Let me take you to one of the most magical moments in The Divine Comedy, Dante’s poetic account of our pilgrim journey into the heart of God. Dante’s story starts in ‘the middle of the way of this life’, it starts with the poet knowing he’s lost the right path and wanting to find it again. The journey takes him down through the narrowing circles of Hell, to the cold centre of the frozen ego, and then up again, out from Hell, up into the light and air, to re-orient, having seen what he needs to leave behind. Now he must begin again, this time on the positive path, climbing the holy mountain with other pilgrim souls, trying to get back to the garden of our true humanity on the mountain top.
It is just at this moment of new beginning of starting the positive journey, in the second canto of the middle book, the Purgatorio, that the magic moment happens. Dante and his guide Virgil are on the mountain island, looking around before they start the long climb when a boat load of other pilgrim souls arrive and they disembark on the island, also wondering where and how to start this stage of their pilgrimage and who else might be here to accompany them on their journey. Suddenly amongst that troop of confused souls Dante recognises, and is in turn recognised, by an old friend! It is Cassella, a singer and musician from Florence. They rstore one another’s sense of belonging and Dante knows that what he needs now before he starts the journey, is the solace of a song. So he asks Casella to sing for him ‘to solace my soul somewhat…for it is weary.’ So Casella sings. But not just any song. He does a beautiful thing here, he sings one of Dante’s own poems back to him as a song! As Dante says ‘he sang so sweetly that I still hear that sweetness sound in me’. And its not just Dante whose transfixed by the music; ‘My master, I and all that company around the singer seemed so satisfied as if no other thing might touch our minds we were all motionless and fixed upon the notes…’
In the allegory of course Dante is saying many important truths; that music and the arts help us on our journey, that friends are there to echo back to us our own words and works but in a new way, and just when we need them. Yet when I read this I couldn’t help wondering what it would be like to have someone turn one of my poems into a song and sing it back t me .. how cool would that be?
Well in this last year I have had just that experience, and I can tell you, its fantastic. I can also tell you that Dante was right about music and friendship as absolute essentials for our pilgrim journey -but you knew that already. As you know I have spent the last two years gradually posting to this blog the sonnets I am writing for our journey through the year, which are being published all together next month in my book Sounding the Seasons. Now back when I posted my sonnet on the baptism of Christ, together with a sermon on the subject I thought that was it, job done. Not so. Only a few days later I got an email from my friend the Canadian singer songwriter Steve Bell to say that the sonet had (literally) struck a chord with him and he had turned it into a song! Attached to the email was an mp3 file. and that’s when I had my ‘Casella moment’! My old poem had become completey new for me! It was given back to me by Steve at just the right moment with a lilt and lift in it, an invitation to adventure and wayfaring which was just what I needed at that stage in my own spiritual journey. Now both my book of poems and Steve’s new album are coming out, almost together, in two halves of the world, and both have been created to help us begin again our soul’s journey.
Just so you can get a taste of my ‘Casella moment’ I’ve got Steve’s permission to to put his song here, right next to my poem. So you can read the poem and then hear the song.
Then do head over to Steve’s site and check out the rest of the Album, which is out now. Its astonishing. If your’e in Cambridge come along to the launch of Sounding the Seasons on December 5th at 7:30 in St. Edward’s Church where there will be copies of Steve’s album also available.
So here’s the poem:
Beginning here we glimpse the Three-in-one;
The river runs, the clouds are torn apart,
The Father speaks, the Sprit and the Son
Reveal to us the single loving heart
That beats behind the being of all things
And calls and keeps and kindles us to light.
The dove descends, the spirit soars and sings
‘You are belovèd, you are my delight!’
In that quick light and life, as water spills
And streams around the Man like quickening rain,
The voice that made the universe reveals
The God in Man who makes it new again.
He calls us too, to step into that river
To die and rise and live and love forever.
And here’s Steve ‘Casella’ Bell’s magical re-working, you can click on the ‘play’ button or the word epiphany:
Now you’ve heard this you’ll want to check out the whole album on. Here’s the page you need from Steve’s Website: Keening for the Dawn You should also be able to get it soon on iTunes!