Friday, July 17, 2009

Aimless Reading: The D's, Part 3.2 (Dante Alighieri)

The Paradiso
Originally uploaded by Michael_Kelleher
Alighieri, Dante
Ciardi, John
The Paradiso

My brother Chris confirmed in a comment yesterday that I did in fact steal these from him. No hard feelings, apparently, as he says he never made it all the way through.

Comparing the older covers with the newer one on my copy of The Inferno, I must say I prefer the trippy watercolors of the older version. This one, with its abstract crucifixion at the center, is especially pleasing.

I have been thinking back to that summer when I read these in my parents' basement, trying to recall everything that I read. Somewhere there is a notebook that records it all, or at least proudly announces that I read something like 50 books in a single summer. I mostly tried to read all of the books I hadn't read in high school, which is why I was pilfering my brother's bookcases -- he was still in school at the time and so had all of the books I hadn't read as I was achieving my usual C's and D's in high school English.

I recall starting with The Grapes of Wrath and then reading my way through a lot of Steinbeck. I remember being particularly inspired by a passage in East of Eden, in which Steinbeck narrates the story of a member of the main family deciding to go off and become an artist. The young man must choose either the loneliness and misery of the artist's life or the comforts of a quiet married one. The binary he sets up is between greatness (artist) and mediocrity (regular guy). What inspired me about the story of the artist, who eventually kills himself, escapes me now, as does the logic of this simplistic opposition. But then my recollection of Steinbeck is that although he is a fine storyteller, his moral universe is quite stark and simplistic, which is why I suppose I have never returned to read him again.

(I guess maybe I should save some of this for when I get to "S." When he was here this winter, Kevin Killian asked me if I thought I was telling all the good stories too soon and did I think I would run out before I got to the end of the alphabet. I sometimes ask myself the same question.)

I also remember reading Native Son and Black Boy by Richard Wright. I borrowed a whole pile of books by Hemingway from my friend's mother and read all of those. They were in rough shape then, ad I never returned them and eventually they all fell apart and now I don't have a single title by Papa on my shelf.

I read The Iliad and The Odyssey and The Aeneid. I think I may have read a collection of four or five of Shakespeare's tragedies. I read a primer on Western Philosophy called, From Socrates to Sartre. I read the Alcoholics Anonymous book and Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions several times. I may have tried (and failed) to read the Bible, though that may have been the following summer.

I should really look for that notebook. Or not. The problem with old notebooks is that they contain all kinds of embarrassing and depressing things one would like to forget. Every time someone opens a notebook in a film or a book, something bad happens. A lesson worth remembering.

The Paradiso begins:

The glory of Him who moves all things rays forth
through ll the universe, and is reflected
from each thing in proportion to its worth.

I have been in that Heaven of His most light,
and what I saw, those who descend from there
lack both the knowledge and the power to write.

For as our intellect draws near its goal
it opens to such depths of understanding
as memory can plumb within the soul.

Nevertheless, whatever portion time
still leaves me of the treasure of that kingdom
shall now become the subject of my rhyme.

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