.

Judge Not

We notice, Signor Alighieri, that
You have a rather well developed bent
For taking your opponents to the mat

And showing them that in the Main Event
They will be pinned like insects to a wall
To illustrate their faults and consequent

Amercements handed out to one and all.
To place yourself upon the Judgment-Seat,
As you have done, must take a lot of gall,

And you yourself might have to face some heat
For doing so.  Perhaps there’s yet another pit
Reserved for those who’ve chosen to compete

With God, the Lord of Law and Holy Writ,
By making show of passing Justice down,
A grave imposture He does not permit.

Did Vergil never show you that?  You frown,
As if you fear that I might well be right,
Or fear the caustic lake in which you’ll drown.

Don’t let these worries keep you up at night,
Or tremble like a stressed anemone;
Let Mercy from above allay your fright.

Make right your heart: Forgive thine enemy;
Don’t play the man who fled Gethsemane.

.

.

C.B. Anderson was the longtime gardener for the PBS television series, The Victory Garden.  Hundreds of his poems have appeared in scores of print and electronic journals out of North America, Great Britain, Ireland, Austria, Australia and India.  His collection, Mortal Soup and the Blue Yonder was published in 2013 by White Violet Press.


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23 Responses

  1. Adam Wasem

    Vengeance is mine, saith the Lord, not Dante’s. It always troubled me, in The Inferno, Dante invents all these elaborate and horrific punishments for his characters, but I was always sorely pressed to find much evidence of what exactly they had done within the poem itself, beyond just naming their transgressions once or maybe twice. I remember going over and over the text in vain for the evidence of what, exactly, these people had done to merit such eternal torment, and my inability to find it gave the experience a bitter taste of injustice. I always thought maybe I didn’t understand it, or maybe I needed to read it in the original Italian. Later I discovered the named sufferers were his real-life contemporaries, and who supposedly in real life committed grave sins, but I’ve always believed requiring extra-textual knowledge to undergird the moral of a piece of fiction to be a grave failing, and especially grave in The Inferno, where the knowledge required is, as far as I could tell, almost completely extra-textual. So thank you for addressing The Inferno’s narrator’s vindictive streak so eloquently. What better way to do that than by rhyming “enemy” with “Gethsemane?”

    Reply
    • C.B Anderson

      I’m glad, Adam, that you took this so seriously. For me, it was just a whim.

      Reply
    • Joseph S. Salemi

      Many fine poems require “extra-textual” knowledge to be fully appreciated, and all poems require such knowledge eventually as time passes. That’s why we have literary criticism and learned commentary. In any case, many Italian readers of Dante in his own day would have been familiar with the more prominent personages mentioned in the Inferno’s text.

      Dante is not being vindictive. He is describing people who are damned in hell, and who deserve what they’re getting. And for some of them, like Paolo and Francesca and Ciacco the hog, he does express a kind of pity. But more to the point, as the creator of the poem Dante has carte blanche to create whatever characters and scenarios he pleases. And he need not think about his audience, since he (like any poet) has no idea who that audience may be, or what they may know or feel.

      As Kip says, he wrote the poem just as a whim. That’s generally the right approach for a poet to take.

      Reply
      • C.B. Anderson

        Unless I wish to claim, Joseph, that my hand was guided by the Holy Father Himself, I really have no other option.

  2. Cheryl Corey

    Interesting rhyme scheme. I like “anemone”, “enemy” and “Gethsemane”; the phrase “caustic lake”. I had to look up “amercements”, so I’ve learned a new word.

    Reply
    • C.B Anderson

      Guess what, Cheryl. I’ve used that rhyme scheme before. It’s not exact, but it sounds right, and it serves the purpose. I didn’t know the word “amercements” either until I searched my thesaurus for a synonym for “punishment” that worked in the context of the iambic meter. It’s always a good thing to learn a new word, unless the word is not worth learning.

      Reply
  3. Brian Yapko

    This is a fantastic terza rima, C.B.! You have a strong message on the dangers and arrogance of trying to play God in imposing judgment. The conceit of wagging an admonishing finger at Dante is wonderfully original, effective and memorable. There are many fine lines and rhymes here (I’m particularly tickled by your anemone/enemy rhyme) but it’s the audacity of the idea in the first place that really grabs me. I will be coming back to this one. More than once. Well done.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Well yes, Brian, the entire project was great fun, for many of the reasons you have noted. Dante the Narrator is not as well placed as he might once have thought.

      Reply
  4. Mike Bryant

    Nothing forced… flows beautifully… pure C.B.
    I would never have thought to chastise Dante… now I wonder why I didn’t.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      That sounds, Mike, like the afterthought you had after voting for Jimmy Carter. I confess, I voted for him too because Gerald Ford was not good enough. We can’t imagine what courage it must have taken for Dante to have written what he wrote when he wrote it.

      Reply
  5. Margaret Coats

    As Adam Wasem points out, there is some sense of injustice in what Dante has done, because he as a living being lacks knowledge of souls that can only belong to God. Dante can claim that God reveals their sins and punishments to him, but when so many inmates of hell or purgatory turn out to be Dante’s personal or political foes, informed readers become suspicious of the author’s motives. One additional aspect is that Dante as main speaker of the Divine Comedy is himself a character created by Dante the author. With all this to consider, there is plenty of material for a poem like “Judge Not.” I understand that objections were first voiced during Dante’s lifetime, with ensuing debate. Your contribution, C. B., seems to me a very good one using Dante’s own lyric form, but bringing it up to date with current vocabulary, and touches of your personal style in rhyme and diction. The punishment suits the offense, but in a tone that avoids passing judgment and offers persuasive advice in accord with the title.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      In such matters we must, at all times, observe the distinction between judgment and discernment.

      Reply
  6. Sally Cook

    Dear C.B.
    Well done but unsettling. What I woiuld like to know is — what, in your opinion, is the cutoff point between judgment and discernment?

    .

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Perhaps, Sally, it’s the difference between cool observation and personal animus, though it could be other things. In any event, I owe you a comprehensive letter explaining my lack of response to your most recent post here. I’ll get to it, I swear!

      Reply
  7. Shaun C. Duncan

    The language flows beautifully and, as others have already pointed out, the closing enemy/Gethsemane rhyme is sensational. I can’t think of another poetic voice who could take Dante to task so effectively but with such good humour.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Well, Shaun, humor is not to be taken lightly. There is a reason Dante’s epic is called The Divine Comedy, and I wouldn’t want to disappoint.

      Reply
  8. Norma Pain

    I can Judge Not your poem, other than to say I really like it and the message comes through loud and clear. I tried to read Dante’s Inferno a long time ago but it is so dark and depressing, I gave up. So thank you for this CB.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      You are very welcome, Norma, but let’s not forget: It’s small payment for all the delightful poems of yours I have been fortunate enough to get to read.

      Reply
  9. Sally Cook

    Dear Kip –
    Hope you do find time to respond.
    I always value your comments, No matter what turn they take, you add something of interest to the conversation.

    In a lighter vein, I Just bought 2 Hibisci. One, called Starry Starry Night, is putting forth a huge asmount of red leaves. The blossoms, when they come, should be red and white striped ! Because of the leaf color, I thought I had got the Dark Red Merlot, but people tell me that those leaves are right for Starry Starry Night. What say you?

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Sally,

      I always find time for you, but sadly my knowledge of the genus Hibiscus is somewhat limited. I know that there are several species under cultivation, some with dinner-plate-size flowers and others more modest. The shrub called Rose of Sharon is also actually a Hibiscus, namely, Hibiscus syriacus. I’ve probably imbibed Merlot on a starry night, but I have no familiarity with either of those cultivars. See what the flowers look like and then compare notes with the people you alluded to.

      Reply
  10. Joshua C. Frank

    Wow. All that time reading Dante to try to understand it all, and I never thought of this. We Catholics hold his work in such high esteem, but when I read your poem, I ask myself why. Your rhyme scheme is also great, none of it forced. Well done!

    Reply
  11. James A. Tweedie

    The poet, Dante, wrote much that is true.
    His critic, C.B. Anderson, does, too.

    Reply
    • C.B. Anderson

      Much appreciated, James. Not everything I write is true, but I try not to write things I think are not true.

      Reply

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