Hello, dear readers.
Whether I still have readers to express my thoughts to, or not, at this point, is unknown to me. It appeared that addressing the matter of Sarong Party Girl's blog attracted a relatively vast audience from Singapore to my musings, if we are allowed to call them such. I have missed from this blog of mine for such a long while, though, that I suppose most of my readers have given up hopes to see me back.
For those who are still reading me, a warm hello.
Many things have been said in my blog, and many remain to be said. On the other hand, I would like to leave aside my passion for the British Islands, and more precisely for the culture of the people that inhabits them, as well as my other fixations (which are known already by those who read my previous posts). Indeed, I would like to catch this occasion to report a piece of poetry.
Presumably, the name of the Italian poet Dante Alighieri is renowned world-wide. Dante was for poetry what Shakespeare was for drama. Undoubtedly, Shakespeare trascends his time and his culture, as it can be easily proved by recognizing the universal acceptance of the Bard's writings, even from totally different cultures. Akira Kurosawa's Japanese interpretation of Shakespeare's dramas is a paramount example. If Macbeth can be rewritten as a Japanese medieval drama without losing a jot of its poignancy, then it certainly is safe to state that Shakespeare trascends his culture.
What we can say of Shakespeare (who, obviously, I deem one of the greatest writers ever born), I believe can and should be said of Dante Alighieri as well. Dante (his real name was Durante degli Alighieri, born in Florence in 1265) was a man of the Middle Ages, and his writings (especially the "Commedia" or "Comedy", later christened "Divine Comedy" by the contemporary writer Giovanni Boccaccio) reflect and somewhat summarize the entire culture and knowledge of the late medieval age. Still, when I read Dante (in Italian), I perceive a sense of "whole" that totally and thoroughly trascends Dante's time. While taking full note of the fact that Dante is and couldn't be but a Catholic of the Middle Ages, still his writing and the analysis of merely human passions can't be limited to his age. But most of all, Dante sounds beautiful. Extraordinarily so.
Dante Alighieri basically invented the Italian language. Ever since the fall of the Roman Empire during the fifth century AD, Latin started a decline that was only limited by the Church's choice to use it as its official language (a choice for which we should really thank the Catholics, for once, as the Latin language is a marvel of intricacy and logical beauty that no other modern language seem to achieve, at least not at such levels). New, "vulgar" languages developed from Latin in Italy and elsewhere (one, the "Langue d'Oil", was to become French). A new dialect was fully developed in Florence by the time Dante started to write his Comedy. By accepting the fact that only scholars and the clergy knew Latin at that point, Dante Alighieri chose to write his Comedy in the "vulgar dialect" of Florence. This, to maximise the spread of his opera, which, in Dante's intent, was to become a beacon for the already unruly Italian people. In his adaptation of the dialect to his poetic intent, Dante in fact invented a new language, and he was so succesful at this, that the new idiom was to become the official language of literature and poetry throughout the Italian peninsula for centuries to come. As a matter of fact, Dante had invented the Italian language, although it remained a literaly, written-only language that only people from Florence actually spoke. That remained relatively true until the second half of the twentieth century, when a huge effort by the Italian National Broadcasting Company "RAI" promoted the diffusion of the Italian language in the country. It suffices to say that the language I speak in my country nowadays doesn't differ too much from Dante's "vulgar". Indeed, Dante is perfectly intelligible by any educated Italian. Thinking of Beowulf's English can give an idea of what this means for my language.
Unluckily, much as I'd love to post here an example of Dante's Italian, I suspect that very few of my readers would be able to understand it. But as a hommage to this great man's poetry, I would like to post the first Canto of Dante's Comedy. But before doing so, let me quickly explain what the Comedy is about.
Dante Alighieri tells us a story. It is a fictional story of course, but he tells it as if it were true. He narrates of his finding himself in a dark forest, and pressed by dangerous wild animals he fears for his life, when the Latin poet Vergilius (another great name of world poetry) comes to rescue him. Vergilius tells Dante that he was sent by God himself to accompany the Italian poet on a journey that will lead him through Hell, the Purgatory and Paradise, as that is the only way out of the mysterious forest where Dante got lost at the beginning. So Dante's adventure begins, during which he will meet many famous humans (contemporary and non) and will talk to them, learning more and more about Florence's, Italian and European politics and culture of the Middle Ages. Dante's journey is an epic adventure that should really be counted as one of the best achievements of worldwide poetry.
Enough said, I leave the readers to Dante's words. I post them in English, in the translation by Rev. H.F. Cary, M.A.. If this post serves the purpose of interesting even one new reader to Dante's Comedy, I shall state that I fulfilled my purpose.
Enjoy the reading.
by DANTE ALIGHIERI
IN the midway of this our mortal life,
I found me in a gloomy wood, astray
Gone from the path direct: and e'en to tell
It were no easy task, how savage wild
That forest, how robust and rough its growth,
Which to remember only, my dismay
Renews, in bitterness not far from death.
Yet to discourse of what there good befell,
All else will I relate discover'd there.
How first I enter'd it I scarce can say,
Such sleepy dullness in that instant weigh'd
My senses down, when the true path I left,
But when a mountain's foot I reach'd, where clos'd
The valley, that had pierc'd my heart with dread,
I look'd aloft, and saw his shoulders broad
Already vested with that planet's beam,
Who leads all wanderers safe through every way.
Then was a little respite to the fear,
That in my heart's recesses deep had lain,
All of that night, so pitifully pass'd:
And as a man, with difficult short breath,
Forespent with toiling, 'scap'd from sea to shore,
Turns to the perilous wide waste, and stands
At gaze; e'en so my spirit, that yet fail'd
Struggling with terror, turn'd to view the straits,
That none hath pass'd and liv'd. My weary frame
After short pause recomforted, again
I journey'd on over that lonely steep,
The hinder foot still firmer. Scarce the ascent
Began, when, lo! a panther, nimble, light,
And cover'd with a speckled skin, appear'd,
Nor, when it saw me, vanish'd, rather strove
To check my onward going; that ofttimes
With purpose to retrace my steps I turn'd.
The hour was morning's prime, and on his way
Aloft the sun ascended with those stars,
That with him rose, when Love divine first mov'd
Those its fair works: so that with joyous hope
All things conspir'd to fill me, the gay skin
Of that swift animal, the matin dawn
And the sweet season. Soon that joy was chas'd,
And by new dread succeeded, when in view
A lion came, 'gainst me, as it appear'd,
With his head held aloft and hunger-mad,
That e'en the air was fear-struck. A she-wolf
Was at his heels, who in her leanness seem'd
Full of all wants, and many a land hath made
Disconsolate ere now. She with such fear
O'erwhelmed me, at the sight of her appall'd,
That of the height all hope I lost. As one,
Who with his gain elated, sees the time
When all unwares is gone, he inwardly
Mourns with heart-griping anguish; such was I,
Haunted by that fell beast, never at peace,
Who coming o'er against me, by degrees
Impell'd me where the sun in silence rests.
While to the lower space with backward step
I fell, my ken discern'd the form one of one,
Whose voice seem'd faint through long disuse of speech.
When him in that great desert I espied,
"Have mercy on me!" cried I out aloud,
"Spirit! or living man! what e'er thou be!"
He answer'd: "Now not man, man once I was,
And born of Lombard parents, Mantuana both
By country, when the power of Julius yet
Was scarcely firm. At Rome my life was past
Beneath the mild Augustus, in the time
Of fabled deities and false. A bard
Was I, and made Anchises' upright son
The subject of my song, who came from Troy,
When the flames prey'd on Ilium's haughty towers.
But thou, say wherefore to such perils past
Return'st thou? wherefore not this pleasant mount
Ascendest, cause and source of all delight?"
"And art thou then that Virgil, that well-spring,
From which such copious floods of eloquence
Have issued?" I with front abash'd replied.
"Glory and light of all the tuneful train!
May it avail me that I long with zeal
Have sought thy volume, and with love immense
Have conn'd it o'er. My master thou and guide!
Thou he from whom alone I have deriv'd
That style, which for its beauty into fame
Exalts me. See the beast, from whom I fled.
O save me from her, thou illustrious sage!"
"For every vein and pulse throughout my frame
She hath made tremble." He, soon as he saw
That I was weeping, answer'd, "Thou must needs
Another way pursue, if thou wouldst 'scape
From out that savage wilderness. This beast,
At whom thou criest, her way will suffer none
To pass, and no less hindrance makes than death:
So bad and so accursed in her kind,
That never sated is her ravenous will,
Still after food more craving than before.
To many an animal in wedlock vile
She fastens, and shall yet to many more,
Until that greyhound come, who shall destroy
Her with sharp pain. He will not life support
By earth nor its base metals, but by love,
Wisdom, and virtue, and his land shall be
The land 'twixt either Feltro. In his might
Shall safety to Italia's plains arise,
For whose fair realm, Camilla, virgin pure,
Nisus, Euryalus, and Turnus fell.
He with incessant chase through every town
Shall worry, until he to hell at length
Restore her, thence by envy first let loose.
I for thy profit pond'ring now devise,
That thou mayst follow me, and I thy guide
Will lead thee hence through an eternal space,
Where thou shalt hear despairing shrieks, and see
Spirits of old tormented, who invoke
A second death; and those next view, who dwell
Content in fire, for that they hope to come,
Whene'er the time may be, among the blest,
Into whose regions if thou then desire
T' ascend, a spirit worthier then I
Must lead thee, in whose charge, when I depart,
Thou shalt be left: for that Almighty King,
Who reigns above, a rebel to his law,
Adjudges me, and therefore hath decreed,
That to his city none through me should come.
He in all parts hath sway; there rules, there holds
His citadel and throne. O happy those,
Whom there he chooses!" I to him in few:
"Bard! by that God, whom thou didst not adore,
I do beseech thee (that this ill and worse
I may escape) to lead me, where thou saidst,
That I Saint Peter's gate may view, and those
Who as thou tell'st, are in such dismal plight."
Onward he mov'd, I close his steps pursu'd.