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This article is taken from PN Review 138, Volume 27 Number 4, March - April 2001.

The Singer on the Shore Gabriel Josipovici

Dante and Casella

Dante and Virgil, on the shore at the foot of the mountain of Purgatory, 'alongside the ocean, yet like folk who ponder on their road, who go in heart and linger in body' [che va col cuore e col corpo dimora], encounter a group of pilgrims newly arrived from earth. Among them is Dante's friend, the singer Casella. The poet tries to embrace him, but in vain, for though he has come to this place in his body, those he meets are only spirits. None the less, Dante addresses him with a plea: 'If a new law does not take from you memory or practice of the songs of love which used to quiet me in my longings [che mi solea quetar tutte mie voglie], may it please you therewith to comfort my soul somewhat, which coming here with its body is so wearied ...' Casella immediately responds by beginning to sing one of Dante's own early poems, and the effect is instantaneous: 'Love that discourses in my mind, he then began so sweetly that the sweetness still [i.e. now he is back in the world and writing his poem] - that the sweetness still within me sounds. My master and I and all the folk who were with him appeared content as if naught else touched the mind of any. We were all rapt and attentive to his notes, when lo, the venerable old man [Cato, the guardian of that realm], crying, "What ...

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