A Beastly Comedy Canto 1.1

A poem is always a disguise, which is a blessing. Often it is easier to tell the truth by means of fiction, creating distance between the poet and the work. As a writer I am often, but not always, aware of where I end and the narrator begins, and other people much more commonly mistake me for the narrator.

Even as I was recording the poem, after reading some passages of the first part I asked myself: was I really this unhappy when writing? Then I remembered what it was like at the time. The truth is that I was writing all three parts at once, working on each in a cycle of 3 days, and thus all the ecstatic, happy things in part 3 were written on the days before I wrote about unhappiness in part 1. But while writing I lived through the experiences and emotions so intensely that I managed to capture something believable. It doesn’t mean my life was like that. But then again, while I was writing, and partly also when rewriting, my life had little else than this book.

One big difference between the Dante in my book and Dante in The Divine Comedy is character’s arrogance. The narrator of his Comedy is a relatively humble man. Yet Dante the writer is a person who is the judge and the jury, placing people he knew in hell. It is likely Dante didn’t think he’s literally describing heaven and hell, but the effort for such a massive undertaking does require some arrogance. It’s a feature that I’ve found present in many epic poems, particularly when an authorial voice is present, like Ovid’s at the end of Metamorphoses. Arrogance, however, does not mean the absence of humility. People always have conflicting traits.

This is why I have him introduce himself in partly contradictory phrases. One line with which he describes himself is “A victim of malaria, acquainted with disease”. The first part describes how Dante died, but the second part is an allusion to Isaiah 53:3, a verse that Christians often see as a prophecy of Jesus. I am not trying to make Dante a Christ figure here. Partly he may be just unconsciously quoting the scripture because he’s a Christian. But also he would have been aware of the Christ connection, and to descibe himself with the same phrase does turn into a comparison that suggests some degree of pride or arrogance, even if it is concealed. Yet, in this case the reader doesn’t need to recognize the allusion at all. It may change the interpretation slightly, but the line stands on its own even without it.