Writers’ Fourth Wednesday–Allegory

 

Image: Wikipedia
Image: 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. 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:

glory garden

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
digging

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 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.

 

Photo: Wikipedia
Photo: Wikipedia, Excalibur

2940013445222_p0_v1_s260x42034ff816cd604d91d26b52d7daf7e8417VICTORIA 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. 

 

Looking South

(For some, the ultimate journey)

This poem was my response to a challenge; about the triumph of the human spirit over adversity. But most particularly, it is about not bearing life’s burden on your own, but rather learning how to ask for help, how to share concern or worry. For some things in life, you cannot just ‘tough it out’. However strong you think you may be, there are some challenges in life that you cannot, nay should not tackle alone, because everyone has their limits; there is always a barrier, either physical or emotional or both, that will inhibit the progress of any man or woman; will put a stop to their journeys.

Perhaps this is because, once you show your vulnerability, far from becoming prey to vultures and demons, you will also attract the support of true human beings, those who are true team players, those who care. And anybody who endeavours to achieve things that not everyone would attempt, has that spirit. It is often a spirit born of near death experience, but may also be a response to physical and emotional pain.

It is both these things that four men from the British armed forces set out to overcome in a seemingly impossible challenge. These four servicemen, who were all injured in combat in Afghanistan, set out to enter the record books as the first disabled team to walk unassisted to the North Pole. It involved a great deal of preparation and training for all of them.

The men are: Capt Martin Hewitt, 30, whose right arm is paralysed after being shot; Capt Guy Disney, 29, whose right leg was amputated below the knee after he was hit by a rocket-propelled grenade (RPG); Sgt Stephen Young, 28, who suffered a broken back in a roadside bombing; Pte Jaco Van Gass, 24, who had his left arm amputated and suffered significant tissue loss to his left leg after being hit by an RPG.

For the first few days of their trek, they were also accompanied by Prince Harry, who supported their campaign both before and after it was completed. The documentary, shown on BBC1 in the summer of 2011, was called “Harry’s Arctic Heroes“.

In this expedition, these four men represented every soldier, airman and sailor who is ever injured in conflicts, but particularly those who lose their faculties in some way, be it the loss of a limb or sight.

The poem also has a ‘dark’ side, as it shakes a metaphor at dealing with our mortality, not least by reference to ‘The Dream of Gerontius’. The journey ‘North’, in this sense, is figurative and is my way of demonstrating that metaphor to the ultimate journey that we and all animals make as an integral part of our lives. “Looking South” represents the looking back on our lives, which in the case of these four injured servicemen, was their life so far. And for a majority of those, who deal with life’s challenges, some significant moments also represent a looking back on our lives… so far.

If you stand in the wind
and allow it to bend you
so you flex and withstand it,
don’t let it uproot you,
then you’ll find it can’t hurt you
in spite of extraordinary pain.

If your instinct for flight
is taken away
your options for fighting
in an instant are gone,
like a parent removing
your permission to play…

…with the most bitter of tears.

If there’s anything surer
than the moment you hear
a deafening sound
of silence and the fear
rushes in like air
to a vacuum.

There’s nothing more certain,
never so clear,
as if a vision of your life
were etched in white light
closing your eyes
and blinding your sight…

…but opening them on the inside.

It seems you were born
for this moment;
that this is your time.
You appear to have arrived
at the moment when pain
can no longer touch you.

That stress and the anguish
of screaming self-doubt
have momentarily left you,
your inside looking out;
outside looking in;
thoughts perfectly scrambled…

…like the dream of Gerontius.

Circumventing your demons,
overcoming your fear
this vision of whiteness
tears at your heart and your soul;
bedazzling lightness
of mind; supernal disclosure;

a revelation that you’ll never
be left on your own.
You will never be able
to embark on this journey
without your assistants;
your brothers in arms…

…but they’re not the Invisible Choir

Your angels are next to you;
there at your shoulder if you look.
Maybe a Prince or a pauper,
but either will brook you;
all you need is to ask;
as long as you let them know.

Then, when you stand there,
sharing legs, shoulders, arms,
looking South when you know
that there’s no further North,
surveying a World,
that will sing your arrival…

…knowing now that you truly have life.

Looking south
can’t say how I feel
Looking south
at the great, white sea
Looking south
just seems so unreal
Looking south
making known that I’m free.
Looking south
a muse at my heels
Looking south
nothing more to flee
Looking south
my brotherhood sealed
Looking south
fearless of what’s to be.
Looking south
my soul is healed
Looking south

© 2011 John Anstie

John_in_Pose_Half_Face3

JOHN ANSTIE (My Poetry Library and 42) ~ is a British writer and poet, a contributing editor here at Bardo, and multi-talented gentleman self-described as a “Family man, Grandfather, Occasional Musician, Singer, Amateur photographer and Film-maker, Apple-MAC user, Implementation Manager, and Engineer”. He has participated in d’Verse Poet’s Pub and is a player in New World Creative Union as well as a being a ‘spoken-voice’ participant in Roger Allen Baut’s excellent ‘Blue Sky Highway‘ radio broadcasts. John has been blogging since the beginning of 2011. He is also a member of The Poetry Society (UK).

*****

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51w-rH34dTL._BO2,204,203,200_PIsitb-sticker-arrow-click,TopRight,35,-76_AA300_SH20_OU01_John has also been involved in the recent publication of two anthologies that are the result of online collaborations among two international groups of amateur and professional poets. One of these is The Grass Roots Poetry Group, for which he produced and edited their anthology, “Petrichor* Rising. The other group is d’Verse Poet Pub, in which John’s poetry also appears The d’Verse Anthology: Voices of Contemporary World Poetry, produced and edited by Frank Watson.

Petrichor – from the Greek pɛtrɨkər, the scent of rain on the dry earth.