Sunday, February 28, 2010

Acorns and Dreams, Dante's Voyage

An acorn is food to some while to others a dream. A squirrel scurries across the meadow that glistens and ripples in the warm sunlight; a meadow bristling with life. The meadow is circled by towering oak trees, massive towers of timeless strength and endurance that rise above the mist. The squirrel is busy gathering food in the warmth before the cold winter sets in and snatches all the tiny acorns he can find. Returning to his borough, in his haste a stray acorn falls to the ground. A tiny acorn once destined to feed a family of squirrels has now become a dream, a dream of the forest. Through the cycle of seasons, time after time this same process creates new forest and new life. In Dante’s Inferno there is another “acorn” that falls to the ground. There is another source of change, of dreams becoming reality. In allegory, the squirrel represents Dante, the meadow represents Hades, and the acorns represent truth. So that before the cold winter of death claims Dante, by entering the Inferno he hopes to gather all the “acorns” of truth he can that will give him fuller meaning to this present life. These acorns fall into the soil of his being giving birth to new life and wisdom for Dante. Through his journeys chronicled in the Inferno Dante is able to gather truth, insight, and a clearer perception of justice. Dante grows as the mighty oaks that have their beginnings in a tiny acorn. However, just as in the forest, growth is not always easy or is the way of growth always marked with clarity.

Growth comes in many ways. There is growth of stature and growth of heart and soul. In the scheme of life that exists in the forest, growth comes by rain or by lightening. The rains come and water the soil. The soil, in turn, exudes to all the forest its life-giving energy. It is the rain that surrenders its store of energy that the sun imparts. But the clouds of life can also be clouds of destruction bearing lightening that burns and, for a time, destroys the forest. In this apparent irony of life and death growth seems lost. But without the cleansing the lightening brings the forest would soon be no more than mottled vines and clumps of course, withering grass. Dante experiences this same irony of life and death in the Circles of the Inferno. In Dante’s desire to grow as a human he learns growth comes in the pleasantries of life and in its pains as well. Through his life-long love, Beatrice, Dante grew by the pleasantries. Through the Inferno Dante grows by the pains. By the laws of the forest growth comes at the expense of a few to benefit the whole. In his voyage, guided by Virgil, Dante grows at the expense of his naivety and perhaps his innocence, but he grows in stature as a human soul. Dante’s voyage of learning creates a spiritual labyrinth of right and wrong. As Dante descends deeper and deeper into the hellish pit, at times justice seems prudent and proper; however, at other times justice seems twisted and motivated by human anger and despair. By this Dante learns that ultimately we all choose our own course in life. No one is responsible for the other, only for themselves. By this realization of absolute truth, Dante acquires more knowledge than perhaps he bargains for. By the timeless repetition of rubbing, the flesh becomes numb; likewise, by the timeless repetition of seeing the soul becomes blind. To this Dante is not immune.

As Dante’s expedition takes him to places never imagined he begins to see things truly macabre. The ghoulish sights and sounds that reverberate throughout the vast expanse of stench and decay chill his soul, and ultimately his heart. What once was an outrage to Dante becomes acceptable and even just. No more does Dante cry out at human pain and suffering as once he did. As Dante meets first one and than another that he knows, Dante begins to revel in their suffering in death because of the excesses they brandished about in life. One might be able to say Dante is jaded by his experiences and wanderings in the place of Hell and death. The oak tree grows to the reaches of the heavens, as it does it darkens the ground beneath it. Dante’s growth pushes him higher toward Heaven, yet darkens his soul. The book Inferno holds many incredibly unique experiences for Dante that change him. In the end, do those extraordinary experiences answer completely his compelling questions of life?

In his spiritual passage Dante follows the age-old process of learning to walk before running. Dante uses all the resources at his fingertips with which to learn. That learning is motivated by questions burning deep within Dante. Questions of life, justice, and eternity all rage in a great cyclonic storm within Dante’s soul. The fierceness of the storm whips and buffets Dante into enduring the insidiousness of the inner bowels of earth in his quest for answers. The easier part in life is to judge those who are in no need of a judge. These live their life in accordance with their own vices and avarice, not in accordance with what enriches humanity. Those who need no judge are careless with eternity giving no regard for the time when that Boatman will come, skimming across the putrid river Styx, to bestow upon them a new citizenship. Hence, their fate is easily determined. The easier part of life is to judge them in an orchestrated affair of parading about morals and wisdom as though they were a serpent born high upon a rod giving life to all who gaze upon them. This Dante puts aside, due to the storm within. Dante has a desire to learn to judge those who need a judge, who care about tomorrow and forever. In the Inferno, he desires the more difficult part in life, true wisdom given only by the great God of Heaven.

The squirrel, a great purveyor of dreams, is completely oblivious to what is around him. The timid squirrel is not indifferent, just ignorant, to the dreams he plants. Dante is not. Dante knows there is a much deeper depth to life than he has heretofore known and Dante wants to know more. To learn is to barter one commodity for another. We give our innocence for knowledge, our virtue for wisdom. In the scheme of the forest that translates into life. In the scheme of Dante’s journeys, it translates into a different sort of life . . . and love. A tiny acorn holds dreams big enough to fill a forest. A human soul holds dreams big enough to fill eternity.
• • •

1 comment: