The main thing I learned is that the best time to read (or reread) this classic is during Lent. Who knew?
Like the rest of the Commedia, the poem is meThe main thing I learned is that the best time to read (or reread) this classic is during Lent. Who knew?
Like the rest of the Commedia, the poem is meticulously structured. The three parts are the arrival at Mount Purgatory (the only landmass opposite the inhabited continents of the known Earth), then the climb up the mountain around the seven cornices of purification, then the allegorical pageant of the blessed in the Earthly Paradise. Unlike the descent into Hell, Dante and Virgil complete their ascent over the course of a few days after Easter AD 1300, and because they may not make upward progress while the Sun is down, there are enforced rest (and dream) periods. This time when Dante interviews the souls they have an orientation toward Heaven; they are already saved, and submit to their trials voluntarily, as a sort of ultimate self-improvement. The stories are sometimes quite similar to what we saw in Inferno, with the addition of a sincere repentance and absolution at the end. At the same time, Dante the pilgrim is changing, having his sins erased from his brow as he grows lighter and lighter on his trip up the mountain. The way Dante understands what he sees when he arrives in Eden is Scholastic, not psychological, and it takes a fair amount of exertion to get into the proper frame of mind to appreciate the symbols and allusions packed into these scenes. This kind of work is not for everyone, probably, but there are moments of great beauty for the reader who can make the journey. ...more
I think it's good to read this every ten years or so, to marvel at Dante's inventiveness at the miseries these souls (heavily weighted toward those whI think it's good to read this every ten years or so, to marvel at Dante's inventiveness at the miseries these souls (heavily weighted toward those who were his contemporaries) have made for themselves, and how he makes himself so perfectly clueless about the very cosmology he devised. I paid particular attention to how as the author and his guide descend into Hell the sense of fantastic horror increases in a way that I don't think existed before. It felt like the aim was to burn out all vice in the Dante character so that he could re-emerge on the other side ready to take the path back toward heaven, maybe because of all the strife and tumult he'd experienced in his very political life up till then. Reading the whole book in a month, about one canto a day, it just the right pace to allow one to study the endnotes. Most of the individual stories he crams in here I'd already forgotten from the previous times I've read the book. Of course many of these have now been adopted by other artists, but there are lots of others whom we know only through a couple of lines of verse seven centuries after they lived. This is the second time I've read Pinsky's translation. I like it, but maybe not as much as John Ciardi's which seems more graceful, less brutal in places. The poem is a terrible beauty, studded with those amazing metaphors Dante was so fond of....more
I haven't read an entire Norton Anthology before but I thought I'd do just that. The 'Postmodern' in this anthology's title is still defining itself iI haven't read an entire Norton Anthology before but I thought I'd do just that. The 'Postmodern' in this anthology's title is still defining itself in reaction to poetry written in the earlier part of the twentieth century and in reaction to the different movements within itself - Black Mountain poetics, conceptualism, language poetry, flarf. Because of this, a reader who isn't an insider must necessarily spend a lot of time in bafflement at exactly what is going on within a poem, sometimes a confusion which is encouraged by the poet. But leafing through these examples of what's going on in the avant-garde you can collect some examples with appeal. The ones I noticed were by Robert Duncan, John Ashbery, Gary Snyder, Rosmarie Waldrop, Elaine Equi, Haryette Mullen, Peter Gizzi, Craig Dworkin, and Noelle Kocot. It will be interesting to see what this might become in another two or three decades. Will it be a paper volume of upwards of 700 pages like the one I read?...more
Sze's style is to crowd image upon image, the showy and the modest, natural phenomena and human drama, packing them in so tightly that the reader is aSze's style is to crowd image upon image, the showy and the modest, natural phenomena and human drama, packing them in so tightly that the reader is almost dazzled by the abrupt shifts. In this way he says something about the variety of existence on earth. It is at a pole apart from confessional poetry, with the author's voice kept detached from the subjects being discussed, which makes the reader think more in terms of editorial choices which went into the poetic collage. I think someone who goes in with an expectation of a single message carried by a particular poem will be disappointed, whereas one who takes the time to feel each finely detailed element and consider how it fits or conflicts with its neighbors might have a better appreciation of what the poet intends....more
The clarity of his poems is not geometric - they are full of bits that stick out, strands that just peter out at the end, fits and starts and sudden dThe clarity of his poems is not geometric - they are full of bits that stick out, strands that just peter out at the end, fits and starts and sudden distractions. It is a good simulation of what a thoughtful life really is like. And if he is jokier than most poets of this generation, that just makes him a more welcome guest among one's shelves, at least when one is in a humane sort of mood....more
Every so often it's good to read something to remind me that poetry doesn't have to be minimal to be good. Not all the poems in this slim volume is aEvery so often it's good to read something to remind me that poetry doesn't have to be minimal to be good. Not all the poems in this slim volume is a masterpiece, perhaps not even most of them, but a few of them did make me take notice. It's also fun to see the photos reproduced at the end depicting the Beats at various points in their epoch....more
This is my second time reading this, and I think that because I knew how it was structured I was able to enjoy it better this time. The otherworldly pThis is my second time reading this, and I think that because I knew how it was structured I was able to enjoy it better this time. The otherworldly preoccupations of Dante do not match the typical ones of our worldly time. The flamelike souls he encounters assemble into elaborate patterns as if this fourteenth century poet knew about computer graphics, as a sort of extension of the very last section of Purgatorio where he describes the allegorical pageant in Eden. And through it all, Dante's inspiration for his journey, Beatrice, becomes more and more idealized until she ends up as little more than an enraptured smile in the realm of the Empyrean. This is rarefied fare for the modern reader raised upon realism and natural depictions in literature. This is the least prosaic sections of the epic poem, and it might help to think of it in specifically non-prose terms, as if it were a very long song lyric maybe, where our expectations of what makes for a satisfying experience is not tied in with the same kind of storytelling tradition. Along with the allegory comes a large helping of Scholastic philosophy, of medieval orthodoxy, and ecclesiastical inside politics. If we pay attention to the people who are described here, we recall that this is being written at the tail end of the centuries of Crusades, when the temporal power of the Church was close to its highest point. This can be a problem for many readers, and not even only the unbelievers. It can be a hard read for someone who is not already interested in saints and emperors and bishops, patriarchs and religious warriors, who fill these cantos. It's worth noting the way these encounters affect the pilgrim Dante: he becomes increasingly bedazzled, literally losing his sight at one point while witnessing these souls who now shine in the firmament. He is as star-struck as any present-day fan of celebrity might be. I feel the best way to read Paradiso is to do it while enjoying the paintings and illuminations it has inspired over the centuries since, by Doré and Blake and Dalí and anonymous illuminators. Some of these really help convey the feeling of rapture Dante wants to instill....more