This month marks the 700th anniversary of Dante’s death. His great tour de force The Divine Comedy explores the afterlife after he finds himself alone in a deep wood. The poem explores at length the challenges and encounters of the soul through Hell, Purgatory and eventually Paradise. Written when Dante was 35, the middle year of his life , given the biblical expectation of three score years and ten. The opening lines of the epic are perhaps better known to you than you might first imagine “In the midway of this our mortal life, I found me in a gloomy wood”. To celebrate Dante I turn to one my my favorites, Malcom Guite, whose poetry and imagination has been a source of renewal to me over these past months. Read carefully his poem on Dante’s opening Canto of the Divine Comedy. Let your imagination work its work, as you grasp what might be the purpose of all these words. Hear these words today in the middle of things, whatever you are doing, and ponder the joy and the promise of the Eternal Creator whose, promise overcomes all fear, whose Life overcomes all death.
And so I start again, here in the middle,
The middle of a life I scarcely know,
How many guesses left to get the riddle?
The woods are dark and darker shadows grow.
I followed someone here, but lost her leading,
With nothing but my lostness left to show.
The voice that drew me on is faint and fading
But something else is creeping up behind
Over whose heart, I wonder, are we treading?
My shadow-beasts can scent, though they are blind
All three are here, the leopard, lion, wolf,
My kith and kin, the emblems of my kind.
They’ve come to draw me back across the gulf
Back from the path I wanted to have chosen.
Fall back, they call, you can’t run from yourself
Fall to the place where every hope is frozen…
But not his time, this time I choose to choose
The other path, path of the dead and risen,
To try the hidden heart of things, to let go, lose,
To lose myself and find again the voice
That called and drew me here, my freeing muse.
Begin again she calls, you have the choice,
Little by little, you can travel far,
Learn to lament before you can rejoice
Sing to the shadows, sing and do not fear
But sing them into love little by little
Begin the song exactly where you are.
And so I start again here in the middle – Malcolm Guite from The Singing Bowl.
in the middle of this day
I turn to you. Help me, O Lord,
to choose the right way when all
around me there are paths which lead to darkness.
You, O Lord, Light of the World,
You lead us to light and to life.
Here and now, if not the middle of my mortal life,
yet still in the middle of all that I am,
You can make new the promise of love and life.
Help me to sing praise unto You
and in that singing
may love come about, little by little. Amen.