Love Ran Through His Island Heart

“Without hope we live on in desire.”
Sanza speme vivemo in disio.

Dante, Inferno, Canto IV, line 42

Love ran through his island heart
From springes freed took flight
Left swallows’ cries of yesteryears
Desire-torn in apple-bright

Bone-white his wings that beat the air
And strain bent low his neck
Wind beat hard his sinews bare
Yet Hope grew clear his sight

Quiet-warmed as kingly deer by brook
Calm shattered shivers of doubt
Drawn unseen through cloud and dark
Dew-quenched his thirsting heart

Love and Hope together sang
He heard their various strain
Not far the wing-breadths that remained
To reach the One he loved.


“That without hope we live on in desire”
The pagan poet found
But pity more each one whose fire
Burns for themselves alone.


Before Canto 4 of the Inferno where the pilgrim Dante is introduced to the virtuous pagans among whom is his guide through Hell, the poet Virgil himself, Dante first crosses the gate of Hell whereon he sees inscribed, “Abandon hope all who enter here” (Canto 3). Here, he sees the first sinners in Hell, a craven company who lived for themselves, filled with envious desires, whom Virgil describes as “the sorry souls of those who lived without infamy or praise. They are mingled with that base band of angels who were neither rebellious nor faithful to God, but stood apart.” Being disengaged from the battle, this endless line of souls have no hope of death’s oblivion, “mercy and justice disdain them. Let us not speak of them, but look, and pass on” (trans. Charles S. Singleton). Virgil won’t even name them for they have reduced reality, reduced the world to a show, a spectacle for their own amusement. These rage and wail as swarms of stinging wasps and flies follow them and worms engorge on their blood. In contrast the virtuous pre-Christian pagans whom Dante meets next in Limbo live in a bucolic garden, their great sadness, desiring yet remaining apart from God.

Björn at dVerse invites us to "Meet the Bar" with an invented aphorism around which to fashion our prose. I'm afraid I'm a complete failure with this attempt, the aphorism not being my own nor re-fashioned from the original, and blatantly accompanied by poetry not prose. Thankfully, I did manage to meet the bar at Shay's Word Garden from which I chose to use the following: islands, shiver, springes, various. Thanks to both Björn and Shay for their intriguing challenges.

22 thoughts on “Love Ran Through His Island Heart

  1. I know it isn’t what you intend here, but i can’t help thinking Icarus, flying too close to the sun. At least he wasn’t a bystander. And he left Daedalus behind to carry on.

    Did you ever watch the 80s medical drama St. Elsewhere? There was an episode where Dr. Fiscus is shot and has a near death experience. While in the after-world, he sees all these football-style referees throwing penalty flags and signaling infractions with elaborate gestures. Fiscus asks who they are and is told, oh, those are the referees. They never did anything themselves, they just criticized what others did. There are a lot of bystanders and referees around.

    So glad you took up the list challenge, Dora. 🙂

    –Shay

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    1. Shay, Wonder if the writers weren’t thinking of Dante! That word list you compiled from Amy Lowell’s poetry pushed me towards the imagism that you gave us a taste of, so I’m not surprised that Icarus came to mind, probably subconsciously in mine.
      ~ 🧡Dora

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    1. Thanks, Björn, as always for your comments.

      I think Dante’s point is that virtue or vice isn’t what gets you into heaven or hell respectively but simply whether one sought God (which no one does perfectly). In accordance with his Catholic cosmology, there are sinners in Purgatory whose vices parallel those in hell, but sought God sincerely and after their purging attain heaven.
      ~Dora

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    1. Thanks, qbit. You can’t ask for better literary guides through heaven, hell , and in between than Dante (and John Bunyan of course). Blake’s poetic genius on the other hand just lands you in a ditch.

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      1. Punam,
        Thank you much! So sorry I somehow missed your comment, so the delayed response. I’m not sure where I first encountered Dante. He’s so very much in the background of so much literature that I think I began with spoonfuls that added up to the lot somehow, if that makes sense!
        ~Dora

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  2. Susie Clevenger

    Beautiful, visionary piece…I often think of poetry as a spirit guide. I’m never sure where I will travel, light or dark, yet travel I do. This poem brought joy to me today. I just finished meditating and you extended the light for me.

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    1. Thank you for that extraordinarily generous comment. Poetry is a vehicle for journey, isn’t it, such an apt comparison given the inspiration we find in visionary poets of old, including those in the Psalms. I find myself returning to them for just such a journey, for guidance, many of them for the very reason you say.
      ~Dora

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