The Path to Paradise Begins in Hell

Dante shown holding a copy of the Divine Comedy, next to the entrance to Hell, the seven terraces of Mount Purgatory, and the city of Florence, with the spheres of Heaven above, in Domenico di Michelino’s 1465 fresco

Exiled from the living, on a sea,
uncharted, three island realms of the dead.
Even without a companion, no fear here.
Our fate cannot be taken from us.
This journey a Comedy. A happy ending.

In 1302, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri was exiled from Florence for his political sympathies. His only solace during his exile was writing. It was during this time that he wrote The Divine Comedy, an epic poem about a journey through Hell, Purgatory, and Paradise.

Italy marked the 700th anniversary of the death of the medieval poet and philosopher Dante Alighieri in 2021. He is also known as the Father of the Italian language.

Dante’s Divine Comedy mined for 21st-century meaning – listen to this BBC program


Maybe after we die we go to
another place that’s exactly like this one
and things continue without interruption. I’m still
writing a poem, drinking coffee, and wondering
why we’re here, there, why we’re anywhere.

heavenly light
Photo by Adam Kontor on

It is safe to assume that you have given some thought to the idea of an afterlife. It goes by many names in philosophy and religion. Is there “life after death”? What will be in the “world to come”?

You probably have pondered the possibilities of whether or not some essential part of you continues to live after the death of your physical body. It can be called the soul or spirit of an individual. Or is that essence combined with others and so its identity is lost? On the other extreme, is the idea that after life comes nothingness.

That latter idea figures into Ricky Gervais’ Netflix series, After Life, His “after life” is not an afterlife. The character, Tony, is an atheist. You live, you die and that’s it. It sounds depressing and the series can be tough (especially in the first episodes of the first season) because Tony can’t deal with the death of his wife and seems to blame the world. But as the series continues (it has three seasons), Tony changes. Life becomes better. Though oblivion after death is a depressing idea, it also means that you need to cherish the life you have and try to make it better for those around you. Tony slowly discovers that and I found the last episodes to be incredibly uplifting and the entire series to be perceptive and also very funny. That is a rare combination and a tough balance to maintain.

Tony’s friend Anne is someone he meets at the cemetery. She sits on the same bench where both of them think about and sometimes talk to their lost spouses. Anne has a very different attitude towards loss than Tony and she certainly influences and encourages Tony’s life changes.

ANNE to TONY: “Happiness is amazing. It’s so amazing, it doesn’t matter if it’s yours or not. There’s that lovely thing: “A society grows great when old men plant trees, the shade of which they know they will never sit in.” Good people do things for other people. That’s it. The end… I had the most wonderful life with Stan. And I have all those memories. That’s what we are anyway, really, memories. And Stan had a wonderful life, too… and he’s not in any pain. Doesn’t even know it’s over. I do. But I’d rather live missing him than for him to live missing me. That’s how much I love him. I wouldn’t change anything. If I went back and changed one thing I didn’t take, I might lose something that that bad thing eventually took me to. You shouldn’t regret anything or think: “Well, if I went back, I might do this or I might do that.”

Two Lifetimes

Today the farthest is closest to us.
Unseen by naked eyes, undiscoverable by observation.
Known by calculation, prediction and some faith.
Frozen home for a banished sea god.
Neptune, both our years, now, two lifetimes.


Though I was using Neptune’s closest passing of the year today as the starting place for this poem, I was thinking about someone who died recently. I felt a connection between Neptune’s orbit of about 165 years being like two lifetimes, and my lifetime being combined with the one lost.  Both of them unseen, but a presence felt, if not by calculation, then by a faith in some prediction that there is something out there beyond this world.