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Look Away Part Deux

Okay, so I was a bit premature in my posting.  I’d not quite finished the last chapter.  I was literally four pages away from the following:

How wicked it would be, if we could, to call the dead back!  She said not to me but to the chaplain, ‘I am at peace with God.’ She smiled, but not at me. Poi si torno all’ eterna fontanta.

It is not clear to me that those are her words, but at a minimum they are C.S. Lewis’ words.  The quote means, roughly:

Then she turned back to the eternal fountain.

It is, of course, a quote from Canto 31 of Dante’s Paradiso.  In context, Dante is asking Beatrice to use whatever means she may employ to ensure that the soul she has helped to save (his) will not be lost somehow after this visit.  Beatrice’s response, in full:

So did I pray.  And she, however far away she seemed, smiled, and looked at me.  Then she turned back to the eternal fountain.

If it is not clear, the “eternal fountain” is, of course, God.  Throughout Paradiso, Dante continues to look upon Beatrice while she continues to gaze upon God.  There is a great deal of imagery surrounding “vision” and “looking upward” and light in Paradiso.  In any event, Beatrice’s momentary gaze with a smile upon Dante is essentially all she could do.  The beauty that is God does not allow one to look away when faced with it in purest form (when you are transformed into that purest of forms).  The only reason, presumably, that she can look away at all is the purity of his request to her and its relation to God.  Her looking away is such a small thing but, simultaneously, such an amazing demonstration of her love because it requires that she look away from the Perfect Love for even a moment.

Anyway, C.S. Lewis is obviously and intentionally calling upon the imagery of Dante and Beatrice in his work A Grief Observed.  In context, it is really quite a wonderful image.  I am happy to have noticed it before being slapped in the face with it several pages later.

C.S. Lewis is also concerned about another potential problem that he notes in A Grief Observed. He points out that it is a distinct possibility that he may deify or simplify his lost wife in his mind.  Somehow, this will make the process of getting over her easier, but in some way to violence to her actuality.  He uses the phrase, we always have another card in our deck (or something like that) to describe the ability of any person, even those most dear and known to you to surprise you at any moment.  This is a repeated concern for C.S. Lewis in his book.  C.S. wishes to avoid making the memory of his wife into anything.  In reality, he simply misses her, all of her, actuality.

Dante on the other hand goes out of his way to deify and simplify his affection for Beatrice.  In fact, that is in part his goal or at least his vision for his work.  Whether or not he really had the feelings he describes in himself regarding Beatrice, he uses it as an artifice to build her up as this divine being.  So far as I recall, not having read through to that point yet, Beatrice’s home is in the same Heavenly sphere as Mary the mother of Christ.  That is quite a claim!

In actuality, Beatrice was apparently quite a bit older than Dante and died when he was 25 or so (from what I read).  In any event, they never had a real relationship in any sense of the word.  To history’s knowledge they may have met a grand total of two times.  I’m sure we don’t know this, exactly, and he may have seen her numerous times on the street or whatever the 15th century version of stalking was, it may have taken place.

I think it all the more interesting that in the grieving process, C.S. Lewis clings to reality (which is precisely what I do) and shuns any fictional characterization (more likely mischaracterization) of those lost.  Dante’s work, in contrast, required just this.  It would have been terribly boring if he hadn’t made her so worthy of his adoration.  And, for purposes of his imagery of directing his “eyes” to God, both in the real world (apparently, she was the motivation for his interest in matters of faith) and in the next, Beatrice served as an excellent metaphor.

Both works are beautiful, one for being so “raw” and “real” and painful, the other for being so lofty and full of lovely imagery.  I’m glad for the happenstance of reading them so near in proximity to one another.

Look Away (Into Heaven Fair)

I sang that song as a baritone (long before I really was a baritone) in 5th grade music class.  Ahhh, Ms. Patello.  She was a lovely woman.  I’m glad she was my teacher.  Apparently, after looking around on the Internets a bit for some lyrics or other tidbit about this song, I am one of about four people to sing it in the last 60 years.  I can’t even find a scrap of evidence that I’m not crazy.  The song exists!! I swear!

So, I began re-reading Dante‘s Divine Comedy in the last month or so (not quickly, obviously) simply to enjoy an image at the end of the final book, Paradiso.  At the end Dante sees (and describes) the Divine Trinity.  Dante (the fictional Dante, not the actual Dante), still obsessed with and in love with his Beatrice looks to her.  She is already much entranced by and in love with the Divine Beauty, Perfection and Good.  She, literally, cannot look away because her soul and will are so pure as to only wish to look upon the ever-changing, ever-perfect God as she circles in the closest Heavenly sphere.  Dante looks to her and, in the reflection of God in her eyes, finally (and for the first time, really, in the book at all), his eyes are directed to God because he sees the reflection of God in her eyes.  It is quite a stunning and beautiful image (written in poetry, no less!).  I’m not back to that image yet.  I believe I’m in Canto 7 of Paradiso at this point… Getting there!

Tonight, as I read A Grief Observed, I noticed a similar image.  I’m certain in retrospect it is probably a purposeful or at least subconscious reference to Dante by C.S. Lewis. I picked up A Grief Observed, several months ago following the end of my engagement.  I have heard and read that the end of a marriage or very long relationship is very similar to a death of a dear loved-one.  So, I knew of A Grief Observed, having attended a lecture series on that single book during undergrad, and respected C.S. Lewis greatly.  I thought I’d give it a go as a first thought.  I was not disappointed.

In any event, as I re-read through that work tonight, I came across a passage that said:

And, then, of her and of every created thing I praise, I should say, ‘In some way, in its unique way, like Him who made it.’

Thus, up from the garden to the Gardener, from the sword to the Smith.  To the life-giving Life and the Beauty that makes beautiful.

The clear allusion struck me. I always loved the image from Dante.  It stuck with me perhaps better than anything else I learned in undergrad (sad?).  I am hopeful that I will find another in this life whose eyes, heart and mind point the way to God so clearly as Beatrice did for Dante.

All our relationships are gifts.  As Mr. Lewis describes elsewhere in the book, perhaps the loss is just one more stage of the courtship that must be endured.  Even in the best of cases, assume you die holding hands with the one you love most in the world who dies simultaneously with you.  You both are still separated one from the other.  He strongly indicates he has no clear understanding of what exactly happens in the afterlife, but he’s sure that death is at least in one sense final.  What would be the point of going on together in a simply different form?  It wouldn’t make sense.

So, we all fall in love knowing that at some point in some way that love will be lost.  Neither of us are getting out of here alive, so to speak.  So, there’s an element of finality and mortality in every human relationship.  Life in the moment cannot be more important than that.  Realize that you share these moments at every moment with someone who is a gift from God that could be taken away at any time.

I also liked this little quote from C.S. Lewis:

You can’t see anything properly while your eyes are blurred with tears.

Ain’t that the truth.  I’ve felt that oh-so-strongly in the last year or so.  Hopefully, that has, for the most part, changed.

Kierkegaard, Tipping Points & Ronald Reagan

Well, I’m still reading Soren Kierkegaard: A Biography. It’s a beast to get through.

Large chapters dedicated to each year of Kierkegaard’s life.  It’s some dense reading, but I’m loving it.  I’ve been learning things things about Soren’s father, brother & fiance (subsequently his ex-fiance).  It is also interesting that the author notes that Kierkegaard actively cultured an image later in his life in an attempt to present a particular person as Kierkegaard to posterity.  For example, he was less-than-devoted as a Christian in his youth.  He was by no means “wild,” but he was immature, slothful and spent far too much of his father’s money.  Essentially, he was a rich, spoiled brat.  I knew/known a few of those.

My “book club” is also in the midst of reading The Tipping Point…well, I should say, I’m in the midst of reading.  The rest of the poor group are on pages 0, 25 and 80 respectively.  Anyway, it’s a book about the way in which epidemics start.  He pulls data from all types of areas from sexually transmitted diseases to the Hush Puppies craze.

It’s starts out very strong and interesting, identifying types of individuals and the various ways they influence others.  For example, some people simpley “know” alot of people.  These people are great at putting people in touch with others, but generally they don’t often influence these people very effectively because they are “loose” connections.  Others influence people heavily, but don’t know as many people.  Still others have a great deal of information, but are typically poor influencers.    Anyway, after that, the book drifted into cognative theory in discussing children’s shows such as Sesame Street and Blue’s Clues.  It kinda lost me at that point.  Anyway, I’m going to make myself get through it.

Finally, I’m going to suggest to the book club that we read The White House Mess next.  I gather that it’s good stuff.  In point of fact, it is set in 1988 and Ronald Reagan sits in his PJs in the Oval Office and refuses to leave the White House.  I’ve never read Christopher Buckley before, but I’ve heard a few people tell me he’s great.  I’ve, obviously, seen Thank You For Smoking.  I thought that one was pretty great.  So, I figure another book by the same guy should be alright.  Besides, I’ve also heard he’s got a heck of a vocabulary, which should be good for me.

In other news, I’m tired now.  I’m going to finish watching The Wendal Baker Story.