the Wind
With the voice of a monster, about fear.

The Hyrcanian Tiger cares not for harmonies;
Tigers never break into song,
The shore wave doesn’t hear whispers,
If it happens to distinguish
Some murmur from the sighs and weeping,
It would tie up that tongue,
With contempt for whines, that strict jailer,
Clamps outrageous screams between iron jaws.

There are no jokes, no fooleries and chatter,
In the Empire of silent Harpocrates,
That winged god honored in Cilenio;
Those in silent shadows cannot govern,
The mute learns nothing in the groves,
From he who teaches philosophy.
He does not beseech love or speak sweetly,
For he is doubly made the prey,
With a blocked ear and a foot chained.

Slam shut those gates, but with that racket
Clamor rises, armed pawn of an evil chorus;
The watchman shouts his fierce alarm,
And the welkin rings for no sane reason,
His lantern wakes me from slumber
And noisy harassment pains me.
My fate is to harken, while speechless,
To shadowy horrors, or die.

Noise alone is my only music,
And when it dissolves away,
Among my eloquent torments
Is the pain of my silenced tongue;
The orator hushed, with the heart of a favorite,
But an afflicted mind; I languish in woe,
My discourse is scattered by pain,
Ever more broken and scattered,
Worm-riddled with sharp regrets.

Inarticulate tones without resonance
In this grotto of grave obscurity,
The heart’s language, of the harp, of the trumpet,
Cannot reveal its ardor, and is blocked
In the locked closet of a secret night;
The open mouth still breathes,
But silently, in a graveyard coffin,
Giving Silence the victory,
For extinction always is voiceless.

All my senses are stifled within me,
I must guard my worthless words, to fence them in;
They might fly from my lips like arrows
In a strident language of bitterness,
But I’m tied by the foot in this cavern,
To dwell here indefinitely,
Where the asps are deaf, and know nothing.

In Thebes and Cimmeria, the Muses and Undines,
Abandon their golden lyres,
For stone has no pity or parlance.


The Tower of Suspicion

Here is the hostel of blind walls
Where shadows ever more threatening
Host in their shadowy darkness
The Chimera of false Suspicion;
Here in the cavern of black eclipses,
Ingenious in his wickedness,
He peers through horrid abysses.
The Chimera, that fatal spirit,
Born of a viper, fixed in the heart,
Is the cruel son of self-awareness.

Alone here, I fight hard with foreboding,
My mind is without friendly counsel,
Forever sleepless, and worrisome,
A pained, quiet warfare of wariness.
Every tremor shakes me deeply,
And every passing light or glimmer,
Betrays my rationality;
In this campaign of darkness,
False light falls on fake wounds;
Death awaits the soul everywhere.

Here a thousand noises and whirling lights,
Blur the senses with veils;
Every object becomes a mirage,
I pretend, assume, believe anything;
The aura of the Chimera
Makes a passing breeze fearsome.
Every image in the clouds is nauseous,
A mere bee appears as a Dragon,
Any shadow a wandering Ghost,
Flowers are flames, and atoms are Giants.

With its narrow head, and face multicolored,
Raucous and confusing,
Divisive in its genius,
Parting, returning, harassing me,
Enclosed in monstrous variety,
Lurching in motion, unstable in essence,
Chimeric and always unknowable,
Restless and disconcerting,
One immense sea of distrust;
Suspicion besets me, and I doubt my own senses.

A belt of sharp thorns wraps my head,
A circle of deceits, and dreadful molestations,
A mental labyrinth of errors,
That forms Terror in my field of thought;
Sphinxes, Monsters, Ghosts and Weapons,
Teams of armed enemies,
And in these atrocious spasms,
Nothing but lies, delusions, stupidities,
False depictions, faces distorted.

How many cliffs does the Earth have,
Or whirlpools are in the sea,
Or deadly machineries ready,
Designed for my bitter ruin;
How many flights had Icarus,
Or Phaeton, chariots of the Sun?
These dreads are mere vain imaginings,
Yet they shake me in my misfortune;
Whatever one dreads, one learns to see,
And during life’s dark occasions,
We build mirrors and clutch at them,
Appearing there among reflections,
Of madness, and death, and ourselves.

We peer through the mists of our own hearts,
Self-tortured, to dodge our own arrows,
And sick at heart, keen to defend ourselves,
Against Terror, we brew our own poison.
We load ourselves with iron chains,
Chests aching from apparitions,
Bedevilling ourselves with double punishments,
Now the ice, now the fire of our Inferno.

Such are the reasonings, bitter and cruel,
From Zeal that has lost all discretion;
Suspicion, that treacherous counsellor,
Shrouds the eyes of Love in his blindfold;
And through deceptions, ever harsher,
Delusions ever more rigorous,
More malignant, more fiery and passionate,
This Zeal that disrupts life and insight,
Surrounds us with his mendacities,
A ruinous friend who spies to bewilder us.

The human bosom is not made from jasper;
It is much more frail and infirm,
In vain it resists Suspicion,
To screen, to defend a heart in misery.
Yet Destiny reigns through disasters;
Misfortune and Danger teach us Suspicion;
Caution may be worldly wisdom,
But to seek trouble is fertile with evil,
For this world would surely have shipwrecks
Even if it had no more seas.

Let me confront him, and duel with Suspicion,
This enemy within my own thoughts;
Although I am silent, and alone,
I will treat Suspicion with his own suspicion;
For the nodding Lion fears a rooster’s crow.
I hate an insidious fraud,
Worse than an enemy soldier.

Suspicion should never be pitiless,
Ignoring the woes of the supplicant,
Like Falarus, Minos and Rhadamanthus.
This, this is what torments me,
And I tire of this sordid misery,
Which carries me so restlessly,
Wounded and troubled in soul.

So I think of my Muse, where she rules in constancy,
Calmly accustomed to the ruination,
A Queen of unalterable virtue
Also, she despises death;
Through her, I take comfort in my perils,
And among these Eurippeans, find a way out.

Let me abandon this Harpy, which devours my heart,
Here among the vengeful Erinye,
Where Cerberus lurks and the stones hear nothing.


The Tower of Melancholy

Among these stony Alpine peaks,
Much-seen by me, but much better unknown,
My tedious incarceration,
My molestations painful and tormenting,
Here among the crags,
Here among the brambles,
Have almost put me in the tomb of Fame.
My ruin is displayed to others,
And though my soul still lives, and I’m not dead yet,
I have no life, for there’s nothing here but pain.

Suffering the anguish of a lover,
More from my own soul, than from that oppressive Tower,
With the weariness of Atlas,
Supporting the weight of my own brooding,
Sustaining that like a new Sisyphus,
While every harassing object,
Seems like my boulder of pain,
So my heart knows no repose or peace,
Like Enceladus dying under his volcano.

In this horrid shelter,
Searching the Night with my gaze,
Rising above misery,
Into that tenebrous aspect
Which shrouds all joy, and beautiful splendors,
Night, which augurs enmity to the Sun itself,
A darkness everlasting,
Over this ancient fortress,
Where solitary shadows flit to and fro,
Obscuring the light, and destroying Happiness.

Here one broods, one weeps, and is famished.
Every breath animates some new pain,
Among deceptive laments,
Contemplating martyrdom,
Blinded by tears, alas, unable to see
The sea of Desires that cause that misery,
A sea rising, surrounding and drowning the spirit,
So that grief is itself a grief, and a dark confusion.

Among the reeking junipers
Of the Alps, lacerated and torn,
He becomes his own worst enemy,
Doubling his torments in a private war.
Hope abandons him, enemies attack him,
Memory; Thought; Misfortune;
Fury; Contempt; and Rage;
So he collapses and curses Heaven.

Then, with a strident howl,
He begs the sweet remedy of Death,
Praises his treacherous fate,
And desires whatever seems worst for him;
Scowling in face, cloaked for a funeral,
He no longer loves glamour.
He eagerly greets, with his whining,
Anything that makes life seem worse for him,
And weeps when Aurora smiles with the sunrise.

Belted with asps and serpents,
Letting the snakes tear his bosom,
Lurking among the brambles,
He abhors the Sun, and every amenity.
Inhumanly fleeing from goodness,
He squanders his life.
Then, drinking venom
To repress his own courage,
He feeds monsters with his blind emotions;
Sphinxes and Larvae, Chimeras, Shadows and Suspicion.

The Erinye in the Inferno,
Are less vile and furious than he is;
Despair rules over him,
And he makes his own heart his own Hell.
As the subject of his own Empire,
He punishes himself, severe and unrelenting;
Ripping his own heart in malign delusion,
In the fantastic shadows of his own unhappiness.

This, this is his torment,
He is false friend to his contrary self.
He follows his own damnation,
Down the river of pain toward his death.
Tormented, he became fatalistic.
Virtue should be his strength,
He should leave his tomb empty,
To be born again in open meadows,
With the Flower of Faith, which raises even the lowest.

Here among my inauspicious walls,
Where the clear light of day seems buried with me,
The blackest shadows perturb me,
Malign influxes; greedy veils.
When I ask myself to cure myself,
Every remedy I have tastes bitter.
There’s no mercy for me in the stones here,
They only echo whatever seems worst,
Redoubling my pain with my own voice.

So be silent now o Muse;
It is vain to quarrel and complain.
Her royal scepter does not rule here,
In this armed host of inhumanity.


The Tower of Vain Hope

Among fears no longer, as light as the Peacock,
And with the same inconsistency,
Flapping over this Hemisphere,
With a slight, rapid flight, here comes Hope.
Alighting in return here, fluttering wings,
Inside this locked prison, as packed full of evils
As the box of the most cruel Pandora.
Hope that binds me, hope that melts me,
Hope that attracts and deceives me,
Sweet tyrant, vain affection of my heart.

Dark lighthouse which signaled for goodness,
The fervent desire to reach serene harbor,
On some shore of the stream of the stars,
With vain displays, among my torments
Fallacious Hope confuses me,
Sighs become fair winds, tears become waves
Hope soars under rainbows and omens of peace;
Then flies off in black clouds and the ship wrecks.

How vain the swiftness of thought is,
When courage among the iron weapons
Turns to heartache amid tranquil peace,
That black Peacock, whirling and wheeling,
Hope so appealing that I long to trust it
Although it augurs my sepulcher;
From its wings I take pain and a pen,
So Hope can tear at my heart,
That crooked harpy, that colorful fraud.

Surrounded by high apparitions, all in splendor,
Gulled by my own temerities into a spiral of error,
In uncertain light that beams among menaces.
The prospects that are most false and harmful,
Are the same ones that give me most joy;
The most ruinous troubles seem clearest and fairest,
The brightest stroke of lightning is the most lethal,
A lighthouse for the abyss, or for Mongibel, the foul volcano.

Hope betrays my heart and deludes my soul
With a thousand rash ideas and idolatries,
That offer themselves in profusion to a fickle goddess;
A sensual sacrifice of flames and vows,
Revering the empty motions of inhuman delusions,
With a great belief in the most vain phantoms
That are hidden in the mystic veils of thought.
The Oracle of Love is the Voice of Heaven.

Hope paints my endless desires for me,
As I gaze among the gloomy clutter,
Hope is an enchanted mirror
Of murky desires and broken delights,
Hope calls to my heart, in a busy ministry,
Promising glory, fame, and every grand achievement,
And here Hope calls me once again,
Although each pledge is proven to be vain,
Dishonorable, and truly dangerous.

But in this hostel, woe is me, Hope is my courage,
That courtly flatterer who presents my life to me;
Brilliant scenes in my theater of honor?
I imagine they are shadows of grief.

But if my soul sees more, I can’t choose to fly
With a foot that is manacled here;
If the eye is struck by hope’s strange enchantment,
The eye is where tears will soon appear;
This flattering serpent weaves among strong chains,
Breathing and lurking in the iron of the prison,
Like a venomous flower that one longs to find.

Time tramples over these fickle notions
And with the grinding of the years,
All the incidents and painful insults,
Life, which aspires to flee from here,
Grows shorter, while Death draws nearer.

Hope is smoke, it is clouds, it is froth;
Mere fog borne away with the wind,
And every light hope, which melts in a moment,
Leaves lasting pain after brief joy.
The laughing and deformed Hyena,
The Chimera that confuses, mutable, without form,
That light-hearted liar in a flock of dark Sphinxes,
Hope, purveying sweetness, brings disaster.

Put an end to this greed of the heart, ingenuity.
Find some placid repose,
Let self-command reign over affectation,
Seize control over Hope and Desire,
And make them both your prisoners;
Let your soul be the rock that holds the anchor,
Against deadly perils of the surrounding sea.

From the bribery of Hope, I turn away offended;
An awakened prophet who feels a righteous injury;
The weight drops from me, and if my thoughts fly,
They fly toward the border of my country,
And I choose to believe in freedom.
Later, I may seem foolish,
And my conceptions may well betray me,
But if I have to choose between my life and my comforts,
Every man, after death, sees no Hope in the shadowland.

So I close this poem with no sighs and weeping,
And without any cruel Hope;
Such are the waves of the sea that I have here,
Such are the wind and the sails.


The Tower of Poverty

On a cold stone among the bare rocks,
Lives a snake stripped of skin, an enemy viper,
Miserable for her own sake, raw to others,
Perishing like a mendicant nun.
Alone, sad, frail in body, abject in heart,
In a horrid crevice in the fatal Alps,
Wavering between shame and anguished affliction,
Bewildered with grief in the lurking shadows.

Time is devoured, and lightning strikes the earth,
Casting the proud walls of a high Tower into ruin.
The snake slithers amidst the huge heap of rubble,
But this mayhem for others doesn’t improve her.
No matter how often she’s wounded by fate,
By thunderstorms, whirlpools, or shipwrecks,
Vicissitudes, pangs, inconveniences,
If she flees one torment, some new companion
From the pestilential swarm comes to bite her.

Belted by Opprobrium, hunted by Misfortune,
Even harmless plants aggravate her,
Empowered by her lowliness, bloated with her hunger,
Lurking at doors like a carved gargoyle,
With the ugly faces of Bitterness, Wrath, Anger,
Disrupting the peace and quiet, inspiring miseries,
Proud of being voracious, ravenous with desire,
She tears at herself, and it is wisdom that bleeds.

With a squalid expression, and skin torn,
Inconstant, perplexing, obscure and cowardly,
Friendless, neglected, among her anxieties,
Contemplating new crimes, even if humble ones,
Feigning confusion, limbless, busy with fraud in her rags,
Writhing in knots, with no idea how to rise up;
As needy as survival in the harshest warfare,
Where the feet stumble, the belly rules and the soul falls in the dust.

She has no gentility of conscience left;
Lacking in good impulse, she is rich only in destruction;
Choosing to follow a goddess of wickedness,
One without smoky altars, rites or a temple.

When the immortal gods are in nudity,
They are inspiring, a fortunate sight to mortals,
Benign and full of clemency,
Their beauty of their visages explains their goodness,
With as many virtues as the sky has stars.

But the soil here has no place to stand on.
So one wearies of the noisome annoyance.
To march into the sea gains one nothing
And to search in the waves is just to lose repose,
And this unending motion, among fatigue and torment,
Is the labor of Tantalus in the Inferno.

His difficulties are perpetual,
Poor Tantalus begging aid, always neglected,
His oldest griefs just receive new indignities,
His body enslaved, his destiny transfixed,
Burned by the sunlight and frozen stiff by frost,
Shamefully offended, and afflicted by contempt
He blames his fate on Heaven and the injustice of the Gods.

But whoever rises up, can also be beaten down.
Jupiter bears his lance among the thunderclouds,
Probing and sorting inequalities,
His spear can rain down gold or smite with lightning.
Everyone thinks his own tears are the bitter ones,
Tears never get pooled in common for everyone.
Tears do not wet the forests, mountains and seas;
The fields are dry of tears, and the rivers too.

Try chamomile, heart’s-ease, or even hemlock,
To temper the extremes of your petty fevers;
If Heaven is inclined to act with force against you,
You can do nothing to change that.
Jealous heaven takes your splendor, joy, or wealth.

From the coasts of triumph, we sink into the deeps,
And other souls hold deeper griefs than ours;
Some are proud, the rest of the world is impoverished,
But gems come from the depths of the mines,
And the lowest soil gives rise to rich treasures.
Metals all rise up from raw veins of ore,
But gold is proud, while iron is in service,
Iron forged into manacles, and rattling chains.
Where the diamond rules over horror, it has no splendor,
Nor can shining gems bring hope to a nation made dark.

The Golden Fleece is forbidden, and defended,
Behind fortress walls well-watched and guarded,
In a nation of blindness.

With black sails, and graven metals,
The hero Jason does not land here,
In his generous laden ship,
Conveying golden treasure, and the Fleece.
Here, hard stone nurtures iron weapons,
Defying the world to give rescue,
No one rushes up Potosi River, to the peaks of Pindus,
To gaze over fabulous wealth.

The vaunted waves of the world’s great rivers,
The Euphrates, the Ganges, the Indus and the Po,
Where rich riverbanks rustle with shining trees,
Do not flow like this lava, this turbid torrent,
From Vesuvius, descending all tortuous,
Every wave in vivid flames, scattering shadows,
The inferno of a prison-forged arsenal,
Stamping out light and hammering chains.

But among all that, at the end, love survives here;
Among weapons, virtue goes armored.
The soul is oppressed yet the heart is not conquered;
The angry monster wins only contempt;
With loathsome serpentine coils
Bringing her trouble to empires,
Lurking in discord, coiling in ruins,
Inventing new forms of constriction,
Knots of cramp, as the dying continues.

Poverty cannot frighten, it’s not the worst that can happen;
Virtue consoles, and who has the least, flies the fastest,
Above the incarceration, reading the flights of the stars.


The Tower of Obscurity

Cimmeria of the coldest soil,
Or the obscure cliffs
Beneath the Arctic Pole,
Or frozen Scythia,
Land of the Arimaspes,
Or imperial Thule,
With nights that are half-years,
Or damnable Tartary
Where in the ice-caves
Lie the world’s deepest prisons,
Cannot chain up shadows like this place.

Search no more, with the pilgrim’s tread,
For the very nest of the tenebrous.
This, this is the shrine
Of this unhappy Hemisphere,
Where shady Erebus
In weird landscapes,
Under ashen skies
And ferocious weather,
Gathers up in dark forests,
All the shining candors of the splendid world,
Veiling all, blotting the sun, and nourishing horrors.

Here is the path to the abyss of Tartary,
Where blind Fate attacks,
With deadly eclipses,
Amid the horrid Erinye,
The sleepless immortals,
Nourishing doom.
Here the black fields,
Beyond the reach of thunderbolts,
With not one lamp of freedom,
Where Destiny flings occult shrouds,
And each man digs the grave of the other.

A country that gives birth to darkness,
Amid horrid veils of confusion,
Where they must grope and grab
In eternal darkness
Even when Heaven is clear;
Here, where their Kingdom,
Darkened by barricades,
Veils the eyes and the wits,
With ignorance harder than iron,
Clutching the body, and cluttering intellect.

Clamped in the stocks of darkness,
And chains of obscurantism,
And unknown torments and horrors,
Of subterranean cells,
Where the splendor of souls are stifled,
Stupefied by the cold.
Hearts falter, movement is sluggish,
The air itself has gone blind,
And, dreading the congealing atmosphere,
The Sun escapes to some better climate.

Here I live, lightless and languishing,
Here where the Sun dropped dead;
Forever deprived of clear daylight,
I try to make the days shorter,
Although that shortens my lifetime.
So if I am pensive and silent,
It’s because all I can see, teary-eyed,
Are dreadful Specters and Chimeras,
A host of Ghosts, wherever I turn.

Why risk shedding light on opacity?
Inhuman enchantment,
Seeing a heart that glows,
Will dowse any flame of ardor,
Intimidating affection;
Swift-flying Love,
Avoids stricken countries;
Love takes his handsome face elsewhere;
Love doesn’t take his pretty torch to light Hell.

Blame whoever gave as Mother to the Gods,
Night herself, that blind goddess,
Shadow abhors the Light,
And each always struggles with the other,
Once ice appears, fire does not glow;
Once good fortune is spent,
The ardor of life flees,
And twilight sets in;
And Love does not show his bright face
In the dim light of stars of bad omen.

Here, Terror obliterates clarity.
Whatever shines is a lie;
It is the false light of deadwood
That glimmers without heat and life;
That cold phosphorescence,
That sparkles when mariners strike it,
Or the glows that cluster in branches,
From the eyes of nocturnal owls.

No Moon, ray, or splendor to boast of,
Among these dark caves,
Among ghosts and enchanters,
Every ray dissipates,
In a fog dense as rock;
Enveloping darkness,
Among thoughts and troubles
That frail light cannot dissolve,
But a light here would only add bitterness,
Since iron looks worse when seen more clearly.

But the rays of Heaven are glorious,
Beaming in ardor,
With a light that inspires
Smiling happiness;
And the fatal prison,
Cannot contain the joy
Of those martyrs,
In hermetic recesses,
Of immortal memory.
Once they contemplate the holy Sun,
Then their blinded gaze,
Their wounded hearts,
And all the horrors disappear, and become their splendors.

Muse of the Diamonds, be silent now,
And take consolation,
Even if life is a shadow,
All shadows, good or evil, always fly away.


The Tower of Rigor

Frighten the soul, and horrify the heart;
Stun the senses and stagger the feet,
On this hard courtyard, where Rigor,
Rules among his penalties and punishments.
Faces go pale and hearts pound at the sight of him;
His grim scowl and aspect of severity,
He sits in pride among armed retainers,
Emotionless except for his cruelty,
With bitter laws, utterly pitiless,
A bloody ruler over the dead.

Here they must dwell, those whom he threatens
With flashes of horror
And themes of fear,
Better that lightning would strike this Tower,
Amid seas of tears
And sighing winds,
And through those dark thresholds,
Some are dragged, bound and complaining,
To cells of inexorable pain.
Where the stone resounds,
Rigor gloats over misery,
And weakening accents,
And fading voices, and enfeebled laments.

Readied for martyrdom,
While begging for mercy
Thrown amid Panthers
And Tigers born of women,
With contempt and disdain,
And barbarous anger,
Burning in their armored chests;
Red-faced and foul-mouthed,
Soldiers breathing fury,
With lamps of Tartary
And eyes all aflame,
With smoke in their noses,
As in a choking battlefield,
With ferocious gunfire in cruel warfare,
Where Hope is killed and Faith is buried.

With eyes of stone, dry and pitiless,
Disgusted by prayers,
And offended by tears;
Rigor throws lamps into rivers,
And anger learns from the waves,
And kindles in the midst of the waters
Slander from treacherous faces,
Disdainful effrontery,
That awakens a fire,
That consumes others, with cinders, and mockery
Such a dreadful comet,
That shines malignant rays repeatedly,
Havoc, Shame, Pain and Outrage.

There are no veins of dark ore in the mountains,
Whether iron, bronze or jasper,
Forged into hard chains,
That are hard as the heart of pitiless ignorance.
There is no anvil, no stone so potent,
As Rigor’s adamantine soul,
Which he drags along burning boulders,
With feral impetus,
To the darkest crater of Etna,
Among pitiless peaks and rivers of fire.

With a fiery tongue, and harsh vulgarities
That imitate the lion’s roar,
Sarcastic in words,
Atrocious in deeds,
Thrilled to hear high-pitched screams,
He is happy about howls, and aims for more;
More dolorous moans of monstrous suffering,
But he himself doesn’t sigh,
He himself doesn’t weep,
He just wants to add more,
Stained with blood — all from other people —
He lacks only new art for inventing martyrs,
He survives just to wickedly kill them.

Innocence makes him furious,
He’s the Astrea of injustice,
A traitor to every fairness;
His only trophies are the ruins of others,
He wins the palm for strangling the living,
He even poisons the doors of the Church.

The Erinye, the Furies, in their Inferno,
Crowned with serpents full of venom,
In grief, and eternal damnation,
Have happier souls than he does,
This minister of hatred,
This blood-soaked fanatic.

At his word, the torture machines get ready,
Cranking out torments, and unthinkable miseries,
Tragic misdeeds of funereal cruelty,
Like Sisyphus, or Ission, with that stone, or that wheel;
With vultures and Harpies flying all around,
Competing with wild bulls and gryphons,
All sojourning together with him in the abyss,
With rivers of bitter tears,
But no spring of Pity appears there;
The Styx flows divinely, with the Acheron.

Here he gets crowned by Pluto himself,
With French lilies in one hand, bloody roses in the other,
Aconite, the poison flower of the Alps,
Grows where Death keeps seven perils,
Myrrh, yew, and funeral cypress,
To scorch the eyes,
And poison the lips.
In this dark hell-hole, among the recesses,
Of intricate tangled forests,
And for every, root, branch, frond and leaf there,
Some victim of his has some shackle or a chain.

With such artifice of inhuman genius,
What’s one more dead man among a thousand?
One more abyss in a black kingdom on fire?
Or other snuffed-out lamps that once shone,
Or spirits destroyed by brotherly gunpowder,
Their bones buried in crude shallow graves,
That should have obelisks of immortality?
Up in the bold clouds,
Those battalions of buried troops,
Could join Mars and defeat the Spheres of heaven.

Such are the glories and merits of Rigor,
His pomp, and his deadly victories.
Here is his throne, here his art, here his opera,
Where he gambled with Life and Fate,
In the theater of horror, on the raw throne
Set among ruinous graveyards,
The prison, the tomb, the echoing cavern,
Where, striding and bombastic
He passes out guns, loose and reckless,
To anyone who wants an armed vendetta.

But cease now, my Muse, for pity is flowing.
In the confinements of Rigor, pity alights, it is ready.
At the very extreme of Avernus, mercy has arrived.


The Tower of Memory

The passionate exemplar of this Tower,
More than mere stone: carved into stone,
Sweetly deceiving, imperious, tormenting,
The dolorous Memory
Of my past life.
So pleasurable, yet so fleeting,
A jumble of confusion,
Raw and fallacious,
Delightful, deceitful,
Revealing the years to my afflicted mind:
My goodness departed, and my evil present.

In this dreadful shelter, moody and brooding,
Deprived of the good things rehearsed in my mind,
I express — yes — that which still seems true to me,
But from these self-deceits,
While contemplating my life,
Horrors and dark concepts radiate
Through the happy sphere
Of my former glories.
I see myself as a wretch,
Whose soul turned from sweetness,
To grim years without joy, where sorrow flourished.

The Wheel of my misfortune seems immortal.
It revolved from a Time of every joy,
From the light into horror, a dead calm,
Devoid of any wind.
When I look back at my past,
Feeling that, for all my good fortune,
Something much worse happened to me,
And yet greater evils await me,
Then, in a cloudy mirror of weepy fatalism,
I see myself drowned, extinguished by sorrow;
It seems my life was one momentary yearning.

Spurred by these racing moods,
Which are just as inconstant, and changeable,
As my rapid, atrocious misfortunes,
Moods that move so quickly
That they change every time I breathe,
I fix my mind’s eye on my good times,
Not the times that chained my foot,
For Destiny was my enemy,
Glimpsed in my dreams,
Wandering among the shadows,
Among immobile phantasms.
As my fate grew more obvious, I ignored it more.

What I sense here is not a simulacrum.
It’s the truth, yes, far past pretense.
While I write, I am plowing the sea,
An immense sea, the color of death,
Which intellect cannot touch;
Events remote, and irrevocable,
Can never return to us;
The spirit wastes in vain,
Meditating on days
Of lost contentment, amid present misery;
Memory advances to murder the heart.

This ray from Heaven, Memory, splendid within us,
Lights the mind with sparkling desire,
And strong affections, lofty and powerful,
Clarifying, liquefying,
Lifting the heart in impossible flight,
Among the wandering Atoms, where it involves itself,
Among sighs of nostalgia,
Learning at last from meditation,
While each passing thought feels bitter-sweet.

I was hard-proven in the midst of weapons,
But alas, my life is passing in bondage;
My beautiful past slid away from me.
How stormy that stream,
And how swift those regrets.
Even ecstasy could not avert the flood.
The Hour was fleeting,
The Meridian long spent,
Of my brief glory.
And, although my Faith remains firm,
My Desire is to follow Memory,
Toward that which comes next: Oblivion.

Fixed in my past,
In my present afflicted,
Enveloped in shadows,
Among boulders, oppressed,
I live pierced by sharp brooding;
The wanderer in chains,
Impressed by clarity and insight,
I follow the Sun though immersed in my sorrow.
Darkened and yet serene,
Here where my adverse fate,
Replete with the tenebrous,
Will forever flee from the light of my happiness.
And yet: even if I am in irons, the Sun is constant.

But in this valley of blind Moles,
And of Asps too deaf to hear me,
Looking or listening, could they add to my evil?
Should I leap into their abyss,
Betraying my ingenuity,
For that which never was, and never shall be?
Should I wheel like the ill-turning stars,
Bringing on yet more trouble,
Like an extinguished spark,
Showing all the good fortune I witnessed,
Is woefully buried now, in eternal eclipse?

No. No, though I write in dust,
And chisel it in my entrails.
If the fading pleasures of Memory,
Can no more kindle my heart,
And my soul is slain by too short a sweetness,
And a vulgar and horrible history,
Builds prisons where there should be thrones,
No, not even in these caverns,
Where they print images of eternal night,
Hiding in shadows the bitterness of fate,
Where sad Memory can revive the dead.

Such is my heart, and my step, and my grieving eyes.
Standing in fire, in bondage, in Avernus,
If my mind cannot fly, my soul will rest.
And with my friend Memory,
In this punishing Inferno,
I will always think of my country.
That unhappy home,
Imperilled by war,
Threatened by treachery,
Under vague, veiled skies forever changing,
So near the Abyss, so far from Heaven.

So song, be silent now,
With your voice that infiltrates stones;
Cherish your woe, and arouse Memory.

one of the better-known Bruce Sterlings

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