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. He introduced 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.
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
years of crap
to get at truth.
Then he would
sharpen the blade.
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 himself 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 or short prose. Remember: extended metaphor. But I suggest you keep it briefer than Dante’s!
• Write 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 or prose; Post it on your blog or website; Click on Mr. Linky at the bottom of this post and enter your name and the direct URL of your post; Visit other poets’ work if you like and offer a comment while you’re at it. Have fun.
VICTORIA C. SLOTTO (Victoria C. Slotto, Author: Fiction, Poetry and Writing Prompts) ~ is an accomplished writer and poet. Winter is Past, published by Lucky Bat Books in 2012, is Victoria’s first novel. A second novel is in process. On Amazon and hot-off-the-press nonfiction is Beating the Odds: Support for Persons with Early Stage Dementia. Victoria’s ebooks (poetry and nonfiction) are free to Amazon Prime Members. Link HERE for Victoria’s Amazon page. Victoria’s poetry collection is Jacaranda Rain, Collected Poems, 2012, Beautifully done.
Writers’ Fourth Wednesday prompt is hosted by Victoria from January through October. Victoria’s next Fourth Wednesday writers’ prompt will post at 12:01 a.m. PST on August 27. Please join us. Mister Linky will remain open for seventy-two hours so that you can link your response to this blog. If you find Mister Linky too cumbersome to use, please feel free to leave your link in the comments section on Wednesday. Victoria and Jamie will read and comment and we hope you will read each other’s work as well, comment and encourage.