There is no music in Hell.

Dante’s Inferno has long been one of my favorite things to read; in all humility, I can state I have read through it at least 60 times in the 12 years I have owned my Ciardi edition of it. And in full disclosure of my horrific addiction to the Canticle of Hell, I can say that over the years I have actually purchased 5 other copies of it, if only to have a variety of footnotes to compare and learn from in the varying editions (the Sayers edition being probably the most complete, though I still prefer the Ciardi edition simply since it was the first). In recent days I have taken a course covering the entire Divine Comedy through Paradiso, and even though I figured I had a fairly strong grasp on the work, it is interesting that there were some pretty strong facets that escaped me, which I was glad to have brought to my attention. Now that my focus has been brought towards Purgatorio and Paradiso (both of which I have also read previously, though nowhere near the extent I have Inferno), the first thing I thought when overviewing the two was the inclusion of music, mostly hymnal, in the latter works, with Inferno being devoid of sound, unless you enjoy having your ears pounded with shrieks.

I thought for a fun little project to occupy my time, as I am pretty damned bored and I see this trend continuing, was to look at some of the themes, places or characters of Inferno and try to place an appropriate song to each Canto. I am sure no one will be amused by this but me; however for some reason, after not checking this blog since the class I started it for ended, I can’t help but notice people are visiting this blog through random Google searches. I can’t for the life of me decide why people are Googling poems, being directed to this blog, and actually reading what I wrote. I hope they are not actually using me as some sort of source to try to analyze poetry they were assigned for various classes, because if that is the case these people probably did very poorly (many mistakes were made and pointed out by the professor I wrote these entries for, but I never corrected them in the blog as it was not needed). But since people are visiting for whatever reasons, I thought there should be at least something to read here that I can actually take credit for, good or bad (or coming off as a pretentious dick, alas). Also because I said I was going to do a little blogging for some friends who are abroad as a New Years Eve resolution, and promptly forgot about it in lieu of drinking heavily.

So in the coming few weeks as I find things that seem appropriate (I already have an idea of songs for a few of the Cantos), I’ll update with some music and some brief explanations of why I chose this song. This will of course require learning how to upload videos onto the blog, if that is even possible, and I am fairly inept at blogging. I think I’ll also include some pictures from the Dore and other Stradano works, since I hate not having them in one spot.

Just as a warning, the music in hell will, for the most part, be loud or fast, or both. There really is no other way.

Tenatively, the posts in this vain will be under “Musical Dante Project.”

The Black Riders: “Other” Other Lines

“The Black Riders” consists of a series of free verse poems whose subjects vary from one poem to the next, though the subject matter for the most part throughout the series tend to focus on themes of religion, war, heartache, and other personal reflections. These themes are seen in the selections we read from class: such as section one (“Black riders came from the sea,” with images of war and religion), and sections three and twenty-five (“In the desert” and “Behold, the grave of a wicked man,” dealing with heartache and personal reflections). Although these free verse poems are short, Crane still makes use of poetic devices such as alliteration, seen in the first section with phrases like “spear and shield” and “hoof and heel”; he also plays with the rhythm of the poem by repeating words like “clang and clang” and “clash and clash.” (not only is the sound apparent in the actual words, the words themselves are representative of sound: clang and clash, and later there is mention of “wild shouts.”) There are also the images of the Black Riders, and the battles between the spear and shield; though the poem is only six lines long no words are wasted in drawing out powerful sound and imagery from them.

This is actually one of my favorite collections of poetry, and I thought I would discuss one of the selections we did not go over in class: section Twenty-Four, “I saw a man pursuing the horizon.”




Again, a very short selection that runs only eight lines, but again every line and word is chosen carefully by Crane. There is again repetition in the phrase “round and round,” but this is an important repetition as the speaker of the poem is indicating that he just didn’t happen to stumble upon this strange man pursuing the horizon; this is something that he has witnessed and has been going on for quite some time. The most stunning and important word to finding an understanding of the poem comes within the assonance in the seventh line between the words “lie” and “cried.” The man pursuing the horizon could have shouted, could have laughed, could have simply stated; but Crane chooses the word “cried.” Obviously one reason for this is to play with the sound of the poem, but another reason may be because there is so much that can be thought of with the use of this word. The cry can be seen as a lament, a mourning for the fact that the man can not ever obtain his goal; but another definition of the word “cry” can be “to call loudly; to shout.” A shout could actually be the exact opposite of a mournful cry; it can be something almost defiant.

Whichever way we interpret the word, it is important that the last line of the poem indicates that the strange man is not abandoning his quest: he continues to run. Whether the man is suffering or defiant in his quest, he remains optimistic and refuses to give up his dream. In the face of the speaker of the poem, who “Accosts” the runner, tells him his dream is “futile,” and that he will “never” succeed, the runner simply tells the speaker that he will not be able to deter him from his objective, no matter what the speaker thinks of his seemingly impossible goal. Even though use of the word “cry” may lead us to believe the speaker is despondent at being told he will never succeed, the poem seems to point in the other direction that the runner will never give up his quest; he will pursue his dream no matter if he will succeed or not.



At this edge of a cold and lifeless sea
Is a solitary island, with a sad refrain:
“Oh please do not discover me.

It is painful to remember how things used to be:
Fair air, creatures, and forests; all pleasure, no pain
At this edge of a cold and lifeless sea.

But now there is no wildlife, not one tree;
Now those seeking colony will search in vain.
Oh please do not discover me.

There were others here before, you see;
They have trampled the shore and salted the plain
At this edge of a cold and lifeless sea:

They came as armies of “Friend” or “Enemy.”
The flags they stuck are gone…but the holes remain.
Oh please do not discover me.

I beg, indifferent traveler, do hear my plea:
Loneliness became content, in being separated from the main
At this edge of a cold and lifeless sea;
Oh please do not discover me.”

Elegy: The Convergence of the Twain

This elegy takes a fairly detached look at the loss of life suffered in the sinking of the Titanic: it focuses more on the death of the ship rather than its passengers.  Structurally the poem consists of rhyming triplets (sea, vanity, she/pyres, fires, lyres/meant, opulent, indifferent, etc.), which grow in length from the first two lines to the last line of each stanza.  There is an abundance of alliteration that goes along with the rhyme scheme to drive the sound of the poem; “solitude” and “sea” in line one, “Pride” and “planned” in line three, “well” “while” “wing” and “will” in lines 16-18.

The fact that the lines build from shorter lines to longer ones goes along with images of construction in the poem, with the speaker focusing on the building of both the Titanic and the shaping of the iceberg over time.  The speaker indicates that these two entities were destined to collide; although the poet Hardy was not religious, he uses concepts of “The Immanent Will” and “the Spinner of Years” to state that not only was their doomed collision all part of some grand fated plan, but also that this collision had been planned from the very beginning of both their creations.  These two entities were created for each other.

The speaker also seems to poke fun at human will.  He calls the ship, by way of fish at the bottom of the ocean, “vaingloriousness.”  Simply looking at this word shows that not only is the ship glorious, but it was also created in vain (the thought being that the Titanic was an unsinkable ship.)  It seems to speak to the idea that man cannot compete with nature; nature can create things that can undo the works of man, and nature (in this case, the fish) will be the only thing left to scoff at the failed works of man.  Man takes a back seat in this elegy, although humanity may be what is “jarred” by the “collision of two hemispheres” at the end of the poem.

Greater Romantic Lyric: The Instruction Manual

When I think of Romantic Poetry, a theme that commonly comes to mind is the idea of unrequited love for the speaker of the poem.  This poem, although there are some aspects of longing present for the speaker wishing he was back in Guadalajara, seems to be more celebratory a romantic poem; looking back on the past and relishing it.  One thing that helps make this poem more lively is the frequent use of color by Ashbery in describing the action in Guadalajara; examples being rose, lemon, blue, yellow, green, white and pink.  The frequent use of color adds a personal touch to the imagery, not just having to imagine the parade, the clothes, their faces, but actually trying to pinpoint specific details with color.

But it is still a love poem, as the poem traces the interactions between “young love, married love, and the love of an aged mother for her son.”  This love is perhaps paralleled by the love the speaker feels for the vibrance of the city, for the idea of the city he has.  But that is a problem and perhaps brings up the unrequited aspect of this poem: the language shows that the speaker has never even been there, and all of this is just what he imagines it would be like.  He states early on, “City I wanted most to see, and most did not see,” and later says “But I fancy I see,” showing that this is more just a construct of his imagination, which makes the detail he goes into much more interesting since it all appears imagined.

This really makes it a poem of longing, even though the action is described so vividly.  The speaker is just daydreaming at a boring job, wishing for action in his life that would be more interesting and compelling than just writing his Instruction Manual.  But the title of the poem perhaps suggests more than the instruction manual being the physical construct he is working on; perhaps the poem is more of an instruction manual on how to daydream, or how to build up an image in your mind to escape the boredom of everyday life.

Paradise Lost Reading: Book 5, Lines 772-802

“Thrones, Dominations, Princedoms, Virtues, Powers;
If these magnific titles yet remain
Not merely titular, since by decree
Another now hath to himself engrossed
All power, and us eclipsed under the name
Of King anointed, for whom all this haste
Of midnight-march, and hurried meeting here,
This only to consult how we may best,
With what may be devised of honours new,
Receive him coming to receive from us
Knee-tribute yet unpaid, prostration vile!
Too much to one! but double how endured,
To one, and to his image now proclaimed?
But what if better counsels might erect
Our minds, and teach us to cast off this yoke?
Will ye submit your necks, and choose to bend
The supple knee? Ye will not, if I trust
To know ye right, or if ye know yourselves
Natives and sons of Heaven possessed before
By none; and if not equal all, yet free,
Equally free; for orders and degrees
Jar not with liberty, but well consist.
Who can in reason then, or right, assume
Monarchy over such as live by right
His equals, if in power and splendour less,
In freedom equal? or can introduce
Law and edict on us, who without law
Err not? much less for this to be our Lord,
And look for adoration, to the abuse
Of those imperial titles, which assert
Our being ordained to govern, not to serve!”

(As I said in class, I couldn’t get a picture of me reading from the front, so I instead took a picture of the rest of the room while I was in front. I hate public speaking, so as nervous as I was to be reading, I got my revenge as it seems that these people were nervous that I was taking their picture! Except for my Shakespeare TA from last semester, who almost seems too happy to be having her picture taken. In retrospect, had I asked her to take my picture she probably would have. Damn!)

And speaking of “Damn”: Paradise Lost! As stated previously I get pretty nervous when speaking in front of groups, so I didn’t have much of an idea as to what exactly I was reading at the time, as I was too transfixed on trying not to swallow my tongue. This section is actually a small sample of what I read (I read from lines 615-802), but I wanted to focus more on this section because after coming home and finally having a chance to actually look at what I was reading, it looks as though I stumbled upon a pretty important section of the poem: Satan’s speech to his other rebellious angels, trying to justify his plans for rebelling against God.

Satan opens his speech by talking about “Another now hath to himself engrossed/All power, and us eclipsed under the name/Of King Anointed.” The “another” he is referring to is Jesus, who was going to rule directly under God (to himself engrossed all power), passing over all the other angels in heaven (and us eclipsed). Satan is obviously displeased with this, going on to say that he can’t imagine kneeling to serve not only to God, but to this new entity randomly created and placed above him (“Receive him coming to receive from us Knee…Too much to one!”) Not only is he upset at being passed over in power by this new entity, he also can’t believe he has to pay tribute to both God and his son (“but double how endured – to one and his image now proclaimed?”)

From here Satan begins to tell the other angels his plans of revolt (“teach us to cast off this yoke!”), by using language of independence to state that it is not reasonable to serve under two people who are of the same ilk. These words he uses are “equal” “free” “justice” “reason” “liberty” “freedom”, all words dealing with independence that he wants to obtain from his rebellion. He brings up the notion again that it is unreasonable to kneel before God and his son in this section as well (“Will ye submit your necks, and choose to bend the supple knee?”), and concludes the speech with something that seems like an echo of rather ruling in hell than serving in heaven: “Our being ordained to govern, not to serve!” This is Satan saying that he feels he and his fellow angels should have the ability to rule or at least collaborate with God and his son in rule, rather than just being servants under the both of them.

In retrospect, this seems like a pretty important passage from Paradise Lost, and I kind of wish I had done it more justice when I was reading it.

Billy Collins Reading


If I were crowned emperor this morning,

every child who is playing Marco Polo

in the swimming pool of this motel,

shouting the name Marco Polo back and forth

Marco Polo Marco Polo

would be required to read a biography

of Marco Polo-a long one with fine print-

as well as a history of China and of Venice,

the birthplace of the venerated explorer

Marco Polo Marco Polo

after which each child would be quizzed

by me then executed by drowning

regardless how much they managed

to retain about the glorious life and times of

Marco Polo Marco Polo

I went into tonight’s reading by Billy Collins knowing nothing about him or what to expect. I left wanting to read more of his work. His poems, like the one above, have a great subtle humor to them, which is an aspect of poetry I hadn’t really thought about before. And it isn’t just a matter of him being flamboyant and telling long jokes, it’s small attention to details in his images that really drive the point across. Details like his description of the lanyard in the poem “Lanyard” or small descriptions of a dog in the poems “Darma” and “The Revenant” are both humorous and thought-provoking. It was just as effective in his shorter poems; for example, in the poem “Breaking Up,” the speaker of the poem doesn’t turn around what to know what his former lover threw at him, leaving a sense of wonder to the poem.

I feel also that his stage presence before the reading gave his poems a humorous edge; I wonder if he had said before reading his poems that they were actually tragic and had read them in a deadpan, serious manner, if it would have changed the feel of the poems.  It made me think that it isn’t just the rhythm of a poem or the language used that gives a poem a certain feel, but also the presence and mannerisms of the person delivering it that gives the poem a certain feeling as well. He came into the reading in a pretty jovial and playful mood, said that he felt his poems were humorous, and it really helped the audience get into a cheery mood while listening to his poems. It just shows that there is more to a poem than the words used and the matter in which the poem is delivered; the presence of the speaker himself can give the poem feeling as well. All in all, I found the reading to be extremely enjoyable, and hope to catch him again sometime.