Scott Postma

A blog about the Great Books, the Craft of Writing, and Human Flourishing.

When Reason Sleeps

Dante's Inferno

The following is a free form terza rima in iambic heptameter reflecting on and synthesizing Dante’sInferno.

First the poet begs the pardon of the reader to bear with his attempt at poetry. Then he follows Dante and Virgil to the ninth level of Hell where they meet the famous Francesca and Paolo, lovers killed by Francesca’s husband after being caught in an intimate embrace. The poet reflects on his own city and the deceitful nature of the human reason that glamorizes sin, pities the justly condemned, and fails to glorify God in his righteous judgment. Finally, the poet reasons with the theologians and philosophers of the ages before recalling the hope of the gospel in Jesus Christ and inviting sinners to repent.

When Reason Sleeps

I beg your pardon, Laureate, gracious and so kind,
To ask creative license in reflecting at this time,
And pity penchant fool for presumptuous work of mine.

Albeit I’m transgressing with this forward requisition,
I trust upon my honor to escape your sure perdition,
And demonstrate my techne in poetic composition.

It just so happened midway in the journey of my life,
I read Dante’s Inferno. Contrapasso is the price,
One pays in Hell for living unrepentant for his vice.

I followed both the poets while Virgil led the way,
From Limbo forth to Minos where sinners have their day;
Confessing all their sins to him his tail reveals their pay.

We journeyed through Hell’s torment rings, nine there were in all.
Each level had its contraposso brought on by the fall.
But there at second circle wakened conscience heard its call.

Vast warring winds in darkness raged, swept from every side,
Driving lustful sinners back who blasphemed as they cried;
Shades, whose bounded reason slept, their appetites untied.

There was Cleopatra see, who loved to see men lusting,
And Helen and Achilles whose woes were long years lasting,
But none can hold a candle to two doves who’ll leave you gasping.

Fransesca’s tongue was cunning, and Paolo’s was shut tight,
Through flowing tears she told us of their atrocious plight.
Forbidden love had seized them and kissed them with delight.

There love excusing no one loved from ever doing right,
Had kindled in her gentle heart, desire not so trite,
By taking handsome Paolo’s lips, love stormed her heart by might.

Love led them both to sudden death, without a chance to fight,
And love it was that drove them down to Hell’s eternal flight.
Then pity for their sorrowful tale blurred the pilgrim’s sight.

This scene aroused my mind because Las Vegas is my home.
Ubiquitous is lust’s deceit, harnessed like sea’s foam,
Driving men to early graves, their stories fill a tome.

What happens here on lust’s playground never seeks remorse,
So men let reason bow to lust, and lust takes them by force,
And ever promises to stay right here to run its course.

But Heaven knows, and Hell does too, that never is the case,
For lust will come back calling more, forever in their face,
Until it drives them straight to Minos learnt of their disgrace.

But still another sin breaks forth like fragrance from the first,
The lust that held Fransesca’s heart, that made her mind to thirst,
Also captive held her tongue with lies that brought a curse.

Now a shade whom love cut off from life upon the earth,
No longer could she tell the lies—deception from the truth—
The former from the latter blurred, her mind discerned no proof.

And veiled like Bonnie Parker’s stone, when closing out the text,
Sin takes its place in pilgrim’s heart, birthed in new context.
For he cannot see justice now, and pity has him vexed.

The pity pilgrim feels for doves who stained the world with blood,
Recalls of pilgrim’s fearful start, his journey from dark wood.
To pity those who lust cut off shows reason without God.

And now you know, dear bibliophile, what Dante meant to tell,
How pity for the sinner blurs, when Justice sends to Hell,
Our reason’s sight and love for God and makes our own heart fail.

But Dante’s not alone in this, Augustine’s words befit,
“to bring their feelings into check, with truths they do admit,”
One must hear the Word of God preached so they’ll commit.

For this is how that saint came forth, from darkness unto light,
When from the garden heard a child, that drove him from respite.
Then picking up Paul read his words and found such sweet delight.

Passion was the doves’ undoing; their Galehot was a book.
That day they read no further when Paolo shot a look.
Without the right Paul by her side Fransesca bit the hook.

Another word beyond this thought, the reader should consider,
The body’s “joys are not the end, nor ultimately pleasures,”
Says Aquinas in his Summa, Contra Gentiles treasure.

Sure enough the body’s pleasures are gifts we all desire.
But bed and table blessed by God, the appetite suspires.
What reason’s for, the Saint contends, is to contain its fires.

But reason’s not enough alone, it’s weaker Plato ‘fesses,
Than appetite or spirit in us, his Republic shows us.
We need love of something better, agapao sweetness.

We need love that transcends love for appetites that bind us.
Love of God for God’s sake man enticed to taste God’s sweetness,
Loves more pure than appetites, Bernard of Clairvaux teaches.

Because his love of God is pure, he doesn’t find it hard,
That needs of flesh are kinds of speech which appetites are part,
And all proclaims the joy of God and purifies his heart.

When love is oriented rightly, no gifts become idols;
For reason soars with love of God, and appetite it bridles,
Snuffing out infernal storm for eternity that’s Idyll.

One last counsel to revere, a witness to admit.
The One who taught Apostle Paul, whose sins need no remit.
The One who healed a leper, and a blind man with his spit.

The One who loves the sinner but never touches sin.
The One temptation’s ne’r waivered, yet feels where I have been.
The One who when I fail him, invites me back again.

The One who gave his life’s blood and died upon a cross.
The One who raised to life again, o’r death became the boss.
The One who issues grace galore, yet never suffers loss.

The One who when I falter never starts to bend.
The One I can’t help worship night and day again.
The One who I call Master, and he calls me his friend.

This One we call the Son of God, in who there was no guilt,
Said you’ve heard before it said, you shan’t commit this fault,
And though Hell’s doves played Lancelot, they sinned first in the heart.

Fransesca’s doom is sealed by fate; Paolo’s too is sure.
But yours, dear reader still awaits, the gospel is the cure.
So cast your shame on Jesus Christ, whose blood will make you pure.

The Savior died to pay your debt, redeem you from your sin,
And Dante wrote The Comedy to turn you back again.
So trust in Christ with all your heart for He will let you in.

My daring canto’s now complete; I see the stars once more.
Inferno’s stench fixed in our nose, be glad for doves’ rapport.
And now Godspeed, dear fellow pilgrim. Addio mio amore!


Augustine of Hippo,. The Confessions of Saint Augustine. Chicago: Moody Press, 1981. (accessed April 7, 2014).

Augustine of Hippo, “On Christian Doctrine,” in St. Augustin’s City of God and Christian Doctrine, ed. Philip Schaff, trans. J. F. Shaw, vol. 2, A Select Library of the Nicene and Post-Nicene Fathers of the Christian Church, First Series (Buffalo, NY: Christian Literature Company, 1887)

Bernard of Clairvaux. On Loving God. Rome, Italy: Cistercian Publishing, 1995.

The Holy Bible: English Standard Version. Wheaton: Standard Bible Society, 2001.

Bloom, Allen. The Republic of Plato. New York: Basic Books, 1991.

Musa, Mark. The Divine Comedy: the Inferno Dante. New York: Penguin Books, 2003.

Sigmund, Paul. St. Thomas Aquinas on Politics and Ethics. New York: Norton & Company, 1988.

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About Scott Postma

Scott is a writer and teacher living in North Idaho. He loves teaching the Great Books, writing and blogging, and collecting more books than he'll ever read in a lifetime. You can subscribe to the tribe and follow him on Twitter, Facebook, and Google Plus.

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4 Replies

  1. Ozzie

    Wow gold mine for the brain! Love the way you splatter good thoughts on the page. Nothing like reading creative stuff that makes you ponder. Love the way you think, keep on mining.

  2. angela

    Far too deep for me to comment on with any validity…perhaps when I have read it again & again, only then might I have something insightful to add…however…quite honestly…perhaps not. A piercing example of the incredible expanse of your writing skills…to God be the glory. <

    1. Angela, it’s definitely a piece that’s requires rumination. And a familiarity with Dante would be a plus. It’s not what I typically post, but I’m hoping it will inspire someone along the way to read the classics. Peace.

      1. Elizabeth

        Bravo! The whole time I was thinking, “I should read Dante…and click on those links…” Very deep truth.