Black Boy

.. meant to perceive a distance, perhaps even an ironic distance, between a former poetic self and the poem we read. The same can probably be said of any writer who refers to his former work within a confessional structure, but it is especially true of Dante, whose whole poetic career was a continual askesis in preparation for his last work. In such a linear evolution, a glance backward to a previous poetic achievement is more likely to be a sign of transcendence rather than of return, of self-critique rather than self-satisfaction. (Freccero 185, italics added). Dante is seeking to “transcend” his earlier work. Part of his confession in the Comedy is that he recognizes the mistakes he made as a foolish youth and is trying to make sure that that is not the way that he is remembered and that others do not follow him.

Freccero goes on to say that an “allusion to a former work within such a context is inevitably palinodic, for it invests the poetry itself with the dramatic double focus that is part of the story: the conversion of the Dante who was into the poet whose work we read” (Ibid.) The clearest example of a palinode in the Divine Comedy occurs when Dante speaks with Francesca and Paolo (quoted as prose for sake of space): Then I turned back to them and spoke, and I began: “Francesca, your sufferings make me sad and piteous to tears. But tell me: in the time of your sweet sighs, by what and how did Love grant you to know your dangerous desires?” And she to me: “There is no greater pain than to remember the happy time in wretchedness; and this your teacher knows. But if you have so much desire to know the first root of our love, I will do as one who weeps and speaks. We were reading one day, for pleasure, of Lancelot, how love beset him; we were alone and without any suspicion. Many times that reading drove our eyes together and turned our faces pale; but one point alone was the one that overpowered us.

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When we read that the yearned-for-smile was kissed by so great a lover, he, who will never be separated from me, kissed my mouth all trembling. Galeotto was the book and he who wrote it: that day we read there no further.” While one spirit said this, the other was weeping so that for pity I fainted as if I were dying, and I fell as a dead body falls. (Inf. 5. 115-142). The book that was the undoing of Francesca and Paolo, their “Galeotto”, was of the same type of poetry as that that Dante wrote when he was young.

He pities them to the point that he faints dead away. The question that begs to be asked is this: Why does he pity these two so much that he faints, whereas in certain other parts of Hell he shows no or little pity for the souls? The answer is quite simple: Dante can see himself being in their position very easily. His hot-blooded romanticism of youth could have put him into a nearly identical situation with Beatrice, and if the situation were similar, he knows that he would probably act as they acted: impulsively and for what they believed was love. Francesca’s love, “Love, which is swiftly kindled in the noble heart” (Inf. 5.

100) is no longer Dante the poet’s view. Though her words echo Dante’s view as a youth, her damnation here is a refutation of everything he thought about love. Dante the poet realizes that passion is not love, nor is temporal love the most important thing. This view is further reinforced by the fact that Francesca’s line is taken from a poem by Guido Guinizelli, a poet that Dante very much admired in his youth and whose styles were similar. Dante the pilgrim is confronted with this unexpected and unpleasant truth, and the idea is so shocking, it makes him faint dead away.

Dante the pilgrim metaphorically dies (“I fell as a dead body falls”); that is, the part of Dante that believed in the kind of love that Paolo and Francesca had has died, and Dante has been reborn with a new perspective. He has risen from the ashes. This incident of palinode in the Inferno may be contrasted to one found in Purgatorio. This time, the poem being referred to is one of Dante’s own works, and is found in the Convivo. And I: “If there’s no new law that denies you memory or practice of the songs of love that used to quiet all my longings, then may it please you with those songs to solace my soul somewhat; for-having journeyed here together with my body-it is weary.” “Love that discourses to me in my mind” he then began to sing-and sang so sweetly that I still hear that sweetness sound in me.

My master, I, and all that company around the singer seemed so satisfied, as if no other thing might touch our minds. We all were motionless and fixed upon the notes, when all at once the grave old man cried out: “What have we here, you laggard spirits? What negligence, what lingering is this? Quick, to the mountain to cast off the slough that will not let you see God show Himself!” (Purg. 2. 106-123). As has been discussed before, the Convivo was a work of philosophy commenced after Dante had begun his transcendence of his old theories of love.

It is very similar to Boethius’ The Consolation of Philosophy, particularly in that it personifies knowledge and philosophy. The “Lady of Philosophy” is the subject of Dante’s poem “Love that discourses to me in my mind”, sung by Casella in Canto 2. “The lady of ‘Amor che ne la mente mi ragiona’ is clearly Lady Philosophy and not a mortal woman, not even at the literal level, as even a cursory reading of the canzone will demonstrate” (Freccero 188). Freccero then goes on to give several examples of why this is so, one of which is Dante’s desire to have the song sung to “solace my soul”, and the function that solace plays in both The Consolation of Philosophy and Convivo. Just as the Phoenix dies in its own fire and rises up from its ashes, so did the poetics of Dante Alighieri.

Dante was a shaped by the world around him, just as well all are. His response to his environment and events that took place directly affected his view of the world, and hence his style of poetry. Knowing both the history of his life and the chronology of his poetry, we can watch the evolution of the soul of a unique human being, as he transcends the status quo and embraces a new philosophy of love and life. With the completion of the Divine Comedy, Dante gives us a new perspective on his older works. The palinode is a confession and atonement for past mistakes in Dante’s life, which were thus transmitted through his poetry, but as Thomas Bergin wrote, “[t]o have found the ‘confessional’ Dante is not necessarily to have found the Dante most significant to us ..

. What a sinner has to confess need not take very long, though we may respect his sincerity and admire his resolution; what a poet, philosopher, and partisan has to confess is something else again, nor do we care greatly whether it be a true confession” (94). The Divine Comedy represents the evolution of a great poet and philosopher. In it, Dante the pilgrim metaphorically and symbolically encounters challenges that the real Dante has faced. The Comedy is much more than just a poem: it is an autobiography and memoir from a man whose world came apart, but who held fast to the things he believed.

The evolution of his poetics is representative of the evolution of himself as a human being. In the Divine Comedy, both Dante as a person and his poetry died and were reborn out of the ashes into which they expired.