Love and Death on the Longest Journey: Dante’s 'Commedia'

Peter Steele

Abstract


'Dying,' wrote Emily Dickinson, 'is a wild night and a new road.' If I had the curious task of providing an epigraph for the Commedia, it would be in those words. The choice might seem odd to those most taken with the majesty and serenity of certain frequently-quoted passages from the Purgatorio and the Paradiso. I hope that I am properly grateful for these, but it is still true that no single one of them, even the most famous, is chiefly remarkable for its independent felicity . Rather, like their seeming opposites from the Inferno, they move in a current of passionate intellection, of perturbed and commingled imagination, which when displayed in any part of the poem affects the whole. And although by common consent the Commedia has as near immortal status as is to be had here, it is important that we understand that, first and last, this is a drama of mortality, whose most capacious avenues may still be windblown by nightmare. Speaking at one point of life itself, Robert Frost says that the game is 'played for mortal stakes.' He had it in mind that life-and-death issues are in question: but his dictum, read with Dante in mind, would also be a reminder that it is always mortals who are being engaged - the ones, that is, who are to their core both frail and dear.

Full Text:

PDF