Lately my days have been spent trekking through the cold mud of literary landscapes and:
“Gross hailstones, water gray with filth and snow streaking down across shadowed air…” (Dante Alighieri, The Divine Comedy – Dante’s Inferno)
Dante’s description of the third circle of hell is anything but hot and yet I love the contradictions heralding the layers of perceptions of hell. We have fire. We have ice. Dante’s world is cold, the worst state of the heart. But his passion for “righteousness” (or was it POLITICS?! methinks that’s the fire.) burned through his creativity, piercing centuries of religion with the worst of damnation’s offerings. I can only shake my head in awe and wonder. Such tenacity and brilliance and so much energy expended in reaction. Part of me wonders where we’d be today if this work had not burned through centuries of the devout, hopeful of God’s approval.
Where do you land after you’ve read Dante’s Inferno? Do you run back to the fiery realms of the more popular infernal damnation? It’s pretty mild compared to Dante’s ripping, shredding, devouring, icy, dismembering annals of recrimination…
It’s been mind-numbing. But while wading through the slush, compiling dissections for literary criticism of the third circle of Dante’s vision, my kids took the time to inundate me with chocolate cake, gifts and cards. Now there’s a bit of salvation: chocolate and cards and laughter.
My youngest didn’t realize how perfectly timed his card to me, shown above. I let out a howl. For one thing, the card has the word “hell” in it and this is a BIG DEAL for my son. He doesn’t much like cussing. But he’s heard me let a few slip. Especially the one I just don’t think of as a curse word. I mean, really. HELL. This card is his way of embracing the more impulsive, human parts of his mom. I thought it mighty big of him and more loving than any gruesomely conjured divine “love” freezing us all out of compassion and hope in the name of “redemption.” Oiy, but I DON’T have a problem with some of religion’s layers. It’s NOT like any of it has oppressed whole centuries of lives or shackled minds in fear. [sarcasm alert]
Is it? Or is it that we’ve just not had the appetite for anything but the burning cold shut-out? How much has religion influenced and how much has it facilitated what has been the inevitably harsh boil of self-hatred? Where does it start?
I don’t know. I just know I need cats and kids with bigger hearts than the pseudo-god (as opposed to the very real Divine flow loving) and delicious fire burning us all into acceptance of every layer of what it is to be human, every “circle” of the “hell” we can make the most of, in spite of centuries of condemnation. And comic relief from the son whose sense of humor runs deep, drawing inspiration from veins of precious wicked refusal of shame:
Is it any wonder my favorite Psalm includes these words:
“If I ascend to heaven, Thou art there; if I make my bed in Sheol, behold, Thou art there. If I take the wings of the dawn, if I dwell in the remotest part of the sea, even there Thy hand will lead me…Even the darkness is not dark to Thee…darkness and light are alike to Thee…” (excerpts from Psalm 139)
Somewhere between the daunting realms of Dante and the Psalms of David, we run into the truth. These beds we make in hell, we make ourselves – even if it’s all we were taught to do up to that point. The heights we climb, we choose them. And somewhere past the worst distortion of love and around the damnation bend we find the real thing. The only solid salvation. It will likely lick your toes and meow. It will beg your brain to melt and cease the endless dismembering of self in thoughts of good and evil. It will definitely inundate you with a rich acceptance chuckling in the love of children. It will likely ask you to bend a few rules and cook up something steamy delicious behind closed doors.
Praise God and pass the firewood. I’m ready to forget Dante!
13 thoughts on “Daunting Dante . . .”
Ah, I have had Dante staring at me from my shelf for years. It keeps getting shifted further down the pile for some reason. Now I am feeling, perhaps for good reason. I found myself nodding eagerly in agreement by your closing paragraph. Made me think that real things are solid salvation and the only real things are lived in moments. My moments here feel familiar and comforting. Thank you for sharing your thoughts.
I hate to discourage anyone from reading it. It’s got some amazing lines, epic. But I’m very much over it! If you like to be one who can say “I read Dante’s Inferno” then you should read it. If you are in love with literature and how it reflects on the human condition, read it. I think it’s best read with a teacher like mine. She’s so passionate. She puts the solid in salvation without trying! It’s right there, isn’t it? In the grit and glory of our sweaty worlds. Meanwhile, thank you for visiting this little blog. I hope you’ll continue…
I added a link to be sure! 🙂
Okay. You simply astound me. I laughed. I cried. You not only touched my heart, You gave it a big hug , a snuggly blanket, and a great glass of red wine. Seriously, woman. I LOVE your writing. And I had to howl with laughter at the card as well, but for different reasons. For YEARS I’ve been teasing my mother and telling her that’s what I’m going to have engraved on her headstone: Is it hot in here, or is it just me? 😆
Thank You and Cheers and Namaste. 🙂
And you bowl me over with such generous expression! I just got home last night and this was a balm greeting. Thank you!!!!! i like your sense of humor with your mom…good one. I’ve been threatening to marry the devil’s son for years. Of course, I never pictured Dante’s worst…just delicious flames!
Hugs to you and a great big glass of red wine (don’t forget the snuggly blanket!).
What amazes me about pieces like this is…What with running a family, and holding down a job – how the heck do you find the time to THINK this – let alone write it down – so beautifully and articulately? You make me feel like a lazy hack.
Wow, thanks Tooty. I don’t have time, actually. Something about this style of writing saves my life, breathes a sense of purpose into me. It’s a must. I do it when there are many things around me piled up and screaming “get this done NOW!” So, I’m a lazy hack along some lines in order to make myself happy in other areas. I haven’t completed even one short story or book. But I’ve started quite a few. I look at your productivity and feel like a wanna-be, a poser. Meanwhile, I don’t hold down an actual job lately since I can’t do that and 3 classes (and good grades) and 3 kids and semi-decent health. So…who’s the lazy hack?! Sheeesh! Probably we should ditch that particular “l” word…besides, someone has to sit down and establish the ULTIMATE GUIDE on what is NOT lazy and that would mean enormous presumption along so many other lines it’d prove to be a complete waste of time. I’m touched by your regard here…
thanks jruthkelly for liking my photo. I am trying to figure out what I did wrong when I scanned my photos in — they are all highly pixellated and I am unhappy with them. I suppose it is some setting or something but I haven’t had much luck scanning in my prints and getting good digital representations of them. By the way, that is Oscar, lol, sort of … my tongue in cheek poetic adventure starring two seagulls. “Making Oscar Proud”. I look forward to reading more of your writing when I have time. Thanks for dropping by my blog too. It’s appreciated.
Hello Oscar… ;0) Is this seagull adventure on your blog? I’d like to check it out. Have you read Jonathan Livingston Seagull? A really sweet piece of lit…
And right back atcha…appreciate your dropping by…keep on!
Enjoyed reading your thoughts on this … having trekked through Dante many times, I can say chocolate, cards, and special moments from kids or cats beats literature any day! Thanks for sharing.
They DO beat literature any day…we need the sweets to make the treks bearable sometimes, don’t we? Thanks for stopping by and commenting…i love your gravatar/photo!
Me too! Me too! What beauty and truth here. I just want to shout ME TOO!!!
Ah…love you Kristy! Thanks for the enthusiasm! I thought this Dante drag was going to mire me down forever (or close!) in dreary schoolwork. But it’s been worthwhile. Reminds me of what is so important overall. My instructor in this class makes it wonderfully worthwhile but I sure can’t bring her along when I’m cooking up the essay!