A Circle In Hell

By John Delonas

And descending to the circle below,
gazed upon a dismal scene,
the world's great in a dreary show:

The insignificance of those who had been
the immortals, raising piteous groans and sighs,
complaining of mortal work undone,

As a harvester curses the setting sun
with the frost near, but many here of merit and grace,
the honored first of their race;

Tell me how they deserved this place?
Said he who knew the secret of the universe,
"there are three classes of mortals cased:

A. The tyrannical animal (the perverse),
B. conservative no-accounts (even worse),
and C. persecuted gods like those you see.

All fated after death by His noble plan
thusly: the first like the soul-less vermin to disappear;
the second, likewise, but they avowed

They followed wrongly ministers of deceitful fear,
so each spirit was crushed 'neath the circumspect crowd.
God, for these, created heaven and hell

So not to conflict with what their canons compel
their jelly souls to do.
But here the tormented gods roam

Bemoaning half-cut stone, half-white sheet,
blind to the pleasantness of their eternal home.
Ah! They suffer more than the neighboring feet

That hop o'er the glowing coal, for these gifted
drank heady beauty and ne'er forgot the taste,
and I deepest ere by death was lifted."

Doctor, spoke I, but still this is hell and why
do they deserve it instead of the higher plane
lacking here both the lash and heaven's bliss;

Why this limbo nothingness, I fain
would know? Answered my guide, "this
is for minor faults where they broke the discipline

Of law and customs-- feeling above their normal kin--
for god wants men to know above all: humanity,
and for these talented heroes to be humble ...

Enough! Let us go. Perchance we will stumble
on a friend (for I am one of these),
whose story will morally please."

We journeyed past rooms without keys,
down chamber'd ways dark with misgiving
of geniuses harmonic, who died unshriven.

Passing an enscribed pillar-- chisel driven--
that read: CHICAGO DAMNED 1931, and my guide
alert, "He allowed those who knew to build

This free Disneyland for ideas from revivals
and services were the paranoids filled,
so that God dreaded to walk here,

For it contains scientific traps of great design.
That one over there is one of mine."
And walking the moans louder grew

In proportion to their genius it's true,
and last we came to one whose cry
was Pan's lute, sweetly did it fly.

Who is this? He of old Nassau did quick reply,
"the moon-face, hair-haloed, you recognize not?
The 'Der Wanderer' musing on this spot,

Whose fingers transformed the keys
into singing voices, who noted heaven
and put into five lines eternity."

Seeing no light he continued to speak,
"him who put his fingers o'er the rim
of heaven lived 'neath St. Stephen's peak

By the Danube's countless loops where swim
the pontoons of old Vienna, him the immortal bard
buried three graves from Beethoven in hallowed yard."

Schubert! I cried, and the figure turned.
I asked, what jealousy cut off thy song?
Replied he, "in Masses I showed my uncatholic side,

Neglected the credo for soprano flight.
I am no mystic. In every corner I see light,
so my requiems rebelled 'gainst morbid liturgy;

My songs neither moral, religious, nor fashion,
but ghosts of classical antiquity
inspired by poets like Von Matthisson."

Is this thy only crime? "No, for a present
given me by some coy maid I pried years before,
ruining man's only ornament,

And visited upon me youth's impetuous curse--
syphilis; disease, death, -- and yet worse,
incapacitated my waning days so

That the wooden harp was silent
when I had so much to tell, but no--
That is all. I have done nothing else,

And lived for Music alone."
No other love? pressed I. "Yes, in the choir
stood out a soprano in the Kyrie;

She married a baker, but I could not forget
so all the sonatas of festive Schubertiade
were for her, my dedication yet

Remains to her though the world thinks otherwise.
Perceiving your interest, here follows condensed
(while we three walk) the reasons for my brimming eyes.

To a house of melody, my heavenly length
(as Schumann said) was born and by Ignatz taught
the piano, and later -- pupil

In the convict chorus,
the Imperial Hofmusickapelle.
My voice breaking, I left and to avoid the draft

As assistant to my father dwell
in school teaching boring kindercraft.
For amusement poems to music I worked,

And so my fame spread in the realm of song,
and in the house of Frolich struts the dull lad,
and the prim girl pirouettes, enchanted along

The carpets to my melodies glad;
happily they shouted as they whirled:
of being musically transported

To a place never seen before, another world
ne'er recalled by man I laid bare. The genius loved they
but not the man. I was king of this circle small

My reign all that heard me play,
Vienna, at large, not at all.
It was the time of Beethoven and Rossini,

And my cheating publishers, Cappi and Diabelli;
my small operas were not heard over the cymbals crash,
my sheets sold (so Cappi said) for so little cash,

That I with my friends was equally poor,
Von Schwind, Schuler, Vogl, -- the unholy four
begging rolls and coffee for a sketch,

A scherzo, a baritone, masterpieces given away
for a cake or a glass of tokay.
I protest that when Liszt sits down to play

His worshippers impatiently wait for him to end,
then seize the piano as a relic to be stored away;
but what citizen has a gilder to lend

For my memorial though all these years have past,
and Schwind's gallery is now as it was then,
only a fading dream and Schwind the last

Dreamer, and after him all remembrance will end.
Alas! Unhappy am I. My God-given talent
has won me no peace, but I love Him all the more for that,

And of His love I would not relent
even for the courtesy of the Weimar poet who sat
and ignored my musical settings of his poems, in which

I immortalized him, the over popular rhymer;
I regret the generosity in which I spread my rich
themes at his feet, yet adore him—my depresser."

Do not weep, I begged, O melodist supreme,
do not weary for thy songs are heard
in a place beyond this land of empty dreams,

That-- my most solemn word.
Yet without avail all my praises told,
the tears flowed and he moaned the immortal lines:

"Here the sun seems to me so cold,
the flowers faded and life old.
I wander silently and know but little happiness,

And ever the sigh asks: Whither?"
Those poor hands that fail to dam his miseries,
did loose in better times

Swarms of rapturous harmonies,
the music cupid whose four-handed pieces chime
the beat of lovers in sweet duet forever.

('Franz, Franz," said my guide, "endeavor
to come with us and shake this melancholy,
to brood on thy luckless life will depress

Thy gentle spirit and lead to some maniacal folly,
for though God has forgotten to bless
us His chosen ones in this state,

Let us love Him none the less,
and in inspiration contemplate
the song of friendship in the world we left."

He walked unmindful of the pleasant abode,
(his art was his life, his life his art)
when before him on the path he strode,

Fell to earth a shell, part
of Neptune's shimmering domain,
introduced with some heavenly refrain.

Like a child at the shore, he raised it to his ear,
rapture replaced pain on his face so grim,
and so I eagerly drew near--

To be admonished by my guide, "there echoes one sound for him
only who so closely does hear;
listen: hear the immortal ode, crescendo in a shell.

See-- he is the old Schubert, who as he improvises,
himself forgets and hell,
see his fingers play on the oyster-made delft."

Schubert' s head forward bent,
seeking the fleeting tone,
a smile came and went,

His drowned eyes shone.
I heard and the great theorist also – the mighty theme
that wakes man's noblest devotion:

The song of Mary, that brings to surface all love can dream,
the Ave Maria, evidence of his passionate emotion.
Schubert spying us spoke, "the sacred chord and sweet,

Peace to me has shown,
the appreciation of heaven's seat
from within this shell has flown."

With this he vanished and my guide uttered the praises
divine, "him above the tumult the sweetness herein raises;
he is in peace. What more can God give him by way of love
Than his own creation."

Notes for lines:
1: reader must presume that this is only an episode in the whole journey.
14: in Dante-the vestibule of the futile.
60: Der Wanderer, Oct. 1816, one of Schubert's most famous songs.
73-75: Schubert was very religious but not of the systematic variety. He was interested in beauty not symbols or forms. "Light in every corner" is quoted from a letter describing his visit to the Salzburg Cathedral.
78: Schubert's favorite poet. Most of his music was inspired by poetry.
90: Therese Grub.
92: Schubertiade- ingenious, pleasure-loving society of which Schubert was the center.
97: Heavenly length: Schumann's subtle criticism or outspoken praise referring to length of Schubert's works.
100: Convict-convent.
107: Frolich--house of three sisters, middle class center of arts.
129-31: Schwind's efforts to establish a memorial gallery to Schubert, Schwind had already done the paintings.
137: Goethe.
148-51: From Der Wanderer.
180: Delft--famous Holland chinaware.
193: Guide-- Albert Einstein.

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