来自: Adiyat(Spiritual Chivalry Style)
BookRags Literature Criticism
Critical Essay by T. S. Eliot
For the online version of BookRags' Critical Essay by T. S. Eliot Literature Criticism, including complete copyright information, please visit:
©2005-2006 Thomson Gale, a part of the Thomson Corporation. All rights reserved.
(c)2000-2006 BookRags, Inc. ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.
Critical Essay by T. S. Eliot
SOURCE: Eliot, T. S. "Dante." In Selected Essays, pp. 199-237. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1950.
In this excerpt from an essay originally published in 1932, Eliot praises the Paradiso as a masterpiece by the greatest poet in the Western tradition.
The Paradiso is not monotonous. It is as various as any poem. And take the Comedy as a whole, you can compare it to nothing but the entire dramatic work of Shakespeare. The comparison of the Vita Nuova with the Sonnets is another, and interesting, occupation. Dante and Shakespeare divide the modern world between them; there is no third.
We should begin by thinking of Dante fixing his gaze on Beatrice:Nel suo aspetto tal dentro mi fei, qual si fe' Glauco nel gustar dell' erba, che il fe' consorto in mar degli altri dei. Trasumanar significar per verba non si poria; pero l'esemplo basti a cui esperienza grazia serba.
Gazing on her, so I became within, as did Glaucus, on tasting of the grass which made him sea-fellow of the other gods. To transcend humanity may not be told in words, wherefore let the instance suffice for him for whom that experience is reserved by Grace.
And as Beatrice says to Dante: "You make yourself dull with false fancy"; warns him, that here there are divers sorts of blessedness, as settled by Providence.
If this is not enough, Dante is informed by Piccarda (Canto III) in words which even those who know no Dante know:la sua voluntade è nostra pace.
His will is our peace.
It is the mystery of the inequality, and of the indifference of that inequality, in blessedness, of the blessed. It is all the same, and yet each degree differs.
Shakespeare gives the greatest width of human passion; Dante the greatest altitude and greatest depth. They complement each other. It is futile to ask which undertook the more difficult job. But certainly the "difficult passages" in the Paradiso are Dante's difficulties rather than ours: his difficulty in making us apprehend sensuously the various states and stages of blessedness. Thus the long oration of Beatrice about the Will (Canto IV) is really directed at making us feel the reality of the condition of Piccarda; Dante has to educate our senses as he goes along. The insistence throughout is upon states of feeling; the reasoning takes only its proper place as a means of reaching these states. We get constantly verses likeBeatrice mi guardò con gli occhi pieni di faville d' amor cosi divini, che, vinta, mia virtù diedi le reni, e quasi mi perdei con gli occhi chini.
Beatrice looked on me with eyes so divine filled with sparks of love, that my vanquished power turned away, and I became as lost, with downcast eyes.
The whole difficulty is in admitting that this is something that we are meant to feel, not merely decorative verbiage. Dante gives us every aid of images, as whenCome in peschiera, ch' è tranquilla e pura, traggonsi i pesci a ciò che vien di fuori per modo che lo stiman lor pastura; sì vid' io ben più di mille splendori trarsi ver noi, ed in ciascun s'udia: Ecco che crescerà li nostri amori.
As in a fishpond still and clear, the fishes draw near to anything that falls from without in such a way as to make them think it something to eat, so I saw more than a thousand splendours draw towards us, and in each was heard: Lo! here is one that shall increase our loves.
About the persons whom Dante meets in the several spheres, we need only to enquire enough to consider why Dante placed them where he did.
When we have grasped the strict utility of the minor images, such as the one given above, or even the simple comparison admired by Landor:Quale alledetta che in aere si spazia primo cantando, e poi tace contenta dell' ultima dolcezza che la sazia,
Like the lark which soars in the air, first singing, and then ceases, content with the last sweetness that sates her,
we may study with respect the more elaborate imagery, such as that of the figure of the Eagle composed by the spirits of the just, which extends from Canto XVIII onwards for some space. Such figures are not merely antiquated rhetorical devices, but serious and practical means of making the spiritual visible. An understanding of the rightness of such imagery is a preparation for apprehending the last and greatest canto, the most tenuous and most intense. Nowhere in poetry has experience so remote from ordinary experience been expressed so concretely, by a masterly use of that imagery of light which is the form of certain types of mystical experience.Nel suo profondo vidi che s'interna, legato con amore in un volume, ciò che per l'universo si squaderna; sustanzia ed accidenti, e lor costume, quasi conflati insieme per tal modo, che ciò ch' io dico è un semplice lume. La forma universal di questo nodo credo ch' io vidi, perchè più di largo, dicendo questo, mi sento ch' io godo. Un punto solo m'è maggior letargo, che venticinque secoli alla impresa, che fé Nettuno ammirar l'ombra d'Argo.
Within its depths I saw ingathered, bound by love in one mass, the scattered leaves of the universe: substance and accidents and their relations, as though together fused, so that what I speak of is one simple flame. The universal form of this complex I think I saw, because, as I say this, more largely I feel myself rejoice. One single moment to me is more lethargy than twenty-five centuries upon the enterprise which made Neptune wonder at the shadow of the Argo (passing over him).
One can feel only awe at the power of the master who could thus at every moment realize the inapprehensible in visual images. And I do not know anywhere in poetry more authentic sign of greatness than the power of association which could in the last line, when the poet is speaking of the Divine vision, yet introduce the Argo passing over the head of wondering Neptune. Such association is utterly different from that of Marino speaking in one breath of the beauty of the Magdalen and the opulence of Cleopatra (so that you are not quite sure what adjectives apply to which). It is the real right thing, the power of establishing relations between beauty of the most diverse sorts; it is the utmost power of the poet.O quanto è corto il dire, e come fioco al mio concetto!
How scant the speech, and how faint, for my conception!
In writing of the Divine Comedy I have tried to keep to a few very simple points of which I am convinced. First that the poetry of Dante is the one universal school of style for the writing of poetry in any language. There is much, naturally, which can profit only those who write Dante's own Tuscan language; but there is no poet in any tongue--not even in Latin or Greek--who stands so firmly as a model for all poets. I tried to illustrate his universal mastery in the use of images. In the actual writing I went so far as to say that he is safer to follow, even for us, than any English poet, including Shakespeare. My second point is that Dante's "allegorical" method has great advantages for the writing of poetry: it simplifies the diction, and makes clear and precise the images. That in good allegory, like Dante's, it is not necessary to understand the meaning first to enjoy the poetry, but that our enjoyment of the poetry makes us want to understand the meaning. And the third point is that the Divine Comedy is a complete scale of the depths and heights of human emotion; that the Purgatorio and Paradiso are to be read as extensions of the ordinarily very limited human range. Every degree of the feeling of humanity, from lowest to highest, has, moreover, an intimate relation to the next above and below, and all fit together according to the logic of sensibility.