"Midway upon the journey of our life, I found myself within a forest dark, for the straightforward path had been lost."
So starts Dante's Divine Comedy, and over the course of 100 cantos the narrator takes a most decidedly un-straightforward path to get to his goal, Paradise, where waits Beatrice. Through all the levels of Hell he must travel, from the outermost to the deepest and most terrible. Only then can he traverse all the levels of purgatory before he can make his entrance to heaven.
It seems to me that this is precisely the journey of consciousness. Awakening suddenly, already descending into Hell - else we would not want nor could be conscious in the first place. How lovely it would be to come back the way we came, straight back to the Garden of Paradise! But innocence lost cannot be regained. The way is shut, we have fallen and continue to fall. Dante, lucky soul, is fairly limited in his exposure to that of a mere witness to the horrors of Hell.
The only way out is forward, deeper into hell, whereupon knowing its depths can we then circle back around to Paradise - only from the back door, as it were, the long way around. The deeper into hell one goes, the stronger the consciousness must have been to make it through intact. Only then does one have the character and the constitution to return home, to Paradise, to Union with the good, resonant with deep harmonies and where every action is laden and ripe. Only with the full consciousness and experience of one who has made the travels and survived the dangers. We come back to where we started, or something close to it, but changed by the experience. To paraphrase Jung, for a tree's branches to reach to heaven, its roots must extend to Hell.
The long way is often the shortest way, in the end, because it affords the transformative experiences that shape us into the people capable of getting to our destination in the first place. What looks like a short-cut or the most direct way is also where resistance stiffens. The harder you push, the more what you push on, pushes back. Richmond, 70 odd miles from Washington in the Civil War, fell only after four years, a million casualties, the loss of the trans-Mississippi, Kentucky, Tenessee, all their ports and railhubs. The two most influential Union generals cut their teeth in the West - the long way around.
Of course this presupposes that consciousness is the a-priori good. In a paradoxical and tautological knot, the lack of this awareness means we are still in Hell somewhere. But we emerge from the Round, the Void, and return to it with a Self. I suppose that counts for something. Until, of course, we have to do it all over again. We perfect the process, and the process never ends, moving towards God-knows-what. We have inklings, and we have guides, but the experience must still be lived with the faith that what emerges on the other side will somehow be more complete, that there is an image unfolding through this process. And perhaps the movement towards is enough anyway. It stands to reason that it is better than the alternative.
If we can't move forward, we rot in our own personal Hell. What could have been a comedy dies a tragedy.
When I worked at OU I began auditing an Italian Medieval Literature course. It was pretty awesome- we studied Italian classics in Italian. Because we were all excited about what we read and discussed, and just happened to be doing it in Italian, we all learned way more than we would have in a traditional language course. At least I did. I was concurrently auditing an Italian Conversation course that always left me unsatisfied, the opposite of how I felt leaving the literature course.
One of the juicer tidbits I learned in that course was the etymology of a cavaliere errante, or knight errant. Specifically the errant part. And why were knights errant in the first place?
Errare, in Italian and presumably Latin (and also Spanish, I believe), means both to wander and to err, or to make mistakes. In fact it is easy to see the common root of the English words errant and err. But why does one word in Romance languages have two meanings that seem unrelated?
The two are intricately tied together, however. To wander in the sense of a knight errant implies sauntering into the unknown and therefore taking risks. Risks mean that mistakes are likely, as well as valuable experience. Knights were errant because they had to quest, to question, to search, and could only find the answer through their wanderings. They had to live the answers and live the knightly virtues. Wandering was typically a dangerous proposition, and precisely for that reason it was also a path to unique and valuable learnings. They erred along their path, as anyone who takes a risk inevitably does. But as Joseph Campbell pointed out, "where you stumble, there lies your treasure". To wander is to err but it is the only way a knight could come into his own, prove himself, and pass from being a knight errant to a grail knight: one who has become a vessel for the infinite energies of the universe, through whose hands holy work is done. Before he could do with his hands he had to learn with his feet. With his feet he wandered and erred, learned and grew.
Or as Quijote himself put it, "who wanders much and reads much, sees much and knows much".
Dillon Dakota Carroll
Oklahoma City, Oklahoma
This is my translation of yesterday's post. The lines that are bolded are the ones that I'm not too sure about. The letters at the end of each line are the original rhyme scheme.
Edit: I have updated my translation after working with a professor of medieval Italian poetry to correct the sections I was unsure of before. Though I would still love any and all feedback if you happen to be familiar with Cavalcanti!
My terrible new misfortune A
Has in my heart undone B
every sweet thought I had of love. B
Having already undone so much of my life, C
the noble, lovely lady of mine D
she has left my soul destroyed C
such that my eye no longer sees her. D
Such has this erased my will, D
That I no longer comprehend B
What in her I found of worth. B
A subtle thought kills me, E
That seems to say that I may never again see her: D
Like a desperate and fearsome storm, E
That destroys and pains and burns and embitters. D
I cannot find nor rescuer D
nor mercy from that lord B
who plays with my sad fortune. B
Full of anguish, in place of fear F
The hurtful spirit of the heart lies still G
unaided by an apathetic Fortune F
who has turned me over to Death G
And the Hope which has failed me, G
in the time it spent with me H
wonderful hours have wasted away. H
Fearful crazed words of mine, I
Go about there wherever you wish; J
But always calling out sighing I
and shamefully the name of my lady. J
I however remain in such a state J
That looking outside, H
I see Death beneath my door. H
As we've seen in Cavalcanti's other poem, Donna me prega, Cavalcanti sees love in a rather negative light. La Forte e Nova Mia Disaventura (My Terrible New Misfortune) continues with this line of thought, and tells us what happens, or rather what love does to us when our beloved leaves us. From the beginning, insinuating that love is a misfortune, this poem seems to warn us away from love. But beyond this warning, the poem disparages love. Cavalcanti disparages that which has disparaged him.
The woman is important, of course, but only insofar as her absence causes Cavalcanti anguish. More vivid as characters are the concepts of Fortune, which plays with the hearts of lovers like toys, and Death, that waits for Fortune to finish its cruel games. The language of the poem reinforces the idea that there really is a personified Fortune: "I cannot see who that lord [Fortune], takes pity upon, but who rather doles out pain on whim." Or rather that no one escapes from the caprices of luck.
Hope appears as a minor character, but as a traitorous character that has delivered Cavalcanti into the hands of Fortune. In the part of the poem that I view as central it speaks of "the hurt that Fortune refuses to cure". As though he is suffering from a lethal disease, he is brought to Death's door. At that point, he has lost all Hope, which has effectively betrayed him. It says that Hope "in the time it spent with me, wonderful hours have wasted away." Hope was effectively complicit in the deadly joke Fortune has played on Cavalcanti: it has caused him to waste away precious hours, hours wasted that could have been better spent avoiding the coming emotional storm.
After all, pleasurable or not, time is really all we have in life. We must disparage that which disparages our time, which is just another way of saying our essential life force, or our life in and of itself. Who disparages our time in the end disparages us as people. In the end, My Terrible New Misfortune is Cavalcanti's attack on love for what he sees as the ultimate disparagement of his life. Frank Herbert reflects this sentiment in his book Dune: "Between depriving a man of one hour from his life and depriving him of his life there exists only a difference of degree. You have done violence to him, consumed his energy." Hope and Fortune, as Cavalcanti sees it, have conspired to rob his life and turn him over to Death.
The strong, particular language is critical here for constructing the sense of a lethal betrayal. Any good thought he may have, as it says in the first stanza, has been undone by his misfortune. His thoughts don't just hurt, they kill him. In one of the few metaphors in the poem, Cavalcanti compares love to a storm that "That destroys and pains and burns and embitters." These are the words of someone who feels beyond their capacity to understand, internalize, and continue with their life. To continue with the analysis, if Fortune has conspired to consign Cavalcanti to Death like a dangerous storm, then Cavalcanti's strong damning of love tells us that he still feels trapped at sea. He has survived the storm, but cannot see firm land in any direction and is unsure of how to continue his life, or in what direction to sail. This is why, "looking outside, I see Death beneath my door."
Who knows, but perhaps after having found a safe port to repose in for a while, Cavalcanti would have a different opinion on love. In the moment of our greatest victories, we feel what seems like unimaginable euforia; our nightmares always seem like the worst we've ever had, with no chance of escape. Cavalcanti surely captures in this poem a universal emotion: that of a man that feels misspent and discarded, who in the depth of their anguish must try to make sense of it all.
I am auditing a couple Italian classes at OU right now (Italian Conversation and Italian Literature). Our most recent assignment for the literature class I quite enjoyed writing. We had to choose, and analyze, a poem of either Dante, Cavalcanti, or Guinizelli. I chose La Forte e Nova Mia Disaventura because I really liked the name, and as it turns out, the poem was great too. I may get around to translating it one of these days, in particular the poem itself. In my (albeit brief) online search I could not find an English translation of it.
Edit September 15 2014: You can check out my translation here.
La forte e nova mia disaventura
m’ha desfatto nel core
ogni dolce penser, ch’i’ avea, d’amore.
Disfatta m’ha già tanto de la vita,
che la gentil, piacevol donna mia
dall’anima destrutta s’è partita,
sì ch’i’ non veggio là dov’ella sia.
Non è rimaso in me tanta balìa,
ch’io de lo su’ valore
possa comprender nella mente fiore.
Vèn, che m’uccide, un[o] sottil pensero,
che par che dica ch’i’ mai no la veggia:
questo [è] tormento disperato e fero,
che strugg’ e dole e ’ncende ed amareggia.
Trovar non posso a cui pietate cheggia,
mercé di quel signore
che gira la fortuna del dolore.
Pieno d’angoscia, in loco di paura,
lo spirito del cor dolente giace
per la Fortuna che di me non cura,
c’ha volta Morte dove assai mi spiace,
e da speranza, ch’è stata fallace,
nel tempo ch’e’ si more
m’ha fatto perder dilettevole ore.
Parole mie disfatt’ e paurose,
là dove piace a voi di gire andate;
ma sempre sospirando e vergognose
lo nome de la mia donna chiamate.
Io pur rimagno in tant’ aversitate
che, qual mira de fòre,
vede la Morte sotto al meo colore.
Come abbiamo già visto nella altra poema di Cavalcanti, Donna Me Prega, lui vede l'amore come una cosa proprio male. La Forte e Nova Mia Disaventura segue con quel pensiero, e ci dice quello che succede, o migliore dire, cosa l'amore ci fa quando la donna se ne vada. Dal principio, insinuando che l'amore sia una disaventura, questa poema sembra avvertirci di starci lontano dal'amore. Ma al di là della avvertenze questa poema è anche un desprezzo del'amore. Cavalcanti disprezza quel che ha disprezzato a lui.
La donna c'entra, sì, ma soltanto come figura con cui Cavalcanti è innamorato e chi non può avere, perciò si sente l'angustia del'amore. Più forte e vivi come personaggii ci sono la Fortuna, chi gioca coi poveri innamorati, e la Morte, che aspetta lui dopo che la Fortuna avrà finita il suo gioco crudele. Il linguaggio di quesi concetti-divantati-personaggii raforza l'imagine: "Trovar non posso a cui pitate cheggia, mercè di quel signore" (la Fortuna). O sia, non c'è uomo che scappa dei capriccii della.
C'entra anche la Speranza come altro personaggio, un personaggio traditrice. E certo, nella stanza che vedo come cruciale nella poema, dice "la Fortuna che di me non cura". Diciamo che è come una malattia letale che lo porta alla Morte "dove assai mi spiace". Se vede che è rimasto senza Speranza, chi lo ha effetivamente tradito. Dice "ch'è stata fallace, nel tempo ch'e' si more, m'ha fatto perder dilettevole ore." Anzi la Speranza fu complice cola Fortuna nello scherzo mortale su di Cavalcanti: lo hanno fatto perder il suo tempo, tempo sprecato e senza azione chepotrebbe avere stato la di scappare la tempesta per arrivare.
Alla fine, dilettevole o no, il tempo è tutto che abbiamo nella vita. Abbiamo di disprezzare chi disprezza il nostro tempo, ch'è altra forma da dire la nostra essenzia di vita, o la vita in sì. Chi disprezza il nostro tempo disprezza in fondo noi stessi. La forte e mia nova disaventura è, in fondo, il disprezzio di Cavalcanti contra l'amore per disprezziare a lui. Frank Herbet lo dice bene nella sua opera Dune: "Tra rubare un uomo di una ora della sua vita e rubarle la vita intera, c'è soltanto la differenza di un grado. Le hai fatto violenza, distrutto la sua energia." La Speranza e La Fortuna, come lo vede Cavalcanti, hanno conspirato per rubarli la vita e consegnarla alla Morte.
Cosa criticale per contruire il senso del tradimento letale qui è il linguaggio fortissimo. Qualsiasi pensieri buoni, dice nella prima stanza, sono disfatti per la sua disaventura. Un pensiero non soltanto lo colpa ma l'uccide. Nel uno dei pochi metafori della poema, confronta la sua experienza col'amore a una tempesta "disperato e fero, che strugg’ e dole e ’ncende ed amareggia." Sono le parole di qualcuno che si sente più al-di-là della sua capacità di capire, internalizzare, e seguire avanti. Per seguire il concetto della poema, se la Fortuna fa scherzo della sua amore per portarlo alla Morte come una tempesta, il suo linguaggio fortissimo ci dice che Cavalcanti ancora si vede a mare aperta, tra sopravivere il peggio della tempesta, ma senza potere vedere la terra firme, senza sapere dove dirigere la sua vita. Per questo ancora "vede la Morte sotto al meo colore".
Chissà, ma magari dopo trovare terra firme dove posare un poco, Cavalcanti avrebbe altre opinione sul'amore. Le nostre vittorie, nei momenti delle, sempre provocanno la euforia più elevata; i nostri incubi sembranno i più oscuri che avremmo avuto mai e senza uscita. Sicuramente, Cavalcanti cattura qui una emozione universale: quella di un uomo sprecato nella profondità della angostia, cercando di fare i conti e trovare un senso nella.
...sees much and knows much