On Reading the Commedia 5: Love-in-Idlness

Dante meets Belaqua from a Bodleian Maanuscript

Dante meets Belaqua from a Bodleian Manuscript

As he begins his ascent of the Holy Mountain, Dante runs into, indeed nearly trips over, an old friend called Belaqua, a Florentine lute-maker and musician. Dante is delighted to see him there as one of the redeemed, since in Florence he seemed, as many musicians seem to their friends now, to spend alot of his time just ‘hanging out’ with other musicians and not getting on with anything in particular. Then Dante is disturbed to notice that that is exactly what Belaqua still seems to be doing on the Holy Mountain, just lounging around, until Belaqua explains that this is actually his penance! He is obliged to hang around waiting for the exact amount of time he wasted on earth, before he can begin his true his ascent. What was previously just ‘time wasting’ is now being converted by grace into ‘otium sacrum’ that holy leisure, that pause and patience, that long wait in which at last we let God be God. It’s no wonder that Samuel Becket, who was to invest so much imagination into what it means to wait, was very drawn to this passage and that the hero of his semi-autobiographical short stories is called Belaqua. I wrote this poem over thirty years ago, influenced as much by Becket as by Dante, towards the end of an apparently fruitless period of lostness and indolence. Placing it now in this new sequence is itself a parable of what I understand redemption to be.

As usual you can hear the poem by clicking on the ‘play’ button or the title, and I am grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the lovely interpretative image which follows the poem

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

I write these verses pending my release.

I write these verses pending my release.

3 Comments

Filed under imagination, Poems

3 responses to “On Reading the Commedia 5: Love-in-Idlness

  1. Pingback: On Reading the Commedia 7: Look Up! | Malcolm Guite

  2. Pingback: On Reading the Commedia 9:The Rose | Malcolm Guite

  3. Pingback: Dante and the companioned journey 7-9: Paradise! | Malcolm Guite

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