12/13/08

 

A few weeks ago, the list was discussing an allusion in Little Gidding to Dante's Inferno Canto XV, where Dante meets Ser Brunetto Latini in the circle of the sodomites. In that Canto there is an image of smoke and dusk that is echoed in Little Gidding:

 

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Inferno XV, 16-19 (image of men looking at each other at dusk, with sexual implications)

quando incontrammo d'anime una schiera

   che vevian lungo l'argine, e ciascuna

   ci riguardava come suol da sera

guardare uno altro sotto nuova luna;

[we met a troop of souls that were coming alongside the bank, and each looked at us as men look at one another under a new moon at dusk; (translation - Charles S. Singleton)]

 

Inferno XV, 115-118 (image of rising smoke in the circle of Hell punishing the sodomites)

Di più direi; ma 'l venire e 'l sermone

  più lungo esser non può, però ch'i'veggio

  là surger nuovo fummo del sabbione.

Gente vien con la quale esser non deggio.

[I see yonder a new smoke rising from the sand; people are coming with whom I must not be (translation - Charles S. Singleton)].

 

Little Gidding:

Between three districts where the smoke arose . . .

 . .  I fixed upon the down-turned face

That pointed scrutiny with which we challenge

The first-met stranger in the waning dusk.

 

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I had some off-list correspondence about this topic with Rick Parker, who generously supplied me with a web link to a Dante paper that discussed Brunetto (among other topics). I highly recommend the essay that Rick found. The link is:

 

http://www.brown.edu/Departments/Italian_Studies/LD/numbers/02/harris.html

 

After I read that essay, I began to think more about Canto XV. The image of rising smoke and dusk from Little Giddling rattled around in my head and it occurred to me that Eliot had used those same images before. I don't have time to write out my reading of Prufrock (nor would anyone care to read it), but I believe that some of the same conflicts about homosexuality that I detect in "Dans le Restaurant" and "Little Giddling" are also in Prufrock. After reflecting on Eliot's use of  Canto XV, I have come to believe that Canto XV is the controlling image in this passage from Prufrock:

 

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….

Shall I say, I have gone at dusk through narrow streets

And watched the smoke that rises from the pipes

Of lonely men in shirt-sleeves, leaning out of windows? . . .

 

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Here the "lonely men in shirt-sleeves" are images of homosexuals that the narrator sees during his journey through "certain half-deserted streets". Because (according to certain religious beliefs) homosexuality is a sin, the "lonely men in shirt-sleeves" are condemned to Hell, whether they realize it or not. They are getting an early "Dantesque" warning: the smoke that rises from their pipes echoes the smoke that rises from the circle of Hell in which the sodomites will spend eternity. The narrator contemplates a trip at dusk to echo both the specific language of Canto XV as well as to echo the dusk-like, smoky image in this canto, in which Dante encounters Brunetto, the sodomite.

 

As always, comments, criticisms, and corrections are welcome.

 

-- Tom --

 



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