Welcome, dear scribe, to hell.

You have, through some unfathomable twist of destiny, arrived in a dark and lonesome wood, wherein the straight road no longer lies. Here, in these hallowed pages, you will read of a descent into the depths of the inferno, where light is but a memory. Here, you will find The English Cantos.

Like Dante before him, the poet James Sale takes us on a journey into a contemporary vision of hell and heaven, based off his near-death experience in Ward 17 of Bournemouth General. The English Cantos is an epic told in 33 cantos, using the terza rima of Dante, standing four-square against the meaninglessness of post-modernism. As Virgil guided Dante, so too Dante will guide James on this incredible journey. Follow its progress:

Canto 1 – “It had to be – that long descent began”

Canto 2 – “Another depth beckoned.”

Canto 3 – “My soul in living now wanted to hide “

Canto 4 – “And how I ran – in terror from those cries”

Canto 9 (extract) – “I do not know how long that tunnel was”

Following on from the events of HellWard, and echoing the tripartite hell-purgatory-heaven division of Dante’s epic, James Sale’s modern poem continues with StairWell, volume 2 of The English Cantos. Extracts from StairWell have been published on the Society of Classical Poets, and you can find them here:

Canto 1 – “Yet, how could that be, for I was lost?”

Canto 3 (extract) – “Recalled to me what I’d tried to forget”

Canto 8 (extract) – “One nave, huge, high-ceilinged, a new-found land”

Canto 10 (extract) – “A line stretched back to lost and ancient days;”

Canto 10 (extract 2) – “Not he. Oh! How his suffering’s entrenched…”


Here are what some people have said about The English Cantos:

“Riveting, horrific, terrifying . . . this pulled me in inexorably and forced me to keep reading, even through the pain. Dante would be proud.

-Amy Foreman

“As others have said, this is an ambitious project to begin, but I think Mr. Sale has met the challenge and begun with a bang. The writing is spectacular, peppered throughout with quotable moments (and many people in the comments have already begun quoting it), interesting metrical variations, and interesting rhymes and slant-rhymes. And the subject matter… well, let us just note what a bold task it is to take on a project like this.” – J. Simon Harris, poet and translator of Dante’s Divine Comedy

“I am in awe!”

Carol Smallwood, poet

“Extraordinary and powerful, and a demonstration of how traditional style and references can speak directly to contemporary concerns and that ‘meaningless of post-modernism’ that James Sale mentions. I look forward to more instalments, in the hope that they will help us all rediscover spirituality and put aside at least some of the materialism of the world today.”

-David Orme, author

“I absolutely love this poem. It takes you through a whole range of emotions and the personal hell James went through with his own ill health. You really feel the pain and then the joyous recovery.”

-Sue Kerr, reader & book-club leader