‘From wrong to wrong the exasperated sprit proceeds/ unless restored by that refining fire/ where you must move in measure like a dancer’
These words from TS Eliot’s Little Gidding have always struck a chord with me. They allude, of course, to the moment near the end of the Purgatorio when the pilgrims ascend towards the Earthly Paradise, the garden of our origins and of our restored humanity, at the summit of the Holy Mountain. But Eden is surrounded by a circle of fire. The poet-pilgrims must pass through that fire, in which the last of love’s imperfections will be purified. Desire for the beloved must be redeemed from the possessive lust which makes a person an object, and restored to that wholeness of love in which the beloved is desired and loved, body and soul, for herself as person. It is only when Virgil reminds Dante that his beloved Beatrice is waiting for him beyond the fire that he has the courage to enter the flame.
This episode has engaged my life and writing in various ways over the years and it is the title and subject of my most recent cd Dancing Through the Fire. Now I engage with it again as part of this sequence, in the terza rima that Dante used for his great poem.
As always you can hear the poem by clicking on the title or the play button and I am grateful to Margot Krebs Neale for the image which illustrates and interprets the poem at the bottom of this page
Dancing Through The Fire
‘per te poeta fui, per te Christiano‘ ( purg 22:73)
Then stir my love in idleness to flame
To find at last the free refining fire
That guards the hidden garden whence I came.
O do not kill, but quicken my desire
Better to spur me on than leave me cold.
Not maimed I come to you, I come entire
Lit by the loves that warm, the lusts that scald
That you may prove the one, reprove the other,
Though both have been the strength by which I scaled
The steps so far to come where poets gather
And sing such songs as love gives them to sing.
I thank God for the ones who brought me hither
And taught me by example how to bring
The slow growth of a poem to fruition
And let it be itself, a living thing,
Taught me to trust the gifts of intuition
And still to try the tautness of each line,
Taught me to taste the grace of transformation
And trace in dust the face of the Divine,
Taught me the truth, as poet and as Christian ,
That drawing water turns it into wine.
Now I am drawn through their imagination
To dare to dance with them into the fire,
Harder than any grand renunciation,
To bring to Christ the heart of my desire
Just as it is in every imperfection
Surrendered to his sharp refiners fire
That love might have Its death and resurrection.