A Concert in the Ante-Inferno

by | July 17, 2022

[Inspired by Inferno, Canto III, where Dante and Virgil travel through the Ante-Inferno and cross the river Acheron with the help of the ferryman, Charon. The performer, called ‘Nick’, is loosely named after the singer Nick Cave, the frontman of the Australian Rock Band ‘Nick Cave and the Bad Seeds,’ who is imagined to be playing in the Ante-Inferno as Virgil, Dante, and Beatrice, here conceived as the narrator, are transported by Charon to the First Circle of Hell.]


I felt like Saint Sebastian with his arrows

Below the shadow of the red rock

Hanging like a silver pendant,

Glazed by fine mist and intermittent rain.


The skiff’s bow was only a gleam

In the haze, cutting swiftly through black waves.

Dante held my hand, as he once did

In the wooden groves and chiming streams

Of Florentine gardens. Across the water,

The mob rankled with impatience,

Yet there was no response – the cavern was

Deathly quiet. Huge speakers, rooted in the sky,

Coiled like prehistoric bones around the pit,

And gleamed with millions of oily blackheads.

Every grotesque customer scratched their body

In a mazy and rabid motion. Cataracts fired

In muddy bronzed display, a thunderous echo

In the subterranean hollows, a theatre

Of absurdities and damaged things.


Gales threw the skiff sideways into flying

Shrapnel-spray – Charon’s brow

Creased in irritation, nightmarish

Tempests rolled under a Selenic sky.

The firmament shook with a mighty boom

As a hoary rocker, opalescent, appeared

Like a piece of black bone skewered in the stage.


I, Beatrice, feel my breath

Narrowed in canine gasps,

The world gripping the cortex,

Infecting the optic nerve,

Lens pulsing with fleshy heart:

The engine out of control.


As if through the eye of an electron

Microscope I could see the colosseum,

Nick was accompanied by Nereids –

Naked, their skin glistening and glassy,

Bowing in supplication before the glossy-haired

King of subterranean stars. Teams of minor

Daemons, bristling with spines, barnacles

And extra eyes, work a steampunk panel

Of lights, whilst magma erupts from great

Fissures in the surface of the earth.


Recusant, preferring bloody rites,

Nick is the enabler of evil.

He slowly strips his blood-red robes, viewed

By all on crystal screens – skin translucent,

His scarred bone-body is made beautiful,

The human form of the malignant one,

Invites the crowd to poke dirty fingers in his scars;

The cross on the hill was his gallows-tree.


Behind him I see a bearded figurine

Swinging his violin as if on a ship

Smashed from side to side, the thing is engraved

With crosses and wild women, the strings

Matted hair in his hands, the bow curling

To smithereens. Nick’s darkly coloured suit

Was plastic in the night, one of his song-characters

Haunting my dreams – the mind

Of a painter flicking through a highlight

Reel of boat-songs and murder, sorrowful

In the silent spaces of the past –

It’s all the same kind of song to me,

A ghostly recording embracing me with feeling.


Transformed to the punky values of his

Youth, losing that self-conscious crease of skin

Between his black brows, discovering the peace

That only performers at the eye of

A spinning song have felt, the crowd was

Scaffolding to Nick’s hardened heart.

Out of those bone-white lips came these

Twisted words, a song of the rose-girl,

Dripping with blood, the one the highwayman

Left on the road, the misfit creatures left in

Misery, left to self-destruct.


I wondered if Nick would be

Paid thirty pieces of silver after,

Judas never looked so good.


They have chosen this, said Virgil weakly,

As if to conclude and pass over the matter

Without offering help or a singular

Path of salvation. But I could not close my eyes.

I, Beatrice, was the third hooded figure

On the path of the righteous, at the battlefront

Of chaos, seeing all and forgetting nothing.

The spectre of that starless hinterland

Would forever be resurrected in

The shifting cave-wall shadows of my dreams. ∎


Words by George Adams. Art by Dowon Jung.