Saturday, December 8, 2007
Let us go and make our visit
Dante and Virgil in Hell by William Adolphe-Bouguereau (1850).
S’io credesse che mia risposta fosse
A persona che mai tornasse al mondo,
Questa fiamma staria senza piu scosse.
Ma perciocche giammai di questo fondo
Non torno vivo alcun, s’i’odo il vero,
Senza tema d’infamia ti rispondo.
If I thought my answer were given/ to anyone who would ever return to the world, / this flame would stand still without moving any further. / But since never from this abyss/ has anyone ever returned alive, if what I hear is true, / without fear of infamy I answer you.
Dante's L'Inferno--(Canto 27, 61-66) Spoken by Guido de Montefeltro (one of Dante's "false counselors"). The above translation, as well as the quote from T.S. Eliot below, from The Norton Anthology of Poetry Shorter 4th Edition (Ferguson, Salter, Stallworthy, eds. Norton and Company, New York, 1997. 767).
Bouguereau's image is of Dante and Virgil's encounter, in the fifth circle, with those who suffer the sin of wrath, just on the edge of the river Styx. The lines quoted are secondarily from Dante's L'inferno, as incorporated into T.S. Eliot's "The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock."
Disorienting, perhaps. But T. S. Eliot begins his poem with the quote from Dante, above, in the original Italian. He proceeds with a very curious opening speech--perhaps uttered by a kind of anti-Virgil inviting a wearily post-modern Dante on a tour of a different kind of Hell:
Let us go then, you and I,
When the evening is spread out against the sky
Like a patient etherised upon a table;
Let us go, through certain half-deserted streets,
The muttering retreats
Of restless nights in one-night cheap hotels
And sawdust restaurants with oyster-shells:
Streets that follow like a tedious argument
Of insidious intent
To lead you to an overwhelming question . . .
Oh, do not ask, "What is it?"
Let us go and make our visit.
Almost as if to say, but not quite yet:
(Here begins "They Say it is the Second Coming" (c) Gregory Borse 2007-2008)
They say it is the Second Coming,
So I hide myself on a side street
And count the coins in my pocket
To fill my flask one last time
And soften steely nerves
For the suffering I know
will surely come.
But it never does.
I go and buy my pint at the corner package store.
The counter-lady knows me there and asks if I'd like more.
I tell her yes but thank-you no
And wander to the street,
Forgetting to prepare my face
For the faces I might meet.
It doesn't matter.
They know me because they do not know me
Nor do I know them.
We simply share a circle
And will meet again.
(for Part II, see post labeled "And they've been used to profit")