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Inferno Canto 33, Gustave Dorè 2

Inferno Canto 33, Gustave Dorè 2 (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

The great Italian poet, Dante Alighieri (1265-1321) is best known for his Divine Comedy, an extensive poem in which the reader, guided by Virgil and Beatrice, journeys on a pilgrimage to hell, purgatory and heaven. This vast work, in poetic form that is divided into Cantos, is one of a number of literary gems that we categorize as an allegory.

Put simply, an allegory is an extended metaphor. As we all know, metaphor is a commonly used device in our poetic toolbox—an image that stands in for, or symbolizes something else. In choosing to write an allegorical poem, Dante recognized that everything in his poem needed to be metaphorical.

His skill may be seen in the subtlety of his use of these representations. In the Middle Ages, playwrights, painters and other artists turned to allegory. Biblical scholars recognized passages of both the Hebrew Bible and the New Testament as allegorical. Characters named Lust or Greed inhabited the stage of morality plays.

Dante was not so obvious about it. In the Inferno, he introduces us to lust, for example, in the characters of Paolo and Francesca, who share the story of their fall into adultery with the pilgrim. In addition, Dante created punishments for each circle of hell that fit the sin leading the lost soul to damnation. For example, in his hell, those who sinned by lust spent eternity whirling around in a dark wind.

Artists in all genres have turned to allegory. Consider such contemporary works as Star Trek, Avatar, or the The Lord of the Rings.

To give an example of an allegorical poem, I am choosing one of my own in order to escape accidental copyright infringement. You may remember it from a previous post on my blog:

Alternate Uses for a Steak Knife

I know better
than to dig blindly
in the tool box.

The knife—
sharp as it was
the day he died

ten years ago.
A bit of rust next
to the handle

crusted with dirt.
I can see him

beside the Sago
Palm, uprooting
stubborn weeds,

opening boxes,
slicing through
years of crap

to get at truth.
Then he would
sharpen the blade.

Listen carefully,
hear the song
of steel meeting flint.

That last time,
could he guess that
I would bleed?

In writing this, I could have chosen the title “Grief,” or “Mourning my Father.” Instead, I elected to trust the reader to figure out for him or herself the meaning hidden within the symbolism that I offered.

For today’s prompt, let’s visit allegory. Here are a few ways you might approach it:

• Write your own allegorical poem using any form. Remember: extended metaphor. But I suggest you keep it briefer than Dante’s if you want comments!
• Write a poem about an already-written allegory. You might check out Dante or do a Google search on allegory.
• In our age, many have different understandings of what the hell or heaven means. Or purgatory, for that matter. Maybe you’ll enjoy writing your own allegory about this topic.
• Find a piece of allegorical art—they’re out there—and write an ekphrasis about it.
• Try a short piece of poetic, allegorical narrative.
• Check out the Bible or another sacred text for allegory and use that as a starting point.

If you’re able to join us:

• Write your poem–include a process note, if you wish;
• Post it on your blog or website;
• Click on Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post and enter you name and the direct URL of your post.
• Come to the pub and visit other poets’ work. Take time to comment and while you’re at it, order up your favorite wine, or brew. My husband tells me I make a killer Manhattan.
• Have fun.

For dVerse Poets’ Pub, Meeting the Bar, I’m Victoria C. Slotto, grateful to be a part of this talented poetry community. I’d like to invite you to visit me, not only at my Blog, but also my Website where I’m trying desperately to peddle my novel, Winter is Past, published by Lucky Bat Books. Thanks, all, for being a part of our community.