Wednesday, September 28, 2016

The Art of the Poem

Cable car in San Francisco (photo by David Yu)

You can kill a good poem by reading it. Some of you know this, having sat through some pretty languid poetry readings. If you’re not careful, you can also kill a poem by trying to write it. Today I will talk a little bit about poetry and I will also tell you about my latest poetry project.

Poetry is not words on a page. If the words are good, they can evoke that sense of poetry, or they can guide one to that wellspring where poetry is even now churning and flowing. Sometimes I liken the art of poetry to the cable cars in San Francisco.

Making Connection

When I visited San Francisco, I rode on one of its famous cable cars. The cars themselves have no motor mechanism – no power of locomotion within themselves. There is a cable underneath the street that is constantly moving. The cable car operator uses a big hook on a long levered pole to connect to the cable. Once the cable is engaged, the car begins to move. Disengaging the cable allows the car to stop. Poetry is that subterranean cable that is always moving. If words can engage that cable, then we have a poem. 

We writers can make endeavors to write poetry. That process can sometimes be an on and off, fitful attempt to create an artful poem, but the poetry itself is always surging and moving below the surface.

Like Eating Peaches

Photo by George Hodan
The difference between written words and poetry is like the difference between a technical description of the best farming techniques in some agribusiness journal, and actually eating a peach with the juices running down your chin, your fingers, and your elbows. You have to lean over to limit the mess while you savor the sweetness. Even reading about peaches will not give you that sensation that you will never know until you taste the tart sweetness in your mouth while the juices drench your elbows.

Poetry is found in the cable car and in the peach. You have to tap into that subterranean movement in order to engage the poetic sensibility that is part of our collective unconscious. You have to feel the sweetness of the words as you lean over to lessen the mess, letting the juices drip down the sink or over the porch rail. Then you will be in the vicinity of poetry. Words can only point you in the general direction.

Writing with the Masters

Last year I launched an experiment which turned out to be a most rewarding experience. I called it The Masterworks Series: Poetic Reflections on twelve masterpiece works of art. It was a 12-week exercise in the writing of ekphrastic poetry – poetry written in response to visual art. Of that series, the one that I liked the best was "My Love Walked Through" in response to Matisse's "Still Life With Pineapples" because it became a thirtieth anniversary poem to my wife. The one that continues to get the most views even now, however, is "Unbound View," in response to C├ęzanne’s Mont Sainte-Victoire. 

Next week I will begin sharing my second series of ekphrastic poetry. This series I am calling The Artsongs Series. My hope is that on occasion, poetry will be achieved, or at the very least, you can be pointed in the general direction. If nothing else, you will be able to spend some time viewing the works of the masters, including Renoir, Raphael, Picasso, and Rivera. You can see the first post on Wednesday, October 5.

Photo by J Pellgen 


Monday, September 26, 2016

Monday Music: Unchained Melody

The Chapman stick was devised back in the 1970s by jazz guitarist Emmett Chapman. While it resembles a guitar fret board, it is longer and wider, usually having 10 to 12 strings. Instead of strumming, or plucking the strings, as with a guitar, the notes are made on this electric musical instrument by "fretting", or tapping the strings against the fret board.

Here you can enjoy Matt Rogers and Mark White of Heartstrings playing "Unchained Melody."

Saturday, September 24, 2016

Saturday Haiku: Morning Air

 the air is heavy
as morning light emerges
night withdraws in peace


Photo: Sunrise, Lake Tuscaloosa by Brenda Johnson Harris


Wednesday, September 21, 2016

To Hear a Poem

Today we often think of poetry as words on a page: a book of poems, or a poem in a literary journal. Poetry is often tied up in the reading of the text. It may be a quiet reading at home, or it could be a reading for class discussion. Before poetry was written, however, it was an oral art form. Epic poems were spoken in public gatherings and in circles gathered around a fire at night.

I believe that poetry is still primarily meant to be heard. If it can be heard in a public setting, so much the better. There is something about hearing a poem that that engages both the speaker and the hearer in ways that the printed page cannot do.

Finding a Moment to Listen

A few years ago, I was in the public library and I found an audio book of poetry. It was titled, The Poets' Corner: The One-and-Only Poetry Book for the Whole Family, compiled by actor John Lithgow.  It is available in print as well, and provides a wide range of poetry. Lithgow gives an introduction to each poet as well as commentary, which is helpful, but the most important thing to me was the hearing of the poetry, read by Lithgow himself. John Lithgow apparently has a preference for the spoken word, himself. In the cover notes we read:

From listening to his grandmother recite epic poems from memory to curling up in bed while his father read funny verses, award-winning actor John Lithgow grew up with poetry. Ever since, John has been an enthusiastic seeker of poetic experience, whether reading, reciting, or listening to great poems.

The wide variety of carefully selected poems in this book provides the perfect introduction to appeal to readers new to poetry, and for poetry lovers to experience beloved verses in a fresh, vivid way. William Blake, Emily Dickinson, Edgar Allan Poe, and Dylan Thomas are just a few names among Lithgow's comprehensive list of poetry masters. His essential criterion is that "each poem's light shines more brightly when read aloud."

I checked out the audio book and thoroughly enjoyed the listening. It stayed in my car so that in driving to and from work, instead of listening to music hits or daily news I listened to poetry from some of the best poets in the English language. I highly recommend this exercise for any poetry lover or for anyone wanting to know more about poetry. Spend time listening, hearing the words and the rhythms of the poets.

“My Favorite Poem”

For those in the Birmingham area, this coming Friday night at 7:00 p.m. is a wonderful opportunity to hear poetry read in a public setting. The program is called “My Favorite Poem,” and will feature people from all walks of life getting up to read their favorite poem. I have been before, and it is a truly remarkable experience to hear a variety of poems. Like Lithgow’s book, it is a night for “the whole family,” so you will not hear objectionable language, but you will hear some fine poetry, and each poem will be someone’s favorite. This year I am pleased to be able to participate, so I will have a poem to share.

The event will be at the Alabama School of Fine Arts in downtown Birmingham (1800 Reverend Abraham Woods Blvd).  In partnership with the Birmingham Arts Journal, the ASFA Creative Writing Department will host the Birmingham area's My Favorite Poem event. In its eleventh year, the event is set for this Friday, Sept. 23 and will start at 7 p.m.

I hope to see you there!

Monday, September 19, 2016

Monday Music: That's Alright, Mama

Paul McCartney along with the late Scotty Moore who was guitarist for Elvis Presley playing Elvis' hit, "That's Alright, Mama."

Saturday, September 17, 2016

Saturday Haiku: Swallowtail

butterfly in flight
renews its strength by stopping
to rest in beauty


Photo by Malcolm Marler (Eastern tiger swallowtail)



Wednesday, September 14, 2016

Flashback: An Ordinary Life

[While I am working on another project, I have been re-posting some of my favorite past essays. This one was written around 2004, several years before I began blogging. This post appeared on my blog on November 9, 2010. I would later write more on this subject in my essay, Form and Substance: How a Sonnet Saved My Life, which was also featured in the current "Flashback" series.]

St. Andrew's Episcopal Church
"People who live with disabilities have something very important to say about what it means to be human"

I found myself getting a bit teary-eyed last Sunday during the closing hymn celebrating All Saints Sunday. The hymn was “I Sing a Song of the Saints of God.” In the old 1940 Episcopal hymn book it was listed under “Hymns for Children.” I knew it had been a favorite of my friend, Meg Parker. Hearing the song made me think of days past, and so I decided to post this essay I wrote several years ago after Meg’s death.

An Ordinary Life
by Charles Kinnaird

Meg Parker lived an ordinary life, which was quite an accomplishment given the obstacles that she faced. She lived in an apartment and had a daily routine with friends and colleagues. Meg had loves and conflicts. She knew joys and sorrows, gains and losses. The fact that she lived the life that she did is a tribute to her family, to the community at St. Andrew's Episcopal Church, and it is especially a tribute to Meg herself.

Meg Parker lived with developmental disabilities and a seizure disorder. St. Andrew's Foundation provided group homes for adults with mental retardation. It was there that Meg was taught daily living skills and was able to acquire some measure of independence. Eventually, she was able to move into an apartment with a roommate. There, with supervision, she was able to live a normal life with a normal routine. She was also able to move from a sheltered workshop to her own job in the community. She had a good life, and she was determined to enjoy life in spite of the difficulties.

At her funeral, the priest, Father Marc Burnett, said just the right things to commemorate the life she had lived before that final seizure "shook her from this life into the next." As I sat there listening to the eulogy, I could not help thinking about the day, eighteen years earlier, when I first met Meg Parker

I first visited St. Andrew's Church in March of 1984. I was a Baptist seminary graduate trying to figure out what to do with the rest of my life. Meg was the first one to welcome me to the parish that day. Little did I know how my life would change after that encounter in 1984. Within the year, I had joined the Episcopal Church and had begun working at St. Andrew's Foundation (which was later named St. Andrew's Place). The parish and the group homes would become central to my life for the next twelve years. It was Meg Parker and others at the group homes who caused me to re-evaluate my worldview and to reassess my ideas about what things are important in living a meaningful life. I came to see the importance of ordinary things: a simple meal shared, a conversation about little things, an outing in the park.

So much happened during those years. I was able to immerse myself in Anglo-Catholic liturgy, social service, and progressive theology, all of which were a break from my Baptist roots. It was also there that I met my wife and our daughter was born. All of these things were changes for the better. I shudder to think how life might have been otherwise.

My life took a dramatic turn on that day back in 1984, and Meg Parker's welcoming of a stranger played no little part in its turning. It was at St. Andrew's that I came to realize that people who live with disabilities have something very important to say about what it means to be human. How we respond to people with disabilities says something very important about who we are as human beings. When I look at the ordinary life that Meg lived, I see it as a sign of hope. In the final analysis, is that not what we all want – an ordinary life? All of us achieve that ordinary life the same way that Meg did, only with help from our friends.

[Note: The group homes and supervised apartments of St. Andrew's Place are now under the auspices of The ARC of Jefferson County]

Monday, September 12, 2016

Monday Music: Psalm 23 (Bobby McFerrin)

[I first posted this song back in January of 2012 before I began the Monday Music feature. It is one of those posts that continues to be popular (according to my blogger stats it is the second most popular of all of my posts -- right behind Bob Dylan's 60 Minutes interview and ahead of my review of Rick Bragg's All Over but the Shoutin'). I decided to feature it again today on Monday Music.]

Bobby McFerrin does something remarkable with Psalm 23. The music is lovely, but the most significant thing he does here is to use the feminine pronoun in reference to God. It is amazing what this shift does for the effect of the psalm. The first time my wife and I heard it was on a PBS telecast several years ago  I think it was with the Boston Pops concert series. We were both moved to tears as we listened. The song also appears on McFerrin's CD, Medicine Music. Here's a You Tube version, scroll down to read the lyrics. 

The 23rd Psalm
By Bobby McFerrin

The Lord is my Shepard, I have all I need,
She makes me lie down in green meadows,
Beside the still waters, She will lead.

She restores my soul, She rights my wrongs,
She leads me in a path of good things,
And fills my heart with songs.

Even though I walk, through a dark & dreary land,
There is nothing that can shake me,
She has said She won't forsake me,
I'm in her hand.

She sets a table before me, in the presence of my foes,
She anoints my head with oil,
And my cup overflows.

Surely, surely goodness & kindness will follow me,
All the days of my life,
And I will live in her house,
Forever, forever & ever.

Glory be to our Mother, & Daughter,
And to the Holy of Holies,
As it was in the beginning, is now & ever shall be,
World, without end. Amen.


Sunday, September 11, 2016

Two Poems for 9/11

Fifteen years after the tragedy of 9/11 we are not as stunned as we were on that day, but our individual lives were changed and our nation's path was altered. Now, fifteen years later we still see hate and violence. Our people are easily swayed during every political cycle to fan the flames of fear: fear of the other, fear of the immigrant, fear of the terrorist. Yet no good decisions are ever made from a position of fear. Such decisions cause us to be constricted. We fear taking the risk of helping another. We fear losing what we claim to be ours. Decisions based upon fear usually lead to more violence.

Finding the Better Angels of our Nature

The times are far from certain, and during uncertain times, it is important to get in touch with the better angels of our nature, as Abraham Lincoln called upon during another uncertain time in our history. Sometimes it is in our brokenness that we can make contact with those better angels. For me, poetry is one way to communicate how we can move on in our brokenness. 

Here are two links to poems that speak to moving on in our times of grief and brokenness. The first is at the Poetry Foundation website. It is a poem by Adam Zagajewski, "Try to Praise the Mutilated World" from Without End: New and Selected Poems . The second is a poem I wrote on the first anniversary of 9/11 and posted here on my blog on the tenth anniversary. Click on the hyperlinks below to read each poem:


Photo: Twin Towers of Light
by Louis Jawitz
(Getty Images)


Saturday, September 10, 2016

Saturday Haiku: Waterways

waters softly call
and rivers swiftly beckon
life will find the way


Photo by Matt Hunter


Wednesday, September 7, 2016

Flashback: My Season with Dante

[While I am working on another project, I am re-posting some of my favorite essays. This post originally appeared on October 26, 2012. That summer was very much enriched by my study of Dante, and I had a great time putting this together with words from Dante's The Divine Comedy and illustrations by William Blake. ~ CK ]

Just as a dolphin having been held captive in some murky inland pond might have an expansion of his senses when released into the warm open gulf, seeing reefs of bright coral, schools of colorful fish, and waves of sea grasses in the ocean-filtered sunlight; so was my plunge into the world of Dante Alighieri this past summer. 

The impetus for my glad baptism into Dante’s The Divine Comedy was a class that was offered at St. Francis Xavier Catholic Church in Birmingham, Alabama. In the class, led by Daniel McCormick, Director of Religious Education, we would watch “Dante in Translation” with Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta  online via Open Yale Courses on You Tube. We would then spend some time in discussion, which was always interesting.  The class met weekly for ten weeks, and only covered Inferno.  The first time I read Dante was in high school, and there again, all we read was Inferno. I was delighted to have the opportunity for literary discussion and I became motivated to delve further into this classic work of literature. I did two things that greatly increased my appreciation for Dante. One, I found an audiobook version of The Divine Comedy in the public library.  Two, I listened to the entire work, Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. Unlike in high school, this time I was not going through Hell for nothing. I wanted to keep on moving to find out what else lay in store.

Don’t Get Bogged Down in the Details

For all who might be considering reading The Divine Comedy, I would highly recommend listening to it first.  I think you will get more from the listening than from the reading. First of all, I believe poetry was meant to be heard. It is an oral and aural art form. Second, it is easy to get bogged down in details when you try to read Dante. I found that when I read the work, I was constantly stopping to read footnotes to try to understand who this or that person was, or what was intended by certain historical or mythological references. I found that when I relaxed and just listened, the whole experience was one of fascination and wonder. I might have understood about half of the incidental context and personal figures referred to by Dante, but the gist and meaning of the work was readily accessible.  By not trying to stop and figure out every detail, I was able to experience the flow and the rhythm of the tale and to hear the beauty and wonder of the words.

I should also note that since I have no proficiency in Italian, I did not experience "pure" Dante. What I listened to was, of course, an English translation. Knowing my experience of Dante may be "once removed," I am still grateful for the skill and the talents of translators who have brought Dante's world to life in my own native language.

Painting Vivid Pictures in the Mind

                                                         “Dante’s is a visual imagination”
                              ~ T.S. Eliot

I have often said that poets are natural at analogy because everything in the world reminds them of something else. Dante was an absolute master at the art of analogy. He constantly weaves vivid images for his reader/listener.  By painting a picture in words of some scene readily accessible to the reader, the Florentine poet in essence says, If you can imagine this, then you can get an idea of that.  Consider this analogy in Paradiso, Canto 23 when describing Beatrice as she looks toward Heaven:

As does the bird, among beloved branches,
when, through the night that hides things from us, she
has rested near the nest of her sweet fledglings
and, on an open branch, anticipates
the time when she can see their longed-for faces
and find the food with which to feed them-chore
that pleases her, however hard her labors-
as she awaits the sun with warm affection,
steadfastly watching for the dawn to break:

so did my lady stand, erect, intent,
turned toward that part of heaven under which
the sun is given to less haste; so that,
as I saw her in longing and suspense,
I grew to be as one who, while he wants
what is not his, is satisfied with hope.

By the time the poet mentions his lady Beatrice, I had in my mind that scene of the bird, soft and earnest with a piercing gaze through the branches and toward daybreak. And it was not only the facial image; it was also that maternal instinct of diligent nurturing and caring. All of this transferred immediately in my mind to allow me a clear view of that human/celestial lady who was Dante’s guide from Purgatory through Paradise.

In Purgatory, Dante and Statius Sleeping
while Virgil Keeps Watch
(William Blake)

In Purgatorio, Canto 3, the departed souls are astounded to see that Dante casts a shadow in the sunlight, something they are not accustomed to seeing among souls in Purgatory. Dante doesn’t just say they stopped in their tracks, he provides a picture of what such a scene would look like:

Even as sheep that move, first one, then two,
then three, out of the fold-the others also
stand, eyes and muzzles lowered, timidly;
and what the first sheep does, the others do,
and if it halts, they huddle close behind,
simple and quiet and not knowing why:

so, then, I saw those spirits in the front
of that flock favored by good fortune move-
their looks were modest; seemly, slow, their walk.
As soon as these souls saw, upon my right,
along the ground, a gap in the sun's light,
where shadow stretched from me to the rock wall,
they stopped and then drew back somewhat; and all
who came behind them – though they did not know
why those ahead had halted  –  also slowed.

In Inferno, Dante draws upon similarly common images to achieve a much more stark visualization in Canto 32 as Virgil and Dante walk through the frozen ninth circle of Hell:

And as the croaking frog sits with its muzzle
above the water, in the season when
the peasant woman often dreams of gleaning,
so, livid in the ice, up to the place
where shame can show itself, were those sad shades,
whose teeth were chattering with notes like storks'.

Metaphor, simile, and analogy are not as frequent in Inferno, but they are abundant in Purgatorio and Paradiso. That wondrous imagery to be found in The Divine Comedy is one compelling reason not to stop with Inferno. I highly recommend the reader to progress through the entire work. Therein lies an epic journey of dramatic visualization. Oh, and in case you haven’t already guessed, my opening lines were an attempt to imitate Dante’s use of visual metaphor.   

A Geography of the Soul

     “The soul hath Heaven and Hell within itself…”
                                            ~ Jacob Boehme

Virgil with Dante at Hell-Gate
(William Blake)

"Abandon all hope, ye that enter"
                               ~ The inscription over Hell-Gate

The world that Dante presents in The Divine Comedy is one of substance and dimension, so much so that charts and maps have been made to plot the poet’s journey through Hell, Purgatory and Heaven.  The more valuable measurements, however, are to be made in the soul. For me, the value of Dante is not in picturing some geography of the afterlife in the way he presents Inferno, Purgatorio, and Paradiso. The value for me is the poet’s insight into the geography of the soul. For the reader to engage in Dante’s epic poem, there will naturally come self-reflection and a sense of deep self-examination.  To travel with Dante from the depths to the heights of imagination is to take a critical look at personal interactions, politics, and motivations.

In the Garden

Early on in Inferno, the reader is given a cautionary tale of a well-ordered peaceful garden. Professor Mazzotta, in his Yale lectures, pointed out that while the garden is a place where one feels safe and secure,  it is in fact a place where one is subject to great danger. The danger Dante faced in the garden was that of poetic hubris when he began to see himself associated with the great poets. The garden in The Divine Comedy was, after all, on the pathway to Hell.  

When I considered that warning, I thought of some examples of my own well-ordered garden.  Personal meditation, or “quiet time” can easily become a habit in which I retreat from the real world. It is easy to imagine a “spirituality” that works within that well-ordered garden of meditation, but will not hold up in the real world. Thus a useful practice such as meditation can become a dangerous place when it becomes isolated and egocentric. It can be that well-ordered garden on the way to Hell. 

Another garden for me is poetry. Poetry can be a realm of transcendence, but if it becomes merely an escape, danger is surely not far away. Within the perceived order, structure and safety of the garden, we disarm ourselves and can fall prey to hubris. Well-ordered gardens come in many forms. 

Reason and Impulse

“A man who has not passed through the inferno of his passions has never
  overcome them. “
                                                                                        ~Carl Jung

Virgil comes to Dante as he is running from the Three Beasts
(William Blake)

There is a section in Inferno near the beginning in Canto V that describes punishment in the afterlife, but can also speak to the heartache that many encounter in this life.  Dante describes those in the second circle of Hell as suffering because they subjected their reason to the rule of lust:

When they come up against the ruined slope,
then there are cries and wailing and lament,
and there they curse the force of the divine.
I learned that those who undergo this torment
are damned because they sinned within the flesh,
subjecting reason to the rule of lust.

The value of Dante’s words for me is not the idea that people receive certain punishments in the afterlife. The value for me is the illustration of how we can bring torment upon ourselves by acting on impulse and never learning to let reason be our guide. Dante saw humans as having both animal drives and intellectual reason along with spiritual capacity. He envisioned a better way to live by allowing love and intellect to rule over our life rather than being subject to animal passions.

How many people live roller coaster lives of high drama because they live by impulse rather than by reason, and are guided more by greed than by compassion? A colleague of mine told me about working as a registered nurse in the emergency room of a large hospital in another state. He told me that when he began his orientation the nurse manager said to him, “After you have worked here for a while, you will see that tragic things happen to tragic people.” While it is true that bad things can happen without regard to a person’s merit or choices, it is also true that there are consequences to our actions. By paying attention and doing some self-examination, we can affect how things will unfold. While suffering is inevitable in this life, we can reduce the suffering of others as well as our own pain by the choices we make and the actions we take. We all carry within us a mixture of impulse and reason, greed and compassion, love and hate. Which traits are in ascendancy can determine the quality of the life we live. It is a matter of careful examination of the geography of the soul.

The Lady Beatrice

“O! for a muse of fire, that would ascend the brightest heaven of invention.”
                                                                  ~William Shakespeare in Henry V

Beatrice was for Dante an inspiration in life and the image of Beatrice became for him a focal point of wonder, creativity, love and divinity. The poet understood instinctively the tremendous inner enlivening that came by calling upon the feminine image of Beatrice long before Carl Jung wrote of the anima which he described as the feminine archetype which serves as the creative force within the psyche. Charles Williams wrote in the Introduction to The Figure of Beatrice: a Study in Dante that in this lady, Dante was showing to the world how to approach God through the Way of Affirmation as opposed to the Way of Rejection.  Williams tells of how the Way of Rejection approached God by rejecting all images that were not God, until the divine was found, while the Way of Affirmation approached God through those images in which the divine is reflected. He mentions that St. Athanasius spoke of the Way of Affirmation when he described Christ's Incarnation as not so much a “conversion of God into the flesh,” as it was a “taking of Manhood (sic) into God.” Dante, Williams goes onto explain, brings the Way of Affirmation to a further realization in his poetry when he uses Beatrice, along with the city of Florence and the poet Virgil, to show to us “the inGodding of man (sic).” (pp.9-11)

Beatrice Addressing Dante from the Car
(William Blake)

There is no way to overstate the importance of Beatrice in the life, work and vision of Dante. She was his inspiration in life, as the poet explains in La Vita Nouva, and upon her untimely death, she took on a much more cosmic role in his life and imagination. She was his muse, his inspiration, his enlivening. She was his guide in The Divine Comedy from Purgatory into Heaven and to the very presence of God. One wonders if Carl Jung would have understood as completely the role of the feminine archetype within the psyche if Dante had not spoken so eloquently and gloriously of the Lady Beatrice centuries earlier. Before Dante, poets would appeal to their muse (the feminine inspiration for music and poetry), but Dante made the concept at once more elevated and more intimately personal than the world had yet witnessed.

So Much More to Say

There more to be said of Dante’s world and his work. Indeed, much has already been said by scholars more qualified than I:
  • There is the profound psychological statement on Dante's part when he begins his work saying that he was "in the middle of the journey of our life" when he found himself lost in a dark wood. Carl Jung was one of the earliest to formulate a psychological concept of midlife transition, stating that the primary goal of the second half of life is to confront death. Perhaps this is another concept that Jung got from Dante.  
  • There is the significance of the classical poet Virgil who was Dante’s wise and noble guide and who explained to Dante that it was Beatrice who summoned him to his aid. 
  • There are the three blessed women who make Dante's journey possible: Mary the mother of Jesus who set things in motion and directed St. Lucia (associated with sight and vision) to enlist the help of Beatrice in Dante's journey. 
  • There are the many conversations Dante had with "shades," souls along the way in his journey from Inferno to Paradiso.
  • There is much to be said of the city of Florence and the politics of Dante’s time which sheds more light on the poet’s work.

My purpose is not to say all that can be said. I only wish to share my wonder and enthusiasm for the poetic genius of Dante, and to encourage others to discover the poet for themselves.

Lucia Carrying Dante up Mt. Purgatorio
(William Blake)

A Few Resources

There are many excellent resources available. Your public library will have many books on the shelf for your perusal.  Here are a few that I found:

  • The Divine Comedy: Inferno - Purgatory – Paradise, Naxos Audiobooks; Unabridged edition (November 30, 2004) This is the audio version that I found at our public library. Heathcote Williams narrates and Benedict Flynn did the English translation. It is also available for purchase online or I’m sure can be ordered at your preferred bookstore.
  • The Figure of Beatrice: a Study in Dante, by Charles Williams, published by  Faber and Faber (1953). This is the work I referenced above, and is another one that I found at the library. It is also available in more recent paperback editions.
  • Blake's Dante: The Complete Illustrations to The Divine Comedy, by Milton Klonsky. Harmony Books, New York (1980). This is a compilation of illustrations painted by William Blake for an edition of The Divine Comedy that was never published. Many of Blake's paintings are unfinished, but they are still quite fascinating - as you can see by the few that I chose to illustrate this blog post.
  • The Open Yale Courses, “Dante in Translation” with Professor Giuseppe Mazzotta  which our class viewed is available on You Tube. You can access those lectures at .
  • The quotations I used from The Divine Comedy are from a translation by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which I found online at There are other translations available online as well. A modern translation by A.S. Kline can be downloaded at 
  • There is also a beautiful and elaborate website, Dante’s World, at

St Peter, St James, Dante and Beatrice with St John the Evangelist
(William Blake)

[About the first picture: The picture at the beginning of this post is from the Wikipedia entry for The Divine Comedy. The caption for the picture reads, “Dante shown holding a copy of the Divine Comedy, next to the entrance to Hell, the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory and the city of Florence, with the spheres of Heaven above.” The painting is from  a fresco by Domenico di Michelino, La commedia illumina Firenze on the wall of Florence Cathedral, Santa Maria del Fiore.]

Monday, September 5, 2016

Monday Music: This is my Song (Finlandia)

The tune "Finlandia" was composed by Jean Sebelius and has been used for other hymns ("Be Still My Soul" is one example). "This Is My Song," by Lloyd Stone, was written when the poet was 22 years old. It was after WWI and the song is a beautiful example of having love for one's country while recognizing the need for peace among the nations. The song is performed here by Indigo Girls.

                    This is my song, O God of all the nations,
                    a song of peace for lands afar and mine;
                    this is my home, the country where my heart is;
                    here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine:
                    but other hearts in other lands are beating
                    with hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

                    My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
                    and sunlight beams on cloverleaf and pine;
                    but other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
                    and skies are everywhere as blue as mine:
                    O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
                    a song of peace for their land and for mine.

                                                                       ~ Lloyd Stone


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Saturday Haiku: Sensations

bees' feet feel flowers 
in a delicate grooming
we can but wonder  


Photo by Charles Kinnaird

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