Tag Archives: Virgil

Dante and the Companioned Journey 2: Through the Gate

Dante and Virgil at the Gate by William Blake

Dante and Virgil at the Gate by William Blake

This week is the Dante Week for readers of my book  The Word in the Wilderness, my compilation of a poem a day for Lent.  In that book I give three poems from my sequence of nine written in response to the Commedia but I thought I might repost all nine on this blog for those who were interested in following up the sequence. You can read the first poem in my dante sequence (which is not in Word in the Wilderness, by clicking on this title: In Medias Res, If you would like to read through and listen to all nine poems in my Dante Sequence, which is published in the Singing Bowl, you can do so by starting HERE and then following links to subsequent posts

Today I am posting the second, ‘Through the Gate.’ Here is the commentary with which I introduced it in The Word in the wilderness and then the poem itself:

So Dante begins again, accompanied by Virgil and they come to the very gate of Hell, with its famous inscription ‘Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here’! But they don’t abandon hope, and that is the whole point. It is hope that leads and draws them on, hope inspired by love. For Virgil has revealed to Dante that it is Beatrice, the woman with whom he had fallen so completely in love as a young man, now in the bliss of Heaven, who has herself ‘ventured down the dark descent’ (to borrow Milton’s phrase) to find Virgil and ask for his help in rescuing Dante, so that she and Dante can meet again and rise together through the spheres of Heaven. Like Jesus, who went to the cross, not for pain in itself, but ‘for the joys that were set before him’, so we are to make this journey through the memories of pain and darkness, not to stay with these things but to redeem them and move beyond them. And the journey is itself made possible because Christ himself has gone before. ‘He descended into Hell.’ Throughout the journey into the Inferno we are shown signs that Christ has been this way before and broken down the strongholds. Dante is here alluding to one of the great lost Christian stories, which we need to recover today; ‘The Harrowing of Hell’. We, who build so many Hells on earth, need to know that there is no place so dark, no situation so seemingly hopeless, that cannot be opened to the light of Christ for rescue and redemption.

This is the theme I have born in mind in the following poem, which is my own ‘reader response’ to Dante’s journey. Throughout I have been mindful that the Inferno is really ‘in here and right now’ not ‘out there and back then’, and emphatically not, if we trust in Christ, some inevitable end awaiting us. In that knowledge we must have the courage to expose our own personal Hell’s to Christ and let him harrow them with us, and that is precisely what Dante’s great poem allows us to do. The great statesman and Dante enthusiast, W. E. Gladstone said: ‘The reading of Dante is not merely a pleasure, a tour de force, or a lesson; it is a vigorous discipline for the heart, the intellect, the whole man’.

For all of us, somewhere within, there is a threshold or a gate beyond which we feel we dare not go, but it is sometimes just past that threshold that our real healing and restoration needs to take place. Sometimes the best way to get through that gate, and let Christ in, is in a companioned inner journey, with a trusted ‘soul friend’, a spiritual director, or a priest to whom we can make confession in complete confidence. I have deliberately echoed the phrase, from the form of confession ‘All I cannot call to mind’ as a way of suggesting that this journey with Dante down the dark spirals; one sin leading to another, one wound inflicting the next, can itself be an invitation to confession, and so to absolution and release.

This poem is  from my collection The Singing Bowl  published by Canterbury Press and is also available on Amazon here

If English readers would like to buy my books from a proper bookshop Sarum College Bookshop here in the UK always have it in stock.

I am happy to announce to North American readers that copies of The Singing Bowl and my other books are readily available from Steve Bell Here

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?

6 Comments

Filed under christianity, Poems

Dante and the companioned journey 2: Through the Gate

Dante and Virgil at the Gate by William Blake

Dante and Virgil at the Gate by William Blake

This week is the Dante Week for readers of my book  The Word in the Wilderness, my compilation of a poem a day for Lent.  In that book I give three poems from my sequence of nine written in response to the Commedia but I thought I might repost all nine on this blog for those who were interested in following up the sequence. Yesterday I gave the first of them In Medias Res, today I am posting the second, ‘Through the Gate.’ Here is the commentary with which I introduced it in The Word in the wilderness and then the poem itself:

So Dante begins again, accompanied by Virgil and they come to the very gate of Hell, with its famous inscription ‘Abandon Hope All Ye Who Enter Here’! But they don’t abandon hope, and that is the whole point. It is hope that leads and draws them on, hope inspired by love. For Virgil has revealed to Dante that it is Beatrice, the woman with whom he had fallen so completely in love as a young man, now in the bliss of Heaven, who has herself ‘ventured down the dark descent’ (to borrow Milton’s phrase) to find Virgil and ask for his help in rescuing Dante, so that she and Dante can meet again and rise together through the spheres of Heaven. Like Jesus, who went to the cross, not for pain in itself, but ‘for the joys that were set before him’, so we are to make this journey through the memories of pain and darkness, not to stay with these things but to redeem them and move beyond them. And the journey is itself made possible because Christ himself has gone before. ‘He descended into Hell.’ Throughout the journey into the Inferno we are shown signs that Christ has been this way before and broken down the strongholds. Dante is here alluding to one of the great lost Christian stories, which we need to recover today; ‘The Harrowing of Hell’. We, who build so many Hells on earth, need to know that there is no place so dark, no situation so seemingly hopeless, that cannot be opened to the light of Christ for rescue and redemption.

This is the theme I have born in mind in the following poem, which is my own ‘reader response’ to Dante’s journey. Throughout I have been mindful that the Inferno is really ‘in here and right now’ not ‘out there and back then’, and emphatically not, if we trust in Christ, some inevitable end awaiting us. In that knowledge we must have the courage to expose our own personal Hell’s to Christ and let him harrow them with us, and that is precisely what Dante’s great poem allows us to do. The great statesman and Dante enthusiast, W. E. Gladstone said: ‘The reading of Dante is not merely a pleasure, a tour de force, or a lesson; it is a vigorous discipline for the heart, the intellect, the whole man’.

For all of us, somewhere within, there is a threshold or a gate beyond which we feel we dare not go, but it is sometimes just past that threshold that our real healing and restoration needs to take place. Sometimes the best way to get through that gate, and let Christ in, is in a companioned inner journey, with a trusted ‘soul friend’, a spiritual director, or a priest to whom we can make confession in complete confidence. I have deliberately echoed the phrase, from the form of confession ‘All I cannot call to mind’ as a way of suggesting that this journey with Dante down the dark spirals; one sin leading to another, one wound inflicting the next, can itself be an invitation to confession, and so to absolution and release.

This poem is  from my collection The Singing Bowl  published by Canterbury Press and is also available on Amazon here

If English readers would like to buy my books from a proper bookshop Sarum College Bookshop here in the UK always have it in stock.

I am happy to announce to North American readers that copies of The Singing Bowl and my other books are readily available from Steve Bell Here

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?

4 Comments

Filed under christianity, Poems

Kindling the Imagination An interview about Poetry and Truth

Kindling the imagination. Photo courtesy of Lancia smith.

A while back I agreed to do an extended interview for the Photographer Lancia Smith’s excellent Web site The True the Good and the Beautiful, which she was going to run alongside some superb photographs she had taken at this years CS Lewis Summer Institute. When Lancia sent me the questions and I began to answer them, I realised that she had such a gift for framing the questions that I was delving deeper and giving better and more coherent answers than I had done before, even in my own ‘notes to self’ about what I was thinking. Her interview, in three parts, covered everything for my childhood, my journey to faith and the first kindlings of my love of literature, to my understanding of balance and variety in life and writing, my attutudes to suffering and depression, and finally delving deeply into the heart of what I am saying in Faith Hope and Poetry and helping me to set out my own poetic credo. I thought readers of these pages might be interested to see the interview so I am posting links to all three parts below, each with a little hi-light to give you a flavour of whats in each section. I hope you will also enjoy a more general exploration of her site. Click on the title of each part to go to that section of the interview.

The three parts of the interview are each illustrated by some of the remarkable Photographs she has taken, one of which I have posted above, and another of which has now prompted some further collaborative work with another artist

Part I Childhood, Faith, and Sources of Inspiration:

What role does inspiration play in your work?  Where does inspiration come from for you? What are sources of Joy?

Now there’s a question! At one level, everything is gift; to live, to breathe, to comprehend, to write, to create. Even when we are ‘working’ at these things with all our might, it is still a gift, still a grace to be alive at all and able to work at anything. So I don’t think of the creative process as a certain amount of hard work topped up by inspiration, I see the work itself as the inspiration. Having said that there are of course times when one is more or less aware of the nudge, the proffer, the gift of words and lines and images, arising as given things from an unguessed at depth and one receives them gladly. I find inspiration throughout nature but especially in images of light and water, light reflecting on water. The lines in my sonnet ‘O Oriens’: “ So every trace of light begins a grace/ In me, a beckoning. The smallest gleam/ Is somehow a beginning and a calling;” are literally true.

I think the poetic language about waiting on a muse is something to take very seriously and I think the reality behind every Muse is the Holy Spirit.

Part 2 Balance in life, dealing with darkness, paganism and poetry

How do you overcome the difficulties you encounter in your own life and reconcile their reality with the beauty that you also must bear witness to? How is it that you are able to see what is bitter and not what it ought to be and yet be able to also witness the Beauty that is beyond it?

You are certainly right about the burdens and shadows, and right to say that a creative vocation seems to involve a particular kind of exposure and vulnerability to periods of darkness and depression. I think there are several important truths to notice here. The first is that sometimes tears and grief are the right, and indeed, only possible response to things. The Bible is full of tears and outpourings of grief, and there is no promise that we will not shed them, only that one day God himself will wipe the tears from our eyes. And He can only do that because as a human being He has shed them himself, and knows from the inside what the depth of our agony can be. So there is a proper place for the depiction of suffering and the expression of bitterness in Art as in life. We don’t need some anodyne sugary literature saying peace, peace, when there is none. But it is also true that the agony in the Garden and Good Friday are not the end of the story. ‘Love is come again like wheat that springeth green’, and Love has the last word.

Part 3 Poetry and the role of the poet

Why have you pursued poetry as your venue? Why poetry instead of great fiction like LOTR or The Chronicles of Narnia? Those genres draw on ancient theme, myths, metaphor and work to heal and to illuminate. What is the compelling call of poetry and song-lyrics for you?

Well your phrase ‘compelling call’ is just the right one. There is something in poetry itself, in the magic of rhythm and rhyme, which woke me up, and called me. Reading certain poems I would feel something quickening in me, ‘my heart in hiding stirred’ to borrow a phrase from Gerard Manley Hopkins. Poetry, for me, always carries a sense of chant, and it is from chant that we get both, enchantment and chanson, both magic and song.

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CS Lewis’s Lost Aeneid a brief review

CS Lewis’s Lost Aeneid; Arms and the Exile

edited by A.T. Reyes

Continuing my theme this year of Translation, I would like to share my toughts on a wonderful ‘new’ translation of parts of the Aeneid.

Lewis scholars have known for some time that he had been working on a translation of Virgil’s Aeneid, a poem which he loved, lived with, and learned from throughout his life. But only in the last few years has it been recovered and edited, and now it has been published and made available for everyone, and it has certainly been worth the wait! I had expected only fragments, perhaps no more than  a dozen lines here and another half dozen there, but what we get is the whole of book 1, most of book 2, substantial parts of the vital book 6 and then tantalising fragments from the other books. AT Reyes has done a splendid job of editing it all, giving a full facing page Latin text, writing fine summaries to fill in the gaps, and providing an excellent introduction which draws together Lewis’s many appreciations of Virgil in his critical prose and also his various discussions of the art of translation. The introduction alone will be a real resource both for Lewis scholars and for those for whom translation, its losses and gains is an endless fascination. But the heart of he book is in Lewis’s own long, loping, rangey verse translation, full of felicities and an unashamedly, beautiful, romantic and adventurous ‘take’ on its original.  Lewis has chosen rhyming couplets in English Alexandrines and deployed them to great efect. the Alexandrine is essentialy a line of iambic pentameter with an extra ‘foot’, an extra two syllables with a single stress, tacked on. This is what gives the verse its sense of bounding length, of stride, for an ear attuned to the more usual five stress line.

We know from various letters that Lewis read substantial parts of this translation at meetings of the Inklings, and it is clearly designed to be read aloud, and reads suerbly. To give you a flavour of what I mean I have read three passages for you onto audio boo, the links are below and I have chosen them to suggest the sheer range of effects Lewis is able to achieve with this verse form. They are all from book 1 and I hope they will whet your appetite to go out and read the whole thing for yourself.

As always you can hear the reading either by clicking on the play button if it appears in your browser, or if no play button appears you can click on the title of the extract and be taken to my audioboo page and play it there

The first passage is a description of the storm Juno sends to wreck the trojan fleet, lines 102-123. Reyes points out in his introduction that there are some striking paralells between this description, as Lewis translates it here, and his own description of the great storm in the Voyage of the Dawn Treader. Its stirring stuff. See what you think.

Juno’s Storm

The second passage is the one where Dido first sees Aeneas I give more of the context in the audioboo. This is line 585-609

Dido Meets Aeneas

The third passage tells how Venus sends her son Cupid in disguise to the feast dido has given Aeneas and causes her to fall in lve with him. this passage particularly shows Lewis power to summon sensuous and romantic language and imagery even in the sound of his words. as before I have given a little context and commentary as part of the audioboo recording. these are lines 683-720

Dido Falls in Love

For Lewis Virgil was a poet who could both celebrate the beauty and majesty of life in this world and at the same time keep the soul attuned to longing, kindle its desire, for the ‘ever-receding  shore’, for the land we long for. Virgil’s epic of the founding of the City of Rome becomes in his imagination, as it did in the imagination of Dante before him, the epic of our wondering, always longing journey towards the City of God.

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