Dante Alighieri – “The Divine Comedy” (1320)

The Divine Comedy is a long narrative poem by Dante Alighieri, begun c. 1308 and completed in 1320, a year before his death in 1321. It is widely considered to be the preeminent work in Italian literature and one of the greatest works of world literature. The poem’s imaginative vision of the afterlife is representative of the medieval world-view as it had developed in the Western Church by the 14th century. It helped establish the Tuscan language, in which it is written, as the standardized Italian language. It is divided into three parts: Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso.

The narrative describes Dante’s travels through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise or Heaven, while allegorically the poem represents the soul’s journey towards God. Dante draws on medieval Christian theology and philosophy, especially Thomistic philosophy and the Summa Theologica of Thomas Aquinas. Consequently, the Divine Comedy has been called “the Summa in verse”. In Dante’s work, Virgil is presented as human reason and Beatrice is presented as divine knowledge. (Wikipedia)

O’er all the sand fell slowly wafting down
Dilated flakes of fire, as flakes of snow
On Alpine summit, when the wind is hush’d.
As in the torrid Indian clime, the son
Of Ammon saw upon his warrior band
Descending, solid flames, that to the ground
Came down: whence he bethought him with his troop
To trample on the soil; for easier thus
The vapour was extinguish’d, while alone;
So fell the eternal fiery flood, wherewith
The marble glow’d underneath, as under stove
The viands, doubly to augment the pain.

Unceasing was the play of wretched hands,
Now this, now that way glancing, to shake off
The heat, still falling fresh.  I thus began:
“Instructor! thou who all things overcom’st,
Except the hardy demons, that rush’d forth
To stop our entrance at the gate, say who
Is yon huge spirit, that, as seems, heeds not
The burning, but lies writhen in proud scorn,
As by the sultry tempest immatur’d?”

Straight he himself, who was aware I ask’d
My guide of him, exclaim’d: “Such as I was
When living, dead such now I am.  If Jove
Weary his workman out, from whom in ire
He snatch’d the lightnings, that at my last day
Transfix’d me, if the rest be weary out
At their black smithy labouring by turns
In Mongibello, while he cries aloud;
“Help, help, good Mulciber!” as erst he cried
In the Phlegraean warfare, and the bolts
Launch he full aim’d at me with all his might,
He never should enjoy a sweet revenge.”

Then thus my guide, in accent higher rais’d
Than I before had heard him: “Capaneus!
Thou art more punish’d, in that this thy pride
Lives yet unquench’d: no torrent, save thy rage,
Were to thy fury pain proportion’d full.”

Next turning round to me with milder lip
He spake: “This of the seven kings was one,
Who girt the Theban walls with siege, and held,
As still he seems to hold, God in disdain,
And sets his high omnipotence at nought.
But, as I told him, his despiteful mood
Is ornament well suits the breast that wears it.

 

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Walt Whitman – “Leaves of Grass”

Leaves of Grass is a poetry collection by the American poet Walt Whitman (1819–1892). Though the first edition was published in 1855, Whitman spent most of his professional life writing and re-writing Leaves of Grass, revising it multiple times until his death. This resulted in vastly different editions over four decades—the first a small book of twelve poems and the last a compilation of over 400 poems.

The poems of Leaves of Grass are loosely connected and each represents Whitman’s celebration of his philosophy of life and humanity. … Influenced by Ralph Waldo Emerson and the Transcendentalist movement, itself an offshoot of Romanticism, Whitman’s poetry praises nature and the individual human’s role in it. (Wikipedia)

Flood-tide below me! I see you face to face!

Clouds of the west—sun there half an hour high—I see you also face to face.

Crowds of men and women attired in the usual costumes, how curious you are to me!

On the ferry-boats the hundreds and hundreds that cross, returning home, are more curious to me than you suppose,

And you that shall cross from shore to shore years hence are more to me, and more in my meditations, than you might suppose.

 

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John Milton – “Paradise Lost” (1674)

Paradise Lost is an epic poem in blank verse by the 17th-century English poet John Milton (1608–1674). The first version, published in 1667, consisted of ten books with over ten thousand lines of verse. A second edition followed in 1674, arranged into twelve books (in the manner of Virgil’s Aeneid) with minor revisions throughout and a note on the versification. It is considered by critics to be Milton’s major work, and helped solidify his reputation as one of the greatest English poets of his time.

The poem concerns the Biblical story of the Fall of Man: the temptation of Adam and Eve by the fallen angel Satan and their expulsion from the Garden of Eden. Milton’s purpose, stated in Book I, is to “justify the ways of God to men”. (Wikipedia)

Then with expanded wings he steers his flight
Aloft, incumbent on the dusky air,
That felt unusual weight; till on dry land
He lights–if it were land that ever burned
With solid, as the lake with liquid fire,
And such appeared in hue as when the force
Of subterranean wind transports a hill
Torn from Pelorus, or the shattered side
Of thundering Etna, whose combustible
And fuelled entrails, thence conceiving fire,
Sublimed with mineral fury, aid the winds,
And leave a singed bottom all involved
With stench and smoke. Such resting found the sole
Of unblest feet. Him followed his next mate;
Both glorying to have scaped the Stygian flood
As gods, and by their own recovered strength,
Not by the sufferance of supernal Power.

“Is this the region, this the soil, the clime,”
Said then the lost Archangel, “this the seat
That we must change for Heaven?–this mournful gloom
For that celestial light? Be it so, since he
Who now is sovereign can dispose and bid
What shall be right: farthest from him is best
Whom reason hath equalled, force hath made supreme
Above his equals. Farewell, happy fields,
Where joy for ever dwells! Hail, horrors! hail,
Infernal world! and thou, profoundest Hell,
Receive thy new possessor–one who brings
A mind not to be changed by place or time.

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