Friday, February 20, 2015

Inch Fifty: The Ninth Circle of Hell Has Nothing on Us

In the 1300s, the Italian poet Dante Alighieri wrote a three-part epic poem entitled The Divine Comedy. I have not read the entire work, but I have read the first part, Inferno, more than once. The Inferno describes Dante's trip through hell, with the Greek poet Virgil as his guide. I have not read it in recent decades, but some things stick with you, and that work is one of them in my case.

Dante divides Hell into nine descending circles, with the sins and punishments growing more severe the lower one descends. The ninth circle is the very bottom of Hell, the lowest of the lowest, where Satan resides with the traitors, the most evil of sinners.

The ninth circle is not full of fire and brimstone. It is not a searing, scorched wasteland. You couldn't toast a marshmallow, let alone warm your hands in the ninth circle.

No, as Dante wrote it, the ninth circle is a frozen Hell. Satan is encased to his waist in ice and flaps his wings ceaselessly, producing the icy winds that keep everything frozen. It is without light, it is without warmth, it is without comfort.

I don't live in the ninth circle of Hell. I live in Ohio, which right now far exceeds the ninth circle. We are in the midst of a cold winter, the cold this week exacerbated by an occurrence of a Siberian Express. A Siberian Express is a  name dreamed up by some bored meteorologist to describe a sustained, frigid, often sub-zero weather mass, often originating in Siberia. The resulting temperatures take no prisoners.

There is a reason that the Soviet regime located its gulags in Siberia.

Yesterday all schools were canceled because the temperature was 3 or 5 or something like that, with a windchill of sub-zero temperatures. Today schools were canceled again because the temperature at 7 a.m. locally ranged from -3 to -12 before the windchill.

Minus twelve. Really?

Because of my job and a major community commitment, I was out of the house both days before 8 a.m. I don't care how much one bundles up (and trust me, I do), there is nothing, absolutely nothing, that will guard every part of the body against that kind of cold.

It is cold, cold, cold. It is Dante cold. It is the Keats cold of the Eve of St. Agnes. It is way past any cold Robert Frost every penned.

When Dante and Virgil leave the ninth circle, they reemerge on the earth just before dawn on Easter Sunday. E quindi uscimmo a riveder le stelle.

"And then we emerged to see the stars."

I am hoping the spring emerges at some point from the wasteland of winter. After all, the major league pitchers and catchers reported to spring training this week.

I wish I could paraphrase Shelley:

Be through my lips to unawaken'd earth
The trumpet of the prophecy! O Wind,
If the pitchers report, can Spring be far behind?

But right now, the Wind is the Siberian Wind, and there is no joy in Mudville.


Laurie said...

Oh, I feel for you! Our temps are nothing like yours, but the past few days has brought sleet, freezing rain, and a bit of snow, & last night's low was 4. Pretty dang cold for North Carolina. Keep spring in your heart. It will arrive, eventually.

see you there! said...

Good Grief! I have to go drink a cup of hot tea just to warm up after reading about your weather.


Jenny Woolf said...

It sounds so fierce. I do hope you get some relief soon.