On Reading the Commedia

Dante and his Poem

Dante and his Poem

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

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 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


Filed under imagination, Poems

18 responses to “On Reading the Commedia

  1. Lawan

    I never find the sufficient word – Beautiful. It is beautiful.

  2. revdfw

    I can’t tell you how profoundly this speaks for me at this time in my life. I am so grateful for this expression of my own journey. Thank you.



    Faith is to believe what you do not yet see; the reward for this faith is to see what you believe — Saint Augustine

    • malcolmguite

      Thank you Dolores I’m really glad these words had resonance for you I certainly wrote them out of my own very real experience. I will be posting some more parts of this sequence over the next few weeks.

  3. David

    Thank you, Of late I am indeed finding myself lost in the middle … wondering how I got here and how to get out … I will sing little by little… thank you.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks David, we all at some point find we have lost ourselves nel mezzo di camino di Nostra Vita, somewhere in the selva oscura the dark wood, which is why it’s such a blessing to stumble on Dante and have him as a guide. I’ll be posting some more of these personal responses to Dante over the next few weeks

  4. Sally Phillips

    Sing to the shadows… Wonderful, Malcolm. Wonderful.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Sally good to hear from you! I’m going to put some of the others up on the next week or so. So far I’ve done 6 out of my projected 9. Just working on the responses to Paradiso now!

  5. Do you read it in English or Italian, and, if the former, which translation do you use?

    • malcolmguite

      mainly english, but always looking across at the italian and sometimes the other way round. robin kirkpatrick’s new translation in penguin classics is excellent but i also use dorothy sayers because i grew up with it and the notes are so good

  6. “and perhaps what is happening in all our lives.” 🙂

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  9. Thanks. It is time for me to start reading Dante!

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