The other night—well, it was actually very early morning: around 2 a.m.— I was in my study working on one of the essays in a linked group (one of them has just been published at the Little Toller Books site) and remembered a passage from the Inferno. Luckily I had a copy on my desk, Robert Pinsky’s glorious translation. I found my passage, contemplated it, and read a bit more of the poem I hadn’t really thought much about in years. Yet it is so current in its considerations. The next day we were talking about stuff, the darkness of winter, the indignities of aging, etc. (as one does), and I suddenly said, I think we should read something together. What do you suggest, John asked. The Inferno of Dante, I replied. He blinked. And said, Yes, let’s. So we read the first Canto yesterday, each of us reading a page, then passing the book to the other. Our fire was warm and agreeable. Just now we read the second Canto. It couldn’t be more appropriate to everything we’ve been talking about and thinking about. To what I’ve been writing about in the small hours at my desk with my small desk light allowing me to see the keys of my computer and not much else.
I’m working on a quilt I’ve called A Dark Path and now an essay called the same thing. How good to read a poem that begins,
Midway on our life’s journey, I found myself
In dark woods, the right road lost. To tell
About those woods is hard—so tangled and rough…
There aren’t many people you can read the Inferno with, on a January evening, in front of a woodstove fire. Passing the book back and forth, our voices were oddly at ease in the terza rima of a poet born in the 13th century.
O Muses, O genius of art, O memory whose merit
Has inscribed inwardly those things I saw—
Help me fulfill the perfection of your nature.
I commenced: “Poet, take my measure now:
Appraise my powers before you trust me to venture
Through that deep passage where you would be my guide.