Re-visiting Dante

“For Dante it was a strict rule not to rhyme the word ‘Christ’ with any other word except itself” – Clive James

Inferno

Down we went like no other care were there;
No sense we’d be bedraggled, drowned, doomed, or lost;
All that mattered was now, that was our care –
Stuff the plan another framed, damn that cost.
But so I found myself alone, and dark,
And one I wanted then I could not name.
There was suffering, less, more, yet all the same.
Instead of speech, sounds with no meaning’s mark.

Where was the one whose merit had sufficed?

 

Purgatorio

One tear. One tiny drop. Just at the end
Of life when all was fated, decided, gone;
That one tear – from my eye – against the trend
Which had been my grain, selfish and alone
My life whole, but now it sprung, self-aware
And flagging up to heaven above, who knew,
Who propelled this thing, this living grace through …
That by his power my nothing too would share,

Because another had been sacrificed.

 

Paradiso

Chaff became pearl, and pearl so highly priced.
I saw the stars, beautiful, set in sky;
Like pearls too, and mine, me emparadised,
A presence next to me who could not lie;
And with the breathing, profound heart enticed
Me to abandon all, like thoughts and why,
To be, be like Him, to let being fly,
Emptiness lost upon the throw it diced;

And all routes there, converging, into Christ.

 

 

Inside the Flame of Manchester

So, lacking any outlet to escape
From the burning soul that was inside the flame,
The suffering words became the fire’s language.   -Inferno XXVII, 13-15, Dante

How come to this? One’s being, now a-flame;
No eye to see or even mind discern
What only sound communicates: poor name –
Is that you? And do you, in restless turns

Leap upward, lapsing back, stretched to a strain
Of nothingness almost, at last lacking harm?
What did you do? And what has proved your gain?
Your voice I hear (it’s witness I can’t spurn)

Above all you want to, but who else blame?
How fire consumes what still you cannot learn.
Oh – lost soul! Trawling ashes of past shame,
This is it: though empty, still you burn.

 

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.

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5 Responses

  1. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    In my mind, it is squarely impossible that a man should be called a poet who is unable to contemplate Dante in the way James Sale has here.

    Anyone can entertain, anyone can amuse, anyone can whine, simper, scream, or voice his boring political obsessions in prose that wears the garb of rhyme and meter. Let us learn, please, to have higher, nobler aspirations for our art.

    The modernist mantra that “poetry is whatever you want” is here silenced before the full force of inspiration.

    For, the foundation of true πόησιs, which is a bringing into being—and whenever we are in the realm of being we return to what poetry really is—underlies these four poems whose unity and inter-relatedness, whose espousal of form to content, are of a perfection rarely seen.

    Sale has related three truths of fundamental theology to the contemplation of human action and desire in a way that is refreshingly unique, accepting the very invitation Dante holds out to all mankind across centuries of time, not through emulation or imitation, but through the stillness and peace of the poetic soul gazing upon a mountain of truth.

    Far more, Sale has shown that poetry is not an end in itself, but a means of ascent. Within that economy of grace from which these poems emerge, Sale speaks a universal language transcending time.

    These four poems, exquisitely illustrative of the Salesian genius I have indicated elsewhere, are a development in the history of English verse—a spiritual flowering bearing fruit for others, in a meaningful, beautiful manner engendering thought.

    Reply
  2. James Sale

    I am terribly behind with all my correspondence and writing at the moment, but I must pause and thank you, Joseph Mackenzie, for this tremendous accolade. I deeply appreciate your appreciating what I am trying to do and write. Thank you so much – it means a lot to me.

    Reply
  3. J. Simon Harris

    Mr. Sale, I very much enjoyed these poems. You have a unique command of meter and metrical variations, which lends a lot to your work. I especially like the first triptych (if I may call it that), and the resounding rhyme from “sufficed”, to “sacrificed”, to “Christ” (isn’t it a happy coincidence that the latter two rhyme in our language?). You have quite captured that triple essence of Dante’s work. As an aside, I also appreciate your use of the word “emparadised”, which only a true aficionado would know.

    I look forward to reading more of your work centering around Dante.

    Best,
    J. Simon Harris

    Reply
    • James Sale

      Dear Simon Harris – thank you so much for your kind remarks; it is always good to find someone who is responding favourably to what one is trying to do – and meter and rhyme I spend a lot of time thinking about until one … as it were … feels it. Coming from you, and your considerable abilities in the original language, this is praise indeed and with your permission – in due course – may I quote you from your review? Thanks.

      Reply

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