from “Kissing joy as it flies”

Daily Telegraph | 1991

LOVE DOTH make us mad. One has only to think of Orlando carving Rosalind’s name on every tree in the Forest of Arden, to realise the extremes to which young love can go. it is the means by which the schoolboy finally becomes the adult. Initial infatuation offers the adolescent one final fling at foolish exuberance before the cares of requited love bring a new understanding and a new maturity..

Young love is all-consuming, and the besotted, “sighing like furnace”, has only two options – to requite the love or to commit suicide. Nothing else will do. This is why Shakespearean heroes such as Romeo, Troilus, Orlando and Berowne all work themselves up into such a state. They know how high the stakes are and will die if ever their love spurns them. Suicide is the only way out. Shakespeare emphasises the symbiotic relationship between love and death still further by turning it into a conceit, making death a euphemism for the orgasm:

These lovers cry O! O! they die!
Yet that which seems the wound to kill!
Doth turn O!O!O! to ha! ha! he!

sings Pandarus, referring to the encoupling of Troilus to Cressida, underlining the idea that the sighs of the loving and the groans of the dying are not so very different.

The battle for the human soul between love and death is th great literary theme, the hope for our immortality. By the procreation of hildren, by the history of our passions and in the inspiration of immortal verse, omnia vincit amor.

Yet love cannot exist without the anticipation of its ending. Romeo’s mind “misgives some consequence yet hanging in the stars”, Troilus fears “swounding destruction”. Even the truest of loves, the most gloriously consummated, and the most sublimely fulfilling must end at some point. The final chapter in any lovers’ story is one of sighs and tears. In Love and Garbage, for example, the contemporary Czech writer Ivan Klima finds the onset of requited love a terrible omen, writing that “there is little that comes so close to death as fulfilled love”: and every anthology of love poetry follows the same inevitable course; meeting, loving, parting, dying. The greater the joy in loving, the more terrible the farewell.

For the lover, existence is therefore essentially tragic, since it always results in the tragedy of separation, either by disillusion or by death. This is why romantic comedy cannot proceed beyond the resolution of marriage, because to do so would be to enter the realms of the tragic. For love in this world is doomed, and when we grow old, like Antony and Cleopatra, all we can do is to snatch at it while we can, “kissing the joy as it flies”, before the ultimate lover, death, sweeps us up in his arms and carries us to oblivion.

This tension between love and death can be found throughout romantic poetry: in Christina Rossetti (When I  am dead my dearest…”), in Tennyson (“Come not when I am dead…”) and in Hardy (“Woman much missed, how you call to me, call to me…”). Love is not love if it does not fear the loss of itself.

The only exception to this inevitable finitude lies in the Bible, where the love given by the young hero allows transformation, re-birth and immortality. Just as the deaths of Romeo and Juliet restore peace and the community of Verona, so Christ, the young lover, restores peace to the community of the world. He dies for his beloved, the human soul, but by his resurrection and promise of eternal life, he is able to convert the tragedy of death into the comedy of love resolved.

For a writer such as St Paul, therefore, the life of the lover is transformed by Christ, who offers a mature transcendent love, made precious by its unique promise of eternity. It is a love that no death-encircled mortal life can match”

“For I am persuaded, that neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nor things present, nor things to come, nor height nor depth nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord.”

There is nothing foolishly adolescent about that.

Meeting Umberto Eco

Meeting Yasher Kemal

Meeting Robert Hughes

On Babies

On Literary Lovers

The Art of Kissing

On Dying