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ON READING THE COMMEDIA

 

 
 

MALCOLM GUITE


 

 


On Reading the Commedia

 

'The reading of Dante is not merely a pleasure, a tour de force,
or a lesson; it is a vigorous discipline for the heart, the intellect,
the whole man'.


Gladstone

 

 

Inferno
 
1 In Medias Res
 
And so I start again, here in the middle,
The middle of a life I scarcely know,
How many guesses left to get the riddle?
 
The woods are dark and darker shadows grow.
I followed someone here, but lost her leading,
With nothing but my lostness left to show.

The voice that drew me on is faint and fading,
But something else is creeping up behind,
Over whose heart, I wonder, are we treading?

My shadow-beasts can scent, though they are blind,
All three are here, the leopard, lion, wolf,
My kith and kin, the emblems of my kind.

They’ve come to draw me back across the gulf
Back from the path I wanted to have chosen.
Fall back, they call, you can’t run from yourself

Fall to the place where every hope is frozen…
But not this time, this time I choose to choose
The other path, path of the dead and risen,
 
To try the hidden heart of things, to let go, lose,
To lose myself and find again the voice
That called and drew me here, my freeing muse.

Begin again she calls, you have the choice,
Little by little, you can travel far,
Learn to lament before you can rejoice

Sing to the shadows, sing and do not fear
But sing them into love little by little
Begin the song exactly where you are.

And so I start again here in the middle.

 

Inferno

2 Through the Gate

Begin the song exactly where you are,
For where you are contains where you have been
And holds the vision of your final sphere.
 
And do not fear the memory of sin;
There is a light that heals, and, where it falls,
Transfigures and redeems the darkest stain

Into translucent colour. Loose the veils
And draw the curtains back, unbar the doors,
Of that dread threshold where your spirit fails,

The hopeless gate that holds in all the fears
That haunt your shadowed city, fling it wide
And open to the light that finds, and fares

Through the dark pathways where you run and hide,
Through all the alleys of your riddled heart,
As pierced and open as His wounded side.

Open the map to Him and make a start,
And down the dizzy spirals, through the dark
His light will go before you, let Him chart

And name and heal. Expose the hidden ache
To Him, the stinging fires and smoke that blind
Your judgement, carry you away, the mirk

And muted gloom in which you cannot find
The love that you once thought worth dying for.
Call Him to all you cannot call to mind.

He comes to harrow Hell and now to your
Well-guarded fortress let His love descend.
The icy ego at your frozen core

Can hear His call at last. Will you respond?
 

 
Inferno
 
3 Vexilla Regis

I hear His call, now help me to respond,
My freeing muse. I need your presence here,
For poetry alone moves me beyond

The known and over-known, beyond the sheer
Drop into darkness and the all-unknown
To the last limits and the true frontier,
 
Where Light and life dare to begin again.
Reason alone will never take me there,
The shaping spirit of imagination

Must also be my guide and bring me where
We pass the centre, turn the world around
And find the first steps of the hidden stair

That climbs out of these pits, far underground,
Against the stream of Lethe. Help me climb
Out of the depths that you have helped me sound.

Little by little, one step at a time
Towards the other side, the star-lit world
Where He has gone before and for all time.

The world-tree's steadfast roots are crossed and coiled,
But on the tree of life He dies for me.
Vexilla Regis sounds and all unfurled

The royal banners of the true and free
Stream out against the tempest and the fear
And summon me to all that I should be.

Up from that black and smothered atmosphere
I toil towards the light The worst is past
I hear the voice that called me, deep and clear

And let Love draw me into light at last.

 

Purgatorio

1 De Magistro

I thank my God I have emerged at last,
Blinking from Hell, to see these quiet stars,
Bewildered by the shadows that I cast.
 
You set me on this stair, in those rich hours
Pacing your study, chanting poetry.
The Word in you revealed His quickening powers,
 
Removed the daily veil, and let me see,
As sunlight played along your book-lined walls,
That words are windows onto mystery.

From Eden, whence the living fountain falls
In music, from the tower of ivory,
And from the hidden heart, He calls

In the language of Adam, creating memory
Of unfallen speech. He sets creation
Free from the carapace of history.

His image in us is Imagination,
His Spirit is a sacrifice of breath
Upon the letters of His revelation.

In mid-most of the word-wood is a path
That leads back to the springs of truth in speech.
You showed it to me, kneeling on your hearth,

You showed me how my halting words might reach
To the mind’s Maker, to the source of Love,
And so you taught me what it means to teach.

Teaching, I have my ardours now to prove,
Climbing with joy the steps of Purgatory.
Teacher and pupil, both are on the move,

As fellow pilgrims on a needful journey.

 

Purgatorio

2 Love in idleness

When I am bogged in indolence again
It’s purgatory for me, as for Belaqua,
Hanging around instead of getting on
 
With his salvation.  I can’t lift a finger.
The snow is falling heavily outside.
The earth gets lighter as the sky gets darker.

I shiver where I’m sitting (window wide
For snow-flakes to drop in and fade away)
And hide myself in something else’s hide.

Coat panther-black and shabby hat wolf-grey,
As my numb fingers wrap about my pen,
All I need is fire and something to say.

Belaqua’s lute speaks with the tongues of men,
The tongue-tied mind is loosened into praise.
I slip the disc back in its sleeve again;
 
One side is columns stiff with turgid prose
About the quattrocento, on the other
A sound-box holds the craftsman’s fretted rose

With Florence in the background.  What a cover
For the God who spoke through someone else’s fingers
When ours were still entwined with one another.

Ages ago we heard the music linger
Before this light had lost its radiance,
And cast on love the shadow of our hunger;

We spoke of free-will and of innocence
And trod the pavements of the fourth cornice
Where Love is to be purged of indolence.

I write these verses pending my release.

 

Purgatorio

3 Dancing Through The Fire

'per te poeta fui, per te cristiano'  (Purg 22:73)

Then stir my love in idleness to flame
To find at last the free refining fire
That guards the hidden garden whence I came.

O do not kill, but quicken my desire,
Better to spur me on than leave me cold.
Not maimed I come to you, I come entire,

Lit by the loves that warm, the lusts that scald,
That you may prove the one, reprove the other,
Though both have been the strength by which I scaled

The steps so far to come where poets gather
And sing such songs as love gives them to sing.
I thank God for the ones who brought me hither

And taught me by example how to bring
The slow growth of a poem to fruition
And let it be itself, a living thing,

Taught me to trust the gifts of intuition
And still to try the tautness of each line,
Taught me to taste the grace of transformation

And trace in dust the face of the Divine,
Taught me the truth, as poet and as Christian ,
That drawing water turns it into wine.

Now I am drawn through their imagination
To dare to dance with them into the fire,
Harder than any grand renunciation,

To bring to Christ the heart of my desire
Just as it is in every imperfection,
Surrendered to His bright refiner's fire
 
That love might have its death and resurrection.



Paradiso

1 Look Up

Look up at the resplendent lights of heaven
In all the glory of their otherness,
Within you and beyond you, simply given!

Let go your grandeur, love your littleness,
Begin a journey into clarity
And find again the love in loveliness,

The constant love in your inconstancy.
Reflected light you're not yet fit to bear,
Pearlescent preface to eternity,

She glimmers through the veils you make her wear,
Delights and glories in each difference,
In every variation everywhere.
 
Now let love raise and ravish every sense,
Quicksilver scatterings of consciousness,
She makes you myriad-minded, you can dance

In her swift sway and swing, the suddenness
Of ecstasy, third heaven's heady swirl,
That lifts and flings her lovers into bliss.

Remember tenderly, you glimpsed a girl
Whose smile transfigured all without her knowing,
The tangles of your loving here unfurl

And find their freedom, every knot undoing,
Mistakes unmade, and unkind words unsaid
The spring released at last and freely flowing

As freely you forgive yourselves. The seed
Of love, long-planted, breathes and blossoms here
Where you in-other one another, freed

And ensphered where Love has cast out fear.
 

 
Paradiso

Circle Dance

A sun-warmed sapling, opening each leaf,
My soul unfolded in your quickening ray.
'The inner brought the outer into life',

I found the light within the  light of day,
The Consolation of Philosophy,
Turning a page in Cambridge, found my way,

My mind delighting in discovery,
As love of learning turned to learning love
And explanation deepened mystery,

Drawing me out beyond what I could prove
Towards the next adventure. Every chance
Discovery a sweet come-hither wave,

Philosophy a kind of circle dance,
Weaving between the present and the past,
The whole truth present in a single glance

That looked on me and everything in Christ!
Threefold Beholding, look me into being,
Make me in Love again from first to last,

And let me still partake your holy seeing
Beyond the shifting shadow of the earth;
Minute particulars, eternal in their being,

Forming themselves into a single path
From heaven to earth and back again to heaven,
All patterned and perfected, from each birth

To each fruition, and all freely given
To glory in and give the glory back!
Call me again to set out from this haven

And follow Truth along her shining track.
 

 
Paradiso

3 The Rose

A white rose opens in a quiet arbour
Where I sit reading Dante, Paradise
Unfolding in me, opens hour by hour,

In sunlight and amidst the hum of bees
On a late afternoon. I think of how
Everything flowers, the whole universe

Itself is still unfolding even now,
Sprung from a stem of singularity
Which petals time and space. I think of how

The very elements that let my body be
Began and will continue in the stars
Whose light and distance frame our mystery,

And how my shadowed heart still loves, still bears
With every beat that animates my being,
Eternal yearnings through the turning years.

I turn back to the lines that light my seeing
And lift me to the limits of all thought
And long that I might also find that freeing

And enabling Love, and so be caught
And lifted into His renewing Heaven.
Evening glimmers and the stars come out.

Venus is shining clear. My prayers are woven
Into a sounding song, a symphony,
As all creation gives back what is given

In music made to praise the Mystery
Who is both gift and giver. Something stirs
A grace in me beyond my memory.

I close the book and look up at the stars.
 



Printed and Bound in Florence,
In William Morris Golden Font,
By Aureo Anello Books, 2013,
In a Limited Edition of 250 copies





BRUNETTO LATINO || DANTE ALIGHIERI || FLORIN                        
PER GLI ATTI DELLA GIORNATA DI STUDIO A ORSANMICHELE,
19 OTTOBRE 2013
GIORNATASTUDIO.html
LE OPERE DI BRUNETTO LATINO

https://www.youtube.com/playlist?list=PLJJChgOGCbAUljXZOv2TH32IGeYfBwYTq  Musica della Commedia dell'Ensemble San Felice di Federico Bardazzi e Marco Di Manno
Conferenza, 27/10/2016, al Museo Casa di Dante su 'Buon Governo: Brunetto Latino come maestro di Guido Cavalcanti, Dante Alighieri, e Francesco de Barberino', http://www.florin.ms/MuseoCasaDanteBL.docx e http://www.florin.ms/MuseoCasaDanteBL.ppt in italiano  Lecture, Cornell University, https://www.cornell.edu/video/brunetto-latino-maestro-di-dante-alighieri in English  Vedi anche http://www.florin.ms/Lapididantesche.html