Posts Tagged ‘Memorial Day’

poem is on one of the center columns

La Vita Nuova


by Dante Alighieri


In that book which is

my memory . . .

On the first page

that is the chapter when

I first met you

appear the words . . .

Here begins a new life



Until I read this poem I never considered what moment in my life I might mark with the plaque Here Begins a New Life.  As it happens today is a good day to consider the question because today is my husband’s and my 24th anniversary.


I taped Dante’s little poem to a column on the campus of the Jesuit all-boys’ high school my husband attended and where we first met at his school’s low-budget and lumbering production of Damn Yankees. Thirty-one years ago I stepped through this portico into the gym it once housed, and there my life took the tiniest of turns that in retrospect mapped out the rest of my life.


I sat in the bleachers, waiting for play practice to start.  This was in the days before the old gym was turned into a state-of-the-art library, before the school had an 480-seat theater, back in the days when an English teacher with extra time directed the play, when students built sets from plywood and two by fours, and we all learned to project because no one had body mikes.


A boy I had recently become friends with, perhaps the first boy I was ever comfortable enough with to befriend, walked in the gym after spring break.  I hadn’t seen him in over a week, and when he appeared, tall and lanky, with flaming red hair, granny glasses and a face swollen from sun poisoning, I realized I had been waiting for him without knowing it.  I felt a rush of happiness, a happiness I still associate with the heady smell of sawdust and boys’ body odor.  We walked down the length of the gym, side by side, and something wonderful and quiet happened.  I felt I had come home.  Walking side by side with him felt like home.


And that was the beginning of everything.


Since I’m keen on symmetry, I’ll mention that as I write this, I’m waiting to see him after a week’s time and my own face is swollen and red from a bite or allergic reaction.

Beatrice says hello to Dante


The poem is from Dante’s La Vita Nuova, an autobiographical book of poems and prose about his love for the immortal Beatrice.  When he first saw her, he was nine and she was eight.  From that moment he never stopped loving her, even though both married other people. The day she first said hello to him, he was so overwhelmed he had to go home and pull himself together.  He fell asleep and had a dream that became the volume from which this poem is taken.  (Apologies are in order:  my knowledge of Dante is about as deep as this poem is long, and so the presentation is on the shallow side.   Plus it’s Memorial Day and I want to weed the garden before my husband arrives home.)


I will say that I like how the poem takes its time to get to the point. Dante leads his audience down and around a spiral of book, chapter, page, and finally a few words to get to the precious center:   Here begins a new life.


Happy Anniversary, dearest heart.



A Jesuit stops to read Dante's poem

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poem is sitting on top of the brochure stand

To fight aloud is very brave…
Emily Dickinson

To fight aloud is very brave,
But gallanter, I know,
Who charge within the bosom,
The cavalry of woe.

Who win, and nations do not see,
Who fall, and none observe,
Whose dying eyes no country
Regards with patriot love.

We trust, in plumed procession,
For such the angels go,
Rank after rank, with even feet
And uniforms of snow.

sorry, not the sharpest photo

At the risk of sounding like a noodle-brained yahoo and offending English majors across the nation, I confess that I am not an Emily Dickinson fan.  She sometimes frightens me the way birds do.

But I was in northern Michigan over Memorial Day weekend with no poems at my disposal except what I could tear out of a 1942 college freshman English textbook I had taken from my father’s collection.  There I found “To Fight Aloud Is Very Brave,” a poem I had never read before, and as you will see, have not had much time to consider.

I usually get tangled up in Emily Dickinson’s syntax.  I lose the thread of her phrases and sentences, where the subject is and what it’s doing, and I end up with a jumbled mess in my head.  This poem I was able to understand, at least the first two stanzas.

Obviously she didn’t intend the poem as a tribute to the families of fallen soldiers, but that’s what it made me think of this Memorial Day.  Today we salute those who gave their lives for our country, but let’s also remember the families who are left behind to fight “within the bosom/the cavalry of woe.” Their silent and unseen battles with grief are brave indeed.

On a less serious note:  the third stanza has me befuddled.  I have no idea what it means.  A little help, please, if you get it.

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