I am so at home in Dublin, more than any other city, that I feel it has always been familiar to me. It took me years to see through its soft charm to its bitter prickly kernel - which I quite like too.

Home Uncategorized Wrong Train, Right Station

Wrong Train, Right Station

Sean Sheehan
William Blake: the Drawings for Dante’s Divine Comedy, by Maria Antonietta Terzoli and Sebastian Schütze, Taschen, 324 pp, £99.99, ISBN: 978-3836555128 William Blake’s Illustrations for Dante’s Divine Comedy: A Study of the Engravings, Pencil Sketches and Watercolors, by Eric Pyle, McFarland, 277 pp, £51, ISBN: 978-0786494880 The Divine Comedy, translated by JG Nichols, Alma Classics, 600 pp, £15, ISBN: 978-1847492463 Reading Dante, by Giuseppe Mazzotta, Yale University Press, 288 pp, £17, ISBN: 978-1631490064 Reading Dante: From Here to Eternity, by Prue Shaw, 352pp, £10, ISBN: 978-1631490064 On the face of things it seems unlikely that a free-thinking radical like William Blake – a libertarian socialist in today’s nomenclature – would be so attracted to the work of a medieval Catholic as to learn Italian so that he could read it in the original. One clue to this puzzle may be found in the starkly dramatic manner in which Dante’s metaphysical and psychological preoccupations, though presented in theological wrapping paper, emerge in poetic form. Take the inaugural moment of the Divine Comedy and the narrator’s plight: it is nightfall in a supernaturally charged forest, in what medievalists call the land of dissimilitude: Halfway along our journey to life’s end I found myself astray in a dark wood, Since the right way was nowhere to be found. Any reader with an iota of anxiety about where they are going with their life is drawn into the situation that Dante posits. Blake’s drawing for this canto shows the protagonist torn by conflicting emotions of despair and courage, fear and faith, arms aloft, caught between the rising sun and the three beasts that confront him. The viewer, mired in the human condition, recognises Blake’s depiction of being trapped between a desire to change life’s direction and the fear that drives us back into familiar ways of living. Then there is the pictorial luminosity of Dante’s verbal images which enthral readers as the Divine Comedy’s narrative proceeds. The description of Cerberus in Canto VI so captivated Blake’s imagination that he produced two drawings of it. Or take Canto XXV from Inferno, which includes Dante’s encounter with three Florentine thieves, one of whom is attacked by a serpent-like creature. This is no simple assault by a monster on a man, developing as it does into a mutual transformation. A reptile with six feet comes springing out In front of one of them, and fastens him. It gripped his belly with…

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