Composition: Organization Dante meets Beatrice


Most often, 

1. Good writing is the result of conscious planning and organization

In La Vita Nuova (1295), a book of poetry and prose describing courtly love, Dante Alighieri describes the organizational structure of one of his poems. He allots 

2. One idea per part:

The new sonnet I wrote begins: Beyond the sphere, and contains five parts. In the first I tell where my thought is going, naming it after one of its effects. In the second I tell why it goes up there, that is, who causes it to go. In the third I tell what it saw, that is, a lady being honored up there, and I call it a “pilgrim spirit” because it makes the journey upward spiritually and, once there, is like a pilgrim far from home. In the fourth I tell how it sees her to be such, that is of such a nature, that I cannot understand it: that is to say that my thought ascends into the nature of this lady to such a degree that my mind cannot grasp it, for our minds function in relation to those bless├Ęd souls as the weak eye does in relation to the sun, and this the Philosopher tells us in the second book of the Metaphysics. In the fifth part I say that, even though I cannot understand what my thought has taken me to see, that is her miraculous nature, at least I understand this much: this thought of mine is entirely about my lady, for many times when it comes to my mind, I hear her name. At the end of this fifth part I say: “dear ladies,” so that it be understood that it is to ladies that I speak. 
The second part begins: a new intelligence, the third: Once arrived, the fourth: But when it tries, the fifth: This much. It could be divided and explained more subtly, but since it can pass with this analysis, I do not concern myself with further division.

3. Read Longfellow’s poem below. 

As an interesting aside, after spending many years translating Dante’s Divine Comedy, Longfellow formed an informal “Dante Club”. Club members James Russell Lowell and Charles Eliot Norton helped him proofread his translation.

From A New English Grammar for Schools, by Thomas Harvey:

“The Launching of the Ship”
All is finished! and at length
Has come the bridal day
Of beauty and of strength.
To-day the vessel shall be launched!
With fleecy clouds the sky is blanched,
And o'er the bay,
Slowly in all his splendors dight,
The great sun rises to behold the sight.
The ocean old,
Centuries old,
Strong as youth, and as uncontrolled,
Paces restless to and fro,
Up and down the sands of gold.
His beating heart is not at rest;
And far and wide,
With ceaseless flow,
His beard of snow
Heaves with the heaving of his breast.
He waits, impatient, for his bride.
There she stands,
With her foot upon the sands,
Decked with flags and streamers gay,
In honor of her marriage day,
Her snow-white signals, fluttering, blending,
Round her like a veil descending,
Ready to be
The bride of the gray old sea.
Then the master,
With a gesture of command,
Waved his hand;
And at the word,
Loud and sudden there was heard,
All around them and below,
The sound of hammers, blow on blow,
Knocking away the shores and spurs.
And see! she stirs!
She starts, — she moves, — she seems to feel
The thrill of life along her keel,
And, spurning with her foot the ground,
With one exulting, joyous bound
She leaps into the ocean's arms!
This part of Longfellow's narrative poem, “The Building of the Ship,” published in The Seaside and the Fireside, tells how a ship is launched as if it were the wedding of the ship to the ocean.
The first four lines tell that the wedding day has come.
The next four lines tell about the chief spectator.
The next eleven lines tell of the impatience of the groom.
The third stanza describes the bride.
The first eight lines of the fourth stanza tell what the wedding ceremony is.
The last six lines tell how the marriage ended. 
 These topics may be written more shortly: —
1. Arrival of wedding day.
2. Spectator’s arrival.
3. Groom’s expectation.
4. Bride’s appearance.
5. Ceremony.
6. Conclusion.

4. Exercise:

Write a paragraph on each of these topics. 

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