Readers of this blog will know that I have what one might call ‘a long term relationship’ with Dante’s ‘Divine Comedy’, returning to the story again and again at different phases and stages of my life and finding how different episodes and places in that poem, which might itself be described as a roadmap of the soul, illuminate for me, in new ways, what is happening in my life, and perhaps what is happening in all our lives.
Well, as a new ‘project’ after finishing my sonnet-sequence Sounding the Seasons, I have begun to make some poetry out of those varied responses and revisitings of the Commedia. I had already been doing so in an occasional and haphazard way and had written some terza rima ‘located’ in the Purgatorio, but now I have decide to make a more ordered response in the form of nine poems, each consisting of nine ‘tercets’ and a concluding line, three for each of the three books of Dante’s poem. They are not all written yet, but I have made good progress, so I am going to share some of them here. I shall start with the first of my three for the Inferno, this is my response to the famous opening of the Commedia ‘in the middle of the path of our life’ and it sets something of the theme and agenda for the rest of my sequence. Dante readers will see that it also turns on a number of other images and ideas from the opening cantos of the Inferno, but it is all about recognising that for us as readers of Dante, we are always starting afresh our own personal journey as well as following Dante’s. So here we go, this opening one is called ‘In Medias Res’. As with other posts I have read it onto ‘audio boo’ so you can hear it by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title
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 his 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