6.02.2009

Top of the Mountain

"I've been stuck in Purgatory for a long time" is a joke that never seems to get old.

With four cantos to go of the middle installment of The Divine Comedy, I have at last made it through the final fire, out of Purgatory proper, into Paradise. The griffin-drawn chariot has just stopped before Dante, and the last few cantos have been absolutely lovely.

Once I figured out that reading the lines as if they were prose--losing the strict rhythm and line breaks--made it easier, I've been able to understand and remember more. And Anthony Esolen's translation (2003, Random House Inc.) gives as close a sense and feel of the original as can be absorbed, I think, by anyone who (like me) cannot read Italian.

From Canto 28:

"My feet stopped, but my eyes went wandering over
the far side of the river, marveling
at all the fresh and various blooms of May.
When there appeared, as now and then some thing
will suddenly appear and lead astray
anything else you might be thinking of,
A lady all alone who went her way,
singing and culling flowers in the grove,
for at her feet the dappled blossoms lay."


I thought Dr. Esolen's first notes on this simply beautiful:

"A flower's use exceeds the reproduction of the plant, as the use of the gaudy chest of the male bunting exceeds the reproduction of buntings. Or perhaps it does not: it depends upon what we mean by "use." If usefulness forgoes the parading of beauty for its own sake, or play that is other than preparatory for wars foreign and domestic, or praise poured out from a grateful heart, then a beautiful woman singing while she picks flowers in a meadow is as useless a creature as can be conceived. Interesting that she should be the first being we meet in Earthly Paradise."

Most women need such a reminder now and then--that loveliness of whatever sort they have is of value for its own sake, and that rest is a worthwhile part of life, not merely a concession to bodily necessity.

Suzy Q Homemaker here felt a bit useless herself this morning, having fallen asleep on the couch with a ponytail in her hair. But the laundry is getting washed and dried, albeit somewhat later than usual, and a hairbrush is accessible, and the rest was oh, so good.

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