“I am convinced that economic and cultural affairs, that money and literature and poetry, are much more closely linked than many people believe. We should recall that writing came into being in Sumer, the cradle of civilisation between the Tigris and Euphrates rivers, 6,000 years ago. Sumer’s administrators made a record of everyday items, of quantities, of transactions, on clay tablets. By recording these economic activities, these ‘proto-accountants’ created the first documents in human history and paved the way for all of the world’s written literature.
There is a relationship between poetry and money which has always struck me. Poems, like gold coins, are meant to last, to keep their integrity, sustained by their rhythm, rhymes and metaphors. In that sense, they are like money – they are a ‘store of value’ over the long term. They are both aspiring to inalterability, whilst they are both destined to circulate from hand to hand and from mind to mind.
Both culture and money, poems and coins belong to the people. Our currency belongs to the people of Europe in a very deep sense: it is their own confidence in their currency which makes it a successful medium of exchange, unit of account and store of value. Our culture is the wealth of literature and art that the confidence of the people has decided to preserve over time.
European-ness means being unable to understand my national literature and poetry without understanding Dante, Cervantes, Shakespeare. And as the Spanish philosopher Jose’ Ortega y Gasset wrote in his The Revolt of the Masses in 1930: ‘If we were to take an inventory of our mental stock today – opinions, standards, desires, assumptions – we should discover that the greater part of it does not come to the Frenchman from France, nor to the Spaniard from Spain, but from the common European stock.’
It is no coincidence that the European Central Bank chose European architectural styles to illustrate our banknotes. These architectural styles were born in very different areas of Europe. They provide another powerful illustration of this unique concept of unity within diversity, which is the central trait of our continent.
European Central Bank president Jean-Claude Trichet was speaking at the Centre for Financial Studies in Frankfurt earlier this week.” —The Independent, March 19, 2009
Merrill’s collection of poems includes one, “The Book of Ephraim,” which is an account of “conversations held, via the Ouija board, with dead friends and spirits in ‘another world.'” –Stephen Spender, The New York Review of Books, December 21, 1978
The title, “Mezzo Cammin,” takes its name from the first line of the Inferno. Longfellow, the first American to translate Dante’s Commedia into English, “was 35 when he wrote this poem, halfway through the scriptural lifespan of 70 years.”
Additionally, Longfellow wrote six sonnets, entitled “Divina Commedia,” which were composed during the grief-filled aftermath of his second wife’s death.
“The six sonnets. . .were written during the progress of Mr. Longfellow’s work in translating the Commedia, and were published as poetical fly-leaves to the three parts. The first was written just after he had put the first two cantos of the Inferno into the hands of the printer. This, with the second, prefaced the Inferno. The third and fourth introduced the Purgatorio, and the fifth and sixth the Paradiso.” —Representative Poetry Online (retrieved on July 7, 2009)
“A funky and powerful book. Agard takes Dante’s famous poem about a visit to Hell and reworks it to appeal to today’s youngsters, mingling 21st Century street cred with ancient mythology. Kitamura’s stylized black and white illustrations draw the reader effortlessly in.” [. . .] —Amazon
Contributed by Virginia Jewiss (Humanities Program, Yale University)