Nel mezzo del cammin di nostra vita
mi ritrovai per una selva oscura,
ché la diritta via era smarrita.
The journey into hell and out again to light is not for one person, but for all souls. It is the journey we must make to discover who we really are. Whilst creating The English Cantos, James has been overwhelmed not only by the incredible support for his effort, but also by the responses. Artists, poets, cinematographers, and novelists have all bent their efforts to unveiling a little more of the world depicted in The English Cantos. On this page you will find these wonderful contributions enshrined, along with links to the creators.
Intro to Wind and Vanity. Below, we have a phenomenal rendition by T. M. Moore of arguably the bleakest book in the Bible, Ecclesiastes. He has transformed the original text into terza rima, the same 3-line stanza form used by Dante to write The Divine Comedy. The terza rima propels the pace of the narrative, whilst also linking certain lines to provide a complex webwork of meaning. For example: the “earth abides” is linked to “returning like the tides”, reinforcing the natural life-and-death cycle of the planet and all living things. Read this fabulous poem here!
This poem first appeared on The Society of Classical Poets website.
Wind and Vanity
after Ecclesiastes 1
My name is Solomon, and you may know
me as the king of Israel, David’s son,
a man of wisdom unsurpassed. And so
I was. And yet I write to you as one
emerging from some near-insanity
and folly. I have seen, beneath the sun –
where all is only matter, time, and free
will – that the best of man’s intentions and
exertions are but pride and vanity.
What profit from his labors has a man
when all is said and done? What difference does
he make? What does he leave behind? How can
he hope to be remembered, though he was
intent on carving out a legacy?
The generations come and go, because
death comes to all; the hungry grave will be
our common fate. And yet, the earth abides.
The sun comes up each day perpetually;
and then it sets, returning like the tides,
to where it rises once again. The wind
blows to the south, then turns and harshly rides
up to the north. It travels without end
upon its moaning circuit. Likewise, all
the rivers flow down to the sea, and lend
their issue to its vast, dark depths. Withal,
the sea is never full; the rivers cease
not flowing, whether they be great or small,
but hasten to the sea again, release
their substance, and return. And what of man?
Do all his pondering and work increase
his understanding of this life? Or can
they show the meaning of existence? Do
they save us from this vanity we stand
in? Everything is full of labor. Who
can understand it? We can never see
enough, or hear enough, or ever do
enough to make sense of this life. Thus we
are never satisfied, and happiness
eludes us. What has been is what will be;
and what was done – though it confound, oppress,
deceive, or disappoint us – will be done
again, to our enjoyment or distress.
For there is nothing new beneath the sun,
within that wall constructed by the mind
of man apart from God. Can anyone
insist that anything is new? Or find
out something not already done or shown?
Since ancient times it has been there, behind
the veil of history, waiting to be known.
No one remembers former things; nor will
the future thank you for the seeds you’ve sown
beneath the sun. You may obsess until
you die about your legacy, but who
will care? Or who for you a tear will spill?
As king, and young, I knew not what to do
to rule my people well. And so I set
my heart to seek out matters wise and true,
to learn by wisdom all I could, and let
God’s Word illuminate my way – to guide
my thinking and my plans. That is, I set
my mind to seek the truth of God, and side
with Him no matter what, to live under
the heavens, not the sun, and to abide
there in God’s presence, filled with awe and wonder.
Indeed, this is a difficult affair.
But God has set us to it, lest we blunder
in all our folly, turn aside, and dare
the heavens to challenge our presumptive ways.
Now I have seen the works done everywhere
beneath the sun, the heights of pride, the maze
of self-deceit, and all the vanity
and lies by which men prosecute their days.
It is all folly. But we cannot see
the crooked path we walk, because it seems
straight to us. Straight, though, it will never be
while crookedness and lies define our schemes
and set our course. Beneath the sun, we feed
on wind, and all our fondest hopes and dreams
elude our grasp, and disappoint, and breed
despair and anger. What we lack, we can
not find; we fail to meet life’s deepest need.
So I communed within my heart: “Can man
know wisdom, knowing folly? I have gained
much wisdom – knowledge, too – more wisdom than
all kings who in Jerusalem have reigned
before me. I have understood all learning!”
Along with this, then, I sought to be trained
in folly and in madness. There were, burning
in me, desires and lusts, which proved to be
my ruin, nearly. All the while, my yearning
to gain more wisdom grew. I came to see
that this was merely grasping for relief
from folly, groping vainly to be free.
For in much wisdom, there is much of grief.
With knowledge, sorrows break in like a thief.
T.M. Moore’s poetry has appeared in numerous journals, and he has published five volumes of verse through his ministry’s imprint, Waxed Tablet Publications. He is Principal of The Fellowship of Ailbe, he and his wife, Susie, reside in Essex Junction, VT. Fellowship: https://www.ailbe.org
Commentary: To me, these two images reflect two selves. The ‘conscious self’, which we project outward. And the deeper, darker, ‘shadow self’. Intriguingly, the eyes of the conscious self are black, suggesting the concealed shadow within, whereas the eyes of the shadow self are gold, suggesting that they are looking into the light. The conscious self is connected with nature, the greenery encircling them, flowers or perhaps blossoms falling. The shadow self, however, is attached to more machine-like structures: wheels, grids, suggesting that it is from the darker id in the human imagination that we derive industry. The Divine Comedy principally centers on Dante and Virgil. One is a mentor and guide, and one a wandering and lost soul who must find his way to light. However, could they perhaps also represent two sides of a divided self? Virgil, the super-ego who knows the laws of heaven. And Dante, the id, who sympathises with those suffering in hell. -Joseph Sale
The above song was written by CactusRose, a musical collaboration between Joseph and Michelle Sale: “We wanted to re-imagine the story of Orpheus, descending into hell to save Eurydice. One of the magical details that makes the story come alive is that the King of Hell, Hades, sheds tears of molten tar at hearing Orpheus’ song – for the first and only time in all of Greek mythology. What kind of plea could elicit such a reaction from the God of The Dead? We wanted to explore that. It chimes with Dante, too, who shows mercy and remorse even for the extraordinary sinners he meets.” – JS, MS
We present a new installment of original Dante translations. To our knowledge, Dante’s lyric poems have never been presented in a way which allows English readers to experience the full scope of Dante’s poetic mastery – the “Canzone” form. The Canzone form served as the inspiration for such great poets as John Keats, notably with the “Great Odes.” From Shakespeare’s immortal sonnet series to Keats and Shelley’s famous Odes, much of the greatest English poetry can be traced back to this Italian school led by Dante Alighieri. – David B. Gosselin
Amor che ne la mente mi ragiona
Love, who within my mind ever discourses,
de la mia donna disiosamente,
Sings of reasons why the lady I desire
move cose di lei meco sovente,
Moves my every thought and feeling to higher
che lo ’ntelletto sovr’esse disvia.
Lands, where my weak intellect now wanders.
Lo suo parlar sì dolcemente sona,
Each word seems to issue from heavenly sources,
che l’anima ch’ascolta e che lo sente
Such that whoever would hear her speak, like fire,
dice: “Oh me lassa! ch’io non son possente
Would feel themselves struck and say “None have power
di dir quel ch’odo de la donna mia!”
To tell what sights, what thoughts and what great wonders
E certo e’ mi conven lasciare in pria,
Are found in her, who each earthly thought sunders,
s’io vo’ trattar di quel ch’odo di lei,
And who leaves one wandering, longing to tell
ciò che lo mio intelletto non comprende;
Even the smallest part of what he’s heard –
e di quel che s’intende
For which man has not a word,
gran parte, perché dirlo non savrei.
But which sounds with the force of a death knell.
Però, se le mie rime avran difetto
And thus, whatever shortcoming or defect
ch’entreran ne la loda di costei,
My verses may succumb to as they tell the tale
di ciò si biasmi il debole intelletto
Of my sweet lady, it is not her virtue derelict,
e ’l parlar nostro, che non ha valore
Nor any shortcomings of her above,
di ritrar tutto ciò che dice Amore.
But of those who wish mere words could capture Love.
Non vede il sol, che tutto ’l mondo gira,
The sun in all its worldly revolutions
cosa tanto gentil, quanto in quell’ora
Never shines on something so virtuous
che luce ne la parte ove dimora
As when its rays fall upon her, impervious
la donna di cui dire Amor mi face.
To mortal nature. When she casts love’s shadow,
Ogni Intelletto di là su la mira,
All gaze upon her hoping for salvation.
e quella gente che qui s’innamora
For all those who encounter her numinous
ne’ lor pensieri la truovano ancora,
Eyes, can’t help but discover something wondrous –
quando Amor fa sentir de la sua pace.
A place which each true servant of Love hallows.
Suo esser tanto a Quei che lel dà piace,
Whoever walks within her shadow follows
che ’nfonde sempre in lei la sua vertute
A trail of virtue and delight unknown,
oltre ’l dimando di nostra natura.
Exceeding what man’s mortal nature conceives.
La sua anima pura,
My lady’s soul, which receives
che riceve da lui questa salute,
A saving immutable grace from the heavenly dome,
lo manifesta in quel ch’ella conduce:
Displays its power in each smallest gesture;
ché ’n sue bellezze son cose vedute
For such things are felt with each sweet tone
che li occhi di color dov’ella luce
That all who see or hear find early rapture:
ne mandan messi al cor pien di desiri,
Their hearts are flooded with desire from on high,
che prendon aire e diventan sospiri.
Which takes its flight in great wrenching sigh.
In lei discende la virtù divina
Upon her descends the same virtue divine
sì come face in angelo che ’l vede;
That graces the angels who fly to Earth.
e qual donna gentil questo non crede,
And to any woman who questions her worth,
vada con lei e miri li atti sui,
Follow each of her gentle arts and learn,
Quivi dov’ella parla si dichina
For whenever she utters that speech so fine,
un spirito da ciel, che reca fede
She inspires the souls of those who tread the Earth
come l’alto valor ch’ella possiede
To shun all the pestilence and worldly dearth,
è oltre quel che si conviene a nui.
In this proving she that has the power to spurn
Li atti soavi ch’ella mostra altrui
All baseness – such things her kind learns in heaven.
vanno chiamando Amor ciascuno a prova
Effortless are all her acts that he who sees
in quella voce che lo fa sentire.
Her move must then believe in grace divine;
Di costei si può dire:
Each gesture is a hallowed sign.
gentile è in donna ciò che in lei si trova,
So it’s said, her eyes are deeper than the seas,
e bello è tanto quanto lei simiglia.
Virtuous all that which women with her share,
E puossi dir che ’l suo aspetto giova
And fair all that resembles her true beauty.
a consentir ciò che par maraviglia;
Thus no mortal can doubt her true duty,
onde la nostra fede è aiutata:
For in this our faith is ever raised
però fu tal da etterno ordinata.
From its low place, to that of eternal praise.
Cose appariscon ne lo suo aspetto
Appearing in her aspect is Paradise,
che mostran de’ piacer di Paradiso,
Which makes itself and all its joys directly known;
dico ne li occhi e nel suo dolce riso,
That is, within those eyes I’ve seen it shone,
che le vi reca Amor com’a suo loco.
Left by Love, who chose them as his dwelling.
Elle soverchian lo nostro intelletto,
She seizes every thought like streams imprisoned in ice,
come raggio di sole un frale viso:
Or as the blinding sky where Helios keeps his throne,
e perch’io non le posso mirar fiso,
Passed earthly sights and over the horizon flown.
mi conven contentar di dirne poco.
And since every sight is met with blinding
Sua bieltà piove fiammelle di foco,
Light, I’m content to give a humble telling:
animate d’un spirito gentile
Forever burning like the sun or stars,
ch’è creatore d’ogni pensier bono;
Orbiting our minds like celestial cars;
e rompon come trono
With a thunderous quelling,
li ’nnati vizii che fanno altrui vile.
She shatters each vile thought. Those by her beauty shamed
Però qual donna sente sua bieltate
Let them find in such radiance compelling
biasmar per non parer queta e umile,
Proof of the humbleness, which can be gained,
miri costei ch’è essemplo d’umiltate!
By such ways which have force to tame each perverse
Thought, just as he who wrought the universe.
Questa è colei ch’umilia ogni perverso:
My song, you seem to contradict a sister
costei pensò chi mosse l’universo.
Of yours who speaks in such a different way.
Canzone, e’ par che tu parli contraro
For while one says she speaks disdainfully, you say
al dir d’una sorella che tu hai;
She is humble, with an angel’s grace.
che questa donna che tanto umil fai
Despite our fate, which the stars oft’ temper,
ella la chiama fera e disdegnosa.
You know the sky is clear as day,
Tu sai che ’l ciel sempr’è lucente e chiaro,
Which never turns its back on us though sights betray
e quanto in sé, non si turba già mai;
Our confidence. Our mortal eyes can oft deface
ma li nostri occhi per cagioni assai
And seem to blur the heavens’ hidden trace.
chiaman la stella talor tenebrosa.
But refrain from thinking such tainted truth,
Così, quand’ella la chiama orgogliosa,
Believing such things are as they seem;
non considera lei secondo il vero,
There’s no need to helplessly scream
ma pur secondo quel ch’a lei parea:
Or let the fear, which swims within your soul be proof
ché l’anima temea,
Instead go seek her out and stay aloof,
e teme ancora, sì che mi par fero
So that you may – without hesitation – be true,
quantunqu’io veggio là ’v’ella mi senta.
Telling her “My lady, only this I pray:
Così ti scusa, se ti fa mestero;
Let me sing your praises through life’s winding way.”
e quando poi, a lei ti rappresenta:
dirsi: “Madonna, s’ello v’è a grato,
io parlerò di voi in ciascun lato”.
Translation © David B. Gosselin
Introducing artist Angela Perrett.
Angela is one of three artists invited to create work for The English Cantos project.
I popped in to see Angela in her studio recently to chat about her thoughts and developing ideas on The English Cantos. Angela is a prolific artist – working in many different media including glass. She’s been reading a translation of Dante’s Inferno and also The English Cantos.
The themes that keep recurring to her are circles, journeys, movement and trios.
She is already thinking about pieces that encourage the viewer to look through multiple layers. Evoking emotion through colour and texture, movement from despair to bliss, from stagnant pollution to life-giving experience. She is fascinated by how the language itself flows and stops, adding to the expression of movement.
Watch this space for further developments!
Writer David Orme shows us an entirely different perspective on Dante, examining him through the lens of the artists that lived contemporaneous to him. From Giotto’s austere portrait in 1321, to Nardo da Cione’s elaborate decorations of the Strozzi Chapel in the 1350s, we see how Dante was depicted by those that may have known him by more than reputation. Intriguingly, we learn their depictions – Dante often being swept up to Paradise – frequently ran counter to the political standpoint on the poet; Dante was exiled from Florence in 1302, but it appears that the Florentines subsequently regretted their decision! Take a deep dive into the art-history surrounding the great poet on David’s website!
A ciascun’alma presa e gentil core
To every captive soul and gentle heart
nel cui cospetto ven lo dir presente,
before whose sight the present words are brought,
in ciò che mi rescrivan suo parvente,
on which they may write back to me their thoughts,
salute in lor segnor, cioè Amore.
greetings in their lord, Love, I here impart.
Già eran quasi che atterzate l’ore
Of the time in which the stars are all aglimmer,
del tempo che onne stella n’è lucente,
almost a third of the hours passed from here,
quando m’apparve Amor subitamente,
when, suddenly before me, Love appeared,
cui essenza membrar mi dà orrore.
whose essence gives me horror to remember.
Allegro mi sembrava Amor tenendo
At first, Love seemed so joyful to me, keeping
meo core in mano, e ne le braccia avea
my heart within his hand, and in his arms
madonna involta in un drappo dormendo.
a woman wrapped inside a cloth and sleeping.
Poi la svegliava, e d’esto core ardendo
And then he woke her up, and humbly eating,
lei paventosa umilmente pascea:
fearful, she grazed upon that burning heart:
appresso gir lo ne vedea piangendo.
and next I saw him going off and weeping.
The first sonnet in Dante’s Vita Nuova, presented in the original Italian with a translation by J. Simon Harris. Dante sent this poem to various poets including Guido Cavalcanti, who would later write a sonnet in response.
To see J. Simon Harris’ translation of the first Canto of Dante’s Inferno, visit the Society of Classical Poets.
Proserpina was the Roman goddess of the Underworld. The mythology relating to the abduction of the daughter of the goddess Ceres was taken from Greek legend. Proserpina was abducted by Pluto whilst she was picking flowers.
James Sale: As always, the brilliance is in the small details. Proserpina was stolen from the land of the living, by her husband to be – Pluto or death – see how her head turns to glimpse one last time the receding exit of light. We cannot see the face of the Queen of death, but we can see the full, sensuous body that Pluto so desires. Behind we see the red, rawness of flowers or blood that will soon be diluted in the blue waters of the River Styx where all that is life is submerged and forgotten. What drama the artist visualises in this moment!
“Such was my prayer. And she, so far away, / Or so it seemed, looked down at me and smiled; / Then to Eternal Light she turned once more.” Dante, Paradise, Canto 32, 91-93
Linda Sale: The inspiration for my series of paintings called ‘Beatrice Turns Away’ was inspired by James reading me these lines. He was deeply moved by them and a strong image came to my mind and I got to work immediately! Around the same time we decided to visit Ravenna and pay our respects at Dante’s tomb. I was looking forward to the trip but was completely unprepared for the astonishing artwork we were to see there. The freshness of the mosaics within the forms of the basilicas literally took my breath away. When we returned I felt I needed to incorporate some of this into the painting I had started. One (the image on the far right) became the cover for James’ latest poetry book Divine Comedies.