A friend of mine told me a story once. She was with her family, out on the boat in the south bay. Down in the cabin, holding her child, she looked out the porthole and saw that the sky had turned black, the water turned white, and many boats in the distance had capsized. It was a summer squall, which came all at once and without warning.
This past week, a lot of things happened around me. I didn’t have time to paint, but I did come across this poem, written by Victor Hugo after reading Dante.
After Reading Dante
The poet, when he painted hell, was painting
His life: a fleeing shade, ghosts at his back;
An unknown forest where his timid footsteps
Had lost their way, strayed from the beaten track;
A somber journey clogged with strange encounters,
A spiral — its depth vast, its boundaries blurred-
Whose hideous circles went forever onward
Through the dark where hell’s creatures dimly stirred.
There were complaints perched upon every parapet:
The steps vanished in vague obscurity,
Within those dismal regions of grim darkness
White teeth seemed to be gnashing plaintively
Visions were there, reveries, and chimeras,
Eyes turned by sorrow into bitter springs,
Love, a yoked couple, ever burning, wounded,
Whirling along in wretched spiralings;
Revenge and famine, those rash sisters, squatting
Together by a well-gnawed human head
In one dark corner, next to them, ambition
Pale smiling misery; pride, ever fed
On its own flesh, vile lechery; foul avarice –
All of the leaden cloaks that burden souls!
Further along, fear, cowardice, and treachery,
With keys for sale, and drink in poisoned bowls;
Deeper still, at the bottom of the chasm,
Was the tormented mask of suffering hate.
Yes, poet, that is life indeed — we plod through
Just such a foggy obstacle-clogged state!
But to complete the scene, on this cramped way was
Virgil; his brow was calm, and his eyes shone,
He stood at your right hand, constantly visible,
Serenely telling you: “Keep going on!”