Inferno: Canto 26

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The prisoners are lugging a cauldron of soup
Suspended from a sagging bamboo pole
That’s stretched across their emaciated shoulders.

The one in his twenties beseeches the one in his teens:
“You must remember these verses, dear Pikolo.
It’s what Ulysses says to shore up his crew:

Consider well the seed that gave you birth:
You were not made to live your lives like beasts,
But to be followers of worth and knowledge.”

All the way to the Lager they sing those lines,
Lugging a cauldron of soup that hangs from a pole
Suspended between their skeletal shoulder blades.

Interviewed decades later, the French electrician
Remembers nothing of the Dante lesson
That meant so much to his bookish Italian friend.

But he does recall most vividly that time
He sat with Primo Levi in the dark,
And how for half an hour they conjured up

Their childhoods as they talked about their mothers.
Unlike the great Ulysses, whose Antiklea
Passed through his arms like smoke, for half an hour

Their faces lit by the blaze of the burning corpses.