Do the Right Thing: Last Rites and Boccaccio’s Bad Boy Cepperello

Dying.  Badly.

First of all, my apologies.  The piece under discussion today is, in fact, not poetry.  I’ve been working with The Decameron lately, trying to summarize and explicate its stories for students who may not know very much about the Middle Ages, Boccaccio, Italy, or more importantly, a medieval Italian sense of humor.  Today’s barrier to humor: the scoundrel Ser Cepperello/Ciappelletto receiving last rites so he can make sure that his kind hosts don’t have to dump his body in a moat after he’s dead.  It is entirely possible that students can understand enough of the context to grasp the situation: a really awful man fakes a confession to a holy friar, making himself out to be a truly humble, saintly man thoroughly prepared to meet his Maker.  But then Ciappelletto receives absolution and a blessing.  Communion.  Extreme Unction. Oy.

These are passing mentions, mere nothings to the members of the brigata because it is part of their daily lives.  As a student, however, this is precisely the kind of thing that would have driven me insane (if I weren’t already a Catholic and didn’t know what these technical terms meant).  So just in case there are still some students out there in the world who pay attention to such minutiae and need a quick and dirty on these terms, here we go…

You Say “Last Rites”, I Say “Anointing of the Sick”

The first problem you will have if you Google “last rites” or “last sacrament” is that it really isn’t properly called this anymore.  In the modern Catholic Church (and since we’re dealing with Florence, Italy circa 1348, we are dealing with Catholicism), the rites of preparation for death are wrapped up in the final sacrament called the Anointing of the Sick. The reason for the name change?  Nowadays, those who are ill or, say, having surgery, are encouraged to participate in these rites as an act of hope and healing: taking communion, receiving a blessing and anointing with chrism is meant to promote physical as well as spiritual health.  So it’s not necessarily going to be the last time you go through these motions because you are actively dying.  It’s more like hedging your bets so that you can be prepared if the worst does actually happen.  Back in the day, however, the odds were that if you were receiving the Viaticum and Extreme Unction, you really were on your deathbed.

This sacrament has several components, but I will confine myself to the ones mentioned in I.1 of The Decameron:

  • Liturgy of Penance (a.k.a. confession). Technically speaking, if Ciappelletto is going to make a good confession, he first needs to believe that God will forgive all his sins, no matter how big (he doesn’t believe this) and make a thorough inventory of all the stuff he shouldn’t have done in his life to report to the friar.  Also, he needs to feel contrition for his badness, but it’s pretty clear that he doesn’t feel very sorrowful for having offended God by his behavior.  At the end of this part of the sacrament, the friar offers absolution, which means he acts as a representative of Christ in extending forgiveness for the sins confessed.  (Ciappelletto would then be required to make satisfaction or atonement for his sins, probably by saying a series of prayers, but this bit isn’t mentioned in the text).
  • Liturgy of Viaticum (a.k.a. receiving communion).  The concept of viaticum comes from a Greek tradition of preparing a supper or other necessary things for a traveler about to go on a journey.  Translated into Latin, we get the term viaticus and the idea that if we’re going on that final journey, we’re going to need something to sustain us spiritually and physically.  We’re told that after Ciappelletto makes his incredible confession, he receives this Communion.  The Friar would have brought a consecrated host (communion wafer that had been blessed during Mass and believed to be the true flesh of Christ) with him to give to Ciappelletto.
  • Liturgy of Anointing (a.k.a. Extreme Unction). This is the last part of the rite received by Ciappelletto.  In it, the friar would have taken a special oil called chrism (special because it is blessed by a bishop and reserved for only three sacraments–baptism and holy orders are the other two) and anointed the five points on the body that are the five sense receptors: the eyes, ears, nostrils, lips and hands.  There are prayers that accompany these actions as well.

As you can imagine, by the time Ser Ciappelletto finishes his astonishing confession and the friar has gone through all of these rites (and probably a few more), a good part of the day would have elapsed.  For those who believe in it, it’s a pretty intense experience.  For those who don’t, like Master Ciappelletto, keeping up such a lengthy pretense means one of two things.  Either he’s really determined to put one over on a representative of Holy Church and cap his life of wickedness in the jolliest way he can imagine.  Or perhaps Boccaccio’s bad boy had some kind of grace in him after all.  He did put in a lot of effort to hoodwink the friar so that his rotting corpse wouldn’t plague his kind hosts.

If you require more detailed information about any of these components of the Anointing of the Sick, take a look here: .   You can type your query in the search box there.




Chickens Come Home to Roost

Most of the time, I’m fairly certain that my students black out whenever I’m speaking and it seemed to me that this semester was worse than ever.  There were, however, some very bright spots in my teaching day, moments when something I said actually fought its way through and made an impression on someone’s brain in ways that I could never have expected.

I’d started out the semester with poetry and opened with “The Silken Tent”.  This was risky and unwise, for two reasons.  For one, I’m emotionally connected to this poem in ways that I cannot even name.  It always makes me feel vulnerable to put work forward–mine or anyone else’s–to which I am irrationally attached.  If students don’t respond well, it feels like a dishonor to my identity.  (Irrational, yes).

Also,  I desperately wanted the students to “get it”.  I wanted them to see the delicate beauty of the poem and let it impress itself on their brains forever (a pedestrian teacherly desire, I know).  But who has this kind of experience anymore?

As it turns out, one of my students did.  Fourteen weeks later, responding to a generic, college wide prompt (“Choose a text you’ve read this semester and discuss what it means to be a functional or dysfunctional family…”), one of my students chose “The Silken Tent” to analyze.

He truly got it.

Reproduced below, in part, are his thoughts on Frost’s poem–an effective post-script to the method of working through the poem that I posted oh-so-long ago:

Sometimes I wish family ties were tangible so I could cut them with a big pair of shears…and that’s why Robert Frost’s “Silken Tent” caught my attention during the semester.  It is as much an example of relationships between family members as it is one of interpersonal relationships in general.  Now while my family tent may look like it was assembled by a blind boy scout, I can attest that the metaphor of a tent is explicitly accurate, showing us how relationships can work, how they can be stressed, and how they may fall apart.

In my opinion, a healthy relationship is one that is balanced, naturally give-and-take.  If one person keeps giving while the other keeps taking, then it shouldn’t be too long before they find the body.  This excessive taking is caused by some sort of imbalance, but what, then, causes the imbalance?

Looking at Frost’s metaphor of the silken tent, the imbalance is caused by a strong wind, a blustery day–or more to the point–an outside force.  As Frost puts it, [it is only by one of the ties going “taut”] “In the capriciousness of the summer air,/[that it] Is of the slightest bondage made aware” (lines 14-15).  A rope does not tug at itself.

…The tent as a whole represents a group or community at large and shows that a functional family or group will take hits as a team, working together to overcome a threat to the collective unit.  It takes more than one rope to hold up a tent, and a fragile material like silk can only be pulled so hard.

The central cedar pole of the silk tent can be thought of as the great equalizer among the ropes.  It is “its pinnacle to heavenward” which gives the ropes a common support–symbolically, giving the family its humanity.

I say this because the common thread between sister and brother, mother and daughter, best friends, and even complete strangers is their humanity.  There is an inexplicable understanding which stands at the center of our existence, holding up this web of connections.

I do not wish to re-define the “central cedar pole”–people have been trying to do that for a long time–but rather to recognize its existence, “signifying the sureness of the soul” (7), through our persistence and our striving for something that we don’t even understand.

It’s what supports this grand existence, these “countless silken ties of love and thought” (10)…

For John to create this nexus of meaning around the poem, he took his own experience–academic and personal–to make useful and lovely connections.  Even if constrained by the parameters of a (crummy) assignment, mercilessly timed (in a cramped classroom) and caught in someone else’s metaphors, meaning and substance may still triumph.

So I have to say thank you, John, for making the choice to use this sublime poem for such a hideously pedestrian assignment prompt.  When you were tugged, you showed the system what you were made of: elegance and style.

It’s the kind of thing I live for.

How Robert Frost Teaches Me To Read Poetry

The Silken Tent

She is as in a field a silken tent
At midday when the sunny summer breeze
Has dried the dew and all its ropes relent,
So that in guys it gently sways at ease,
And its supporting central cedar pole,
That is its pinnacle to heavenward
And signifies the sureness of the soul,
Seems to owe naught to any single cord,
But strictly held by none, is loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To every thing on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

(Robert Frost)

Poetry Lesson #1: Look for poems you don’t understand.  They yield the best fruit.

Today—unlike most days—I am following my own advice.  I chose this poem because it baffles me.  First, I do not entirely understand the first part of the simile: how do the ropes of the silken tent “relent” when the morning dew has been dried from them?  I always thought—and one of my students who knows better has confirmed this—that the drying up of ropes would cause them to tighten.  Second, this is Robert Frost.  What happened to the Frost of “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening”?

Poetry Lesson #2: When you meet a poem that you can’t do anything with, take what you can get.

Now is the time for a confession.  I have not spent a lot of time with Frost.  Sure, I’ve memorized his most famous poems and bribed my children to recite them (who hasn’t?).  But this poem floors me with its beautiful obscurity and erudition.  Yes, I said erudition.  It is as though the poet holds some secret, certain metaphysical knowledge that I cannot immediately access.

And when I cannot access, I get mechanical: I count things, I tap a rhythm on the table, or look up words in the dictionary to see where accents fall.  Then I make a list, like this:

  • Line count: 14 (and now I am excited)
  • Syllables per line: 10, dead on, every line (oh, joy!)
  • Accentuation: iambs (unstress/stress), more or less (thanks, Bob)

And then the hamster-wheel inside my brain starts squeaking: 14 lines + 10 syllables/line + a mess of iambs = sonnet.  A sonnet!  I have 14 rhymed lines of iambic pentameter.  Moreover, when I look at the overall structure of the sonnet, I can see that this is pretty solidly a Shakespearean, or English, Sonnet.  See how the sense and structure of the poem is broken down into three quatrains and a final couplet? Now you’re talking, Mr. Frost.

I am proud of myself for this discovery.  I really am.  But since I still have a tent with slack ropes that cannot be rationally explained and a “She” that hasn’t been identified, I better curb my enthusiasm.  In essence, I don’t know quack about the meaning of this poem yet.

Poetry Lesson #3: Get in touch with Reality

When I know nothing about a poem, I have to get real: what is really going on here?  The poet likens a female entity to a silken tent.  But who is “She”?  Damned if I know.  However, I can tell something about her if I work through the set of similes that describes her:

  • She is like a silken tent—soft, sensual, exotic (think of the pavilions of King Arthur or Saladdin pitched on the outskirts of a battlefield).  Silk waves gracefully and easily in the slightest breeze—it is light, ethereal.
  • She is like a silken tent on a summer midday, when it is hot, glaringly bright, but the breeze mitigates the possible harshness of the weather.  Circumstances are favorable to the beauty of a silken tent.
  • She has a supporting central cedar pole—connotes straightness (structural or moral), steadiness, endurance.  Allows the outer covering to sway with the breeze and remain stable.  Biblical resonance in “cedars,” like the Cedars of Lebanon—which, along with the exotic nature of the silken tent, lends a mystical, perhaps Eastern feel to the poem.
  • Pole that signifies the sureness of the soul—Frost is doing the work for us!  This is not just any pole; this is a moral compass.  And if this is the sureness of the soul, then the silken tent might be the soul itself.
  • More about the silk: “strictly held by none”, “loosely bound by countless silken ties of love and thought”—the things that bind the soul/tent are like ties of silk: slender, delicate, and yet still strong beyond its appearance. What are these things? “Love” (love for others?  For self? For God? For law?) and “thought” (consideration for others?  For self?).  Not one, but all these things in combination keep the soul tent where it is without tearing it apart.
  • “And only by one’s going slightly taut/In the capriciousness of summer air…”—tension due to what? “Capriciousness”: whims of nature? Whims of others?
  • “Is of the slightest bondage made aware.”—the ties that bind the soul are invisible, until there is a tension (maybe a challenge or problem) that causes the “grip” to change in any small way.  But then, there is awareness of bondage, or being held to someone or something perhaps against your will.

Now that I went through all of that, do I know who “She” is?  Is this the same kind of “she” that we normally see in sonnet cycles (think Shakespeare, Sidney, Petrarch)?  I think not.  I think this “beloved” is entirely spiritual.  After adding all of my bullet points up, I feel I have a good case for naming “her” the soul.

And here’s another nifty trick that I can do.

Since I really want to convince you that I am right about my identification of this “beloved,” I will wrack my brains for other evidence I can give to support my theory.  All I know about the beloved is that “She” is female.  I want her to be “Soul”, the metaphysical part of everyman that makes cognitive and moral judgments and feels things intuitively.  How do I convince you further, dear reader?

When I don’t know what to do with a poem, I get mechanical: I count things, I tap a rhythm on the table, or look up words in the dictionary to see where accents fall.  Sometimes, I think “W.W.P.D”?  “What Would Petrarch Do?”  To you, this sounds random.  But it is another important lesson


Poetry Lesson #4: Bring What You Know

We all do this, in almost every interpretive situation.  We compare the new, perplexing scenario in front of us to what has happened before, or hold it up against something we already know.  Under the file in my brain labeled “Sonnets”, I have a sub-directory for Petrarch.  That is just how my cervello works.  When I am thinking about “Soul”, I wonder how Petrarch would say it.  He would say “l’anima”. In Italian—as in French, Spanish and a million other languages that are not English—you have to worry about the grammatical gender of the word.  Why is this important right now?  Because Petrarch would know that the soul is a girl.  A complicated, infinitesimally enslaved girly-girl.

But what are we supposed to do about a tent with the ropes that slacken at the wrong time?

Poetry Lesson #5: Knowledge is Power

I was born in New York and raised in South Florida.  Very urban places.  When Frost starts talking about guy lines and how ropes slacken and tighten depending on the weather, it’s all pops and buzzes for me.  I need professional help.  This is where the good members of British Scouting save me:

  • Loosen all guy lines at night, as when the morning dew dries it will tighten them.
  • All guy lines should also be loosened if rain is imminent as this will cause shrinkage to the canvas or tent material. Failure to slacken them could drag pegs out of the ground, ropes could be broken or, worse, tent material torn.
  • Sagging canvas causes undue strain and can cause the tent to ‘flap about’ in the wind. Even the best pitched tent will sag eventually! Therefore, ensure that the guy lines are tightened periodically to prevent this.
  • However, guy lines should not be too tight as this can also put unnecessary strain on the tent material. The guy line tension should be equal all round and sufficient to stop the tent flapping about too much in the wind (

Wow.  Suddenly, the interpretive possibilities open out before me.  If I take my previous metaphysical interpretation of the poem and use what I have just learned from my trusty scouting guide, I can put together a thorough analysis of the poem and its central simile.

The one mystery remains: why does Frost make the ropes slacken when they should tighten?   Is it possible that the poet made a gigantic technical error?  If I had tried to write a poem with a camping metaphor, I would say yes.  But this is Frost—friend to nature, all-around outdoorsman.  He stops by woods on snowy evenings and digs graves with his own hands in his own backyard.  We have to assume he included this “inaccuracy” for a reason.

I think the key to this mystery is to decide what he means when he says that the ropes “relent”.  It might be a mistake to assume that “relent” simply means “relax” here.  If we relent to the whining of our significant other, it means that we have given in and probably will do what they want.  If the ropes relent, maybe they are giving into the natural physical propensity of ropes that have been wet and now have dried in the summer sun.  In other words, they have tightened up.

It seems as if the person who pitched this tent knew what he or she was doing; they must have read our scouting manual, and known that a tent pitched at night should have some slackness in the lines to allow for the drying up of morning dew. We know this because although the tent is straight and sure, it can sway slightly in the breeze without spronging apart.

Poetry Lesson #6: Dig, Dig, Dig—and Keep the Faith

It’s such a short poem.  Why did I have to work so hard to get this much out of it?  At first, it was because I didn’t know what I needed to get through it.  Sometimes the better part of knowledge is discretion.  Trust what you know (in this case, all you camping experts out there).  Confront what you don’t (the physics of ropes, the importance of grammatical gender).  Don’t give in to the urge to put the pillow over your head and go to sleep.  Keep digging.

As my favorite Italian rock star says, “Con le mani sbucci le cipolle.”  Roughly translated:  “Keep on peeling away at those onions.”  Pull back the layers. Once you get over the stench and the tears, you will have something good to sauté.

Flea Bites Man…Man bites…

MARK but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is ;
It suck’d me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea our two bloods mingled be.
Thou know’st that this cannot be said
A sin, nor shame, nor loss of maidenhead ;
Yet this enjoys before it woo,
And pamper’d swells with one blood made of two ;
And this, alas ! is more than we would do.

O stay, three lives in one flea spare,
Where we almost, yea, more than married are.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is.
Though parents grudge, and you, we’re met,
And cloister’d in these living walls of jet.
Though use make you apt to kill me,
Let not to that self-murder added be,
And sacrilege, three sins in killing three.

Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail in blood of innocence?
Wherein could this flea guilty be,
Except in that drop which it suck’d from thee?
Yet thou triumph’st, and say’st that thou
Find’st not thyself nor me the weaker now.
‘Tis true ; then learn how false fears be ;
Just so much honour, when thou yield’st to me,
Will waste, as this flea’s death took life from thee.

–John Donne

I met John Donne once.  Not the Donne of “Batter My Heart, Three-Personed God”.  No.  This was the platinum-tongued poet of “The Flea”.  He was the kind of man who could talk you into anything and make you pleased to succumb to his faulty (but charming) logic.  Sound familiar, ladies?  If so, when you read this poem, you are not wrong to have that creepy feeling of déjà-vous: this is, perhaps, the longest and most hard-working pick-up line in all of history.

In order to appreciate the craftsmanship of Donne’s logic , we have to go straight for the parasite.  We have to understand the flea.  What place does he have in the love-making poetry of the 16th century?  Please remember that at this time, London was not the cleanest of places.  People did not have the bathing opportunities or the clothes-washing machines that we have today.  Those who could afford it might have a bath or two indoors several times a year, but mostly they would use costly perfumes to cover up the stench.  Those who did not have the disposable income for such luxuries were simply dirty and colonized with critters.  The poor lived in homes with dirt floors that would have been covered with straw, so that when the baby peed through his gowns or someone dropped a plate of dinner to the ground, they could, theoretically, scoop it up and lay some fresh straw on the ground.  Bedding was also made of straw and other natural materials.  The point is, with animals wandering all over the city and in and out of houses, and dirty, warm organic matter lying around everywhere, you are bound to have parasites like fleas infesting things.  And even a lovely lady with lots of perfume on might get a visit or two.

But this is no ordinary parasite.  The speaker of this poem has elevated him to new and ridiculous heights.  (If this poem were written just a little later, we might speak of the bathos of it—or the absurd elevation of a meaningless object and moment to unwarranted emotional heights).  Something very extraordinary happens to this flea in lines 2-4.  Donne has turned the flea into a metaphor, which he then carries on throughout the entire poem.  This kind of extended metaphor (one that carries on for more than a couple of lines), is called a “conceit”.

It is terribly important to understand what the parts of the metaphor are, so that you can understand what the poet is doing in the poem.  When we speak of a metaphor, what do we mean?  The Oxford English Dictionary defines metaphor in this way: “a figure of speech in which a name or descriptive word or phrase is transferred to an object or action different from, but analogous to, that to which it is literally applicable.”

Okay.  So we have a figure of speech that makes a comparison of one thing with something else that it may or may not have an affinity for.  We also say that a metaphor is a comparison of two things that does not use the words “like” or  “as” (then it would be a simile, since there is similitude or likeness between the thing compared and the comparison).  The metaphor can be broken down into two parts: the tenor and the vehicle.  The tenor is the subject that is going to be compared; it is the actual subject to which borrowed attributes will be applied.  The vehicle, then, is thing from which the attributes are borrowed.

In this poem, the tenor, or actual subject under speculation, is the flea.  The vehicle….well, that is up for debate.  The flea is called many things in this poem: in line 8, it becomes a pregnant woman who “swells with one blood made of two…”; in line 13, it is “our marriage bed and marriage temple” in which the blood of the two lovers is “cloistered in these living walls of jet [a fancy way of saying “black walls”] (line 15); again, it is an innocent being containing the blood of both would-be lovers, slaughtered by the disdain of the woman in question (lines 19-20). There are unspoken things of which this flea takes on the attributes.  The big one here is that of lover.  In his wanton biting of the woman, he sucks her blood.

In a phrase, he gets intimate with her, exchanging fluids with her. Remember that at this time, there are some interesting ways of thinking about sexual intercourse.  Blood imagery, you will find, is always very sexual, because it connotes things like the loss of virginity, menstrual flow—or lack thereof, as in pregnancy—or refers to the idea of bloodline (the thing that one perpetuates through sexual activity).  So while the speaker here tries to convince his beloved to go to bed with him, he is using some bold and somewhat risky metaphors to do it.

We haven’t spoken of form yet.  What we have here is this: an opening quatrain (aabb) followed by five lines (ccddd) and then two more nine line stanzas.  It is possible to look at the first two stanzas as a nine-line grouping, and so what we would get is this: three nine line stanzas, three of which are set aside as an envoy or wheel.  This three-line envoy works to introduce a kind of complication to the logic in the previous six lines.

In the first of these, we see the devious logic of the speaker explaining that although the flea has been cheeky, has taken her blood (much like he desires the blood of her maidenhead), there is no sin in it.  The darn thing even looks like it is pregnant, the way it swells, and still there is no shame.  In the second of these (lines16-18), Donne uses a play on words.  What he says is this: even though you really don’t want to have sex with me, and your parents would hate it, our blood is already commingling inside this little flea.  In essence, I’ve already had you, since the flea has bitten me, too.  And although custom and niceties dictates that my having despoiled you should make you want to kill me, you don’t really want to kill yourself, do you? (referring to the fact that her blood is also in there).

That is literal text of these lines.  Let’s also throw in the fact that two words here have multiple, suggestive valences: “use” also commonly refers to sexual intercourse, and “kill” was used euphemistically for “orgasm”.  You don’t have to spend a lot of time making a one-to-one correspondence to catch the overall drift of Donne’s suggestions.  He’s being naughty.

In the end, the final envoy is the pièce de résistance of his wooing logic: the “Aha!” moment in which he catches the lady in her own logic.  The lady has killed the flea, despite his impassioned pleas, and then says, “So much for your high-falutin’ language.  See?  I don’t feel the slightest bit affected by that flea bite.  The little critter wasn’t so significant, after all.”   So the speaker says: “Well then, you see?  Are you still worried about the social consequences of sleeping with me?  It will be as harmless as a flea bite.”

Just a final note, ladies.  Any man who compares his love-making to the sucking of a flea…well, you probably know what I am going to say.

Good Day, My Friends.

Ma perch’ io veggio te ne lo ‘ntelleto

fatto di pietra e, impetrato, tinto,

sì che t’abbaglia il lume del mio detto,

voglio anco, e se non scritto, almen dipinto,

che ‘l te ne porti dentro a te per quello

che si reca il bordon dip alma cinto.’

E io: ‘Sì come cera da suggello,

che la figura impressa non trasmuta,

segnato è or da voi lo mio cervello.’

(Dante, Purgatorio, XXXIII. 73-81)

‘But since I see that your mind has been turned

to stone, and has acquired a stony hue

so that the light of my speech dazzles you,

I would have you also carry it away

within you, painted even if not written,

as palm wreathes the pilgrim’s staff, and for the same reason.’

And I, ‘As wax under the seal, which does not

alter the figure that is stamped into it,

you are imprinted now upon my brain.’

(Trans. W.S. Merwin)

Hello All,

I share with you today a small gem of poetry, the impetus for all my thinking about words, love, and other calamitous experiences in life.  In this passage, blessed Dante has reached the terrestial (or earthly) paradise after a long and baffling climb up and around the towering mountain of Purgatory.  He has seen much, heard much that he does not comprehend.  His guide, his literary idol, Virgil (author of the Aeneid), has had to explain everything to him—even the things that seem evident.  It is as if our poet needs help with the symbolic nexus he has believed in and helped to create.

You and I might excuse him, friends, for his stupidity.  After all, he is a material man moving through a spiritual world.  He has already come through the circles of Hell, and before that, had found himself in the dark wood of middle age, doubting the path of his life.  To say the least, he is a humbled man, one bedazzled by the symbolic pageantry of Paradise and throttled by the prospect of coming face-to-face with the love of his life: Beatrice.   His Beatrice! the beatific, beautiful, fragrant and untouchable object of his earthly obsession.  Since her bodily death, she has risen to the Heavenly Spheres, falling just this side of earthly desire to the Virgin Mary.  It is no wonder that he fixates so strongly on things that Virgil deems to be of little importance, or that he appears to be as thick as a brick wall when it comes to comprehending essential truths.

And so am I—and so are we all–after living our lives in a material world, getting lost in our quest for personal and universal significance, simultaneously feeling joy and suffering from things that we cannot name or sometimes see.  But there is hope, as Dante discovers here: encountering the beautiful, the supernatural and divine.  Meeting our Beatrice.  Even if we don’t know how to interpret the complex poetry of our lives, we have to promise ourselves to take it in—to fire up our brains with the effort, melt the stone of our dullness and create the wax that will hold the impression of our encounters, poetic or otherwise.

Wax from stone, you may say?  You heard it here first (and I heard it from Dante).  Be the wax.  Take the impression exactly.  Even if you don’t understand what you are reading (in your life or on the page), take the figures and images with you as you go and unpack them when you wake from your slumber.