Tuesday, January 23, 2007

The Poets Emerge From Hell

The Rockrose Moon (A Serial Fiction) Part 26

A few years back Christian and I were reading outloud to each other parts of Robert Pinsky’s translation of Dante’s Inferno. There was some lively conversation about (how do say?) the merits of the translation.

One of the outcomes of this adventure was that he purchased for me for Christmas the paperback copy of the Gustave Doré Illustrations for The Divine Comedy. It has been standing up against the wall in the ballroom ever since behind a pile of vegetarian cookbooks.

This week I got it out. I’d been looking at Blake drawings online and then I finished reading the Merwin memoir, Unframed Originals in which in the last essay about a pilgrimage on foot to various monasteries on Athos and his mother he writes about a line from Purgatorio oh so beautifully I was magnetically drawn to Powell’s to pick up a copy of Purgatorio.

I have learned to trust my instincts about stuff like this and after a hysterical few moments of pacing up and down like a restless tiger around the well-trod poetry section I asked some guy hanging around Whitman that was certainly a professor, where the heck Dante was anyway… He made a lame joke but pointed me in the right direction.

We sold the Pinsky back to Powell’s many long moons ago but I only had eyes for the middle road, the place between, where there is color and music and the rebeholding of stars.

I saw stars this morning. I stayed up all night and went just before dawn for a wicked peppermint hot chocolate and I could see stars!

Back at Powell’s after some quick perusal what did I see but a translation of the poem by W.S. Merwin himself! And it was $6 off the cover price. That about covers a pack of tailor-mades these days, to be savored alone. If one smokes them out on the street, every three minutes some soul thinks they are the only person on planet earth smart enough to notice and attempt to bum one.

Christian, who is reading Yeats, told me the other day that my poems remind him of Yeats: was recounting all this stuff about how influential Dante was in his time. That the language of the poem is the language that came into common usage at the time because of the poem. Wow.

I love little things about the Merwin translation. I think it is funny and poignant and beautiful and topical.

“The souls who had perceived that I was breathing
and understood that I was alive still
marveled so that they became deathly pale.”

“…the young lion of the white lair
who changes sides from winter to summer…”

…Your Romagna is not and never was without
war in the hearts of its tyrants, though…

The white lair, a tyrant with war in his heart…, the State of the Union address…

Tonight when I was walking home I walked by an army recruiting office that pretty regularly now has demonstrators outside. This is the first time I have ever seen one of the army recruiters actually out there talking to them. In some small way that gave me a tiny flash of hope.

In the notes on Canto II, Merwin sites C.S. Singleton as saying that this is the first usage of the word pilgrim. “The journey through Hell is not a pilgrimage, which assumes hope of some kind.”

The Dalai Lama says, “Every human action is supposed to be for the good, but out of ignorance and, I think, a lack of a wider perspective, often our actions bring painful consequences. The present generation—with fuller knowledge about reality and a wider perspective—can carry out action for a better world, better future…”

That would be something to see!


Blogger chiefbiscuit said...

Always good to drop in and read Rose's meandering thoughts. (Loved the rabbit on the steps too!)

10:47 PM  

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