It’s Gonna Take a Lot to Drag Me Away From You: Divine Pilgrimage in Dante’s Comedy and Toto’s Africa

The pilgrim’s journey is the path of prayerful discovery. As the pilgrim explores the world beyond his native home, he discovers even more unfamiliar regions within his soul: the creator and lord of the universe, who transcends the bounds of time and matter, is present even there. When banality melts away to show the true face of the cosmos, the sublime reality which had been hidden might overwhelm the unprepared, as the true form of Jupiter reduced the mortal Semele to ash. But Moses says God is a raging fire (Deuteronomy 4:24); the celestial reality God invites the soul into is a reality of light and heat. In the Divine Comedy, Dante speaks often about how his masters—Virgil, Beatrice, Bernard, and finally almighty God—present to him difficult truths in a sweet and gentle manner. It is not to patronize the pilgrim, but rather to nourish him in the mothering manner of St. Paul: “I fed you with milk, not solid food; for you were not ready for it; and even yet you are not ready.” (1 Cor 3:2 RSV) Beatrice’s eyes become more radiant as he ascends through new heavens, shining with brighter light as his eyes adjust to her radiance like the prisoner released from Plato’s cave. Sometimes we discover that what we thought was pleasant even in our ignorance becomes even more splendiferous when the light of truth dawns upon it.

The same vision of a divine pilgrimage which leads the soul to union with God in Dante’s Comedy is also present in the number one hit “Africa” by Toto. This goes beyond any nonsense about the twelve or ten or five or four basic plots and to the heart of much deeper truths about God, man, and sin. On close analysis, it would seem that either the writer of “Africa” was familiar with the Comedy or even that Dante somehow foresaw the Top 100 single. Alone among all English language pop music (with the obvious exceptions of Oasis’s “Wonderwall” and the complete works of Evanescence, which of course better reflect the existential dimension of the Comedy), Toto’s “Africa” displays all the features of a Comedy in miniature, like the tiny paintings which undergird a larger altarpiece, or the red dipping sauce left-over from an appetizer which complements perfectly the entrée, bringing the diner a greater appreciation of the dish than perhaps even the chef could have foreseen.

Before we set out on our important work, a note: in the tradition of reading the Commedia, where Dante the character within the story and Dante the man writing the poem are respectively called Dante-Pilgrim and Dante-Poet, I will be referring to the protagonist within the song as Toto-Pilgrim and the person(s) who authored the song as Toto-Bard. This article uses Robert and Jean Hollander’s translation of the Divine Comedy, the Revised Standard Version of the Bible, and the radio edit of Toto’s “Africa” as originally released in 1982 by Columbia Records.

Verse One

I hear the drums echoing tonight

But she hears only whispers of some quiet conversation

Immediately the comparison to Dante’s Comedy is obvious to anyone with ears to hear the mellifluous undertones of the same sweet style sung as il Somma Poeta. The drums which echo in the night will be the only hint in this first verse that Toto-Pilgrim is in Africa. Africa, of course, serves a role as the “Heart of Darkness” (to borrow Conrad’s iconic coinage) in the same way that Dante-Pilgrim begins his epic journey lost in the Dark Wood of Error. The drums are an image which evokes the restlessness of the human heart as well as the anxious disquiet of a diseased mind. Drums are a savage and primitive instrument, made of animal hide and relying not on controlled breath and nimble fingers but on beating hands and leathered skin.

The drums, which are heard but are not seen, are literally in the distance. And yet, they are also heard (but not seen) echoing in Toto-Pilgrim’s own being. This represents the self-knowledge that the pilgrim possesses, which may not yet be explicit, of his own damnable sin. Like the rhythm of a drumbeat mimics a heartbeat but synchronizes it to itself, the pilgrim will soon learn that Hell is not very far away at all, but resides deep in his own breast. This is the contrapasso of Dante—the revelation that the souls in Hell have chosen to be there, and that their unrepented sin has twisted their humanity into something perverse—which sets the pilgrim on his pilgrimage in the first place. The only cure for his disease is to see that unrepented sin spirals into a song as perverse and twisted as the hardest of rock. The drums will never stop echoing, and with every strike Toto-Pilgrim’s humanity is reduced deeper and deeper into the darkness of savagery. Though it is impossible for him to escape from this cycle alone, he sees the danger he is in. As Dante says at the edge of his own journey to the realm of the dead, “…that I may escape this harm and worse / Lead me to the realms you’ve [Virgil] just described / that I may see Saint Peter’s gate” (Inf.I.132-4). Dante-Poet in his reliance on Virgil reveals that Toto-Pilgrim will need to replace the “song” (if it can be called music!) of the drums with another, more ancient song, just as Dante-Poet had to rely on the shade of the man who had composed the Aeneid and Eclogues.

But we must not get ahead of ourselves. This disease inside of the pilgrim is immediately contrasted with the “whispers” heard by the lady. She is literally flying, though presumably by plane, the symbolism is clear that this lady, like Beatrice, is a woman of the heavens. The quiet conversation she listens to is the “still small voice” of God (1 Kings 19:12). This woman is a mystic in the vein of the great contemplative saints, attuned to the quiet murmurings of her soul for its maker: the true music of the cosmos, which the drums (like sin) obfuscates. Toto-Pilgrim’s borderline dismissive description of the internal prayer as “some quiet conversation” reflects that his darkened and uneasy heart is the furthest thing from the celestial composure of this heavenly woman’s soul.

She’s coming in, 12:30 flight

The moonlit wings reflect the stars that guide me towards salvation

The woman’s flight is scheduled to land half an hour after midnight. This symbolic time hides the meaning of much of the first verse, further revealing this woman’s association with the heavens. 12:30 is, we may say, not simply a “time” but also the “time of space.” Twelve is of course the number of the heavens. In the Timaeus Plato suggests that heaven is a grand dodecahedron composed of dodecahedral atoms. There are twelve zodiac signs, and after twelve months the earth completes a revolution around the sun.

Further, the angelic image of “moonlit wings” which “reflect the stars” is a strong but improbable image which begs to be interpreted not literally but allegorically. The moon, as the first planet in classical astronomy, is the border between earth’s atmosphere which is home to sinners and the heaven where God dwells with his saints and angels. At the beginning of Inferno, Virgil recounts that Beatrice left the blessedness of heaven on a mission from the Virgin Mary to save Dante from the Dark Wood of Error when she looked down and saw him lost and miserable. “I who bid you go am Beatrice. / I come from where I most desire to return. / The love that moved me makes me speak” (Inf.II.70-72). Beatrice is motivated by something beyond herself to come to Dante’s rescue. She is part of a whole economy of salvation (hence why even Toto-Pilgrim’s heavenly lady relies on an airplane). She has no desire to appear in a place so awful as Africa or Hell, but must for the sake of the Love of God which moves and animates all things. It is the muse’s purpose to bring the pilgrim into tune with this true song. Famous for their eighties soft rock, Toto-Bard no doubt understood the timely and spacely importance of this eternal message.

The celestial imagery will also naturally draw comparisons with Revelation 12:1, and not only because of the number twelve. There is hardly a number which is more exciting than twelve! Only seven can possibly give it a run for its money. Relevantly, twelve is the division of the hours on a clockface. Twelve is a natural division of twenty-four, the number of hours in a day. Thus, twelve is both “full-time” and “half-time.” The association of twelve with fulness is further emphasized by its association with the sons of Israel, the Apostles, the zodiac, and (for platonists) the dodecahedron’s unique role as the shape of the universe. Thirty, while not as exciting to the amateur numerologist, is also a significant number. It is the age at which a Levite enters into his full priesthood, and the age of Christ and John the Baptist when they begin their ministries, emphasizing the woman’s priestly role as a delegate of God. Here “thirty” is also, of course, the half. Just as twelve is simultaneously fullness and halfness, this means that thirty is at once the start of time in its reference to the start of ministry as well as halfness in its reference to the hour. In 12:30 there is beginning, middle, and end. Allegorically, this represents the “eternal present” experienced by God, as well as the everlasting changeless time (aeveternity) experienced by the saints, as described by the scholastics. While this is the significance for the heavenly lady in her role mirroring Beatrice, the time is also numinous for the pilgrim. While the old day is over, a new one is beginning when all seems dark. Mysteriously, the new day does not do away with the old, but rather adds to it, similarly to how Sunday is both the first and eighth days of the week. This is because the lady, bringing God’s grace, does not simply do away with what was there before, but builds upon it. If 12AM is the fullness of a human day, then 12:30AM must be the start of God’s grace generously overfilling what was naturally complete, but would otherwise end in darkness. The woman comes on her “moonlit wings” with “eyes…flashing brighter than the stars…and an angel’s voice,” to deliver this same saving grace to her friend, heralding the new divine light which he will soon experience.

This image of the woman with “moonlit wings” is, with the number twelve, central to the meaning of this verse and of the song as a whole. The classic biblical text of a heavenly woman is of course Revelation 12: “And a great portent appeared in heaven, a woman clothed with the sun, with the moon under her feet, and on her head a crown of twelve stars.” While Catholics usually associate this verse with the Virgin Mary, Dante references it in his depiction of Beatrice in Paradiso X where a wreath of twelve stars begins to dance around Beatrice and, because he is her companion, Dante-Pilgrim, referencing how Beatrice’s saving friendship imparts grace to Dante by drawing him more deeply into the Christian mysteries. Bard-Toto does not enumerate the number of stars which adorn the Lady’s moonlit wings. But the number twelve is of course at the forefront of the listener’s mind because of the time she descends. Even though the woman’s feet are under the moon, which is the reverse of the biblical passage, the imagery in “Africa” is of the moon and the stars lending her their light because they recognize that she is something above them, and they will serve her in a divine mission they share: guide Toto-Pilgrim towards Salvation. A careful reader may be wondering about the sun. One would expect Africa to be called the land of the sun because it is so bright and dry, yet curiously Bard-Toto does not mention it at all, preferring instead to emphasize peculiar details about African nighttime and rainfall. This lady enters into that damp darkness just as Beatrice sets her blessed feet on Hell’s broken floor. Dante-Pilgrim, lost in the woods, sees the sun beginning to break dawn before he begins his salvific journey. This woman, likewise, arrives in the darkness with the moon and the stars to herald a brighter day.

I stopped an old man along the way,

Hoping to find some old forgotten words or ancient melodies

He turned to me as if to say

“Hurry boy, it’s waiting there for you.”

Beatrice does not meet Dante initially. He is not prepared to reunite with her in person until the end of Purgatorio when she helps to free him from his final attachment to sin. In the Dark Wood of Error, Dante-Pilgrim instead meets the Ancient Roman poet Virgil, who becomes his guide and companion on his journey through Hell and Purgatory. The reference to Virgil in the second half of the first verse could not be more obvious! But this is not to say that the reference is clumsy. The “old forgotten words or ancient melodies” contrast neatly with the war-drums that signified the pilgrim’s unrest. Poetry, which is nothing more than the artistic elevation of human language, represents all that has comforted and inspired uneasy men for centuries before Toto-Pilgrim existed. There may be nothing new under the sun, but still the ancient heavens above and the quiet yearnings of his heart call man to his eternal destiny. Why does man alone of all creatures have a neck erect to look at the stars? Why does he of all creatures, knowing good and evil, feel the heaviness of his soul?

While Inferno and Purgatorio are filled with conversations between Dante, Virgil, and the souls they meet, only a single phrase is attributed to the Old Man. What is curious about this sage’s advice is that the message the pilgrim takes from him is not, as is often misheard, “hurry boy she is waiting there for you,” but rather, “hurry boy it is waiting there for you.” While it might be tempting for certain textual critics to interpretation this line is a mistake on behalf of a scribe or, worse, objectification of the lady as an “it,” I would like to propose a conservative read which preserves the integrity of the text as a single work of art. The sage is not referencing the woman at all, but rather something beyond her. The “it” is salvation. Union with Beatrice is not the goal of Dante’s journey. When the pair ascends to Jupiter she wistfully warns him “not in my eyes alone is Paradise,” (Para.XVIII.21) preparing him for that fateful moment late in his quest when she is replaced by the mystic St. Bernard of Clairvaux (who incidentally represents for Dante the soul’s “quiet conversation” with God). Neither is Toto-pilgrim ultimately destined for union with his lady. “In the resurrection [men and women] neither marry, nor are given in marriage, but are as the angels of God in heaven.” (Matt 22:32-30) The lady is already wrapped in angelic imagery; she is here to save her friend’s soul, not to take him to prom. The pilgrim knows this in the depths of his heart, and is perhaps even anxious that he has missed his chance and been friend-zoned by the woman of his dreams, but the wisdom of the old man puts his fears to rest. In her beatitude, this lady loves her friend with something deeper than friendship or romantic love. She loves him with the love of God as a brother in Christ. During difficult moments on their quest, Virgil often reminds Dante to remember Beatrice. The old man urges the pilgrim to rush anyway—rush like John the beloved to Christ’s tomb, or like Mary to her relative Elizabeth—to meet this lady. Rush to meet the one whose smile will remind him that God is love. These words will echo through the pilgrim’s head, repeating during the bridge. The “ancient wisdom” has replaced the drums in the pilgrim’s head, and guided by the stars towards salvation, he is finally on the right path.

Verse Two

From the emotional crescendo at the end of the first verse, Bard-Africa immediately leads into the chorus. But we will delay our interpretation of the chorus until after we have looked at the second verse, for reasons which will be obvious once we circle back.

The wild dogs cry out in the night

As they grow restless for some solitary company

The second verse, like the first, begins with an image of disquiet and anxiety. But it is no longer the Pilgrim who is uneasy. Rather, he hears wild dogs from a distance. This evokes the purpose of Virgil and the journey through Hell he accompanies Dante on:

Therefore, for your sake, I think it wise

You follow me: I will be your guide,

Leading you, from here, through an eternal place

Where you shall hear despairing cries

And see those ancient souls in pain

As they bewail their second death.


Dante-Poet conceives the first part of his masterwork as a study of how various and sundry sins twist the human soul into something less than the dignity with which God endowed man while he was still in the garden. When he first encounters Virgil, Dante asks why he has been accounted worthy to receive knowledge of the afterlife. “But why should I go there? Who allows it? / I am not Aeneas, nor am I Paul. / Neither I nor any think me fit for this” he says (Inf.II.31-33). But the vision of Hell is not a matter of worthiness. Virgil’s tour through the dreary region of the dead is nothing more than Dante being taught to look outside of himself to see how sin is an attack on human nature, and then ultimately to examine his own person and hate the evil his personal vices have wrought in his own soul.

The “wild dogs” in “Africa” resemble perhaps most closely the sins of incontinence which characterize the first few circles of Dante’s Hell. These early circles include the animal-like sins of passion and impulse like lust and gluttony. For instance, here Dante-Pilgrim meets Francesca, an Italian noblewoman who is damned for committing adultery. Francesca is whisked around in howling winds, representing how she allowed her passions to sway her every decision on earth, while her lover Paolo is simultaneously carried by the storm. For all eternity the two will never meet, but characterized by their perverse desire in death as in life, they still will to be blown around by the winds hoping against hope that someday the blowing wind will bring them together.

The “solitary company” mentioned by Toto-Bard is not unlike the romance of Francesca and Paolo. “Solitary company” is, of course, an oxymoron, referring to a bestial lust which seeks to use another person’s body for personal gratification. The desire is not truly for solitude, because another person is involved, but neither is it a desire for company, because the other person is objectified. One may as well keep “company” with their laptop. The phrase “solitary company” cleverly undercuts the meaning of both words, signifying the way sin, especially in an understanding like Dante-Poet’s, corrupts nature and undercuts mankind’s divine destiny. Further, the phrase also clearly contrasts with the “quiet conversation” of the Heavenly Lady, as union with God is the only sort of true company a person can have when they are otherwise alone.

I know that I must do what’s right

As sure as Kilimanjaro rises like Olympus above the Serengeti

I seek to cure what’s deep inside

Frightened of this thing that I’ve become

The wild dogs howling has the same effect on Toto-Pilgrim as the contrapasso of the damned on Dante-Pilgrim: conversion. Now the pilgrim has developed a healthy hatred of sin, especially his own failings, and wishes to defeat aberrant desire and replace it with virtue. Likewise, Toto-pilgrim has a true horror at his sins—has become “frightened of this thing that [he’s] become”—he seeks a “cure for what’s deep inside.”

Dante-Poet’s answer is the same as Toto-Bard’s: a mountain. This solution is ingenious though it may be perplexing to moderns. Mountains, which are often referred to as “high places” in sacred scripture, are considered by the most primitive parts of the human psyche as places where heaven touches earth. The Prophet Ezekiel even attests that the Garden of Eden was on a mountain. “You were in Eden, the garden of God […]. You were anointed as a guardian cherub, for so I ordained you. You were on the holy mount of God; you walked among the fiery stones. You were blameless in your ways from the day you were created till wickedness was found in you. Through your widespread trade you were filled with violence, and you sinned. So I drove you in disgrace from the mount of God, and I expelled you, guardian cherub, from among the fiery stones.” (Ezekiel 28:13-16)

Accordingly, Dante-Poet locates Eden at the summit of Mount Purgatory. Drawing on Ezekiel, he recognizes that sin, beyond twisting human nature, also excommunicates mankind from friendship with God. While classical mythology lacks a connection explaining human sin as the reason why men and gods do not associate, the great poets of Greece and Rome, including Virgil, all make reference to a mythical golden age when Saturn was the king of the Titans and lived together with men before the second generation of gods, ruled by Jupiter, made their home faraway on Mount Olympus. One reason why Dante-Poet selects Virgil as the pilgrim’s guide through Hell and Purgatory is because when Virgil alludes to this story in his Eclogues, he prophesies a new golden age, led by a newborn child, who “will take on divine life, and he will see gods / mingled with heroes, and be seen by them, / and rule a peaceful world with his father’s powers” (trans. A. S. Kline).

Dante-Poet, following an interpretive tradition at least as ancient as St. Justin Martyr, understands Virgil to be foretelling the advent of none other than Jesus Christ, the divine Son of God who became man to inebriate men with the divine life of God. Not only does the arduous ascent up Mount Purgatory restore the original justice forfeited by Adam when he sinned, but it also prepares man to “fall upwards into” the heavenly court of God.

Toto-Bard makes a similar intention clear when he compares Kilimanjaro to another heavenly mountain: Olympus. Dante-Poet himself compares Mount Purgatory to Olympus in Purgatorio IX. Here, before entering the gate of Purgatory, Dante-Pilgrim falls into a deep sleep and dreams of an eagle carrying him. A portion of the dream’s description follows:

In a dream I seemed to see an eagle,

With golden feathers, hovering in the sky,

His wings spread wide, ready to swoop.

And to me it seemed I was in the very place

Where Ganymede abandoned his own kind

When he was caught up to the highest council.


The “highest council” to which Ganymede was taken to is Olympus, the mountain where the court of the gods is held. Likewise, when he awakes, Dante finds he has been carried by St. Lucy to the gate of Purgatory, the mountain which men climb as they do penance for their sins before entering Eden, where the original justice of their souls is restored and they ascend (or, more precisely, fall upward) into the heavens to join the court of God in the Empyrean.

We have already commented on how peculiar it is that the only feature of Africa which is described in Toto-Bard’s masterwork is “Kilimanjaro [rising] above the Serengeti.” It is not so peculiar when we compare it to Mount Purgatory in the Commedia. Not only are both compared to Olympus, both are mountains which stretch upward towards heaven, both are solitary elevations which rise almost preternaturally from the flat landscape about them (the ocean for Purgatory, the Serengeti for Kilimanjaro), and both are associated closely within their respective works with hatred of sin and a growth in virtue. Toto-Bard swears by the ascent of Kilimanjaro that he must himself ascend to pursue what is right and just. Both mountains are also incredibly difficult to climb. While it is impossible for an English speaker not to hear in “Kilimanjaro” the phrase “kill a man—yar ho!” and for the Christian not to recall St. Paul’s words that the old man must be crucified with Christ, nobody seems to know for sure where the name comes from, but one popular suggestion is that it means “Unclimbable.” While this is not literally true, as Kilimanjaro can be and has been climbed, it is widely considered more difficult to hike up Kilimanjaro than it is to reach Everest’s base camp. Kilimanjaro is the tallest and most treacherous mountain in Africa; making it thematically suitable for the allegory. Dante-Poet presents his Mount Purgatory in a similar way. It is impossible to scale Purgatory except for when the sun, as a symbol of God’s effectual grace, shines upon the mountain. Otherwise, the penances of the Purgatorians are unproductive.

Chorus, Bridge, and Refrain

It’s gonna take a lot to drag me away from you

There’s nothing that a hundred men or more could ever do

The chorus to “Africa” also receives a refrain at the end of the song. This is why we have deferred commenting to it until now: the chorus takes the place of a hypothetical third verse, and thus is the Dante’s Paradiso of Toto’s “Africa.” Dante-Poet called his masterwork the Comedy because it is ultimately a story of the Christian soul’s loving communion with God. All sin is a perversion of love, and thus the only tragedy is to love wrong, failing to know “the Love that moves the Sun and the other stars” (Para.XXXIII.145)

There is no question about the identity of the “you” in the chorus. Attentive readers will recall that the old man’s words, “Hurry, boy, it’s waiting there for you,” are the last line in the first verse. While “it’s” refers to the object of Toto-Pilgrim’s reunion with the heavenly lady—his salvation—the “you” of the chorus must refer to the subject of that reunion: the heavenly lady herself!

When Dante-Pilgrim is reunited with Beatrice at the end of Purgatorio, she unveils her face and he looks upon her until he is blinded by her radiance:

                 My eyes were fixed and so intent

To satisfy ten years of thirst

That all my other senses were undone,

Walled off from anything around them, enclosed

In their indifference, so did the holy smile

Ensnare them in its old, familiar net […]

And then I shared the temporary blindness

Of those whose eyes have just been smitten by the sun,

Leaving me sightless for a time

(Purg.XXXII.1-6, 10-12)

Dante is perhaps the only major author to describe a scene where a character is blinded in a positive way—for him, being blinded by Beatrice means being overwhelmed by her loving friendship in their long awaited reunion. Toto-Bard uses the chorus to refer to anticipation of his own reunion with the woman following verses one and two. But subsequent to the chorus’s second refrain, the old man’s words reappear again as a bridge between after the second chorus with a subtle change to signify that the reunion has been realized: “Hurry, boy, she’s waiting there for you.”

The “it” of the old man has become “she” in the bridge. This is how we can be sure that the “it’s” in verse one was not a sloppy mistake, but completely intentional. The woman is, as has been established, not his salvation, but she bears witness to it. The pilgrim’s salvation is the same as the life that is in her. This life within the lady is of course the “quiet conversation” that we have so often referred to. Just as Dante looks first to Beatrice to contemplate the mysterious griffin as it is reflected in her eyes, and then much later turns towards the Virgin Mary in order to behold her face before receiving a vision of Christ’s own “supernal face” as it is “painted” with the “coloration” of God’s own substance, Toto-Pilgrim’s reunion with his friend was never the goal, but the person in whose face he beholds the love of God pouring out for him. The chorus’s final refrain is transformed. Now that the pilgrim is reunited with his lady, “It’s gonna take a lot to take me away from you,” becomes not the first line of a simple refrain (like the barbaric beat of the drums), but the first line of his salvation. In being reunited with his friend and reawakened to charity, the pilgrim realizes that his final destination was not an “it” at all as the old man communicated—an impersonal God of the philosophers which moves things as a supernatural force—but a personal subject, whose whole existence is characterized by the self-giving cascade of endless love. The “you” is no longer the lady, but his salvation, which previously had been an “it.” His salvation is a person. That person can be nobody but a personal God.

Romanticists need not be upset, as this is the fullest unity that the pilgrim can have with his beloved. As with Beatrice and all of the saints in Dante’s Comedy, they retain an invisible bond through the same mystic harmony which unites each of them individually to God. Likewise, Toto-Pilgrim, his pilgrimage concluded, has discovered his final destiny. He is at peace with the world and all that is in it, and this is the union that he has achieved with his lady. Even should they be physically separated “by a hundred men or more,” the angelic union which she has initiated him into is something which will continue for the rest of his life. As Christ says, “Do not fear those who kill the body but not the soul” (Matthew 10:23).

I bless the rains down in Africa

In our own pilgrimage, we have finally arrived at that familiar friend, these eternal words which are as an ancient melody to us. May their sage wisdom be illuminated by our analysis. In the choruses, these lines are anticipatory, like a rote prayer which is memorized and recited to faithfully remind oneself of God’s promises though it is not yet experienced. By blessing the rains, Toto-Pilgrim occupies a position above the earth’s atmosphere. What is below cannot bless what is above. But in the final refrain, when the pilgrim has attained his salvation, he experiences the heavenly vision which is above even rainclouds and the Kilimanjaro. One may not help but recall from Isaiah’s prophecy, “Shower, O heavens from above, and let the skies rain down righteousness; let the earth open, that salvation may sprout forth, and let it cause righteousness to spring up also” (45:8). Africa is, as has been said, a land of arid deserts and Sahara-like environs. But Toto-Bard curiously imagines it as a fertile place, famously referring to the rainfall. This is because though the pilgrim was once arid and desert-like (Augustine says somewhere in his Confessions, “I became to myself a wasteland,”) blessings from heaven have made him fertile, restored justice, and even elevated his soul in the Spirit so that he is made above the rains. Dante-Poet imagines the saints in his Comedy as viewing the earthen world below, interceding on behalf of wayward souls that God might show his mercy on them and they may be joined in the communion of the saints, adding to each other’s joy for all eternity. Likewise, Toto-Pilgrim, when he realizes his eternal destiny and becomes an initiate in the quiet conversation, lovingly asks that blessed rains may fall upon the barren earth in order to save men who are as spiritually dry as he once was. Or, alternatively, the pilgrim looks back on the sufferings which have brought him to this point as they have been transformed by grace into the means of his salvation. (Recall Solzhenitsyn’s phrase, “I bless you, prison.”) The beauty of such a line is that it is able to hold both of these meanings simultaneously, and likely many others besides. 

As if to seal the point, Toto-Bard triumphantly repeats the phrase “I bless the rains down in Africa” five times. Five is the number of the Tabernacle’s dimensions, signaling the dwelling-place of God, and also the number of the day creation was completed excepting man and woman. Not only has justice and dignity been restored to the pilgrim, but he also dwells with God. Moreover, when the utterings of this phrase from both choruses are added, the phrase is recited a total of seven times throughout the song. The significance of this phrase being repeated seven times is so resplendent that I need not explain further once it has been pointed out.

We are left only with the final line of the chorus and of the song to analyze:

Gonna take some time to do the things we never had

I will admit that this line puzzles me. Beings which possessed are acted upon, but not enacted. If Toto-Bard had said “things we never did” it would make sense. The same critics who think that “it’s waiting there for you,” is confused gobbledy-gook will often point to this line as evidence. Already we have disregarded their unworthy opinion there, and we must continue to do so here. If “the things we never had” is a mistake, it is a mistake which would be harder to make than the correct phrasing!

So what could it mean? Even if the line is confounding, what is clear is that it is an image of eternity. The “things we never had” can only be an endowment of God’s own life, which no man ever had even in Eden, but is attained in the mystic conversation. This line also, when chanted in the chorus, is anticipatory. That time is finally possessed at the end of the second refrain. As 12:30 was the “time of space,” I propose that this line refers to the “space of time.” It would not surprise me if this is even, by the way of providence, the inspiration for Pope Francis’s maxim that “time is greater than space.” In the realm to which the pilgrim and the lady have ascended, time itself is possessed as an object which may be beheld, perhaps even manipulated, as a moldable object. It is eternity which matters, the destiny of their immortal souls, not temporal things.

But how could human beings ever possess such power? Toto-Bard may be referring not strictly to himself, but God as the person he has attained union with. There is, after all, a man who possesses lordship over all things, including time. Perhaps this will be easier to understand by reference to Dante, who himself compares his vision of the Incarnation of the eternal God in the temporal Jesus as “squaring a circle.” This is the mystery Dante-Poet concludes his own Comedy with, and Toto-Bard similarly chose to conclude his own opus with a mystery which invites one to join into the eternal meditation about God and his intention for mankind to join him united in love which transcends even the stars.



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