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 and contacted at james@motivational He is the winner of First Prize in the Society’s 2017 Competition and Second Prize in the Society’s 2015 Competition.

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71 Responses

  1. Amy Foreman

    “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.

    • James Sale

      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.

  2. Amy Foreman

    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.

    • Damian Robin

      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.

      • Amy Foreman

        Thank you so much for the lovely compliment, Damian!

    • James Sale

      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.

      • Amy Foreman

        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

        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.

    • Carol Smallwood

      Am in awe: have written just a handful of terza rima and it was a big struggle! What an amazing challenge!

  3. David Hollywood

    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.

  4. Damian Robin

    Brilliant aspiration. Bated breath. Wonderful. Power to both elbows and internal spirit, James

    • James Sale

      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.

  5. David Watt

    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.

    • James Sale

      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.

  6. Buceli da Werse

    Mr. Sale certainly is trying. To attempt a Dantesque canto is plucky, daring, and audacious.

  7. Aedile Cwerbus

    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:


    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.


    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.

    • James Sale

      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!

  8. Charlie Bauer

    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!

    • James Sale

      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.

  9. Alberdi Ucwese

    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.

    • James Sale

      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!

      • J. Simon Harris

        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.

  10. Alberdi Ucwese

    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.

  11. J. Simon Harris

    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

    • James Sale

      I am indeed currently in Ravenna as I type this on an iPhone. Not ideal! Will respond properly when back in UK. Thanks for all great contributions, and being so close to Dante now has been awesome.

  12. James Sale

    I am now back from sunny Ravenna to wet England! What an experience seeing Dante’s tomb and visiting his museum. But also incredible to see the 4th and 5th century mosaics; and the San Vitale Basilica can only be described as awesome – one of the most sublime buildings I have ever visited. If I had time I would also describe the profound theological impression that both the Byzantine influence and the Arian heresy made on me, since both are writ large in Ravenna. But this is a poetry forum. Outside the Santo Spirit church I spent one hour listening to an Orthodox service going on inside and in which the singing was so sweet, I wept. So … Great thanks for all the contributors who have commented on my first Canto. I certainly stand corrected on when the Renaissance began, and that has been fascinating. The great thing about the SoCP is the supportive way in which the poets help and encourage each other. This has been a tremendous benefit to me and I want to thank you all. And especially the last comments of J Simon Harris, particularly as he is such an adept translator of Dante and so has a technical take on this that is not common. At the end of the day, whoever one is, and whatever one knows, all is nothing from a poetical perspective if one has not fashioned a work that the reader wants to read on: that is the test. Therefore, for J Simon Harris to say ‘I want to read on’ ( a long poem) is almost the highest thing one could say about it; I could never say it, for example, about Wordsworth’s Prelude – I just wished he’d stop writing! And I know myself that I am terrified of boring the reader. So thank you so much, Simon, that really matters to me. SoCP is my poetical home, but the editor must decide whether any future cantos are suitable for these pages; I shall certainly keep him informed of progress.

  13. James Sale

    Can I thank all the contributors to this thread for their kind and encouraging words; it has meant a lot to me. For, the surprise to me is that my long poem – Canto 1 – seems a bigger hit with readers than my shorter lyrics. That is a very pleasant and unexpected surprise, and also very encouraging too. As a result I have returned to my under-utilised and under deployed poetry website (I tend to spend my time on my other business, personal and blog websites – sadly!) and updated and revised it to make the Canto central. Plus, I have included 3 quotations from the comments above with a link to this page, so that visitors can find the sources of the quotations – and other SoCP gems as well. So any feedback on my poetry website welcome and I intend to use it more in future. Here is the link: Again, thanks to all – you’re great!

  14. David Orme

    Extraordinary and powerful, and a demonstration of how traditional style and references can speak directly to contemporary concerns and that ‘meaningless of post-modernism’ that James Sale mentions. I look forward to more instalments, in the hope that they will help us all rediscover spirituality and put aside at least some of the materialism of the world today.

    • James Sale

      Thank you David – that is my hope too, and why I am now committed to writing this. We all need in our different spheres to give others the opportunity to see how empty materialism is, and how beauty has at root at spiritual source – a transcendental reality which, in a way, it is our duty in this life to uncover – or reveal – as best we may.

  15. themindflayer

    Epic poetry lives! This first Canto is beautifully written, balancing a “high” epic style with something eminently readable. A masterful display of form that is virtually seamless. Dante would be proud. What is truly great, however, is that this is not just a re-run of The Inferno, but feels unique and modern, whilst still homaging the original – homage itself being a trope of the epic. There is some profoundly modern images that make this fresh, my favourite being the “candy floss” spinning about the divine finger, forming a galaxy. Was anyone else struck by the profundity of this image? What metaphors stood out for you?

    • James Sale

      Thanks Mindflayer – especially appreciate zooming in specifically on the imagery. One of the many great things about Dante is his use of simple imagery that conveys so much emotional impact. There was a huge ongoing debate some 50 or more years ago between TS Eliot, CS Lewis, FR Leavis and others in the UK about the difference between Milton’s imagery and Dante’s. At the time Milton’s epic similes (defended by CS Lewis) were largely rubbished (in my view unfairly) in comparison with the more ‘concrete’ (a metaphor itself which I dislike) and specific imagery of poets like Dante. There is no need to disparage one at the expense of the other, as they are both great; but certainly, as a younger poet I did not appreciate fully just how brilliant Dante was/is. Now I know. Thanks again for your comments.

    • J. Simon Harris

      I like the “candy floss” image too (in the United States, we call it “cotton candy”). What the image seems to suggest is some combination of renaissance paintings of Michelangelo’s “Creation of Adam” and Hubble telescope photographs of distant galaxies or nebulae.

      • James Sale

        Thank you, J Simon, I am really pleased that image appealed to you; it actually was the image I saw in my vision, and so maybe that ‘reality’ comes across in the writing. Clearly, one can ‘imagine’ images and there is a power in so doing; indeed, all poets must have this capacity. But there are also those images that seem to arrive naturally, and to be able to observe them is also powerful. Ideally, the ‘ideal’ poet can effortlessly shift between these two sources!

  16. Sue Kerr

    I absolutely love this poem. It takes you through a whole range of emotions and the personal hell James went through with his own ill health. You really feel the pain and then the joyous recovery

    • James Sale

      Thank you Sue – your words mean a lot to me. At the end of the day poets do base much of their poetry on personal experience, but it is important that the ‘personal’ experience isn’t just personal, that is to say, just about ‘me’; but others reading about it can feel it for themselves, that it can open up their horizons too. Thanks again.

  17. Linda

    And that malignancy within, well hid,
    That choked, snake-like, intestinal flesh,
    What an image!
    Vivid and intense so skillfully expressed. I need to know what happens next!

    • James Sale

      Thanks Linda – one way or another I hope you will. I have now completed the first 4 Cantos and I am pausing to review helpful critical comments from various readers, and then I shall resume. I anticipate – web publishing aside – that by the time I get to Canto 9 a small booklet – a Part 1 – will be due out. This is unlike any other poetry I have ever written. Heretofore, I have been a lyric poet, but now I am seeking epic; and I think this lends itself to instalments and the ‘Dickens’ effect – namely, if the story is exciting enough people will want to read the next ‘issue’ as it were. We’ll see. Thank you for your kind words.

  18. James B. Nicola

    Wonderful use of a long Terza Rima for what it wants to accommodate–not exactly a journey, as it’s not a normal sort of narrative, but a process of the mind; not a Hegelian dialectic (a la Shakespearean sonnet); nor a Robert Frost/Alexander Pope-type discursive essay. Terza Rima does provide a structure that is a spiral widening of sorts, though, for its occasion is: a realization. Hence the poem unfolds, each stanza with an echo as well as a hint of what’s to come, as a soul might undergo when confronted with such a serious illness.

    Great lines like

    how poor is man
    In all things except his savagery

    and a delicious pun on “throes” and I’d better stop there or might not ever!

    Thank you for mentioning this poem to me, Mr. Sale.

    • James Sale

      Thanks James for picking out so much. And as for mentioning the poem to you, you are right: this side of death most poets find that if they don’t mention their own poems, few others do! But as you know so well yourself, the work is its own reward – indeed, is its own therapy, as I like to invoke Apollo for healing as well as poetry. Thank you so much.

  19. Stephen Feltham

    As ever, James, a thought provoking and masterly piece of penmanship. You have set yourself a stupendous task with 33 cantos but, if anyone can do it, you can and to the betterment of us all when you share your results.
    Let me know more when the beautiful voice next speaks.

    • James Sale

      Thanks Steve – really appreciate that. I understand that the editor is going to publish Canto 2 later this month. I hope so, and I hope it grips you too, as we descend into a first circle of hell. Apart from visiting this site yourself, which I hope you’ll do as they have many wonderful poets here, I’ll keep you posted.

  20. Stuart Yates

    A marathon runner has to to set a sustainable pace at the start; a builder of cathedrals has to establish strong and firm foundations. In spite of – because of? – the speed at which you have moved through and past Canto 4 already, in this first Canto the weighty stones are in place from the beginning, the steady pulse is fit for the long haul. I cannot imagine how you have transformed that obviously fierce creative energy into lines which have such breadth and weight yet move forward with an inevitable purpose. (Well, maybe I do know. Something to do with attending to your divine handmaiden) Your allusion to Dickens is apt – even though I am not in sympathy with Dickens – as Canto 1 is so clearly not complete in itself, it demands to be continued, and I am left wondering and wishing to know how the spiral path will be revealed.

    May this inevitably inward journey furnish you with blessings to match the richness that is so generously shared with your readers.

    • James Sale

      Thank you Stuart – and your concerns are also on the forefront of my mind. It is weird how one has an ‘idea’ as to what is the correct pace for such a work, but really could one ever know in advance. Recently, I have felt inspired, and now I feel I need to stop for a while, but the danger of stopping is always like arriving on the Land of the Lotus-Eaters and one never arises again! But I am trying to tune into that ‘steady pulse for the long haul’ – a great expression. And thank you for saying that the lines have ‘such breadth and weight yet move forward’, for that is exactly what has to happen is this is to work. It is yin and yang, or rather yang and yin: too much weight and the verse become ponderous and pompous and full of its own self-importance; too much flight and it becomes superficial and trite. So, to return to the Odyssey the path between Scylla and Charybdis is exactly down the middle, and only the Muse enables such a journey. Thanks again – much appreciated.

  21. Cheryl Butler

    what a simple yet profound idea to create a 21st epic poem inspired by Dante, in a format which is both simple and complex and flows like the journey, carrying the reader down into the depths, a physical and spiritual journey. It also allows the reader to create visual images, feel the confusion, a dream and a nightmare. And of course like all great journeys it needs to continue to a final resolution, hopefully to the light.

    • James Sale

      Thanks Cheryl – yes, you are so right, and the big difficulty is … a final resolution that is in the light! Although one intends these things, one cannot totally predict how a real poem will finally work out, since it is itself a voyage of discovery: I won’t know what I really think and feel until the Muse reveals it – though my intentions are honourable, nonetheless! Appreciate your taking the time to reflect on this work.

  22. Dr Tom Woodman

    Well James, this really is a remarkable achievement. Terza rima is harder in English because of the lack of rhyme words, but there is no lack of the Dante effect here! You have the real blend of dignity and plainness, not to mention the mixture of personal and general experience and content. Please keep it up.

    • James Sale

      Thank you Tom – that is deeply encouraging, especially as you are a deep scholar. Thank you for your observations, and I am attempting to keep this up as I – er… – descend down!! Let’s hope for the turning point!

  23. Michelle Fawn

    Such a beautiful, masterful poem. Reading it I felt moved to tears and I was reminded of a fundamental human truth my soul remembered but my mind had forgotten. Such effortless flow and structure, it touched me deeply. I look forward to reading more of James’ classic works.

    • James Sale

      Thanks Michelle – I am delighted you have been so moved by this poem; and I like the idea too of ‘remembering’ what we have forgotten, which is a principle underpinning poetry as Mnemosyne was the goddess of memory and the mother of the 9 Muses in Greek mythology. She was the daughter of heaven and earth (Uranus and Gaea). I also like the distinction you make between your conscious mind and your soul; this is a central distinction. Thank you.

  24. Joseph Charles MacKenzie

    Dear Mr. Sale,

    This canto is a journey which rewards at the end. I am unequal to the task of comment in this case. To pretend that I possess even the first means to comment would be unjust to your magnificent vision.

    • James Sale

      Thank you Joseph – your views are very important to me, as I am on record as stating how great your poetry is, and so praise from you is especially telling. But there has been recently a lot of activity on SCP to the effect that praising people’s poetry is somehow forming a church of do-gooding, mediocrities, who simply want to engage in mutual back-slapping and self-congratulation. Nothing of course could be further from the truth. On a personal level I make it a point of honour to myself not to distort what I believe to be true, or to write reviews to curry favour with others. Equally, I believe that when people attempt to write poetry they should be praised for what they achieve. That said, it would be crippling if the youth and the newbie, as soon as they ventured a poem, were assailed by the fact that their verse didn’t measure up to Shakespeare or Pope. We need to exercise kindly discretion. As St Paul put it, We need to admonish the unruly, encourage the fainthearted, help the weak, be patient with all men (and women). Indeed, we need to build up a strong community that is built upon respect, truth, and the understanding, the profound understanding, that Poetry is bigger than anyone of us, and that Apollo himself destroys the hubris of those who think they are bigger – as Marsyas did – than he is. The silver bow is already bent – the arrow already poised. So thank you again for your contribution. You astutely observe that ‘at the end’ is when the reward comes; yes, the Cantos are now having to go down into hell, first; but I hope when I finally come out you will also say, ‘It was really worth it to get to the end’.

    • J. Simon Harris

      That’s a great reading! I love the idea of posting poetry readings on YouTube; it hearkens back to the origins of poetry, which was spoken aloud for centuries before it was ever written down. Thanks for the link!

      • James Sale

        Thanks for your appreciation of this reading. I am doubtless partial as it is my poem and it is my youngest son performing it; but independently of my relationship with him, he is a gifted performer as others have commented. He will be very pleased with your comment and I will direct him to it. Also, as you point out, there needs to be more on YouTube – this kind of thing does have oral precedent. Thank you again, Simon.

  25. james sale

    If you have enjoyed Cantos 1-3 published on the pages of The Society of Classical Poets, then I am pleased to inform you that Canto 4 of The English Cantos has now been published by The Lowestoft Chronicle in their Spring edition. It can be found out:
    They have kindly provided a link back to Cantos 1-3 on their pages. I hope you will enjoy this too and find it still an enthralling read. And while posting, let me say as well, I am really looking forward to meeting many of the SCP’s finest poets in June when I shall be over in New York for a ten day visit. I can barely wait to meet some of you!

  26. Ann Phillips

    I have found the YouTube reading by your son so interesting that I then continued to read aloud the following verse for myself finding so much that spoke deeply to me, so many phrases that thrilled me and when the words spoke of your cancer and operation, James I found myself remembering all that you had shared with us in that long-ago time at Ammerdown. You have inspired me to keep reading your Cantos with gratitude for your gifts that you so generously share.


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