DoorWay Canto 2, Extract

The Poet has gone through the ‘DoorWay’ and
entered heaven. Here in the second Canto and in
the constellation of Libra he meets his dead
grandfather (who was a Libran: 30/7) and his
uncle Jim, who died only ten years old and long
before the Poet’s birth, so the Poet never met him
when alive. We encounter an extract from their
meeting—the place ‘where nothing’s sure’ is, of
course, when the Poet returns to Earth. The
Seraph Michael has his St. Michael’s day on the
29th September—in Libra, and he is its presiding
spirit, for in the final judgement he is represented
with scales, in which he weighs the souls of the
risen dead.

Jim smiled at me, as one who understands;
And sure beyond a wisdom being ten
Began, explaining, re-building our bond.

‘Brother, may He above give you His strength,
Enlarge your mind, and guide you and your soul
To full contrition that you may this length

Of heaven experience—return to tell all;
He has raised you up, purposeful, for this:
That being least—no-one—of no recall—

Your words, through His Spirit, tell of His glories
To peoples who have yet to see the sun
And live. If art be true, your words won’t miss.’

I laughed. ‘Brother, you say? Me? Such a one?
But uncle is the word we use on earth;
You were before when all is said and done.’

Now laughing louder, so bemused with mirth,
He put me straight: ‘No hierarchy here,
Brother, distinctions, precedents of birth,

Class, race or sex, or features which appear
That mankind notes or dotes or makes much of;
No, here only the One is really queer—

Unlike—unfathomable in depths of love.
See, there!’ With that his finger pointed up
To vast expanses limitless above—

But in pointing, clearly, I saw one shape
Which grew in clarity from dot-like star
To juggernaut of light’s most blazing Seraph:

Michael—first-born of Seraphim, their Tzar;
But what, I understood, does ‘Michael’ mean?
‘For who is like the Lord?’—I saw how far

The pin-prick of his presence on the screen
Above and its enormous, arching scale
Was from the Lord no eye had ever seen,

Could see, except … there: Golgotha’s tale.
The thought of it, just pierced me to the quick—
As once before the sight of angels failed

Seeing it; sun gone dark, and Earth wan sick.
Beside me, sudden, soldier Seraph stood;
His light—I turned, half-closed my eyes, oblique

To presence not endured by flesh and blood;
And flesh itself irradiated by rays
That would, if on the Earth, fry up my mud;

But here I felt an increase of my days,
As if—though visitor only—some cure
Worked its effects, and would my death delay

Returning to that place where nothing’s sure…



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 “StairWell.” For more information about the author, and about his Dante project, visit https://englishcantos.home.blog

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16 Responses

  1. Michael Pietrack

    We are certainly living in the place and time where nothing’s sure! Powerful imagery and food for thought. Thanks for sharing. I look forward to reading the whole thing…

    Is HellWard book 1, StairWell book 2, and DoorWay book 3 in this series? I saw NotLost on Amazon and the cover has the same motif. Is it part of this series?

    • James Sale

      Thanks for your kind comments, Michael. Yes, HellWard (Inferno) is book 1, StairWell (Purgatorio) is book 2, and I am hoping DoorWay (Paradiso) will complete the trilogy as book 3. But well spotted, Not Lost, is book 0 if you will, or a prequel: it is not part of the epic narrative; it is entirely lyric poetry; but much of the poetry can be divided into the same 3 thematic components of what I am calling The English Cantos (ie. HW, SW, and DW).

  2. Roy Eugene Peterson

    If I understand this correctly, the poet has entered heaven’s gate and met with relatives who are explaining some features of heaven. like timelessness and equality in understanding regardless of age. Then there is a vision of more to come, but the poet is destined to return to earth weighing the truth of that which is constant and continuing with that which is temporal, perhaps to tell the world of the awesomeness of what lies ahead. As Michael said, this is a powerful message that should inspire the mind,

  3. Joseph S. Salemi

    The imagery of Michael the Archangel is powerful, with the near-unbearable burst of irradiating light from “the soldier Seraph.” And since one cannot look upon God and live, the speaker’s vision of “He who is like God” is the perfect way to reveal Divinity to a still-living man.

    James, you have truly found “The Way,” after going through the Door and the Well.

  4. James Sale

    Thanks Joe for being such a constant supporter of my The English Cantos. That you can see the merit of this little window – small extract – into heaven is deeply encouraging as we attempt to go higher still.

  5. Monika Cooper

    It’s such a mystical time of year, Michaelmas, and the surrounding feasts.

    The terza rima reads so nicely. I like your calling St. Michael “Tzar” and then pointing out the colossal distance between him and the Godhead, embedded in the very meaning of his name.

    Also that potentially frying but health-imparting radiation from his angelic presence: rings true to what it would be like to feel a Seraph next to you and know you better not look! (At least not too directly.)

    Something intangible but real and powerful comes back to earth from heaven’s vision with the poet-pilgrim. It changes him.

    (And now I want to write some terza rima.)

    • James Sale

      Thanks Monika – appreciate you have really enjoyed this so much and got the sense of what I am trying to portray. It’s a bonus that you now feel inspired to write some terza rims: such an underrated form. And I look forward to reading your work in this form in due course. Go for it!

  6. ABB

    Brilliant canto. Am reminded of when Dante meets his ancestor Cacciaguida in paradise. Interesting also how you seem to have replaced the spheres of the planets in Dante with the constellations, updating the cosmology. And unlike in Dante, where there is a sort of hierarchical morality with the upper spheres representing purer souls, your theology is based on universal brotherhood and a lack of hierarchy.
    Notice also there seem to be more perfect rhymes here than in the two previous installments: no doubt you have thoroughly figured out an exact line ratio by which each canto increases in perfection?
    Favorite stanza:
    “Your words, through His Spirit, tell of His glories
    To peoples who have yet to see the sun
    And live. If art be true, your words won’t miss.”
    I hope this work does indeed draw readers and lead them to a greater understanding of truth.

  7. James Sale

    Thanks Andrew – yes, the reference to Cacciaguida is apt – I intend to include more personal references to family than perhaps Dante had, but that’s the way it is: you follow the Muse and not allow your model to be too prescriptive; after all, Dante hardly allowed Virgil to even dictate his form! And as for the rhyme, you are right: I am following a more exact and perfect form of it, so do expect more perfect rhymes, but always keeping in mind what Winifred Nowottny said: ‘It should be clear … that elements as diverse as syntax, rhyme and diction usually have to be considered together because of their interpenetration of one another.’ As I have always maintained, rhyming just to rhyme cannot produce great poetry; rhyme has to be subordinate to a higher purpose. That purpose, of course, is always meaning – the Logos.

    Thank you too for identifying your favourite stanza, which is one I really like myself. My own favourite, possibly because the most ambitious, is – as Evan noted when he responded to the extract I sent him – contained round the line, ‘No, here only the One is really queer’, whereby I am attempting to reclaim one word for normal usage in the English language!

    Truth? Yes, via beauty. Thanks so much!

  8. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    James, I like the way you include those personal references to family… it makes it more relatable… it imbues your weighty words with a tangible reality that has me identifying with the protagonist and thinking… long and hard.

    • James Sale

      Thanks Susan. It has to come from some ‘real’ place if it is going to have foundations! And FYI, I am delighted to say that I now have copies of Fern/Elephants and am avidly reading my way through. I shall be posting a review on Amazon in due course. Well done getting them out – they look great.

  9. The Mindflayer

    I have a funny feeling that DoorWay may become the supreme volume of The English Cantos. There is an innate challenge in writing Paradise / Heaven in that how can one create a narrative where there is not a traditional form of “conflict”. But James Sale has circumnavigated this difficulty by establishing the conflict in Heaven is a conflict firstly of the Self, and letting go of the past. And secondly, of comprehension of the One – for what could be more difficult? Truly masterful!

    • James Sale

      Dear Mindflayer – thank you – as always highly perceptive comments; and as always, too, in arduous and ambitious activities, the fear is failure: to reach the top and find only anti-climax! Comprehend the One? “…Above and its enormous, arching scale / Was from the Lord no eye had ever seen, / Could see, except …” One will fall short of that vision, for Dante himself did, but … but … if one only might present some glimpse of that glory – His glory – then the quest, like the Grail quest itself – is worth whatever it takes!

  10. Margaret Coats

    James, I am happy to be able to comment on your work on May 8, the Feast of the Apparition of Saint Michael the Archangel on earth (I believe, during a time of plague), commemorated in the Castel Sant’Angelo. You provide a creative and proper account of the great angel’s appearance as you imagine it in your journey through realms rarely noticed by us. Your well-chosen words and images do encourage us with the effectual cure felt by a fellow mortal in the experience. Encouragment, I would say, is what we can expect from reading your DoorWay. Well done!

  11. James Sale

    What a great day to comment – inspiring indeed! Yes, the ‘effectual cure’ – you are the only one so far to have noticed this, and it does allude back to StairWell Canto 1 and the reference to Hezekiah and his healing through the prophet – through the sacred in fact. Healing is a leitmotif – as it should be if we consider the gospels – running through the whole poem. Thanks for your comments – and encouragement!


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