Dante’s Paradiso from the Skies

Original story (u2wanderer.org) by Christopher Jenkins (2015-06-29)

[Photos updated July 16, article updated July 5]

She opened up a book of poems and handed it to me
Written by an Italian poet from the 13th century
And every one of them words rang true and glowed like burning coal
Pouring off of every page like it was written in my soul, from me to you
Tangled up in blue – Bob Dylan (Dedicated to Ruby)

Among the confetti falling on the audience at Innocence & Experience Tour shows are torn pages from Dante Alighieri’s Paradiso, as translated by Rev. Henry Francis Cary: The Vision of Paradise, Purgatory, and Hell. Before we present those pages, let’s return to Ordinary Love for a moment.

The videos for Ordinary Love by Oliver Jeffers and Max Premo feature an elevator, the shaft of which is in the process of being painted with text apparently in a dialect of Italian. It’s not clear, but it appears that the lines are painted in a circle, from one side wall to the next, rather than continuously on one wall at a time. Here’s a picture that shows the painted lines aren’t just on the back wall, but on at least three sides (see picture). This may have been our first hint that Dante would be part of the focus of Songs of Innocence and the subsequent tour.

Although we have not matched the edition in the particular Italian dialect used, we can match at least three lines to Canto XI of Dante’s Inferno. These lines are: “Malizia ch’odio il cielo” (22nd line of Canto XI), “Sa scritta che dice:” (roughly part of lines 7 & 8 of Canto XI), “In su l’estremita d’u “ (1st line of Canto XI), and note the text appears to be circling up the elevator shaft rather than down (see pictures). One more partial line is “che rimorda e se,” roughly part of lines 93 and 94 of Dante’s Purgatorio Canto XXXIII (see pictures). It may be possible to discern and match more lines from the side walls of the elevator shaft, and a couple common words are present, i.e., “quale,” but these are the only clear matches so far.

There is an additional reason the Italian is interesting. Both Irish writers C.S. Lewis and Samuel Beckett were taken with The Divine Comedy, and Beckett is known for keeping the Cary translation with him throughout his life, dying with it at his bedside. However, both men also have ties to the Italian version – C.S. Lewis first read The Divine Comedy in Italian, including the Paradiso just prior to becoming a Christian [ i], and both men quote from it in Italian in their own works. [ii] C.S. Lewis deserves special further mention here as he is a light that got in to the cracks in the show [iii], and the grooves of the album from The Miracle to Invisible. [iv] He also deserves special mention further for his love of Dante as shown in such things as his essay “Imagery in the Last Eleven Cantos of the Divine Comedy.”

While we’re still avoiding interpretation as much as possible at this point, in hopes of stimulating discussion, a bit about the structure of Dante’s work may help give people a framework to test and hang ideas on. Prior to The Divine Comedy, Dante Alighieri wrote La Vita Nuova for Beatrice Portinari. They meet only briefly, but she inspires him, kindles a feeling of love in him, is his “muse,” but dies too soon. In the show, she roughly corresponds to Iris. In The Divine Comedy’s introductory Canto (Inferno Canto I), Dante appears as himself in “mid-life crisis” – he’s thirty-five, he’s lost his way, and he begins a journey that will take from Good Friday to Easter Sunday, first leading him down into Hell as guided by his countryman and great poet, Virgil, “Of arms and a man I sing…” – that Virgil, of The Aeneid, over thirty-three more Cantos. Note that’s thirty-four Cantos in the Inferno total. It is in Canto XI of the Inferno that Dante and Virgil pass over rubble from the earthquake that shook Hell with Jesus’s death on the cross, and line 22 specifically refers to malice, as the most abhorrent sin since its end is bringing injury to others through fraud or violence (Wolves? Bullet? Anyone?). Passing down through the center of Hell, Virgil and Dante begin their way up Mount Purgatory (down, up – a bit of that elevator thing), though Virgil can only go so far, vanishing after twenty-nine Cantos of the Purgatorio. Beatrice takes over as Dante’s guide for the final four Cantos of the Purgatorio (total: thirty-three Cantos), and around lines 93 and 94, Dante has drunk of the River Lethe and forgotten his sins and mistakes, so he is now purified and can proceed into Paradise. Beatrice continues to guide Dante in the Paradiso as they ascend to heaven and through the various Spheres (another thirty-three Cantos). It’s like “Breathe” – “Three!” – three distinct phases, each of thirty-three Cantos (plus one introductory Canto for one hundred total), with each Canto made up of three line stanzas, each having a triple rhyme in the original Italian.

If you think of the show as a play having distinct divisions into three acts, it may be easier to match up with other concepts in the show. One way to look at things may involve innocence and experience and how they match with lifespan. As examples, we tie in the divisions of Heidi, one of the books Bono apparently threw, and the start and end of Pilgrimage as represented by the Miracle and William Butler Yeat’s “When You Are Old.” (See Table 1)

Another division is by two apocalyptic events – The Flood, and Judgment Day. Notice that Invisible replaces the ZOOTV Outside Broadcast era Judgment Day role of New Year’s Day in following Until the End of the World. (See Table 2)

Along the lines of Dante though, we can also divide the show into the three sections of The Divine Comedy. Who can tell us how “Streets” fits in? wink Do the three books in the confetti (Alice in Wonderland, the Psalms, and The Paradiso) also fit these categories? Maybe. Sneaking in T.S. Eliot and The Wasteland, what about three authors we can closely associate with Dante? Or perhaps C.S. Lewis readily plays across all three Acts? (See Table 3)

Bono may also represent different roles at different times, for example, Alice, as She-rry on u2.com points out, growing large on the screen after the drink me bit with a water bottle. Virgil (“Of arms and a man I sing…”) may be there as poet and guide through a personal hell, and later in Bullet (“Of arms and The Man I sing…”). And, of course, there’s David of the Psalms, Dante himself, and Iris as Beatrice. Are they all crammed just in the first part of the show, or do they appear throughout? But, we’re only sliding down the surface of things — speculation and interpretation, we’ll leave to you, for now…

If there is one other thing to share from Dante while people are at the shows and can feel it, it is the multi-foliate rose of Canto XXX. Maybe it was the atmosphere, but this was how I (Chris) described part of Montreal 1 in 2005 “…and then, yes, then, came the Dante moment for me. A freaky, trippy visual moment… …the band… …are playing like angels — Still Haven’t Found. I got to watch this one after missing the bulk of it in Ottawa. I think that’s what I did was watch it — I don’t remember the band’s performance at all, other than something rapturous that briefly shifted into “In a Little While” before ending. What I remember from watching dead center back of the floor was the lighting revealing rather than concealing each individual behind the stage, and I swear for a good part of the song the whole behind the stage section from left to right had the swaying / shifting from one foot to the other and totally synchronous rhythmic clapping down so that they looked like a gigantic church choir almost floating and rising all the way out of sight behind these glowing golden individuals shining in front of them. And, it was like something out of the Paradiso where the band members were these golden stamen at the heart of the multi-foliate rose and the choir behind them was the curve of one of its giant petals. Took my breath away. Can still see the crowd/choir. Wow. OK, I’ll be speechless for a bit here…” That’s right – the multi-foliate rose of Canto XXX is like an arena or stadium, petals with rows of seats rising up from a center that is the sun. When you have the sense of it, it is overwhelming, but back to the confetti…

The first thing to notice about the off-white pages of Dante that are dropped as confetti, as compared to the Alice pages, is that few of them have illustrations. M. Gustave Dore did provide illustrations for the Cary translation, but only four of them have turned up in the fragments pictured online. Most, but not all, have the Canto number at the top of the page. Unfortunately, many of the pictures available cover up the text. We’ve been a bit liberal using red for assumed words we can’t definitively see, and in other places “– covered—,” or as with Alice “–tear—-.” However, the end of the page from Canto XXX edits out a stanza break and seven lines before the final line, so again we have to be careful about assuming what text is present.

With fewer available fragments than for Alice, we’ve still managed to largely assemble fourteen different pages from sixty-six fragments. All are from the Paradiso, and we’ve produced a frequency distribution relative to the thirty-three Cantos of the Paradiso.

© Christopher Jenkins and Aaron Sams, 2015.

Part I: “Curiouser and Curiouser!” cried Alice. Part II: Dante’s Paradiso from the Skies Part III: “You got my head filled with Psalms, You got my shoelaces undone”

Update: Thanks to the generosity of atu2.com’s Tassoula, we have a shift in what seemed to be a standard form for the Dante pages: it looked like a one page excerpt per Canto was the rule, but with Tassoula’s addition of a second excerpt from Canto I, we know that’s not true. The other odd thing this new fragment gives us is the sense of another editorial choice about what is on the page. This sense comes from the gap between the two pages we now have, which is only 24 lines long. The two pages we have are 45-50 lines long. In other words, these were not three continuous pages and we’re just missing the middle page – the 24 lines is too short to be a page without additional manipulation.

Let this also be a call to help us by sharing your confetti – credit will be given to all sharers!

Distributions & sources for Alice & Dante will be updated with Part 3.

[ i] http://www.discovery.org/a/974 – consider also here the description of the Paradiso, “It is like the stars — endless mathematical subtility of orb, cycle, epicycle and ecliptic, unthinkable & unpicturable yet at the same time the freedom and liquidity of empty space and the triumphant certainty of movement,” and the encore.

[ii] For example Dante and the Lobster by Samuel Beckett, and A Grief Observed by C.S. Lewis, which is also alluded to by a couple of Songs of Innocence. In a performance note, Bono pulled up an audience member he knew was named Joy for Chicago 1 — Joy was the name of C.S. Lewis’s wife and the subject of A Grief Observed.

[iii] With The World’s Last Night, errr… Until the End of the World, and the throwing of at least five of his books into the audience.

[iv] Literally those two songs in particular.

[Bonus endnote] Seamus Heaney’s last interview covered Homer, Virgil and Dante

[Double Bonus Endnote] The Wanderer as the Intermission fits in at least two funky positions 1) as Canto I of Inferno – the life before the vision, so slightly out of place, and 2) between the apocalypses (Until the End & Invisible).

< Next News Entry | Previous News Entry >

u2songs.com was formerly known as u2wanderer.org. Follow us on Twitter | Facebook