Paradiso Canto 17: A Notebook

by Jake Willard-Crist

‘Not in dark oracles like those that glued the foolish like limed birds…’ (31-32)


In his Natural History Pliny relates the method of making birdlime:  Gather unripe mistletoe berries and dry them, then pound them, put them in water, and leave them to rot.  (Birdlime, according to Pliny, is ‘the only thing to find improvement in decay.’)   After rotting for twelve days, the mistletoe is again pounded with a mallet under running water until the outer coat separates and a thick inner pulp remains.  Now you have birdlime, which can be thinned out with walnut oil.  Smear it on twigs and branches.  The brush of a wing will snare a song thrush.

The poet loves the prophecy of his own banishment.  He writes it himself.  And puts it in the mouth of a crusader and martyr.  Listen to him, composing a retro-prevision of his own exile, like a songbird liming its own capture, enchanted by his own estrangement.


Inspired, poets and prophets are full of themselves.  They have a vessel complex.    No wonder so few people listen to them.


‘…but in clear words and the punctilious style of ordered thought…’ (35-36)


Clear words are limed birds.

Clarity sticks.  Order glues.  Conformity is rarely enforced by lyric utterance.  You’re clearly Guelf, orderly Ghibelline.

Limb-stuck, there’s no branching out.

One response to “Paradiso Canto 17: A Notebook

  • bobsinner

    “You’re clearly Guelf, orderly Ghibelline” and Imperium is, indeed,
    one type of order.

    “Contingency, whose action is confined
    to the few pages of the world of matter,
    is fully drawn in the Eternal mind;
    but it no more derives necessity
    from being so drawn, than a ship dropping down river
    derives its motion from a watcher’s eye.” 37-41

    But, Omniscience does not equal predestination , or does it?
    Thanks Jake, Bob

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