One of my favorite scenes from the Divine Comedy takes place when Dante and Virgil arrive to the gates of the City of Dis. While crossing the river Styx, Dante is confronted by a wrathful soul who is wallowing in the muck and mire of that marsh. Dante recognizes the soul as that of Filippo Argenti an enemy of Dante’s from Florence who was likely responsible for Dante’s exile.
Dante records his words to Filippo, (Canto VIII of Mark Musa’s translation of Dante’s Divine Comedy) writing,
And then I said to him: “May you weep and wail,
stuck here in this place forever, you damned soul,
for, filthy as you are, I recognize you. ”
Apparently justified in his anger at the injustice, Dante is nevertheless not justified in holding on to his resentment. After this encounter Dante and Virgil are unable to pass through the gates of the City of Dis and are stuck there. Just as Filippo is stuck in wrath, Dante is stuck –unable to move forward, hung up in resentment, unable to let go and forgive.
Dante writes Virgil’s consoling words this way, and I find in them words which are a help to us who are stuck on our own roads, unable to go back or move forward. Virgil points Dante to this task: “feed your weary spirit with comfort and good hope.” I’ve taken this as Dante’s encouragement to us to take and feed upon the sacrament. Here is Christ’s body is our comfort and in the cup which he will only drink with us anew after resurrection is our good hope. Virgil’s words to Dante are,
“…Do not fear, the journey we are making
none can prevent: such power did decree it.
Wait here for me and feed your weary spirit
with comfort and good hope; you can be sure
I will not leave you in this underworld.”
With this he walks away. He leaves me here
the gentle father, and I stay, doubting, and battling
with my thoughts of “yes”–but “no.”
In this poem I attempt to imagine further Dante’s experience at the gates of the City of Dis, and I take a stab at Dante’s own terza rima in order to do so. If it’s helpful, you may listen to me read the poem via the player below.
Here I stand, battling these thoughts, “yes”—and “no.”
As fear floods, washes over, and through
“Oh, why did I take this journey below?”
Locked out by hate, furies bar the way into
The City of Dis through which my path lies,
And my guide has left me alone, withdrew.
Left alone. It is here I realize
That my anger, bitter discontentment
Is bound with Filippo whom I despise.
Though dead these many years I vowed vengeance
For the wound which cast me on this road,
Not a day passes without resentment.
Carrying cursing, my hard’ning heart’s load,
Is the gorgon by which I make myself stone
Demanding requite, of all that I’m owed.
This is my hell, condemned, stuck here alone.
I am caught, ensnared, hopeless for a way
Out of this mis’ry of hate, death, and bone.
A wordless poet with nothing to say
Can only trust the counsel of his guide
And though weary, not give into dismay.
He said my journey would not be denied
On comfort and good hope feed as I wait
I am not alone; see the bread and wine.
He will not leave me, but will liberate,
Will free me from chains, will unlock the door;
By his own descent, he will re-create
Off’ring the love never dared hope for.
© Randy Edwards 2017
Artwork: The Barque of Dante. 1822. oil on canvas. 189 × 241 cm (74.4 × 94.9 in). Paris, Musée du Louvre.