Canto 8: Covid-Priest

from The English Cantos Volume 2: StairWell

StairWell is the Poet’s Purgatory, and as in
HellWard where
we met with contemporary
challenges such as Brexit, so here in StairWell
the Poet, led on by his guides Dante and Virgil,
runs into another—Covid. 

…With Dante facing a tunnel which swerved
Abruptly upwards, down which organ sounds
As from a church spilled; but we held our nerve,

Pressed on, as each step our steps unwound;
We entered into a marvellous space:
One nave, huge, high-ceilinged, a new-found land

Whose emptiness astonished—a still place,
Designed for worship but more like some crypt
In which humans might be, yet see no face.

Suddenly, as from nowhere, muffled lips
Screeched out a warning almost clear, but tart:
I heard, ‘Pandemic on—feet—apart—six—

Or leave!’ We shuffled unsure; Dante alert
But Virgil and I experiencing guilt—
Too close, were we? So, we were causing hurt?

Whose voice was this with its imperious lilt
And caustic accusation? And there she was,
As if up from an altar where she dwelt—

Then magicked into our presence, alas!
‘I am the priest in charge—Penny Crow—
Where have you been, and have you had the vax?’

She wore the sacred vestments loose—her cope,
Cassock and tippet, grand finery of church,
So that poor Virgil shrank, felt drained of hope,

That one so high—near God—with God’s own stature
From holy garments, Peter’s sanction given
To be the Rock on which authority perched—

How then, without her blessing, get to heaven?
Poor Virgil—used to power, imperial-bent,
But only that type which is earthly driven;

His hopes all now above, how strange Crow’s rant,
But sensing some divine rebuke within,
Taken aback by reprimand’s raw cant,

How down he seemed. But what was, wasn’t sin
Immortal Dante knew, who’d seen God’s face.
‘I come,’ he said, ‘to lead these from ruin,

To where the chapel of St Luke is placed,
Not here—where desolation’s to be found—
But where at last their solace will be tasted.’

Why! Reverend Crow, open-mouthed, astounded;
Did not this new-comer trespass her domain?
Was that her teeth—who else’s—we heard ground?

‘Excuse me, you are?’ she said, annoyed, plain
Disturbed, so that why bother be polite:
Her “Jesus” enjoined not that rule or strain?

Besides, just who was this spirit of … light?
She flinched as before whom she addressed glowed,
Such that her certainties mind held took flight;

Some dubious fog appearing danger showed;
Be careful—we saw her heart shrivel back
Into its desiccated shell of pride,

Not wanting to commit now to attack
Until identity was clarified—
Suppose this angel, bishop—what bad luck!

‘I was a man once,’ Dante said, ‘but died;
Before I did, I wrote about the Popes,
Corruption in the church, and thus not shied

Away from scolding killers of Christ’s hope:
That all the world might be saved, saved through Him’—
I felt it, Virgil too, a tremor’s throb,

As if he had in naming of His name—
For one instant revealed—nothing stood;
Nothing could stand, for all existence lame;

The living too—all frozen in their blood
And toppled. Myself, I felt panic rise
In that recess where heart finds little good,

Wanting to cry: ‘Cover me—blind my eyes—
Oh, everlasting hills be my refuge!
Lest I should see the One the world despised—

And die.’ Now kneeling, Virgil like some stooge
To my own actions—we both stupefied—
Raised arms as if he were some thaumaturge

Who rearing mercy—the while petrified—
Perhaps might hope only grace limitless
When faith and love in us had never died

Because—as sinners in our own long chaos,
They’d never lived. And then a stillness held,
Abrupt and sudden, quiet as green moss,

Replaced the quake, unfinished and untold;
A dream we had maybe, vision to come—
When finished fully God’s plan would unfold.

For now, though, we sat back, both dazed and dumb.
Above us, sensing Dante stood—advanced—
Towards the priest whose own fear—rendered numb—

Unfounded by this calm—at first, she winced
As some reflex to higher truth dismissed,
As one might to a voice heard at a séance;

Then Dante’s head near close enough to kiss
Her lips, which to her suddenly loomed;
Outraged, and in recoil, she spluttered, hissed;

(The nave not big enough for all its room!)
‘An epidemic’s here—put on your mask—
How dare you stand so close, and so presume—’

Before her sentence closed, finished its task
However, Dante’s right hand upstretched high
And pointing ceilingward he held an ankh—

From whence it came I knew not—but to the sky
Beyond the roof and steeple its ley lines
Sped on their way, awaiting their reply

Quite instantaneous: ready with His signs—
Dissolving what had seemed solid above,
We saw transparent stars in order shine,

Zodiac rotating on its wheel of love;
Already Virgil, I, were on our knees,
Now Dante fell to his, and there we shelved

Our souls in reverence. But no, not she—
Still standing, looking round witless and lost,
Unable to comprehend what all could see—

The constellation—Aries’ shining ghost,
Which momentarily flickered high above,
As if a switch clicked then Aries went … lost …

Because these shepherds owed their sheep no love:
Too busy with their own right-on careers,
Too busy fiddling all their woke-riffed moves,

Too busy, busy, for souls living here—
Out from the churches, one by one, they stray,
Chewing philosophies, bleak, false and drear.

‘Great God,’ cried Dante, ‘Your people can’t pray—
This place—like Ripon in the north—is closed
To prayer, though they prayed on Black Death days,

And prayed when Europe’s Spanish Flu was loosed;
Through each catastrophe and every war
Prayer and sacraments were diagnosed.

But you—glad tidings: Covid’s what you hear!
With solemn disappointment tell the flock
For all their sakes your Archbishop’s been clear:

So, slam the church door shut; and prayer, put a sock
In it—why, praying, singing songs to God
May spread disease—better God under lock.

And you, you hypocrite, pretending good,
As if you weren’t glad not to tend the sheep,
Be done, abolish tedious needs for food:

Communion itself for those whom God keeps—
Beware, for “Jesus” whom you claim to serve
Is not so mocked; and sowing’s what you’ll reap.

Remember Paul? Don’t worry, you’ll not starve,
But will—’ With that, he paused, and his hand turned,
And pointing the ankh, ‘Get what you deserve.’

Something like panic inflamed, deep-like burned
Across her face as the stars drooped to fade,
The roof grew solid, and sensing she’d be harmed,

‘Stop praying,’ she screeched, ‘restrictions forbid!’
But now great Dante stood and held the while
That ankh at her face and said, ‘Too late.’

A whisper … hissing … as of some gas-spill
Grew in intensity. ‘My friends, lie flat.’
Instantly, we obeyed; but she stood tall.

‘Hear now,’ cried Dante loudly, ‘… that estate
Saint Paul informs us of —’ A sudden blast
Of fire purged through the porch’s iron gate

And through the church, consuming in its path
All flesh that it encountered. We, floor-bound,
Only felt the heat above our necks, rasp—

And dare not look, eyes fixed firm to the ground.
But my mind’s eye grasped all, sharp as glass is:
Fire burned upwardly, forming one massed mound—

A vaulting pillar just like one before that Moses
Saw—and which led the Israelites across
Vast deadly deserts in their hopeless darkness,

Now settled on her, intending her loss.
As some image viewed, rear-side of my head,
I saw her squirm and squeal as in flames tossed

Her being’s atoms started to unthread.
Whatever’s unworthy perished in this blaze;
And still beside stood Dante, unperturbed.

Then said a word, or maybe more, a phrase:
‘Do you believe?’ Screaming in entangled harm,
‘I do! I do! I do!’ nearly too late;

But soon enough; his ankh freely turned
From minatory to another aspect:
Of light that burned away the fire that burned!

Upon the wall of flame a new prospect
Appeared—a circle, laser cut, as one
Who burgles breaks glass—through his hand irrupts

To lift the inside latch. Now baked and done,
Her desperate hand reached out to touch his sign,
And doing so—grace works!—the pillar’s gone.

Collapsing on the stone floor’s hard design—
That wreck of former self, yet soul still there,
Preserved as by immortal love’s strong bind

That for all perfidy still held all cure,
For those who called on that one name of Christ:
The One whose own Word He cannot forswear.

I saw him: Virgil, his own hair uprist,
As my own body trembled on the floor;
We both aware how near the Master’s tryst

With her with whom He settled now the score.
I cried out, ‘Mercy, Lord,’ and hid my head,
Praying the while His Presence would pass over.

As in a sleep, and then one wakes in bed,
Sunshine is streaming through the window pane,
So sensing, I woke to morning’s bright thread.

There Penny sat, re-clothed in white, and sane;
Confessing, so it seemed, to Dante beside,
Learning the alphabet of grace again:

ABCs of meaning to be Christ’s bride.
In some sweet lull of time—clerestories
Allowing light to stream through reddened sides—

Dante removed himself, to join our story,
And she the while in a high psalm-like song
Continued, satisfied, re-writing history

In light of His great right against her wrong.
We moved to exit but her voice then soared
So that my heart thrilled knowing she belonged

To that heaven where heart is at the core.
How I repented hostile thoughts intended;
I wanted, yes, to stay awhile, hear more.

But go we must, and she—till singing ended
And all transformed to light in Him—must stay.
Ahead, a path from out the church wended

A new direction opposite in way
From where we’d been, now not liturgical,
More powerful, political in sway…



Notes on the Extract

‘the chapel of St Luke’ – The Royal Bournemouth Hospital where the Poet suffered his surgery for cancer has a chapel of St Luke for prayer and restoration, and the Poet extensively went there to pray once he had regained my strength and could leave his sick bed. Of course, naming it the chapel of St Luke is particularly appropriate as Luke – author of the gospel and the Acts of the Apostle – is known (by St Paul) as the ‘beloved physician’ (Colossians 4 v 14). He is symbolized by a winged ox or bull – a figure of sacrifice, service and strength.

‘And pointing ceilingward he held an ankh’ – The ankh symbol—sometimes referred to as the key of life – is representative of eternal life in Ancient Egypt; its shape is a circle atop a cross.

‘The constellation – Aries’ shining ghost’ – Aries symbolises the Ram or sheep, who with their false priests no longer have a shepherd, and so are set to be lost.

‘This place – like Ripon in the north – is closed’. Ripon Cathedral: its crypt had been open continuously to the public for prayer for 1349 years. Meaning: not closed for the Black Death, the Great Plagues, the Spanish Influenza, not to mention the various wars that England has been involved in since AD 672. But it was closed during Covid-19.

‘… that estate / Saint Paul informs us of -’ 1 Corinthians 3 v 13: ‘each one’s work will become evident; for the day will show it because it is to be revealed with fire, and the fire itself will test the quality of each one’s work.’

‘A vaulting pillar just like one before that Moses / Saw’ Exodus 13 v 21 ‘And the LORD was going before them in a pillar of cloud by day to lead them on the way, and in a pillar of fire by night to give them light, so that they might travel by day and by night.’

‘The One whose own Word He cannot forswear.’ 2 Timothy 2 v 13 ‘if we are faithless, he remains faithful, for he cannot deny himself.’

‘uprist’ My favourite usage of this word has to be from Coleridge’s The Ancient Mariner: ‘Nor dim nor red, like God’s own head / The glorious sun uprist.’ Bliss!

‘There Penny sat, re-clothed in white, and sane’ faintly echoing, ‘People came out to see what had happened and, when they approached Jesus, they discovered the man from whom the demons had come out sitting at his feet. He was clothed and in his right mind, and they were seized with fear.’ For the full story see Luke 8 v 26-39.

StairWell, volume 2 of The English Cantos, will be available on Amazon on the 1st March, 2023 here.



James Sale has had over 50 books published, most recently, “Mapping Motivation for Top Performing Teams” (Routledge, 2021). He has been nominated by The Hong Kong Review for the 2022 Pushcart Prize for poetry, has won first prize in The Society of Classical Poets 2017 annual competition, and performed in New York in 2019. He is a regular contributor to The Epoch Times. His most recent poetry collection is “HellWard.” For more information about the author, and about his Dante project, visit https://englishcantos.home.blog

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30 Responses

  1. ABB

    A great chapter filled with many wonderful touches. Love the line: ‘Pandemic on—feet—apart—six— / Or leave!’ Your use of the dash creates a sense of momentum throughout the work, and the spaces in-between the distancing rule create a nice mimetic effect.

    The inclusion of notes reflect and heighten the erudition of the main piece itself and highlight it as a work for serious intellectual study. Absurd the Ripon was closed during COVID after having been open during the Black Death. The parody of Penny Crow appearing as a modern Jesus is a brilliant touch.

    Wanting to preorder, but would prefer the paperback to the kindle version—will that be available before March 1?

    • James Sale

      Thanks for this Andrew: you are, as it were, a poet’s poet; in other words, alongside the poetry itself, you have a deep technical interest in the properties and deployment of words. Not all poets do, and since I believe in the Muse, not all need to; Dante was technical, as was Milton, but I always feel that Shakespeare was less so, despite all the books analysing his rhetorical figures and prowess. It seemed to ‘flow’ from him, almost naturally. So, to return to your comments, I am really glad you liked the machine gun effect of the dashes. And too, glad you liked the addition of Notes: a couple of good friends said to me that they would be a boon, as I’d resisted doing it (and since I put TS Eliot in purgatory I might be considered a hypocrite), but now I am pleased I have. StairWell will have a full complement of Notes when it comes out to help elucidate more abstruse references. Naturally, one day I hope that there will be a deluxe edition of The English Cantos and I will be able to go backwards and fill in that missing piece of the puzzle! Thanks so much for your kind words.

  2. Cynthia Erlandson

    So much crucial truth, and so much enjoyable humor here, James. Your early description of the priestess had me laughing! Some of my favorite lines and phrases: “Into its desiccated shell of pride”; “Because these shepherds owed their sheep no love”; “better God under lock.” And the rhyme of refuge / stooge / thaumaturge” was very clever.

    • James Sale

      Thank you so much for your kind words, Cynthia – and that I made you laugh too is a joy to know. Seriousness sometimes needs to be leavened by wit and humour! And it’s especially great that you noticed that triple rhyme. Have you ever had that experience when you write something and then find you are impressed yourself with it? You think, did I do that? Ah, the Muse speaks! Thanks again.

  3. Roy Eugene Peterson

    I was entranced by your allegory that must rank with the all-time great classical poet masters, but even more than that an epic of immense proportions. The combination of Virgil, Dante, and Penny Crow is an inspired combination of personages acting in a modern and likely pseudo-religious context (at least that is how is seemed to me). Your effectual barbs at how authorities dealt with Covid are unmistakable and apropos. You packed so much intellectual thought into this Canto that everyone’s mind must be stimulated by all you portrayed and accomplished. The juxtaposition of religious rectitude with crass cultural mishandling of the epidemic drive home your points and should be read in Parliament and Congress in addition to the highest elected leaders and officials.

    • James Sale

      Hi Roy, I have noticed you are a consistent supporter of my English Cantos (with a few others) and I want you to know I really appreciate that. Indeed, your comments must rank as one of the most generous comments I have ever received: ‘must rank with the all-time great classical poet masters’ must be a line I have to use on my marketing for the book! I cannot be my own judge in such circumstances, but … if only … what we aspire to: not for the glory itself but in the hope that in creating such works (we at the SCP) will forge and leave a legacy that truly informs, transforms, the dead culture we are currently in and will thereby enable renewal. Philosophy is useful, but too abstract for most people; religion is most powerful but too scarey for most people in the West; so poetry must carry more – the imagination that illuminates as it inspires. Let’s hope so. Thanks again. And yes, please help me get it read in Parliament and Congress – really appreciate that boost!

  4. Brian A Yapko

    James, this is a thrilling juxtaposition of Biblical and current events which affords the reader the shock of recognition of the very frustrations most of us faced in dealing with irrational pandemic orthodoxy at the height of covid-insanity – and to some degree even still today. I have seen Penny Crow at the grocery store, in church, at government offices, but I never expected to see her in a Dante-inspired epic. I am not sure if you have brought the Bible into modern times or vice versa, but either way it works. Two things stand out for me. A) the echoes of Luke and the exorcism of the demon that you bring into the narrative after the Purge Scene (which offered a surprisingly sweet resolution to a frustrating and then terrifying encounter;) and B) the “Purge Scene” itself. The Purge Scene clearly references Exodus with the pillar of fire, but was so cinematic it reminded me of the climactic scene in Raiders of the Lost Ark when that same pillar of fire (Spielberg said he got it from Exodus) eradicated the Nazis and cleansed the scene of all that was unholy. The Egyptian ankh gives an interesting resonance to this story of Israel and the Egyptians (which is also echoed in the setting of Raiders.) Lastly, your narrative finds room for grace and the possibility of having people’s rigid minds changed, which may be the most miraculous thing here of all. It may well take an act of God’s grace to do it (and, perhaps, a little more time for the unfinished clay to bake in the kiln since fire is not always destructive) but it’s possible.

    • James Sale

      Thank you too for being such a positive supporter of my work. I love your comments and strangely they are prophetic in that only 2 days ago I (re-)watched Indiana in the Crystal Skull and last night (re-)watched the Temple of Doom (great fun though possibly the weakest in the series) and all this in preparation of seeing part 5 later this year!!! You can’t put a great hero down! The original Raiders of course was ground-breaking in its way and you are probably right in assuming these vestigial memories from the big screen; that said, nothing beats the original text for sheer scale and drama. and this story is always with me – with us! It’s a metaphor as the early Christians long ago recognised for that journey we all suffer now, but which leads to the Promised Land that our souls yearn for. Thanks again – really appreciate your attention to details.

  5. Margaret Coats

    Excellent choice, James, for a serious sinner who may spend centuries on the StairWell. I see that she is your equivalent of Statius in Purgatorio. That is, Penny Crow is an insignificant figure representing many others who offend in vast numbers of ways. We have lockdown priestlings as petty tyrants by the tens of thousands–at least. Those who killed human beings by withholding available treatment for the virus or by forcing on them unsafe vaccines stand among the worst. But still worse are those who killed their fellow men, mostly in poorer nations, by starvation through economic consequences. In 2020 the World Health Organization predicted 132 million additional deaths by starvation because of lockdown policies. But far more serious than these mass murders are the “killings of Christ’s hope.” Looking at the situation in a sober, rational manner, we see the likelihood of many, many souls lost forever to church closures, refusal of the last sacraments, and denial of any consolation to individuals experiencing suicidal despair. And we currently live alongside many souls likely to be lost in the future because they lost faith and hope during lockdowns, and have now abandoned any moral and religious practice.

    As you point out, pandemic priestlets are puffed up with pride and do not believe in Christ. They are belligerent, but may shrink immediately when anyone challenges their falsely assumed authority over anti-spiritual practices, as your Dante does. I am happy to know many stories of hidden or open resistance led or commended by real priests.

    With regard to your story in the above canto, I am impressed by your use of nuclear blast procedures. I recall participating in military field exercises simulating nuclear explosions in which we hit the dirt, stayed down until the blast wave passed over, and then got up to carry on the mission, supposing the fireball had not burned us too badly!

    But I am also interested in the name, “Penny Crow.” Online there is someone by that name who specializes in “strategic thinking,” and has developed an intellectual tool kit called “Pillars.” Sounds like a challenging candidate for conversion!

    • Joseph S. Salemi

      I assumed that “Penny Crow” was just one of the many “Karens” of Covid-policy compliance, forcing lockdowns and distancing and masking and multiple vaccinations wherever she went, and using official authority or unofficial shaming to keep all of us in line.

      This canto is an amazing satire of that entire mentality, which combines bureaucratic arrogance with a Nazi-like urge to dictate behavior to others. In centuries to come, people will read Sale’s work and understand the kind of martinets and fanatics who tried to tell the entire planet how we should act, and who killed millions of persons in the process.

      Bravo, Jim Sale! Yours is an achievement that will last for centuries, just as Dante’s has.

      • James Sale

        Thanks Joe – that is a tremendous tribute. I am fully aware – as I know you are – that not all literature survives and for a variety of different reasons. But we can hope ours does if only for the fact that one is – through poetry – speaking the truth about the human condition without attempting to impose upon it an alien and distorting ideology.

    • James Sale

      Thanks Margaret, it’s really great to get your feedback, especially as you are very particular about what you do and don’t like! I am glad you like the nuclear blast – the Poet did feel it down the back of his head! And the name Penny Crow intrigues Brian, and Joe mentions it too. Naturally, no names should be without significance in a poem. The best names are where there is a generic and explicable significance but also, perhaps, a more esoteric and personal explanation. Thus, on the generic front: priests are prone to simony and more generally to an unhealthy interest in money – hence “Penny”. And whereas we want our spiritual leaders to be eagles who soar with their vision, we often get Crows who pick at road-kill and corpses; there is an oblique Jonsonian aspect to it as well – the names in Volpone, the Crow being one such. However, this is a real person (though as Brian says, we all know such people everywhere) and there is another reason why this Penny Crow is the perfect name. To avoid libel, please email me at james@motivationalmaps.com so I can tell you without going public; that is, if you’d like to know. Love the fact that you have found a real person of that name – but that is not she! – ironically, though, in my role as a management consultant, ‘strategic thinking’ is something I am often called upon to do!

  6. The Mindflayer

    Perhaps my favourite part of this astonishing extract is the way he draws a parallel between Aries (aka, the Ram / Sheep) and the priestly role of the shepherd (which is a role / duty Penny Crow has abandoned).

    “The constellation—Aries’ shining ghost,
    Which momentarily flickered high above,
    As if a switch clicked then Aries went … lost …

    Because these shepherds owed their sheep no love:”

    This symbolism is so profound because, of course, it has biblical and mythopoeic associations. We know that the shepherds were attendant at the nativity, the birth of Christ, and that they dutifully watched their flocks by night. Christ, of course, is the ultimate shepherd, we is flock, and Christ is sort of prefigured in the poem by Dante, who intriguingly bears the symbol of the Ankh, which, among other things, was the symbol adopted by Akhenaten who was the rebel Egyptian Pharaoh who conceived of a monotheistic and very Christian religion that yet antedated Christianity (perhaps another John the Baptist type situation in which someone is sent forth to “prepare the way”?).

    Lastly, it is the Golden Fleece of Chrysomallos (the golden, magical, flying Ram) in Greek mythology that is the symbol of authority, leadership, and the right to rule, again connecting the responsibility of the shepherd to their flock. All of this and more is evoked in this heartfelt and very passionate condemnation of moral cowardice and failure of leadership. Stunning stuff.

    • James Sale

      Dear Mindflayer – this is indeed very perceptive stuff, and realises my hope that I am not – in writing poetry – indulging in solipsism, but there is a reality out there – be it astrological, psychological or mythological – to which I can appeal and others can understand and participate in. Your words mean a lot. Thank you.

  7. Satyananda Sarangi

    After reading this, I couldn’t resist to dedicate these lines to you.

    Such long poems have the power to last
    A thousand years after they see the light,
    And fill the mortal heart with wondrous sight
    Through these ominous shadows spreading fast.

    Thank you for your excellent poem, James Sir.

    • James Sale

      Thanks Satyananda, Appreciate your verse in tribute: and I hope you are right! But the important thing for all poets is to be in the moment and do what we can do now, without worrying about things over which we have no control. I hope you will want to read the whole of this book, StairWell, when it comes out later next month. All the best – keep composing!

  8. Mark F. Stone

    James, This poem is chock-full of erudition and has many splashes of humor as well. A very enjoyable read! Mark

    • James Sale

      Well Mark, possibly the most important thing of all in writing: to be an enjoyable read. In fact, I like most the idea for anyone’s poem or book that having started, one must, simply must, finish, and in writing epic this especially true: grip the reader!

  9. Patricia Allred

    A masterpiece! That only from your hands could be writ. For some, like me, untrained in classical literature, I admi to being lost. However, not lost to the immense damage COVID caused. I was aghast at churches closing without fighting back. And how like the CCP mandates were so easily mimicked here in the USA. I think Trump has it, right on the money. It should rightly be called, ‘ the Chinese Virus”, notCOVID. People,sadly, are more fearful of COVID, than they are of China,who created the virus and spread it. A twelve year old boy, blew his brains out during lockdown. We shall never know the millions killed by the vaccine, as autopsies were forbidden. I
    have a friend who has all foods delivered, then spends hours disinfecting any box or paper that goes into her refrigerator.
    In sum, you are like Jesus, a sane man, without fear.
    Glad this was posted.
    In appreciation, Patricia.

    • James Sale

      Ha ha ha!!! Happy for work to be described as a ‘masterpiece’ but nobody is going to accept that I am ‘like Jesus’!!! Ask my wife! If only … I have far too many faults to be like Him, though of course as a Christian myself, He is what I aspire to be like. Still, I might be sane and as it is written, those who fear Him need fear no-one – and nothing – else, so I am still in the process of perfecting my fearlessness. Thank you so much for your kind comments.

  10. Dr Tom Woodman

    Another fine canto, James– sinewy yet with with marvellously lyrical passages such as the constellations which others have well praised. Penny Cow is a great fugure, but there is generosity in her moving salvation.

    • James Sale

      Thanks Tom – not many may know that my HellWard was dedicated to you, for you were my tutor in English at University back in 73-74 and you were the best. So your praise is especially gratifying – I like the word ‘sinewy’, which I happen to think my syntax is.

  11. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    James, as you know I am a huge fan of HellWard, and this marvellous canto from StairWell has whetted my appetite for more of your laser-sharp poetic focus on the evils of today’s society. The Covid observations not only serve to highlight the sheer horror of the godless rules imposed, they do so with a literary panache that has this reader hooked. I have visions of scholars a few hundred years from now poring over your words and shaking their heads in disbelief… that’s if carbon emissions don’t destroy the planet in the next decade 😉 James, very well done indeed!

  12. James Sale

    Dear Susan – thank you for your ongoing support; you are one of the committed ones! It seems to be a theme of this particular extract from the poem that it has a kind of longevity for the future (as several have mentioned it) because it is dealing with one of the biggest crises of the C21st so far – Covid and its horrors. I hope you are right – though there is no pleasure in contemplating Covid per se – and that the world is not destroyed. Let’s do the job we have to do now – keep writing! Thanks again.

  13. Ryan D

    A powerful canto from a masterful work! I read echoes of Dante’s fourth circle…of the faceless greedy and wrathful, as well as Thomas Sowell’s comments on “the anointed,” the priestly caste of academics, bureaucrats and other utopian “visionaries” whose self-congratulation and self-canonization has defined the misery of the last two years of governance here in the US. It seems that beautifully layered and composed verse has a way of boring through the opacity of our times in ways that Orwell managed to do with the novel. Real literature remains one of the best tools in our current arsenal. Bravo, James!

  14. James Sale

    Thanks Ryan – so glad you feel that poetry has the capacity to bore through the opacity of our times. I totally agree. I like Orwell’s writings a lot despite their being Left wing in orientation; the great thing about him was his ability to penetrate the pretensions and pretence of so much Left wing thinking, especially on the issue of ‘equality’. If my poetry can do some of that from a Right wing perspective, I shall be glad.

  15. Robert Oulds

    These are wonderful. James works is so sublime. His English Cantos are enthralling.

    So you will know,
    It is not the state,
    That makes a nation great,
    It is when the government is made to let go,
    That power and prosperity will flow.

    • James Sale

      Thanks Robert your words are gratifying and I think your own verse is mighty commendable: roll back the state – Amen to that!!!


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