The Divine Comedy, Doggerel Version


For a change of pace as we enter the Christmas season, I share here a light, witty, and very smart poem by my father on Dante’s Divine Comedy. The poem grew out of research that he was doing on Guillaume Apollinaire, the French poet who has been his scholarly subject.

Don’t worry if you don’t get all the references–the poem is enjoyable on multiple levels.  It is useful, however, to know that Satan dwells at the bottom of Inferno, frozen in a lake of ice, and that Dante and his guide Virgil probably travel through his anus to get to Purgatory.  (Dante couldn’t say this explicitly and instead resorts to euphemisms, but all the scatological symbolism of Inferno hints at it.)   They then climb the mountain of Purgatory, at which point Beatrice takes over to guide Dante through Paradise.  The end point of their quest is the celestial rose, the Virgin Mary, the “love which moves the sun and the stars.”  Drawing on Dante’s archetypal imagery, my father’s version balances male and female, with Jesus as mountain/tower/church spire/bridegroom/tree and Mary as rose/rose window/bride/sea/star/fountain.  The Divine Comedy contributed to the Medieval cult of Mary, helped shape church architecture, and continues (so my father believes) to influence what we seek for in our vacations and how we celebrate Christmas.

One note on formatting.  Either this website doesn’t allow me to insert spaces before lines (so that everything aligns against the left margin) or I haven’t figured yet how to do it.   My apologies to the poet for not properly indenting the “bob and wheel” structure that concludes each stanza (such as also appears in Sir Gawain and the Green Knight).

Here’s the poem:

The Dante Dance

By Scott Bates

Virgin Mother, daughter of your son,
Humble and exalted beyond any other creatures,
The settled end of the eternal plan

–Dane Alighieri, The Divine Comedy: Paradiso, Canto 33, Stanza 1

Now Dante was a Florentine
Who loved a local belle
So when she died he had a dream
He took a walk in Hell
And he met a lot of people there
Who hadn’t any clothes
In the
Cellars of Satan by the
Mountain of Jesus under
Mary the Marvelous Rose

He put his dream in poetry
And gave it to the press
And it sold a million copies
And a million more I guess
And everybody read it
And began to look around
For the
Tower of Jesus the
Flower of Mary and
Satan the hole in the ground.

They found them in cathedrals
From the altar to the close
With a spire for a mountain
And a window for a rose
And a priest to elevate the host
To the ultimate mystery
Jesus the Floor Plan and
Mary the Door Plan over
Satan the W.C.

They found them in the Bible
In the Song of Solomon
Where Jesus is the Bridegroom
As brilliant as the sun
And Mary is the Shulamite
As lovely as the moon
As they
Dance among
The Lilies of Sharon
While Satan plays on the bassoon.

They take them on vacations
As they seek infinity
In the forests of the mountains
And the gardens of the sea
For they never travel half as far
As when they think they’re in
Treeways of Jesus the
Seaways of Mary or
Satan the City of Sin.

They sing of them at Christmas
As a pine tree and a star
With angels bending near the earth
And wise men from afar
For in the Christmas songs they sing
And in the gifts they choose
There’s an
Arbor for Jesus an
Aster for Mary and for
Satan a bottle of booze.

So here’s to good old Dante
And his dream of Heaven’s gate
And his travel guide of where to go
And what to sublimate
And how to climb at Christmas time
To heights of Christmas Cheer
Up the
Mountain of Jesus to the
Fountain of Mary out of
Satan the Pain in the Rear.

Added note:

One poem I hear my father echoing, incidentally, is one that he introduced me to, Howard Nemerov’s “Boom” (which I write on here). The passage I have in mind is this one:

it was not thus; it was not thus
when Francis worked a fourteen-hour day
strictly for the birds; when Dante took
a week’s vacation without pay and it rained
part of the time, O Lord, it was not thus.

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  • Literature is as vital to our lives as food and shelter. Stories and poems help us work through the challenges we face, from everyday irritations to loneliness, heartache, and death. Literature is meant to mix it up with life. This website explores how it does so.

    Please feel free to e-mail me [rrbates (at) smcm (dot) edu]. I would be honored to hear your thoughts and questions about literature.

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