On Reading the Commedia A Celebration for Dante’s 700th

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.

In 2013, in my collection The Singing bowl I published a sequence of poems in terza rima called On Reading the Commedia which was a lind of prayer-poetry journal of my own journeys through Dante’s great poem. So as this year is the 700th anniversary of his death I thought i would post these daily, beginning on 14th September the anniversary day itself. May I also just say to my patient and long-suffering readers that I have not forgotten the David’s Crown psalm poems – we had reached 100 of the 150 – but i have been waylaid bu a house move and many other calls on my time. but after I have posted this Dante sequence I will resume regular recordings and commentaries on the David’s Crown poems and finish that sequence for you.

so here is the first of my Dante poems


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

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10 Comments

Filed under imagination, Poems

10 responses to “On Reading the Commedia A Celebration for Dante’s 700th

  1. mel.1311

    Dear Malcolm, It was such a pleasure hearing you at St Martins yesterday, so inspiring! I’m sure you chatted to many but I just wanted to say again how much your poetry meant to us in the first lockdown and since. In the first dark days, your depth and honesty created a deep sense of walking the journey together  and with God ever present. Thankyou.Your ministry reaches far and wide. Thanks for the privilege of sharing your journey and your poetry. The lovely 4 picture print is on my wall. Thankyou, and God continue to bless you in your shed, or wherever you are!Kind regards Mel Adams Sent from my Galaxy

  2. Thanks Malcolm, a lovely poem and it’s so useful and helpful to hear about others’ experience of the journey. Do you know Mark Vernon? He’s a big fan also of Dante. I think he’s just got a new book out to celebrate the 700th anniversary. All the best, Vanessa Mathews

  3. “the path I wanted to have chosen” – oh, bless you, yes. Wonderful how the footfall seems so firm over there.

  4. I think that I have been reading or listening to your readings of these poems ever since you first posted them in your blog. I have a copy of The Singing Bowl too. Whenever I read them they always feel contemporary to me. I am always on the middle way, always being called to take Dante’s journey. Always too hearing the encouragement to begin the song exactly where I am and always comforted by the companionship of the poet along this path. The poet in this case is not so much Virgil as yourself.

    • malcolmguite

      It’s always an honour to any poet to know that a reader returns to the same poems again – so glad you have connected so deeply with these ones

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