While a Kirkus Review item on Prue Shaw’s Dante book praises Shaw for showing us the genius of Dante’s work, there’s something else I’d like to mention — more of an aside than anything else — that is just as worthy as her assessment of that mighty poem.
The poet’s biography, embedded in the lines.
Not the major elements of his biography — not his encounters with actual friends and family members, enough’s said about that — I’m thinking more of stray, little bits that dramatically illustrate his own circumstances.
One is especially moving to me, my friends. Maybe it will be to you, too.
In Paradiso, canto 17, Dante speaks of his exile from Florence. Following a gorgeously-stunning line that I can’t help but think inspired Cavafy — Tu lascerai ogne cosa diletta/piu caramente… (“You leave behind everything that you love most dearly”), he continues:
Tu proverai si come sa di sale
lo pane altrui, e come e duro calle
lo scendere e ‘l salir per l’altrui scale.
(“You will know how salty is the taste of another’s bread, and how demanding a road it is to climb up and down another’s stairs”)
There’s the real cost of being exiled — the realization that one is lost comes with every bite of food and every movement through another’s house. (I’m sure that anyone who’s ever had to sleep on a friend’s couch for a few weeks can appreciate this sentiment.)
Shaw is oh-so wise to include it. Yet another way to remind us of the poet’s circumstances.
- RELATED: “Second only to Paris… 700 years ago, that is” (on Shaw’s Reading Dante)