As a yoot of the 80’s, we had lots of cheesy songs. ‘Almost Paradise’ was one I liked at the time, but now that I hear it again after 22 years of wedded blitz & holy acrimony, there’s actually a lot in it– it’s not just ‘Lurv is god’. Not that big-hair queen Ann Wilson or leather-pantsed Mike Reno were mediaeval Dante scholars, but just listen:
“Almost paradise.. we’re knocking on heaven’s door..
I swear that I can see forever in your eyes…
And in you arms, salvation’s not so far away
It’s getting closer– close ever day..”
That can mean hormone-poisoning, lust, and hooking up, but the language is surprisingly spiritual. Love is mysterious, and somehow transcendent, pointing to something else. In a universe of love as selfish and confused seeking, even such a perspective from a 80′ ballad reminds me that true love of the other also can point to and includes The Other.
Smitten To Bits
Dante experience the same thing as a young man, when his heart was smitten with the vision of love he saw in the face of a young Florentine, a certain Miss Beatrice Portinari. His heart was smitten, but also lifted up outside himself: in the other, he was also smitten by The Eternal Other, God himself.
…And betaking me to the loneliness of mine own room, I fell to thinking of this most courteous lady, thinking of whom I was overtaken by a pleasant slumber, wherein a marvellous vision was presented to me: for there appeared to be in my room a mist of the colour of fire, within the which I discerned the figure of a Lord of terrible aspect to such as should gaze upon him, but who seemed there-withal to rejoice inwardly that it was a marvel to see. Speaking he said many things, among the which I could understand but few; and of these, this: “I am thy Lord”. In his arms it seemed to me that a person was sleeping, covered only with a crimson cloth; upon whom looking very attentively, I knew that it was the Lady of the Salutation, who had deigned the day before to salute me. And he who held her held also in his hand a thing that was burning in flames, and he said to me “Behold thy heart”. But when he had remained with me a little while, I thought that he set himself to awaken her that slept; after the which he made her to eat that thing which flamed in his hand; and she ate as one fearing. [La Vita Nuova]
From his courtly love came the amazing poem of the soul, The Divine Comedy. Beatrice– who died only 24, becomes his heavenly patron, asking the saints to send the ancient poet Virgil to come and rescue him from his wandering spiritual journey. The famous journey through the Inferno– his sins, and the consequences of sin– leads to the Purgatory, of love burnished by redemptive suffering, and on finally to Heaven, and the contemplation of the Eternal Good that is God, the love that moves the stars, and the hearts of those who love.
All that from meeting a young lady a few times. Today, we’d simply dismiss him as an obsessed fellow, possibly prone to stalking.
Are We More Better?
We cannot magically float backwards and think the universe as one whole intelligible thing as Dante and Mediaeval man did– but we can at least ask if our experience is possibly a pointer to more, to the other, and to The Other. The past, the treasury of human experience and longing and mistakes are our rightful inheritance: modern science or psychology have helped us see some new and good things, but cannot help us understand ourselves completely, or interpret our longings and loves properly.
In our modern world, love and feeling are no longer taken as pointers to reality: they are private and subjective feelings, or chemicals, or preferences, or urges, or desires only. When we can no longer love the other for their own sake, and in the light of The Other that is God, we’ve truly lost something– even the key to rightly interpreting the longing and sense of transcending love found in a cheesy 80’s power-ballad.
Next Time: Men At Work: Land Down Under! A poem of uncertain post-modern pilgrimage?