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john davies
notes from a small vicar
from a parish
in Liverpool, UK

    Friday, September 19, 2003
    I had not thought death had undone so many
     
    Stuck in a four-lane shuffle on the M6 tonight, at the fag-end of the rush-hour, choking above the Manchester Ship Canal on the high, perpetually-crippled Thelwall Viaduct, I became aware of the hundreds of other drivers, ashen-faced, dead-eyed, as we shunted each other gloomily southwards. And T.S.Eliot's words came to me:
      Unreal City
      Under the brown fog of a winter dawn,
      A crowd flowed over London Bridge, so many,
      I had not thought death had undone so many.
    Even more appropriate are the lines of Dante's Inferno, Eliot's source and inspiration, lines 55-57 of Canto III which describe Dante's underworld:
      So long a train of people, that I would have never believed death had undone so many.
    A web commentary tells us that
      ... at this point in the story Virgil has just led Dante into the underworld and they are about to come to an immense river. Charon helps them cross the river; he helps ferry the damned across. It is here that Dante encounters a vast number of souls who are neither good nor evil, because they were never adequately alive in the first place. Dante views these souls as pain-stricken and as selfish souls who have cared for nothing but themselves. There is an enormous need for society and its people to fill this emptiness with positive substance.
    We have no Charon; we have only contraflow. Recovery wagons. And in-car cd. Nudging forward, aching for home, the luxury home on a Cheshire stockbroker plain, how many vehicle-bound others toyed with such thoughts at 7.22pm, under a vast grey sorry sky?