‘Canto 1’ by James Sale The Society April 10, 2018 Beauty, Poetry 31 Comments Canto 1 is the provisional name for a sequence of 33 Cantos that James Sale is attempting to write in the style – and using the terza rima – of Dante. His aim is to create a contemporary epic of heaven and hell that stands four-square against the meaninglessness of post-modernism. It had to be – that long descent began: About me images, one century That started, stuttered, showed how poor is man In all things except his savagery. My grandfather’s face, first in that stale line, Who missed the trenches through admin’s mystery; Instead was sent to fight in Palestine, While friends he’d known all died in No-Man’s-Land. How lucky, then, for him; for me a sign: Despite the misery, unintended, unplanned That characterised the fools who sought to build A better world – progress – to make a stand, As it were; as if politics could field A force sufficient to overcome gods Whose power, agencies were not like to yield To mortal die, its throes and sadder odds. Or, as if science, too, could weight outcomes – Build Babels better far than Nimrod did. Yet for all that building, they built one tomb Called planet Earth – polluted, warmed and dying, Neglecting the while to study, exhume The corpse of what the century was frying. That long descent began. I saw myself as heir; I saw myself because poetry is scrying – Calliope come to me now, be there, For I must tell how I came to that wild place Where death is our doctrine, and twin despair. For all this, know – each human hides that face Divine, which is our task, within our will, Finally, to reveal, if so by God’s grace, That Love that Dante saw created hell, And by His goodness covered Earth with stars, So many, no mind could count, cosmos fill And yet there they hang, like near us, but far; Our destiny, one day, perhaps, to cross Over to where mortality can’t mar, Cast shadows, prolonging, deepening loss. Calliope, then, come now, epic queen, Without inspiration writing is dross; Enable me to see what’s not been seen Before, but rise heroic to this quest And find the Grail: what does this century mean? And, in doing so, find also true rest – The ninth heaven where Dante found himself, Surprised and speechless, all light and all blest, All one, yet being not somebody else: Himself full-on, as could be one snowflake In dawn’s deep drift, unique whilst still engulfed. Calliope, Apollo’s daughter, make Me prophesy, you know what’s to be, You know the golden god and how he breaks The proud. I came myself near history, Though summer had supposedly broken out, Collapsing in the car in mystery. Something medics came to see in my gut, Something small, some shadow, should not be there, But they’d remove – a snip – at most a cut And I’d be well; there my life would be clear. I waited hospitalised without sun, No moon either, all that’s natural, dear Gone without trace, as I went down, down, down: One held my hand as anaesthetics did Their graft, and what was to do would soon be done; And that malignancy within, well hid, That choked, snake-like, intestinal flesh, Would be revealed at last and I’d be rid Of cancer and its dark sarcoma’s wish: Destruction absolute, assured, aligned – Refusing life, wanting in death to mesh With me, an apt image of evil’s mind, Small gains to build one vaulting emptiness, At last undo what so much love designed. So much love designed? And too was blessed? Such sacredness I scarce can speak of – how Before God now I tremble, quake, am less – His glory. I saw it, as dying, slow, Gutted of guts, and lying on the bed, Out of my body, sight soared to space, so Effortlessly, and there I saw, ahead, One giant finger turning candyfloss. Wondering what -? I willed myself and sped To see. There, close-up, I saw not chaos, Exactly opposite: not sugar wound About a finger, or some child’s sweet dross, But star formed in deep space, there without sound, No fanfare, relaxed; and the index bent, One flick, it revelled forward on its round. How could such power be – the whole cosmos rent Into parts and each part on its own work, And better still, each atom purposeful, sent Whilst far below on a bed, injured, hurt, Powerless to do evil, much less good, I lay helpless, fit soon to be but dirt? I choked, for knowing there’s nothing I could Do, racked on my bed of pity, undone, Undoable. ‘Lord, God!’ My tears a flood, Nothing conscious I might intend, put on: Only a baby in the night in pain Hopes somehow something or someone must come Because existence exists and – come again? – Not only did He make the living ones, He’s Life itself, which means … He is the plan. I cried, ‘Lord God, help me!’ – and just the once – Just as the finger turned, leisurely, out Towards the void where all other stars shone, And it seemed that He – the He that no doubt Disturbs or interrupts – that that One might Leave me forever stuck in my dark rut Despairing, with those who mock without right, Just then, before my thought caught my words’ sense, He turned, un-flexed, had me direct in sight Before I could bring just one thought more hence To mind, discern my spirit from my soul, Before I knew even my existence, So fast, so instant, light itself seemed slow: There, at the point the surgeon scratched his cut, At that point exactly I felt God’s blow In me – so in me that nothing could stop Its force, its flow and in one instant all changed, As if mortality’s self now were shut Off, and for it something brand new exchanged: I mean that pain, in body, mind, instantly ceased, As from suffering I was wholly estranged, And paradise abounded, total peace, And more: His face I could not see, but rather His presence inside working, me released. But that was it – free – yet in me, together And I aware of some awful purity: A whiteness of light, which recalling ever I quake within, tremble before to Be, Before such beauty as I cannot stand Before. So weeping, weeping endlessly, Not tears as lost souls weep, you understand, But joy at such happiness – profound, deep, So deep nothing could undo, countermand, Erase. At last myself was in His keep – And so He rocked me like a babe in arms, An only time in three months I found sleep. Nothing to interrupt that restorative calm: No artificial light, blood tests, chit-chat Or worse, the dying cries lacking love’s balm In that hell of hospital I was at Broke that deep sleep that God induced in me; Till morning, sunlight at the window’s slat, Waking to find, or know for certainty, I was not bound now to die, but to live, For He had called me back, through His mercy, All grace, unbounded, simply His to give. The world strange, that not long before was not: Altered; before, the busy, bustling hive Of bees circling till, exhausted and shot, They died in beds of blank indifference; After, honey and overflow, the lot – Time slowed to tripartite significance, Future ahead, and present, a new past In which what was random had his Presence, Vital, pervading all moments, all mass, Nothing beyond reaching beyond His reach, That reach, and His hand, the net He had cast. That net into which He too had been pitched. No, not some distant god who lived remote, Pulling the levers and strings, laughing as each Man fell to common and singular notes Of folly: no, not such a god as that, Or some such Zeus on full sensual bloat, Careless how the swan’s neck proves Troy’s mishap; Instead, another God, and just the One, Whose Word upholds all things, all changing shapes, Till changing He Himself in flesh was done; And now before me changes what’s ahead Beckons, a door, fiery to burn upon As if hanging, and hanging there my bed – Out to deeper depths than this sick ward holds And sinking at last the human cancer shed If seeing my own horror’s trail and toll Might let light intrude, penetrate my soul. James Sale, FRSA is a leading expert on motivation, and the creator and licensor of Motivational Maps worldwide. James has been writing poetry for over 40 years and has seven collections of poems published, including most recently, Inside the Whale, his metaphor for being in hospital and surviving cancer, which afflicted him in 2011. He can be found at www.jamessale.co.uk and contacted at james@motivational maps.com. He is the winner of First Prize in the Society’s 2017 Competition and Second Prize in the Society’s 2015 Competition. Related Post ‘A Cello Knows’ and Other Poetry by Andrew Todd ... A Cello Knows Amidst the smoke and light and laughter Along the smiles and cheers thereafter A sound is bled, wrung free from strings It bounds an... Tell the world:FacebookTwitterTumblrPinterestRedditLinkedInEmail 31 Responses Amy Foreman April 10, 2018 “Instead, another God, and just the One, Whose Word upholds all things, all changing shapes, Till changing He Himself in flesh was done; And now before me changes what’s ahead” So rich, James. Thank you for this. Reply James Sale April 10, 2018 Thanks Amy – my friend, the former priest, Paul Canon Harris, I think also finds those lines especially evocative as they recall the paradox of the Incarnation: one profound, profoundest of paradoxes being that the unchanging God, the One, who is eternal and cannot be moved, changed in entering time and becoming human Himself. To contemplate that – to truly contemplate what that means – is to wrestle with Being itself; and as I do I experience the fear – the fear of the Lord – and I have to turn away because I cannot look. Reply Amy Foreman April 10, 2018 The eternal enigma: when the Immortal took on mortality, and the Eternal stepped into time. Mind-blowing. Awhile back I also tried to explain in my own words this holiest of concepts that rightly should elicit our reverence and our fear: Ode: The Word How silent that arena, unlit space, The waters swirling, boundless, without form. Each shapeless mass still waiting for its face, Suspended life, the calm before the storm. When suddenly a Voice above was heard– To animate the void with just His Word. That Word made Matter, Space, Duration, Light, And yet we knew within that substance dwelt Immortal Wisdom, barely veiled from sight Right there, encountered, tasted, heard, and felt. A Holy God made manifest to all By shrouding Glory in an earthly shawl. Eternity embodied, set in time, Enclosed in carbon, dust, in flesh and blood, Each consonant now striking measured chime To halt the vowel, staunch its endless flood. God’s amaranthine thought seized by the host Of endings and beginnings, least and most. Long after that first Word wound up the clock Long after grand Infinity was bound In casing corporeal, God took stock, And once again, from Heaven came a Sound: Another Word to demonstrate His love, The Son: incarnate Wisdom from above. Thus age-old Truth, once cloaked in mystery –Creation’s fixed ontology, well-known– Could teach the Father’s plan for history Within a mortal frame just like our own. A Translator to speak so we could hear– The Word, told in our mother-tongue, now clear. Today that story’s told in pages worn, The message free for those with ears to hear, Of both the times Infinitude was born, Once in our cosmos, once our human peer. And I have held that Word within my hand, And read, and learned, and come to understand. Reply Damian Robin April 10, 2018 Like the Word made flesh, at the start of this poem you link the ineffable to earth; and then continue with metaphor around ‘word’, literally spreading the Word. How positive it is to have a strong belief in what was revealed long ago and kind to spell it out anew, keeping it vibrant. Thank you. Reply Amy Foreman April 10, 2018 Thank you so much for the lovely compliment, Damian! James Sale April 11, 2018 Thanks Amy – the lines: Each consonant now striking measured chime To halt the vowel, staunch its endless flood – is a brilliant observation. Animals, of course, pronounce vowel sounds, but it is only humans who really get to grips with consonantal control and so bring order – language to the situation. It is why the first word in the Hebrew book of Genesis starts with the letter B and not A. Great stuff. Reply Amy Foreman April 11, 2018 Thank you, James! Very interesting point about animals and humans, which I had not thought of before . . . language equals order. I think that many of us who love classical poetry also love order, symmetry, balance, and harmony in other areas of life–and the ultimate “beauty” for us shows itself best within the constraints of a well-proportioned form. And this God-given love of order is what leads us to eschew the meaningless chaos of much of modern “poetry.” James Sale April 11, 2018 Thanks Amy – yes, exactly. Dante exactly exemplifies this: in the pit of hell where human depravity is at its worst, his verses create such beauty, such catharsis, such insight. It is great to write beautifully about beauty; but there is also the darker side of life and the full poet will be attempting both. David Hollywood April 10, 2018 Dear James, A wonderful emulation of Dante’s intent as we look for a multiplicity of images, intentions, characters and thoughts throughout the poem. Terrific and thank you. Reply James Sale April 11, 2018 Thank you David – you are always so generous in your appreciation, and as the Dalai Lama said: “Generosity gives rise to a creative mind”. Reply David Paul Behrens April 10, 2018 Outstanding! There are too many words to describe this great poem, so I will just say Wow! Reply James Sale April 11, 2018 And David Paul – thank you too – ‘Wow’ is perhaps as good as it can get if a reader says that. I am delighted! Reply Damian Robin April 10, 2018 Brilliant aspiration. Bated breath. Wonderful. Power to both elbows and internal spirit, James Reply James Sale April 11, 2018 Thank you Damian – yes, aspiration is the right word: if one but could. But there is no point in not trying. I hope the Bated breath too means you want to read more. I have nearly finished now the Canto 3. Of course Canto 2 begins the actual descent into hell and although one cannot surpass Dante, I believe I have a take on this which is different – yet still hell! Thanks for your encouragement – it means a lot to me. Reply David Watt April 11, 2018 James, this is an ambitious project you have taken on with the Cantos series. However, judging by the depth of feeling, faith, and power harnessed through personal experience evident in Canto 1, you will achieve a modern version worthy of Dante’s example. Reply James Sale April 11, 2018 Thank you David Watt – that is deeply encouraging. The Muse is going to do with me what She will and my job – all our jobs – is to be ready and finally to see: as in to see with insight. Reply Leo Yankevich April 11, 2018 This is an ambitious poem that appeals to the noble aspect of our souls. Thank you for sharing and shedding light. Reply James Sale April 11, 2018 Thank you Leo – it is wonderful that you see light in it; for the presence of light is primary. Reply Buceli da Werse April 15, 2018 Mr. Sale certainly is trying. To attempt a Dantesque canto is plucky, daring, and audacious. Reply James Sale April 16, 2018 Hopefully, a turn for the better, not da Werse! Reply Aedile Cwerbus April 17, 2018 Now that this thread has quieted down, I thought I’d show you part of an epyllion of 360 lines I wrote forty years ago, Roma. As a puerile piece, even back then I questioned its artistry. It was syllabic (I was trying to come to grips with ancient poetic practices); I would hyphenate words; and it lacked the maturity I hope your own poem evinces. Roma was about man becoming god/God in three parts: Part I. Julius Caesar, Part II. Augustus (vs. Antony & Cleopatra), and Part III. Jesus Christ. What I find interesting was it was inscribed to the memory of John Keats. Keats does inspire young poets, and, I suppose, those young at heart. Here are just 2 of the 24 juvenile deca-pentes: I. Janus opens his eyes, opens his eyes. He’s seeing things he’s never seen before. We are his witnesses. We realize that looking backward he sees the Greek shore across the Mediterranean Sea. We also realize that looking for- ward he’s able to foresee Italy changing. What he cannot see is his Rome, volcanoes erupting, gold and ruby lavas, a people in complex flux, fo- menting tribulations, triumphs and truths, and all within a glittering dome. No, Janus was god, a force to be used, a mythical mirage that could inspire; he could not see or light the Roman fuse. II. Nature is a Heraclitean fire. Lucretius knew it. So too the masses that threw themselves into the burning gyre. Sulphur permeated the air. Gases were everywhere. Eloquently Cicer- o breathed them in and, before the ashes appeared, blew them out. His competitor, though not better in the oratory arts, arose like a phoenix. Hail, Caesar! in all his vanity and vain glory. Here was the mind of an age, here was an era. His voice filled the auditori- ums with an exciting rhetoric and a proud countenance. Here was an eagle anxious to unfurl his wings, fly and span. Forgive this brief saunter down memory lane. As for your much larger work, I wish you the best. Godspeed. Reply James Sale April 19, 2018 Hi Aedile – no sweat – memory lane is good. What is noticeable about your two sections is the technique involved – some really ingenious enjambement going on here, and clever rhyming techniques. But it does seem youthful work as the techniques draw attention to themselves, and what we want is poetry that does not seem artful even when it is. But that said, I am impressed by your younger efforts! Reply Charlie Bauer April 18, 2018 Dear James, An excellent start! I found the following lines especially thought provoking: “That Love that Dante saw created hell, And by His goodness covered Earth with stars, So many, no mind could count, cosmos fill” I often wonder: is hell really just the absence of God? When a light switch is flipped on light fills a room; when it is flipped off, does darkness fill the room or does light simply leave the room? Wishing you the very best! Reply James Sale April 19, 2018 Hi Charlie – thanks for this and I appreciate it. The lines you choose are I think especially thought provoking and they certainly provoke me – as Dante does (and btw I am 2 days away from visiting his grave in Ravenna – can’t wait!). Since Dante insists in the poem that Love made hell. There can be no definitive answer to your poem, but my own thoughts go along with lines of Dante and Jung: basically, hell is the denial of reality itself. ‘Reality’ – the Tao – the cosmos – is constantly changing and thereby feeding us information about what actually ‘is’: it is the wilful denial of this that constitutes hell. And, of course, in one sense, each person appoints him or herself there; indeed, it is quite clear from the Inferno that each person wants to be there, since they cannot bear the alternative, which ultimately comes down to accepting that we are ‘subordinate’ to the universe. Put another way: we are not God. Anyway, my poem – and I have now nearly completed the 3rd Canto – explores this whole situation, since Canto 2 is when I actually enter and descend into the first level of the modern hell, as I – my Muse – sees it. But thanks for raising this as it is an important issue. Reply Alberdi Ucwese April 19, 2018 I look forward with anticipation to hearing your thoughts of Ravenna. I am excited for your voyage too. Here is a poem of eight years ago that I wrote on a statue of Dante when I was in Firenze (Florence). Sèi Terza Rimas by Alberdi Ucwese The statue of the poet Dante Alighieri in Piazza Di Santa Croce, Florence, shows him atop a pedestal and wearing a toga draped around his hard stone shoulders, falling in wrinkled torrents o’er his torso; he has a look of hatred or abhorrence upon his face which makes him seem a bold force, and, with a laureled, slightly lowered forehead, formidable, perhaps, no, even more so. An eagle at his feet is looking upward at the idolized writer, as if both were upon an aerie at the top of the world. Below, at each statue’s corner, are other symbols of power, four ferocious lions, with gazes as amazing as the poet’s extraordinary and austere defiance that rises up into, against the airy blue, a paean raised up from the Renaissance. May Divine Inspiration be with you. Reply James Sale April 19, 2018 Like it a lot except for one tiny detail, which I may be wrong about, but – surely, Dante is pre-Renaissance? He is a medievalist, although – being a genius – much of his thinking anticipates even modern thought! Reply J. Simon Harris April 20, 2018 I like this too, Alberdi. I hope one day to visit Florence and see the statue you have written about so beautifully (not just in pictures). As for Mr. Sale’s comment, I would argue that Dante is both the pinnacle of Medieval thought, and the inauguration of the Renaissance. On the one hand, he is definitely a medievalist philosophically (so much of his philosophy and theology come from St. Thomas Aquinas, or at least follow the same logic). On the other hand, in many ways he was also the most important pioneer of many hallmarks of the Renaissance: his emphasis on humanism; his insistence on using the vernacular; his interest in diverse fields of science, art, and politics; and the importance of classical Greek and Roman literature in his own work. There would have been no Petrarch without Dante. Even the paths of Da Vinci and Galileo would likely have been different, had Dante not existed. To my mind, Dante is the turning point between the Medieval period and the Renaissance, properly belonging to both. It is a very interesting topic, though, and certainly up for debate. Alberdi Ucwese April 19, 2018 If one accepts the term “Renaissance” as a literary, artistic, and historical period (which some do not), where does one put the dates of it? First off I accept the 19th century term; I like it. But here I disagree with some who insist Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) is not part of the “rebirth” of Italy, with Europe following. I place him, along with Marco Polo (1254-1324) and Giotto di Bondoni (1267-1337) as part of that early efflorescence. My question is, if Vergil was Dante’s guide in the “Divine Comedy” (begun in 1308), then how is that not part of that new rebirth occurring in Italy? individuality, classicism, perspective, balance, etc. I do understand he is on the cusp of the Medieval period, whose years are also controversial, but it too is another term I like. [Melchior Goldast seems to have coined the term “medium aevum” in 1604.] If pressed, I could date the Renaissance 1300-1600. For me the late Renaissance would be finished up at 1600, with writers like Torquato Tasso (1544-1595). For me, at that point, the Baroque has begun, with writers, like Galileo Galilei, late William Shakespeare, the Metaphysical poets, late Miguel Cervantes, etc. But I would even go one step further, which actually puts me at odds with probably most present-day historians. I would say that Dante inaugurates the Renaissance. Here is another poem from my Italian phase, that follows a sonnet structure used by Dante, abbaabbacdeedc that plays with that idea. Dante, I wish that Vergil, you, and I could stroll across this grand world endlessly, century after airy century, taking in all that lies between the sky and turning Earth, contemplating the why, wherefore, and how of life’s great tapestry, from Tuscany unto eternity, from the fish that swim to the birds that fly, so we could create sweeter, newer styles, Renaissances, every so often, when the whim comes upon us, or a gust blows us to a new beginning on one more close, taking notes on all that we happen on and sending them to Homer, Happy Isles. Buona fortuna, Signore Sales. Reply J. Simon Harris April 20, 2018 I love this little parody of Dante’s sonnet (“Guido, I wish that you, Lapo and I”). Very well done. Reply James Sale April 20, 2018 Well, Alberdi, that seems pretty persuasive, then!!! And I like the poem too! Reply J. Simon Harris April 20, 2018 As others have said, this is an ambitious project to begin, but I think Mr. Sale has met the challenge and begun with a bang. The writing is spectacular, peppered throughout with quotable moments (and many people in the comments have already begun quoting it), interesting metrical variations, and interesting rhymes and slant-rhymes. And the subject matter… well, let us just note what a bold task it is to take on a project like this. The connections to Dante are intriguing. Like the Comedy, the story is universal, yet deeply personal. The narrative contains many snippets that are entire stories in themselves, such as the story about the poet’s grandfather. It is loaded with meaningful allusions to to Dante, to the Bible, to history and classical literature. And I especially liked the poet’s description of his surreal visual experience during the surgery to remove his cancer, which culminated in a life-altering discovery of God. The sick ward is the poet’s dark forest. I’m glad a poet as skillful as Mr. Sale has taken up the mantle of writing a modern epic in the style of Dante. I want to read on! I hope subsequent cantos will be released on this site, so we can all continue reading it. Mr. Sale is visiting the tomb of Dante soon. Perhaps as I write this, he is contemplating Dante and mortality and God. And perhaps that moment, too, will make it into his epic. Safe travels! J. Simon Harris Reply Leave a Reply Cancel Reply Your email address will not be published.CommentName* Email* Website Notify me of follow-up comments by email. Notify me of new posts by email.