Sunday, February 18, 2018

The Fractured Rose: Paradiso 32 (Part II)

Paradiso 32 comes across as dry and devoid of embellishment when compared with the cantos immediately preceding and the stunning final canto 33.

Numerous critics have noted its "wooden," coldly depersonalized affect. "It is a plan which must seem to us pedantic and unimaginative and out of keeping with the visionary rapture of this part of Dante's pilgrimage," notes John D. Sinclair. And G.L. Bickersteth describes the focus on the construction of the edifice of the Rose as "an intellectual process resulting in a static formal image, mercilessly formal in its absolute symmetry, a mere geometrical design, lifeless . . .."

We might ask ourselves why, at this penultimate moment when all is tending upward toward the light, toward love and synthesis of the Alpha and Omega, we are treated to a set of names, familiar figures from the Testaments and from Church history, but here like icons in niches, more inert than the figures on along the paths of Purgatorio which the poet beautifully calls visibile parlare.

None who are named speaks, none is described, or has anything of the vivid individuality and animation of souls met throughout this journey. Something besides their historical personhood is of concern here. When Benedict promised Dante that he would see the blessed con imagine scoverta, little did we think this unveiling would drain their presence to a set of letters spelling their names.

The effect is skeletal, as if we are experiencing not the plenitude of the Rose, but rather the barest bones of Scripture inscribed in the Rose. The names have a somber, distanced air -- as if chiseled on a gravestone.

The Rose, all ebullience in the previous cantos, is now dissected by Bernard. The order he limns marks the breaking points of the strange interface between terrestrial man and his Creator: Those Before and After Christ; the matrilineal line, or wall, from Eve to Christ -- itself a jagged line that crosses boundaries of ethnicity and nationhood, and women without children, and women who killed kings. Then, three classes of innocents.

The one person from the Old Testament whose words - "miserere me" - we hear quoted by Bernard is David, the king who took another man's wife, and arranged that man's death. David not only committed a grave sin, for which he sang many a penitential psalm. With Bathsheba he fathered Solomon.

We're moving toward the close of the Commedia. That the final canto is coming is certain. Before we arrive, one last walk through a valley of wounds, balm, and the deepest doubt. What a remarkable artistic calculation: the poet has us with him, no one is going to stop reading his poem now. We've experienced some of the lowest and highest characters, tales and perils a reader could wish for. But Paradise is not only about God's sacred totality. It is also about the wounds, sins, and sorry history of the creature whose eternal life was purchased at horrific cost.

The face of heaven is broken, not unlike the broken god that provided human access there. The geometry of the Rose is disfigured by these markings of difference, this wall of nurturing, devious mothers, one assassin, and the horrors of sin issuing from the original piaga opened by Eve.

Piaga - "wound" - is given high prominence by Bernard - so high it is striking:
La piaga che Maria richiuse e unse,
quella ch'è tanto bella da' suoi piedi
è colei che l'aperse e che la punse.
Preceding even the name of Maria, la piaga opened by Eve, closed by Mary, stains the canto. The geometry of the Rose is crossed by lines of human error that disfigure it. The face of Heaven bears the sutures of a care incomprehensibly extended in the wake the nightmarish incisions of human history. To approach heaven without having contemplated this agony, this unaccountable rescue; without having confronted still more troubling doubts is not to approach this poet's sacral place at all.

The canto next turns to a last, deepest doubt: what of the children who died before their choices had authority to decide their fates? Doubts accompanying the pilgrim since he was lost in the wood.

This will be next.

1 comment:

mona ahmed said...
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