On Reading the Commedia 6: Dancing Through the Fire

Botticelli illustrates Purgatorio 27, Dancing through the Fire

Botticelli illustrates Purgatorio 27, Dancing through the Fire

‘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.

DSC04828refiners fire


Filed under imagination

9 responses to “On Reading the Commedia 6: Dancing Through the Fire

  1. This is beautiful. I just saw THE FOUR QUARTETS collaboration at DUKE CHAPEL so Eliot’s poem resonates. Will post a link on FB.

    • malcolmguite

      Thanks Bonnie, yes I knew about that project having discussed it with Jeremy Begbie. Butninwould love to have been there

  2. I have been following your work ever since coming across your wonderful lecture on Tolkien on You Tube to aid me in my own work. I just want to say here that I have been deeply moved by your series on The Divine Comedy. I read Inferno & Purgatorio a few years in Dorothy L Sayers translation but somehow have never been able quite to move on to Paradiso. I know enough of Hell, both its despair and yet the trace of the one who harrows it as well (thank you so much for that image) and I gladly journey with those who journey through the long but hopeful night of purgation but Paradise seems beyond me still. I wait for what you will write next.

  3. malcolmguite

    Thank you Stephen. Yes in some ways Inferno and Purgatorio are easier to read because they chart, with harrowing honesty, the familiar territory of our own experience, whereas Paradiso challenges us with a way of seeing reality, utterly itself and bathed in the light of love, which we have not yet attained. But the key I think is to recognise that just sometimes, and by sheer grace we get a glimpse of the paradisal or beatific view of things, as the disciples did at the transfiguration, and from their we can begin to imagine, and so , learn to love and grow into our paradise. I’ve finished the whole Dante sequence now and I’ll be interested to know what you make of the praise poems when I come to post them

  4. Cheryl

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem. It is both a sermon and a prayer that touched my heart. I feel at once convicted and encouraged to spend more time in the presence of my Saviour.

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

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

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

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.