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Ding dong merrily on high

20 Sep 14 | Re: Prophetic poetry | Link-U-Post

Re-reading the Divine Comedy lately in Clive Anderson’s translation (pretty accessible with a nice and original verse pattern, probably questionable on small points if scholars want to be sniffy), I came across a passage that seems to be about bellringing! It’s right at the end of Paradiso, Canto X.

tin tin sonando con sì dolce nota,

che ’l ben disposto spirto d’amor turge;

così vid’ io la gloriosa rota

muoversi e render voce a voce in tempra

e in dolcezza ch’esser non pò nota

se non colà dove gioir s’insempra.

My translation:

“Ding dong!” resounding with so sweet a sound

That all right-feeling spirits fill with love;

So I beheld the glorious wheel swing round

And voice sing out to voice, harmony of

A sweetness that cannot help but astound

Except where joy’s eternal, up above.

Nice, huh? If any ringers are looking for an inscription to quote on a bell, or a tablet, or a monument, or an epitaph, can I please recommend this. In the Italian, not my iffy English attempt.

Of course, the passage is taken out of context. Trebly out of context, in fact. First, Dante couldn’t have been talking about change ringing because he was writing in the 14th century. Second, he isn’t even talking about church bells, he’s talking about a clock chime — about feeling so good that you welcome being woken up by your alarm in the morning. Thirdly, he isn’t actually talking about a clock chime either — the whole thing is a simile describing a heavenly dance.

Just to fill in a bit of background, Dante is in the fourth heaven here, the heaven of the sun, which is where all the wise people from history reside (except poor Ulysses, who maybe wasn’t so wise after all). They are mostly monks and scholars, but Solomon joins them. Dante spends most of the canto talking with Thomas Aquinas, and then slips into one of his funnier moods and makes the famously fat Aquinas lead the other monks, kings and other dignitaries in a dance. It’s the sight of them getting their groove on that inspires the poet into the lyrical reverie that ends as you see above.

So it’s not about ringing, it’s about something arguably even better — move-busting, rotund scholastics; but out of context it makes a top bellringing quote.


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