On Reading the Commedia 2: Through the Gate

Dante and Virgil at the Gate by William Blake

Dante and Virgil at the Gate by William Blake

In my post of 5th February ‘On Reading the Commedia’ I shared with you the first in a new sequence of nine poems about the experience of reading Dante’s Divine Comedy. At one level the pilgrim in that poem is Dante, narrating in the first person, but at another level its all of us and the terrain he maps out and travels through is the terrain of our own souls. In this second poem I follow him through the gate and down the dizzying and narrowing spirals of hell, past the first and obvious heats and lusts, down to the frozen core where he imagines satan, frozen in ice endlessly and meaninglessly consuming the souls of others. But a key feature of Dantes journey is the realisation that Someone has gone before, time and again they see signs that Christ has been this way, that he has harrowed Hell, to take captivity captive and free the prisoners. My own poem is written in the conviction that that there is no depth or recess, no sin or secret, in me or in anyone beyond the light of Christ, but we have to open the gate and let him come down to our depths, let his Light reveal and name and heal what we have hidden. Dante’s poem, his amazing cartography of Hell is written to help us do that. So here is the second of my ‘Dante ‘ Sequence. As before, you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title.

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?


Filed under christianity, Poems

10 responses to “On Reading the Commedia 2: Through the Gate

  1. Sally Phalan

    Thank you, Malcolm, that is a very healing poem that I will read and reread. Good timing, also, as we begin the journey of Lent this coming Wednesday. Your poem asks us to “name and heal”. I particularly appreciated where you wrote about – “..the mirk
    And muted gloom in which you cannot find
    The love that you once thought worth dying for.” Sometimes sin is mundane, a kind of tiredness and disillusion. I can imagine using your poem as a stepping stone to lead me into a fruitful period of prayer.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Sally that’s exactly what the poem is meant to do. And the timing before lent is deliberate. Nice to hear fr you again M

  2. Ron Adinolfi

    Good Morning, Malcolm,

    I was fortunate to be in Cambridge for three years and am now back in the US. My dear friend, Peter Haylor of GSM, sent me Soundings andSeason which you graciously signed and I treasure the giver and the gifts within.
    Would you share which translation (if any) you are using for Dante? It is past time I read him although I have tried many times before and own 2 different printings.

    Thank you

    Ron Adinolfi,
    Tucson, Arizona

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Ron and glad you’re enjoying STS. I’m using Robin Kirkpatrick’s translation with parallel text in Italian which is very good. He is a great Dante scholar and a poet. I also use Dorothy Sayers which is like a familiar friend.

      • Ron Adinolfi

        Yes, I also have the Sayers’ translation and a translation by John Ciardi, American poet. I’ll pick them up again and hopefully add this to my Lenten discipline.

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