August 27, 2008

Dante, my text-book ...

[Thanks to Famous Blogs which awarded Wind Rose Hotel with the Blog of the Day Award!]

I think if I were professor of Rhetoric, teacher of the art of writing well, to young men, I should use Dante for my text-book. Come hither, youth, & learn how the brook that flows at the bottom of your garden, or the farmer who ploughs the adjacent field—your father & mother, your debts & credits, & your web web of habits are the very best basis of poetry, & the material which you must work up. Dante knew how to throw the weight of his body into each act, and is, like Byron, Burke, & and Carlyle, the Rhetorician. I find him full of the nobil volgare eloquenza; that he knows “God damn,” and cab be rowdy if he please, & he does please. Yet is not Dante reason or illumination & that essence we were looking for, but only a new exhibition of the possibilities of genius. Here is an imagination that rivals in closeness & precision the senses. But we must prize him as we do a rainbow, we can appropriate nothing of him. Could we some day admit into our oyster heads the immense figure which these flagrant points compose when united, the hands of Phidias, the conclusion of Newton, the pantheism of Goethe, the all wise music of Shakespeare, the robust eyes of Swedenborg!

—Ralph Waldo Emerson [from his journals, July 1849], in EMERSON IN HIS JOURNALS, selected and edited by Joel Porte, Harvard University Press, Cambridge (Massachsetts) - London (England), 1982.