Fabbro contro Falso

In Italy, in Dante’s time, the lawyers’ clerks
filled up the spaces at the ends of judgments, deeds and wills
with sonnets or with chunks of longer literary works
to thwart the later introduction of fake codicils:
professional scribes’ forgeries appended
to parry or pervert the force intended
by careful phrasing in the body of the text.

And Dante’s verses were employed as padding
against the practice of malicious adding.

Imagine it: a wealthy litigant has vexed
the patience of the court, and lost his case. In seething rage
he’s flicking through the document confirming his defeat.
He finds ten tercets from Inferno on the final page.
He scans the visions of a cosmic dreamer,
the strange new numbers of the terza rima,
and sucks his teeth, and thinks of other ways to cheat.

Listen to this poem — read by the author