The Case For Poetry: Dante’s INFERNO

Consider this excerpt from Dante’s INFERNO: CANTO I – by Dante Alighieri, as translated by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, with modern language adaptation by Douglas Neff:

“Midway through the journey of my life
I found myself lost in a dark forest,
Having wandered off the main path.

It is hard for me to express in words
How savage, rough, and stern this forest was to me.
The very thought of it renews my fear.

It was so bitter that death could not be worse;
But in order to show you the good that I eventually found,
I must first tell you of the other things I saw.

I cannot remember how I entered the forest,
My thoughts were full of other things
When I wandered off the path.

But then I had reached the foot of a mountain,
At the point where the forest came to an end.
Until that time, I felt lost, and my heart was full of fear.

Then I looked up,…”

The lesson from this? Many, one suspects. But one for sure: we all need more time for poetry. It makes one reflect on the personal and the universal.

Right now, this excerpt (of Dante’s prose first made into poetry by Longfellow and then made more modern by Neff) has me reflecting on the state of Western Liberalism in the age of Trump. Was/is Liberalism just a fad; a post-World War 2 mirage, as the new and Alt Right conservatives would seem to contend? Will we ever emerge from the age of Trump, or are we in a Hell of our own making, forever? You get the drift. Of course, you may not accept the premise.

Anyway, perhaps it’s time to pore over Dante (again) and see where he takes you. You’ll find good English translations free on the www. Longfellow’s is the standard,, as he gave the terse prose a more poetic metre in English. Neff’s is also available to buy in hard copy or as an e-book, as is Clive James’ heroic translation of the original Dante.