Because "There Ain't No Cure" (a la Leonard Cohen) for IMPOSSIBLE LOVE, the Gypsy Scholar presents the theme of IMPOSSIBLE LOVE though his Orphic Essay-with Soundtrack. The Gypsy Scholar would remind his listeners that there's a place other than the one of our daytime routine —a "somewhere else"— , where we also long to belong and need to go to from time to time. The Gypsy Scholar knows "that we are reminded of this place by a song we hear on the radio," and that we can even go there through the gateway of song(s) we hear on the radio. In the Gypsy Scholar's lexicon, that "place," that "somewhere else" is the Tower of Song. "There is no cure for impossible love when it revolutionizes our lives. When it leads to the future as well as into the past, when it cannot be comprehended on a purely personal level, then it is not an illness, but an initiation. Initiation into depths, but also into longing, and this will not, should not, ever cease. This longing keeps us in proximity to our souls. It reminds us, as we conscientiously go through the obligations and activities of every day, that there is a place, a somewhere else where we also belong and need to go to from time to time. We are reminded of this place by a song we hear on the radio, a sentence we read in a newspaper, a picture on a subway wall, a memory brought to life by a smell. We usually associate this longing with the human object of our impossible loving, but such reminders may also evoke a time —a year of happiness long forgotten— or a place —a country loved and left — or an activity — music embraced and then given up. In fact, when we can actually go to that place, do that activity, re-create all the elements of that happy time, we find that it's not that either. Even if an impossible love becomes possible, our longing will still be there. It will simply change form, reminding us that we are never quite all here and that part of us always belongs to an Other." --Jan Bauer
The excesses of the passion of Love (Amor) has been explored, from the Troubadours to the Romantics, as “Unrequited Love” and “Transgressive Love” (love that exceeds the accepted social and moral boundaries), even conceiving of love as a “madness” or “sickness.” However, this was re-visioned by the Troubadours of fin' amor as the great paradox of love; you couldn't have the ecstatic "rose" (the "beloved") without its wounding "thorns." For these Troubadours, the reigning god of love, Eros, is the arrow, the disease, and the cure.
Thus, the following from two troubadours:
"He knows little of love who does not await mercy, for love desires us to suffer and to wait; then in a little time love repairs and amends all the pain he has made us endure so long, and that is why I prefer to die having known true love than to live with a high heart empty of love, for so love fated me from the beginning,"
"Blessed be the pains, the sorrows and the cares which I have long suffered cause of love. Because of them I taste a thousand times more intensely the good which love now makes me feel. So much do the ills of the past cause me to enjoy my present happiness that it seems to me that if there were no evil one would hardly be able to savor the good. Thus evil enhances the good and therefore should be welcomed when it comes."
So we find the same paradoxical ideal in Wolfram's Parzival. Trevrizent the hermit says to Parzival:
"The spear had to be thrust into the wound; then one pain helped the other, and from this spear became blood-red... What wondrous things this poison can do. From sorrow they received their wages, for the spear which pierced their hearts to the core carried away their joy. Then in the constancy of their grief they were baptized anew."
Then there's the following from Chreitien De Troyes, the great medieval romance writer:
"From all other ills doth mine differ. It pleaseth me; I rejoice at it; my ill is what I want and my suffering is my health. So I do not see what I am complaining about; for my ill comes to me by my will; it is my willing that becomes my ill; but I am so pleased to want thus that I suffer agreeably, and have so much joy in my pain that I am sick with delight."
The same sentiment can be found from a later Baroque poet in this love tradition, Richard Crashaw:
"For in Love’s field was never found / A nobler weapon then a wound. /Love’s passives are his activ’st part, / The wounded is the wounding heart."
The poet Novalis carries this troubadour paradox of love into the 18th century and the Pre-Raphaelite poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, carries it into the 19th:
"Whoever flees pain / will love no more./ To love is always / to feel the opening / to hold the wound / always open."
"Beyond the sphere which spreads to widest space / Now soars the sigh that my heart sends above ; / A new perception born of grieving Love / Guideth it upward the untrodden ways."
Finally, this troubadour paradox of love finds its champion in the 20th century with the modern troubadour, Leonard Cohen:
… The thorn of the night in your bosom / The spear of the age in your side / Lost in the rages of fragrance / Lost in the rags of remorse / Lost in the waves of a sickness / That loosens the high silver nerves … // And leave no word of discomfort / And leave no observer to mourn / But climb on your tears and be silent / Like a rose on its ladder of thorns …." ("The Window")
In search of the "Beloved," Re-Vision Radio, quests back--"way, way back"--to Plato's myth (in the Symposium) of the primordial Androgyne. According to the myth, human beings were once androgynous--both male and female. These round beings--"man-woman children of the Moon"--were so powerful that the gods became jealous and cut them in half. From then on, each half passionately longed for its lost other half.
"Each of us, when separated, having one side only ... is but the indenture of a man, and is always looking for his other half.... And when one of them meets with his other half, the actual half of himself ... the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other's sight, as they say, even for a moment...."
Thus, this may be the origin of the belief--found in many cultures--that every male and female on earth has a "heavenly counterpart." This, of course, is associated not only with the modern psychological idea of the "psychic other" (Jung) in each gender (anima/animus), but also the popular (new-age) idea of the "soul mate."
This ancient mythic theme has taken many forms over the ages. Sometimes the person dreamt of a supernatural lover and sometimes the person actually meets the supernatural lover, who oftentimes was actually a "fairie." (Given that the medieval narratives of the "unhappy love" of Tristan & Iseult--"an old tune so full of sadness"--were taken from an older Celtic legend, the mythogem of the "fairie" is retained in that Iseult's mother was a sorceress--she prepared the magic love-potion--and by hints that Iseult was a fairy-queen.) The legend became especially popular as a subject of poetry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the Romantics. Keats' "Eve of St. Agnes" and "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" are good examples of the poetic treatment of the theme. In the former, the lady to be wed meets the supernatural lover through a dream, and in the latter, darker poem, a knight is pinning away to death because he met a beautiful, wild-looking woman in a meadow who, although she spoke a language he could not understand, sang him a mysterious song. He is bewitched and finally kisses her to sleep, and then falls asleep himself. Awakening later, the woman was gone, and the knight is left alone on the cold hillside.
In the medieval romances (e.g, Tristan & Isolde) and these Romantic (e.g., "La Belle Dames Sans Merci") poems, the more tragic aspects of Romantic Love--impossible love--are
"Sometimes It's Impossible"
IMPOSSIBLE LOVE: or Why the Heart Must Go Wrong
Wrong Kinds of Love
Certain kinds of love affairs are both impossible to live and impossible to forget. They may last a month, or they may go on for years. It doesn't really matter, because they mark our lives far beyond the actual time spent in living them.
A description of these love affairs would not correspond to the relationships that psychology and the experts hold up as proof of maturity and healthy self-esteem. Indeed, they go against every official version of good and "possible" love. They happen at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and with the wrong person. They lead less to intimacy on earth than to intimations of immortality somewhere between heaven and hell. No wonder they go by the name of "impossible love" impossible to live, impossible to give up, impossible to understand—more about confusion than complicity. They exalt and they humiliate, they promise and they disappoint, but they do not bring peace of mind. In addition to all this, they usually end badly. We may become saints or sinners, but we will not become "winners" in these particular love affairs.
Frequently, we sense this from the beginning, and we go into these relationships knowing we shouldn't. We can already count the reasons, proving it will never work. And yet we go. And once in, we stay in them long after we should, even when the impossibility is "proven" beyond a reasonable doubt. But these are not reasonable events, and they are definitely not the "right" kinds of love we would probably have if we had been reasonable in the first place and listened to the advice of concerned friends and therapists. From a healthy minded point of view, these relationships remain both impossible and wrong.
Their impossibility may come from obvious outer taboos or hidden inner inhibitions, material difficulties or psychological differences. Whatever the cause of the obstacles that intrude between the lovers and their love, transgressing them becomes irresistible and heightens the feeling of intensity, but it doesn't make the love any more possible. It just adds to the sense of "wrongness." Wrong to love, wrong to fail to overcome the obstacles to loving.
In former times, this kind of love was called tragic, romantic, or doomed, a great passion or even a "folie a deux." Today, it is more often termed a neurosis, an addiction, or a projection. The star crossed lovers of yesteryear have become the dysfunctional, co dependent patients of today. In the twelfth century AD., Abelard and Heloise were punished and ostracized for loving wrongly. Today, they would be labeled and treated. Each epoch provides its opportunities for impossible love and creates sanctions to deal with it. Today, as in the past, in spite of psychology, people go on loving wrongly and impossibly. They may read self help books by day, but they read love poems by night, and they feel as caught by their own contradictions as they do by the passion itself.
Why would any normal person, especially any normal person with some psychological and practical understanding, consent to such an experience? Why would anyone risk loss of control, of face, of well being, perhaps even of family and reputation for an impossible love? Clearly, a normal person in a normal state of mind would not. Faced with the advent of passion, he or she would consider the risks and run the other way, tie him or herself to the mast, if necessary, in order not to succumb to the siren's call. And many people do run away or bravely and successfully resist before it is too late. Others, even "luckier;" never even hear the song and may manage to live a whole life long without the experience of such disruptive love. It isn't for everyone, nor is it the only way for normal people to be catapulted into abnormal states. Impossible love is just one of the routes into great pain, and through it perhaps great depth and new meaning.
Death, illness, divorce, failure, reversal of fortune and hopes are a few of the other blows that life may reserve to jolt us into an awareness beyond that of everyday consciousness. Sometimes the jolt comes from outside, sometimes it comes from within. In one form or another, life provides the raw materials. Unfortunately, it doesn't give the directions or the answers. Maybe that will take a lifetime, but let us at least start by asking the questions. Not the "Why me?" or the "Who can I blame?" or the "What did I do wrong?" questions, but the "Why now?" and the "What for?" questions. What does this event mean in my life, and how can I live it so that at my death I can say I have lived, and not that I was lived?
To ask this question takes a particular kind of courage, not necessarily of the active, heroic kind. It means holding the balance between the temptation to give up and the temptation to strike out. It means having the courage to face the "dragon" (or the symptom, or the problem, or the "bad" guy in our dreams and lives) and find out what it wants, instead of killing it and walking away untouched. It means, if we are engaged in the dragon energy of an impossible love, facing its fire and inquiring what it is bringing into our lives.
It isn't natural to do this. Even Parsifal, the hero of the Grail Quest, who went through death defying adventures in order to find the sacred chalice, forgot to ask what the quest was all about the first time he came to the place of the grail. Because he forgot, because he just wanted to grab and run, the grail disappeared, and so he had to leave and be further tried before he could return, chastened and less greedy, to claim the prize. Like him, most of us forget many times around. We want the prizes of answers and solutions, not meaning. We may be willing to read books and pay therapists but we want results. It is so much harder to let events take their course in our lives, to meet them, and to let their meaning unfold, without over controlling or passively submitting. When something hurts, we want to find a cause, and our "culture of impatience" leads us to look for someone or something to blame: men, women, mothers, fathers, patients, therapists, ourselves, our bodies, our lovers, our lovers' lovers.
. . . . We all have the potential to become psychological fundamentalists when we resist coming to terms with life's ambiguities, including especially the contradictions in our own psyches. Blaming as a way of dealing with the paradox of impossible love doesn't help, either. The love may be all wrong, but there is no right answer—no diagnosis or theory to cure it. You can blame yourself and your vulnerability or foolishness. You can blame the other's ruthlessness, seduction, and unconsciousness. Still, the love is there, inappropriate, wrong, impossible perhaps, but undeniable.
Impossible love is not just undeniable in the psyche of a particular smitten individual, however. It is also undeniable in our culture, as a myth and a cultural "imago." Whether we actually live an impossible love or not, we are all deeply influenced by the myth of the star crossed lovers, the central image of Romantic Love. We just don't realize that behind the modem sentimentalized versions of romantic love lies the darker story, a story of impossibility, tragedy, arid death, not happy endings as in Hollywood. When we think of Romeo and Juliet, Abelard and Heloise, Tristan and Iseult, we think of their beauty and commitment, but we forget about their fate. We repress or blithely ignore their unhappy endings when we fall into fantasies of living a legendary love affair, and we are astonished by the darkness when we actually live one. . . .
. . . . We chafe in our relationships or their absence, decrying the lack of romance and/or passion. We yearn to partake in something that is more stirring, more momentous, more transcendent than the relationship we are living or have lived. We long for intensity and for transformation, but we are naive about that word "transformation." In our innocence, we often think it can just "happen" if we live right and go to the right workshops. Therapy will fix us, the workshop will change everything, or, better still, a passionate love affair will give us back our taste for life and transform our whole being. Unfortunately, this is magic thinking. It may happen that way on television, but not in real life. Transformation in real life takes place both gradually and imperceptibly or violently and rapidly, but it rarely takes place at the speed or in the way we had planned.
In cultures where transformation from one state to another is provoked by initiatory rites, the process is invariably and deliberately painful. Skin is lacerated, bodies are mutilated, the mind is stricken, as if to guarantee that there will be no going back to the way it was before. In our culture, where we have few official initiatory rites, our psyches seem to have found other ways to "lacerate" us into initiation and, perhaps, transformation.
An impossible and passionate love may be one of these ways. In that case, it is more than a romantic fantasy, and it may also be more than just a passing madness, a self destructive impulse, or a stubborn addiction. Whatever our ignorance or apprehension about its actual reality, it does continue to fascinate us as a cultural ideal and archetype. There must, therefore, be more to understand about it than its dark destruction, or even its sweet beauty. Indeed, as we shall see, in the "impossibility" of certain passions may lie the possibility of initiation into unknown depths of ourselves, of life, and even death.
This sense of "unknown depths" is what pulls us into the enchantment of a great and impossible love story, whether it be told in an old legend or shown in a modern movie. Our minds follow the story, the plot, the development and adventures of the characters, but our psyches respond to the archetypes. They respond to what is eternal and meaningful and universal behind the particular names and places, and in the responding they remind us that we do not just participate in the practical, linear here and now, but in the timeless space of myth and feeling and destiny.
If this were not true, we would simply leave the theater or put down the book and forget about it, like a meal enjoyed or a newspaper read. We would not be interested in love tales from another century about people we will never meet. But we are interested, and we don't forget these stories, any more than we forget the ones we live ourselves. How else to make sense of what we live? If impossible love is an initiation, it is not just a private one. It is a collective event, as well, that puts us in touch with aspects of human experience much vaster than our own lives.
. . . . How is it possible to survive and make some sense out of a love affair that erupts between two people, but cannot be lived out? How can we understand the disruptive message of impossible love in the cultural psyche of the world at large? There are no absolute or "right" answers in the pages that follow but rather patterns of experience and conclusions to be drawn from them. Most of all, however, starting with an old and true tale of impossible love upon which many of our modem fantasies are based, there is company, lovers past and present to meet and learn from, as we ask the question "What for?" --Jan Bauer
La Belle Dame Sans Merci
La Belle Dame Sans Merci
O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms, Alone and palely loitering? The sedge has withered from the lake, And no birds sing.
O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms! So haggard and so woebegone? The squirrel's granary is full, And the harvest's done.
I see a lily on thy brow With anguish moist and fever dew, And on thy cheek a fading rose Fast withereth too.
"I met a lady in the meads, Full beautiful -a faery's child, Her hair was long, her foot was light, And her eyes were wild.
I made a garland for her head, And bracelets too, and fragrant zone; She looked at me as she did love, And made sweet moan.
I set her on my pacing steed, And nothing else saw all day long, For sidelong would she bend, and sing A faery's song.
She found me roots of relish sweet, And honey wild, and manna dew, And sure in language strange she said `I love thee true.'
She took me to her elfin grot, And there she wept, and sighed full sore, And there I shut her wild wild eyes With kisses four.
And there she lulled me asleep, And there I dreamed -Ah! woe betide! The latest dream I ever dreamed On the cold hill's side.
I saw pale kings and princes too, Pale warriors, death-pale were they all; They cried -`La Belle Dame sans Merci Hath thee in thrall!'
I saw their starved lips in the gloam, With horrid warning gaped wide, And I awoke and found me here, On the cold hill's side.
And this is why I sojourn here, Alone and palely loitering, Though the sedge has withered from the lake, And no birds sing."
"La Belle Dame Sans Merci" --John Keats
La Belle Dame Sans Merci
Dante's Impossible Love
Dante's Lady Pietra degli Scrovigni
O the dim light and the large circle of shade I have clomb, and to the whitening of the hills, There where we see no color in the grass. Natheless my longing loses not its green, It has so taken root in the hard stone Which talks and hears as though it were a lady.
Utterly frozen is this youthful lady, Even as the snow that lies within the shade; For she is no more moved than is the stone By the sweet season which makes warm the hills And alters from afresh from white to green Covering their sides again with flowers and grass.
When on her hair she sets a crown of grass The thought has no more room for other lady, Because she weaves the yellow with the green So well that Love sits down there in the shade,-- Love who has shut me in among low hills Faster than between walls of granite-stone.
She is more bright than is a precious stone; The wound she gives may not be healed with grass: I therefore have fled far o'er plains and hills For refuge from so dangerous a lady; But from her sunshine nothing can give shade,-- Not any hill, nor wall, nor summer-green.
A while ago, I saw her dressed in green,-- So fair, she might have wakened in a stone This love which I do feel even for her shade; And therefore, as one woos a graceful lady, I wooed her in a field that was all grass Girdled about with very lofty hills.
Yet shall the streams turn back and climb the hills Before Love's flame in this damp wood and green Burn, as it burns within a youthful lady, For my sake, who would sleep away in stone My life, or feed like beasts upon the grass, Only to see her garments cast a shade.
How dark so'er the hills throw out their shade, Under her summer-green the beautiful lady Covers it, like a stone cover'd in grass.
"Of the Lady Pietra degli Scrovigni" --Dante (trans. by D.G. Rossetti)
Films and TV Shows about Impossible Love
How the Gypsy Scholar Learned the Secret “What for” of Impossible Love
Most of all, however, starting with an old and true tale of impossible love upon which many of our modem fantasies are based, there is company, lovers past and present to meet and learn from, as we ask the question "What for?" --Jan Bauer
The Gypsy Scholar one day found himself part of the company of the Beautiful Losers in love. This was because at some point in his life he “succumbed to the siren's call” and discovered that “certain kinds of love affairs are both impossible to live and impossible to forget.” Thus, he found himself in a very strange place, a place where love led “less to intimacy on earth than to intimations of immortality somewhere between heaven and hell.” This led him, in turn, on a lonely quest, searching for some sort of sanctuary in order to heal and hold the initiation into the paradoxical mysteries of impossible love. This is how the Gypsy Scholar found the Tower of Song (where “they don’t let a woman kill you ...”). In the Tower of Song’s labyrinthine library, he found old books about the star crossed lovers of yesteryear, both real and fictional—Abelard and Heloise, Tristan and Isolde—, and these stories took him deeper into the mythic labyrinth of the chambers of the heart. (“This is what pulls us into the enchantment of a great and impossible love story, whether it be told in an old legend or shown in a modern movie. Our minds follow the story, the plot, the development and adventures of the characters, but our psyches respond to the archetypes. They respond to what is eternal and meaningful and universal behind the particular names and places, and in the responding they remind us that we do not just participate in the practical, linear here and now, but in the timeless space of myth and feeling and destiny.”) Because these lovers have become so famous (“love in the Western world”), he realized that what he was experiencing was not just his own particular obsession and wound, but actually “undeniable in our culture, as a myth and a cultural imago.” Once more, he read that “Whether we actually live an impossible love or not, we are all deeply influenced by the myth of the star crossed lovers, the central image of Romantic Love.”
The Gypsy Scholar sought out the Tower of Song because he could not rely on help from the usual resources in our society; the psychotherapists. From the “healthy minded point of view” of modern psychiatry, “these relationships remain both impossible and wrong.” (“In the twelfth century AD., these star-crossed lovers were punished and ostracized for loving wrongly,” whereas “they have become the dysfunctional, co dependent patients of today.”) And, generally speaking, we have bought into the clinical model of healthy-mindedness, ignoring what the great pioneering American psychologist, William James observed: “There is no doubt that healthy-mindedness is inadequate as a philosophical doctrine, because the evil facts which it refuses to account for are a genuine portion of reality; and they may after all be the best key to life's significance, and possibly the only openers of our eyes to the deepest levels of truth.” Instead, we want happy endings and the rewards of a “healthy relationship,” as defined by our therapists and self-help gurus. Everybody knows “We want the prizes of answers and solutions, not meaning. We may be willing to read books and pay therapists but we want results. . . . When something hurts, we want to find a cause and . . . to look for someone or something to blame.” (In their love relationships, Everybody knows “Everybody wants a box of chocolates / And a long-stem rose / Everybody knows.”) Thus, the impossible loves of our lives are judged by our “sense of wrongness” about these kinds of relationships, “and many people do run away or bravely and successfully resist before it is too late.” (“Why would any normal person, especially any normal person with some psychological and practical understanding, consent to such an experience? Why would anyone risk loss of control, of face, of well being, perhaps even of family and reputation for an impossible love? Clearly, a normal person in a normal state of mind would not.”) We consider those lovers lucky who “never even hear the song” of the siren of impossible love and “manage to live a whole life long without the experience of such disruptive love.” And, yes, we enjoy and praise the stories of the great lovers, from Tristan and Iseult to Romeo and Juliet, but we shut out the knowledge of their fate. “We just don't realize that behind the modern sentimentalized versions of romantic love lies the darker story, a story of impossibility, tragedy, arid death, not happy endings as in Hollywood. When we think of we think of their beauty and commitment, but we forget about their fate. We repress or blithely ignore their unhappy endings when we fall into fantasies of living a legendary love affair, and we are astonished by the darkness when we actually live one.”
is exactly the love-lesson the Gypsy Scholar had to learn in the Tower
of Song. However, that’s not all there is to it. Yes, he had been
seduced by the siren’s song and suffered the fate that impossible love visits
upon the foolish lover. Yet, in the library of the Tower of Song, the
grieving and depressed Gypsy Scholar heard another song; one that healed
from the first song, a song which, paradoxically, he couldn’t have
really heard without hearing the first.
“love and death in the Western world,” the Gypsy Scholar read the
following: “Whatever our ignorance or apprehension about its actual
reality, it does continue to fascinate us as a cultural ideal and
archetype. There must, therefore, be more to understand about it than
its dark destruction, or even its sweet beauty. Indeed, as we shall see,
in the 'impossibility' of certain passions may lie the possibility of
initiation into unknown depths of ourselves, of life, and even death. . .
. Impossible love is just one of the routes into great pain, and
through it perhaps great depth and new meaning.” In fact, he eventually
discovered that impossible love, in the absence of a collective
cultural ritual, was a secular/profane kind of initiation into the
mysteries and (if rightly dealt with) psycho-spiritual transformation.
As in traditional societies, the initiate undergoes an ordeal,
oftentimes involving some sort of laceration. (“In cultures where
transformation from one state to another is provoked by initiatory
rites, the process is invariably and deliberately painful. Skin is
lacerated, bodies are mutilated, the mind is stricken, as if to
guarantee that there will be no going back to the way it was before. In
our culture, where we have few official initiatory rites, our psyches
seem to have found other ways to 'lacerate' us into initiation and,
What impossible love
can contribute to our otherwise superficial lives, bereft of
traditional meaning, is a sense of "unknown depths." (“If impossible
love is an initiation, it is not just a private one. It is a collective
event, as well, that puts us in touch with aspects of human experience
much vaster than our own lives”). Indeed, the Gypsy Scholar discovered
that it can be a path to what the great Romantic poet Keats called “the
vale of Soul-making.” (“Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains
and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make soul? A place where
the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand diverse ways!”) Yes, the
new sense of “unknown depths.” On this path of “exploring the dark
passages” one comes upon the essential “paradox of impossible love.”
Expressed in terms of “Soul-making,” the psychopathology of impossible love goes against the grain of our modern model of psychotherapy and its “healthy-minded” ethic: "The
soul sees by means of affliction. Illness opens doors to a reality
which remains closed to the healthy point of view. . . . The soul's
native insight is its native pathology." In other words, in the
Tower of Song, the Gypsy Scholar realized the mad truth of “the paradox
of impossible love: The love may be all wrong, but there is no right
answer—no diagnosis or theory to cure it.” As the Gypsy Scholar
repeated these startling words, he recalled the lyrics of a song he once
heard, and then knew he had always had an inkling of this mad truth
about impossible love.
I loved you for a long, long time I know this love is real It don't matter how it all went wrong That don't change the way I feel And I can't believe that time's Gonna heal this wound I'm speaking of There ain't no cure, There ain't no cure, There ain't no cure for love.
this wasn’t the final song the Gypsy Scholar associated with his
healing revelation in the Tower of Song. As previously mentioned, impossible love
can serve as a profane initiation ritual that lacerates the heart into
transformation. The music the Gypsy Scholar heard began to sound when
he serendipitously turned to a passage from a book in the Tower of
Song’s library and finally understood that in impossible love’s body
beats an eternally broken heart: “To be is to be vulnerable [wounded].
The defense mechanisms, the character armor, is to protect from life.
Frailty alone is human; a broken, a ground-up (contrite) heart. . . .
Open is broken. There is no breakthrough without breakage. . . . The
body is made whole by being broken.” In this weird sense, impossible love
is at the same time both the disease and the healing (but not the
“cure” in our modern clinical sense). Or, as the Romantic poem goes: “Nothing can be sole or whole / That has not been rent.” In other words, here’s the secret paradox of impossible love: if Gypsy Scholar were to “never even hear the song” (“siren’s song” of impossible love), he would not hear the "other side" of it . . . from the Tower of Song:
Now I greet you now from the other side Of sorrow and despair With a love so vast and so shattered It will reach you everywhere.
Ronny Cammareri: You ruined my life. Loretta Castorini: That's impossible! It was ruined when I got here! You ruined my life! Ronny Cammareri: No, I didn't. Loretta Castorini: Oh, yes, you did! Oh, yes, you did! Y'know, you got them bad eyes, like a gypsy, and I don't know why I didn't see it yesterday. Bad luck! That's what it is. Is that all I'm ever gonna have? I should have taken a rock and killed myself years ago!
Ronny Cammareri: Everything seems like nothing to me now, 'cause I want you in my bed. I don't care if I burn in hell. I don't care if you burn in hell. The past and the future is a joke to me now. I see that they're nothing. I see they ain't here. The only thing that's here is you--and me. . . . Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn't know this either, but love don't make things nice--it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren't here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die. The storybooks are bullshit! Now I want you to come upstairs with me and get in my bed!
Ring the bells that still can ring Forget your perfect offering There is a crack in everything That's how the light gets in.
"White Palace (originally to have been The White Castle) is a 1990 film starring Susan Sarandon and James Spader. It is a romantic drama about the unlikely and complex relationship between a young upper class widower (Spader) who falls in love with a middle-aged working class waitress (Sarandon) in St. Louis, Missouri." The film was based on a novel of the same title by Glenn Savan and was directed by Luis Mandoki from a screenplay by Ted Tally and Alvin Sargent. The original music score is composed by George Fenton. The film is marketed with the tagline "The story of a younger man and a bolder woman."
Despite the great difference in ages and classes of the two lovers, this is a story about Impossible Love that becomes possible.
"Light Sleeper (1992) is a story about the discovery of the spirit, the lure of decadence, and the chance for escape. He was a good man in a deadly business. She was his only way out. A drug dealer with upscale clientele is having moral problems going about his daily deliveries. A reformed addict, he has never gotten over the wife that left him, and the couple that use him for deliveries worry about his mental well-being and his effectiveness at his job. Meanwhile someone is killing women in apparently drug-related incidents." The leading roles are played by Willem Dafoe (John LaTour, the drug dealer) and Susan Sarandon (Ann, the drug Lady). John has had a secret love for Ann for a long time, but she's way out of his league, not to mention being his boss. This independent film by Paul Schrader is contemporary film noir, an existentialist story of the city streets of the Night (the "dark side of town")--drug dealing, obsession, depression, insomnia, suicide, murder, and redemption. In other words, just the kind of story the Gypsy Scholar loves (not to mention Susan Sarandon)! And what a soundtrack by Michael Been of The Call!
Despite all the obstacles that would thwart their relationship. this is astory about Impossible Love that becomes possible.
Le Fantôme de l'Opéra (English: The Phantom of the Opera) is a novel by French writer Gaston Leroux. It was first published as a serialisation in Le Gaulois from September 23, 1909 to January 8, 1910. But it is overshadowed by the success of its various film and stage adaptations. The most notable of these in our day is Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1986 musical, and Lloyd Webber and Joel Schumacher's 2004 film.
The Phantom of the Opera is a modern-day classic story of Impossible Love. The Gypsy Scholar would remind his listeners that there's a place other than the one of our daytime routine —a "somewhere else"— , where we also long to belong and need to go to from time to time. The Phantom of the Opera's magical underground chamber is a "somewhere else" place of Impossible Love. The Gypsy Scholar knows "that we are reminded of this place by a song we hear on the radio," and that we can even go there through the gateway of song(s) we hear on the radio ("The Music of the Night").
Stealing Heaven is a 1988 film, a costume drama based on the French 12th century medieval romance (a true story) of Peter Abelard and Héloïse and on a historical novel by Marion Meade. The director was Clive Donner.
"Abelard is a famous teacher of philosophy at the cathedral school of Notre Dame, and a champion of reason, at a time when academics are required to observe chastity. He falls in love with one of his students, Héloïse d'Argenteuil, a young gentlewoman raised in a convent, who has both intellectual curiosity and a rebellious view of the low status of women in 12th century Europe. When the relationship is suspected, Heloise's uncle Fulbert, who had other plans for her marriage, works with the bishop of Paris to put a stop to it. Nevertheless, Abelard and Heloise have a child together and later are secretly married. Abelard faces a struggle with himself for acting against the will of God and yet loves Heloise too much to be able to stop himself. Heloise's uncle takes a terrible revenge on Abelard for ruining Heloise's chance of a rich husband."
The Lake House (2006)
The film, The Lake House, despite its flawed internal logic (its confused timeline, particularly the time paradox at the end), at least has this virtue going for it:
It is a contemporary metaphor of the old Romantic theme of "impossible love." Though the supernatural aspect of this theme is gone, the film substitutes the modern theory of time travel and two earthly lovers for the old supernatural theme of an other-worldly dimension that collides with the earthly time, when a demon-lover encounters a human lover. And like the lovers in the song above, the lovers in the film must wait for the right time when their worlds come together again. Yet, whether a supernatural or natural "impossible love," the main theme of Romantic "impossible love" is still the basic organizing idea. This is evidenced by that premiere Romantic writer of "impossible love," Jane Austen, whose novel Persuasion is an integral part of the film's thematic background. (Kate and Alex, at their first encounter, discuss the novel and how its impossible lovers get a second chance to meet.)
"There could have been not two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison."This is the passage that Kate reads from Jane Austen's novel Persuasion, which Alex leaves for her to find under the floor-boards of the Lake House.
Thus, in spite of the film's flaws it nevertheless has this going for it. This must be one of the reasons why Roger Ebert gave it a "thumbs up:" "What I respond to in the movie is its fundamental romantic impulse."
To substantiate my claim of the film's "impossible love" metaphor, I offer the following dialogue between the main character, Alex Wyler, and his brother Henry, after Alex thinks he's lost his beloved.
Henry: Hey, come on! This is a good thing. You know, you need a real woman . . . Alex: Henry, listen! Henry: --A woman. Alex: Listen to me! While it lasted, she was more real to me than any of that stuff. She was more real to me than anything I've ever known. I saw her. I kissed her . . . I love her! And now she's gone--she's gone.
Outlander is a TV series about a time traveller, Claire Randall, a married woman who goes back (once in 1945 and again in 1960) 200 years in time (through a stone portal in an ancient stone circle) to 18th century Scotland and meets the love of her life, Jamie Fraser, a chivalrous and romantic young Scottish warrior. (This love affair, accompanied by Celtic folk song, is worthy of the eternal love stories in both medieval romances and Romantic poerty.) Their passionate relationship tears Claire's heart between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives, and events constantly present new obstacles designed to keep Claire and Jamie apart, preventing their happiness together.
Outlander is thus an "Impossible Love" story across time.
Impossible Love & the Supernatural Lover: "Demon Lover," "Faery Lover," or "Angel Lover."
Re-Vision Radio's Quest for "Impossible Love" crosses over to
In various legends, the heavenly counterpart or supernatural lover--sometimes called the "demon lover"--is able to temporarily pass between worlds
into the human world to meet his or her lover. One such legend, of
Celtic origin (with its mythology of the pagan, magical "Otherworld"), is that of the "Borderlands."
Although the legendary theme ranges from the more positive to the
negative aspects of passionate love with a non-human lover,
nevertheless the spiritual dimension of "Romantic love" can be felt in these tellings. This is, in fact, the great legacy of the Troubadour's more esoteric conception of amor. Here we discover that there is more to the Troubadour's paganistic and feministic "Religion of Love" than almost all scholar's have missed, and that is a "sacramental vision of nature."
this secret doctrine is not a message, but more an alternate state of
mind, a new way of being in the world. Hidden in the verse of
Troubadour poetry is a sacramental vision of nature, a sort of eroticized perception, in which nature and the body is affirmed as the way to the Goddess." (From Essay-with-Soundtrack, 'The Troubadours & the Beloved')
But I will be your pillow Where e’er your head will lie And I’ll be
the star you can only catch In the corner of your eye And I’ll be
the sound of laughter In the first low flower of dawn And I’ll be
the touch to brush your cheek And wake you in the morning’.... And
the maid she opened up her eyes And smiled up through the trees For
as she listened she could almost hear His voice upon the breeze-o....
The young man sat above the town In the glow of the setting sun With his head held cradled in his hand, His back against a stone Sayin, ‘Why have I so little time In this wretched place to stand When I can’t take the girl I love Back home to the borderland-o’
‘For I watch her dance upon the hill And I live but for her song And she never dreamed I waited here So silent and so long But her golden hair it strikes me dumb And her brown eyes strike me blind And the thought I’ll ne’er see her again Is torturing my mind-o’
The girl walked down the hill nearby Toward home and the end of day And she caught the sound of the young man’s words And she stopped upon her way And no voice had she ever heard so sweet As the voice of the stranger lad And she stood there as if turned to stone And listened from the shadows
And the young man’s words reached out to her Where she stood upon the lea And they built her ships upon the clouds And castles on the sea And as he spoke her eyes did flash And burn as with a flame And the maid she stepped around the stone As if he’d called her name-o
‘Oh, pray lament no more,’ she said, Her voice like a gentle sea ‘For I have heard your every word And I know they’re meant for me And if you speak in truth, my lad, And you love me as you say There can be no reason we must part, Not even for a day-o’
Oh the young man started at her words And he stood up straight and tall Siad, ‘I never meant for you to hear me Speak this way at all For you can never have me, love, It’s useless to deceive For I must return the the borderlands Oh, I am bound to leave you’
‘Oh, I care not where you’re bound, my lad, I care not where you’re from For the one thing that I’m certain ‘tis this maiden’s heart you’ve won So take me with you where you must I freely go your way And I will lie here in your arms To greet the light of day-o’
So tenderly he laid her down And next to her did lie The wind that whispered through the trees Was sweet as a lullaby And bending down, he folded her Into a soft embrace And with a touch he sent her fast asleep With a smile upon her face
‘Oh, sleep content, my love,’ he said, ‘I cannot cause you pain For the dawn will find me far away And I won’t be back again And though I’d take you if I could I am not what I seem For I must return to the borderlands oh, I am bound to leave you’
‘For I am not of your world, my love, I come from another time And I crossed here from the borderlands Between your world and mine And twas there that I first heard your voice And longed for your face to see And I gathered all the powers I had And stepped out on your lea-o’
‘And you know I watched you quietly As you danced upon the hill And though I dared not call to you I loved you stronger still But no longer do I have the power No longer can I stay And I’ll be pulled back into my time By the dawning of the day-o’
‘But I will be your pillow Where e’er your head will lie And I’ll be the star you can only catch In the corner of your eye And I’ll be the sound of laughter In the first low flower of dawn And I’ll be the touch to brush your cheek And wake you in the morning’
So saying this he bended low And he kissed her once goodbye And as the dawn broke on the hill He vanished like a sigh And the maid she opened up her eyes And smiled up through the trees For as she listened she could almost hear His voice upon the breeze-o
‘I know you hear me, love,’ she spoke As she lay on her grassy bed ‘For I felt your touch and I felt your kiss And I heard the words you said But the next time that our worlds combine Can not be very far And I’ll be waiting then to take your hand And dance among the stars-o’
The Kiss of the Sphinx
Kiss of the Enchantress
The Fisherman and the Syren
Music of the Sirens
Passion of the Dark Angel
The Sea Maiden
Eros & Psyche
Eros & Psyche
Amor & Psyche
La Belle Dame Sans Merci (Demon Lover)
La Belle Dame Sans Merci (Demon Lover)
The Demon Lover
The Demon Lover
Often, Impossible Love entails the love relationship between a mortal and a superhuman figure, sometimes called the archetype of the "demon-lover," or "faery-lover." In Celtic myth and lore, this superhuman lover is female and known as the "Lenanshee."
Lenanshee (the Irish Gaelic Leanan Sídhe, Leanain Sidhe, or Leannan Sidhe; Scottish Gaelic, Liannan Shìth, Lianhan Sidhe, or Leanhaun Shee) in Celtic folklore is a mystic figure. The name translated means fairy lover, or fairy mistress. (The name comes from the Gaelic word leannan, a sweetheart, concubine, or favorite.)
The Lenanshee is a beautiful woman of the Aos Sí (or fairy folk) who takes a human lover. Lovers of the leanan sídhe are said to live brief, though highly inspired, lives. The leanan sídhe is generally depicted as a beautiful muse, who offers inspiration to an artist in exchange for their love and devotion; however, this frequently results in madness for the artist, as well as premature death. W. B. Yeats popularized a slightly different perspective on these spirits with emphasis on their vampiric tendencies (a feature also shared by the Manx analogue the Lhiannan Shee):
"The Leanhaun Shee (fairy mistress) seeks the love of mortals. If they refuse, she must be their slave; if they consent, they are hers, and can only escape by finding another to take their place. The fairy lives on their life, and they waste away. Death is no escape from her. She is the Gaelic muse, for she gives inspiration to those she persecutes. The Gaelic poets die young, for she is restless, and will not let them remain long on earth - this malignant phantom." (Yeats)
Lenanshee: A faery lover, mistress. The concept is commonly indicated in English by an anglicization of the ModIr. phrase leannin sidhe [faery lover], e.g. leannan shee, lannan shee, lannanshee, leanan sidhe, leanhaun shee, lianhan shee; OIr. lennin side; Manx lhiannan shee. This most dramatic and poetic of all faery stories concerns the doomed love between a mortal (usually male) and an immortal (usually female). The many Celtic instances of the story follow a fixed pattern found in international folklore. 1. The mortal loves the supernatural being. 2. The supernatural being consents to marry or to make love to the mortal subject to a certain condition, such as his not seeing her at specified time. 3. He breaks the taboo and loses her. 4. He then tries to recover her and sometimes succeeds, usually with great difficulty. In one familiar variation on the pattern, the fairy lover entices or seduces the mortal and pines for him when they are separated; i.e. she loves him deeply (though he may not have merited it) and is parted from him only by the conventions of her status. A second variation depicts a woman of dreadful power who seeks both the love of and dominion over mortal men. Male fairy lovers also exist in stories, characteristically well mannered and talkative but imperious.
Lady Wilde (1887) said that the leannan-sidhe was the spirit of life, and inspirer of the singer and poet, and thus the opposite of the banshee. W.B. Yeats (1888) thought the leanhaun shee would inspire a poet or singer so intensely that its earthly life would necessarily be brief. The Manx lhiannan-shee is distinguished from her Irish counterpart in two aspects: (1) She haunts wells and springs, like Melusine. (2) She attaches herself to one man, to whom she appears irresistibly beautiful while remaining invisible to everyone else; if he yields to her seduction, she will drain him body and soul, like a vampire.
--The Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (James MacKillop)
Thus, the leannin sidhe is clearly an example of a world-wide motif. A well-known example of the motif is Keats' "La Belle Dam Sans Merci." Well-known examples of the variant in which the otherworldly lover is male and the mortal is female include Beauty & the Beast, Amor & Psyche, and The Phantom of the Opera. You can hear the term Lenanshee used in the traditional tune "My Lagan Love."
My Lagan Love
Where Lagan stream sings lullaby There blows a lily fair; The twilight gleam is in her eye, The night is on her hair. And, like a love-sick lenanshee, She has my heart in thrall; Nor life I owe, nor liberty, For Love is lord of all ...
The Celtic Lenanshee as Selkie
Selkies are mythological creatures found in Irish, Scottish, Faroese, and Icelandic folklore. Selkies are said to live as seals in the sea but shed their skin to become human on land. The stories tell of both female and male selkies (who are very seductive to human women), but frequently revolve around female selkies being coerced into relationships with humans by someone stealing and hiding their sealskin, often not regaining the skin until years later upon which they commonly return to the sea, forsaking their human family. The legend is most common in the Northern Isles of Scotland and is very similar to those of swan maidens. These Celtic Selkies are also mythologically related to "Mermaids." (A mermaid is a legendary aquatic creature with the head and upper body of a female human and the tail of a fish. Mermaids appear in the folklore of many cultures worldwide, including the Near East, Europe, Africa and Asia. They are sometimes equated with the "Sirens" of Greek mythology.)
Faerie Queen lover
Endymion on Mt Latmos
The Fairy Lover
It is by yonder thorn that I saw the fairy host (O low night wind, O wind of the west!) My love rode by, there was gold upon his brow, And since that day I can neither eat nor rest. I dare not pray lest I should forget his face (O black north wind blowing cold beneath the sky!) His face and his eyes shine between me and the sun: If I may not be with him I would rather die. They tell me I am cursed and I will lose my soul, (O red wind shrieking o're the thorn-grown dun!) But he is my love and I go to him to-night, Who rides when the thorn glistens white beneath the moon. He will call my name and lift me to his breast, (Blow soft O wind 'neath the stars of the south!) I care not for heaven and I fear not hell If I have but the kisses of his proud red mouth.
Films about Supernatural Impossible Love
Beauty & The Beast
Phantom of the Opera & Christine
The Demon Lover
The Romantic poets, Coleridge and Keats, enjoyed contouring “demon Lovers” in their poetry. Coleridge’s poem, “Kubla Khan” (1816), contains the following lines describing the "deep romantic chasm” in Xanadu: “A savage place, as holy and enchanted / as e’er beneath the waning moon was haunted / by woman wailing for her demon lover.” His gothic ballad of the supernatural, “Christabel,” tells of the mysterious Geraldine who is the serpent in disguise, a female “demon lover,” a lamia. Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is a femme fatale with “wild eyes,” a woman who brings death to many, a demon lover. Keats’ “Lamia” is a serpent who is transformed into a beautiful woman by the god Hermes.
The succeeding Victorian writers continued the Romantic stories of “demon lovers.” The prime example of such is Emily Bronte’s 1847 gothic novel Wuthering Heights. Here, the most passionate of romantic anti-heroes, Heathcliff, is described by the narrator as maybe a “ghoul or a vampire.” As the gothic story progressed in British literature, the “demon lover,” who could be likened to a vampire, becomes an actual vampire.
In the 1992 film adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic 1897 vampire novel, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the character of Dracula (Gary Oldman) is a dark, lonely soul determined to reunite with his lost love, Mina (Winona Ryder).
To the GS’s Romantic way of seeing things, this film adaption is essentially a love story—an “impossible love” story—disguised as “horror” story. After all, Victorian writer Bram Stoker wrote it in the style (genre) of the Romantic-Gothic novel, which follows the tradition of Romantic dark love stories.
This vampire story of "Impossible Love" is about Adam (Tom Hiddleston), an underground musician who reunites with his centuries-old lover (Tilda Swinton), after he becomes depressed and tired with the direction human society has taken. Leave it to director Jim Jarmusch to cast the vampire as an acid-rock musician! You wonder why no director thought of this before; the underground rock musician (like Jim "Serpent King" Morrison) is perfect for the vampire role!
Wim Wenders' 1987 film, Wings of Desire, is, because of its romantic-archetypal content, propbably the greatest in this genre. This masterpiece about "Impossible Love" is like a "big dream" out of the Gypsy Scholar's collective unconscious. It's a story about an angel who tires of overseeing eons of human activity and wishes to become human when he falls in love with a mortal. He thus descends into the human world.
The film Ondine (2009) is about an Irish fisherman who one day finds a nearly-drowned young woman in his net; she calls herself Ondine and wants no one to see her. He puts her up in an isolated cottage. His daughter Annie discovers Ondine's presence and believes she is a selkie, a seal that turns human while on land.
Mearra: Selkie from the Sea (2015)
Mearra: Selkie from the Sea (2015) is a TV movie is about a Selkie maiden, Mearra, who falls in love with Ian, a lonely fisherman entranced by her beauty. It’s an enigmatic and bittersweet story of love, loss, and transformation.
This film of “Impossible Love,” The Shape of Water (2017), is an otherworldly fable set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor, trapped in a life of isolation, discovers a secret classified experiment and forms a unique erotic relationship with an amphibious humanoid creature that is being held in captivity. As a result, her life is changed forever.
(The Shape of Water is a cinematic masterpiece that garnered numerous award nominations, including the most  from a film at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards. It won two awards at the Golden Globes, including Best Director for Guillermo del Toro. It also won Best Picture and Best Director at the Critic's Movie Choice Awards. At this point, it has garnered 13 nominations for Oscars at the up-comming Academy Awards.)
For the GS's reflections on Guillermo del Toro's acceptance speech for winning Best Director at the Golden Globe Awards,click here
The Impossible Love of the Western World's Great Lovers
Oh, what a dear ravishing thing is the beginning of an Amour! —Aphra Behn, The Emperor of the Moon
Love ceases to be a pleasure, when it ceases to be a secret. —Aphra Behn, The Lover's Watch, Four o'clock
A Gallery of Famous Impossible Lovers
Impossible Love: Tristan & Isolde
Tristan & Isolde Sharing the Love Potion
Tristan Slays Dragon
Tristan Delivering Elias
Tristan Mortally Wounded in Boat with Harp
The Loving Cup
Tristram & La belle Isoude Drink Love Potion
Tristan & Isolde Sharing Love Potion
Tristan & Isolde (S. Dali)
Tristan & Isolde (15th c. Illumination)
Sir Tristam & la Belle Isaul
Tristan & Iseult
Tristan & Isolde
Tristan & Isolde
Tristan & Isolde
Tristan & Isolde
Tristan & Isolde
Tristan & Isolde
Tristan & Isolde
Tristan & Isolde
Mad Tristan (S. Dali)
The Madness of Sir Tristan
The Death of Tristam
La Muerte de Tristan e Isolda
They Went to Their Country of Benoye & Lived There In Great Joy
Tristan & Isolde
The Historical Background to the Tristan & Isolde Story
The tale of Tristan and Isolde was one of the most influential romances in the medieval period. It predated and influenced the Arthurian romance of Lancelot and Guinevere. Originally, the Tristan legend had nothing to do with King Arthur, but shortly after the Vulgate Cycle (or Lancelot-Grail cycle) in c. 1235-40, The Prose Tristan, the hero had joined the fellowship of the Round Table.
The Tristan legend, which has been seen as the prototype of the “love-death” theme and, thus, for “love in the Western world,” can be traced back to Cornish and Welsh mythology. Tristan makes his first medieval appearance in the early twelfth century in Celtic folklore circulating in the north of France. Although the oldest folkloric stories concerning Tristan are lost, some of the derivatives still exist. There were many retellings of the legend in courtly romance, beginning in the twelfth century: Anglo-Norman poet Thomas of Britain and his German successor Gottfried von Strassburg, the Arthurian romancier Chrétien de Troyes, the French poet Béroul, and the German poet Eilhart von Oberge. In the thirteenth century, during the great period of prose romances, appeared the Prose Tristan, one of the most popular romances of its time follows Tristan from the traditional legend into the realm of King Arthur where Tristan participates in the Quest for the Holy Grail. In the fifteenth century, Sir Thomas Malory shortened this French version into his own take, The Book of Sir Tristram de Lyones, found in his Le Morte D'Arthur.
The story of the Tristan’s and Iseult’s tragic love has been the subject of numerous medieval and modern retellings. There are two main traditions of the Tristan legend: the early tradition comprised of the romances from two French poets from the second half of the twelfth century–Thomas and Beroul. Their sources could be trace back to the original, archetype Celtic romance. (There was an earlier and perhaps the original work of Tristan, which both authors may have relied on, since many of the plots were similar, and yet there was enough difference between these two versions. However the original Tristan story is now lost.) The medieval versions of the story are called the courtly and the common versions. The former is represented by the Tristan of the Anglo-Norman poet Thomas, which was written in the latter part of the twelfth century. Thomas’ more courtly version of the romance is more interested in the inner thoughts of the characters. (Though the theme and plot were still the same as those of Beroul, his style and some of the scenes were different from that of Beroul.) His version in turn influenced Gottfried von Strassburg, whose Tristan, written in the first decade of the thirteenth century, is one of the great romances of the Middle Ages, and the Old Norse Tristrams saga (1226). In this version, love is loftier and more courtly than in the common version. The love potion is of unlimited duration and Tristan's courtly skills are emphasized. The common version, represented by Béroul's late-twelfth-century Roman de Tristran was considered to be the uncourtly version, because it was less refined. (Beroul may be closer to the original source, since he may have relied on oral tradition.) Neither romance had survived completely. Both were fragmented, however Thomas' version survived in several different manuscripts. Beroul's text can be only found in one manuscript. Beroul's work was missing the beginning ( the birth and childhood of Tristan up to the time a knight taken Isolde from Mark by playing the harp) and the ending (Tristan exiled to Brittany to the lovers' death). While a great deal of the middle parts was missing in Thomas' romance. Most scholars used Eilhart von Oberge, a German writer who wrote "Tristrant und Isalde" (c. 1170), to supplement the lost Beroul's fragmented romance. However, Eilhart's poem is now lost, but there were redaction of his work in the 13th century. Another German writer, Gottfried von Strassburg, wrote "Tristan und Isold" (c. 1210), and had based his poem on Thomas' romance. Other works based on Thomas' romance, included the Scandinavian "Tristams Saga og Isonde" (13th century), and the English "Sir Tristrem" (c. 14th century). Chretien de Troyes may have also written his own version of the Tristan legend, which was probably titled "Mark and Iseut la Blonde". If this is the case, then his work is now lost. It is clear Chretien knew of and understood the original work.
There were many other medieval versions of the tale, including a long French prose romance, the Middle English poem Sir Tristrem, which was edited by Sir Walter Scott in 1804. These later versions come from The Prose Tristan (c. 1240), which was markedly different from the earlier tales written by Thomas and Beroul. The Prose Tristan became the official medieval tale of Tristan and Isolde that would eventually provide the materials for Sir Thomas Malory’s Le Morte d'Arthur (c. 1469), where the Tristan-Isolt-Mark triangle is a foil for the Lancelot-Guinevere-Arthur triangle.
The story has been equally popular in the Victorian period. Matthew Arnold, the first of the Victorians to treat the story, wrote his Tristram and Iseult in 1852. Tennyson's moralistic and condemnatory account of the lovers in the idyll "The Last Tournament" inspired Algernon Charles Swinburne to write Tristram of Lyonesse (1882), which he considered to be more medieval in tone because more sympathetic to the lovers. Of course, there is Richard Wagner's opera Tristan und Isolde (1857), which was inspired by Gottfried's Tristan. Numerous twentieth-century poets, playwrights and novelists have taken up the theme, including Thomas Hardy, John Masefield, Martha Kinross, Don Marquis, Edwin Arlington Robinson, Sir Arthur Quiller-Couch, John Erskine, John Updike, and many others. Thus modern literature is rife with examples of Tristan and Isolde works, most of them focusing on the forbidden romance, rather than the chivalry of Tristan. John Erskine, Rosalind Miles, Anna Taylor, Rosmary Surcliff , Hannah Closs and Nancy McKenzie are just a few examples of authors of modern Tristan and Isolde tales.
Scholars generally agree that the tale of Tristan and Isolde is essentially Brythonic (a southern group of Celtic languages) in origin, with incorporated details from other (later) sources. The original story is thought to have been an archetypal trickster tale (common to Celtic tales), which evolved through early Celtic forms. The strict taboo enforced by a Druidic culture against written works means there is little definite literature from these early ages. The titles of the Welsh Triad form have afforded clues to possible early Tristan and Isolde works, the Triad of Drystan, Essyllt and March obviously being the most probable but there is no certainty. The earliest works that are definitely known of (or indeed still survive) originate from the 12th century and their comparative similarity suggests an original (either oral or written) story existed prior to then.
The earliest extant version, Tristram (although incomplete), was written (c.1165-1185) by Thomas of Britain in Anglo-Norman French verse. At a similar time The Romance of Tristan was written by the French poet Beroul (1160-1190). Eilhart von Oberge, Marie de France, and Chretien de Troyes, all wrote their own works on Tristan and Isolde soon after (their derivation from an original story or that of Beroul or Thomas is evident to scholars from their style of writing). Gottfried von Strassburg of Germany wrote "Tristan und Isold" (c. 1210), and based his poem on Thomas' romance. His poem is acknowledged to be the father of modern variations of the original myth. The association with the Court of King Arthur appeared first in Chretien de Troyes work but was overshadowed by The Prose Tristan (c. 1240). The Prose Tristan became the standard version of Tristan and Isolde, and even influenced Sir Thomas Malory, who wrote the Le Morte d'Arthur (c. 1470).
It is important to understand that the myth of Tristan and Isolde was not represented by one unified story with an established sequence of events. Rather, there were multiple versions from across Europe. The existing stories are episodic rather than presenting one continuous and complete narrative. Different works recount different incidents in which the enemies of the lovers plot against them, the lovers contrive to meet, get caught together, and manage to extract themselves. Nevertheless, the fundamental, basic premise of all the stories can be seen as the same.
Tristan & Isolde: A Synopsis of the Story
Tristan is son of Blanchefleur and Rivalen, King of Lyonesse. He is given his name "Tristan" because of the sadness surrounding his birth, which caused the death of his mother. Tristan is trained by Governal in France, and then becomes at the service of his uncle King Mark of Cornwall. Tristan saves Cornwall from the giant Knight, named Morholt, whose sister is the sorceress Queen of Ireland. Tristan is wounded with poison, and sails to Morholts native Ireland to seek a cure. There he meets a jongleur (a wandering minstrel, or poet), who teaches him the art of singing poetry. He is eventually cured by Isolde, the fair daughter of the Queen of Ireland. He returns shortly to Cornwall. King Mark finds himself under pressure by his barons to marry. Eventually he decides he wants the lady who possesses the blonde hair brought miraculously to Cornwall by a swallow. Tristan seeks that woman, whom he identifies as Princess Isolde. Both sail back to Cornwall, accompanied by Brangain, Isolde's lady-in-waiting. Brangain carries a secret love potion prepared by the Queen of Ireland for King Mark. Tristan and Isolde accidently drink it and are bound in unbreakable love. Isolde is married to Mark but Brangain is substituted for Isolde on the wedding night. When the couple’s secret love is denounced by Mark's barons, Tristan is banished from court, yet the illicit lovers manage further secret rendezvous. Finally they are discovered and denounced by an evil dwarf and sentenced to death. Tristan escapes, and rescues Isolde. The lovers live in forest of Morrois in bliss. Eventually, they are discovered by Mark's forester. Mark goes into forest alone and finds their secret sunlit hut, but the sight of the sleeping lovers with a naked sword between them causes Mark to have pity and spare them, since he takes the sword to be a sign of chastity. Mark replaces Tristan's sword with his, after forgiving them. It is this clemency that inspires Isolde to return to Mark (in Béroul: because effect of love potion disappears after three years). Tristan leaves Britain and offers his service to Hoel of Brittany. He later marries Hoel's daughter, Isolde au Blanches Mains, but cannot forget Isolde the Fair and thus does not consummate his marriage. Isolde au Blanches Mains tells her brother Kaherdin that she still a virgin. Tristan convinces Kaherdin of his love for Isolde the Fair. Kaherdin and Tristan go to her and arrange secret meetings, where Tristan is disguised as leper, penitent, and madman. Back in Brittany, after fighting great battles Tristan is fatally wounded in combat and only Isolde the Fair can save him. He sends a messenge to her, instructing Kaherdin to raise a white sail she if she is on the boat—if not, black. His jealous wife lies to him and tells him it is black. Tristan dies of grief. Isolde arrives only to find her lover dead and dies at his side. The two are buried side by side with the two trees that grow on their grave entwined together.
Impossible Love: Heloise & Abelard
"Abaelard & Heloisa"
The Impossible Love of Heloise & Abelard
“Whenever they speak of great men, they will remember Peter Abelard.”—Heloise "If I am remembered, it will be for this: that I was loved by Heloise."—Abelard
Abelard and Heloise were the real-life Tristan and Iseult of Celtic legend. In fact, it is believed that these twlefth-century star-crossed lovers actually influenced the later fictional retellings of Tristan and Iseult. (These legendary lovers are the prototype of all impossible or “unhappy love” in the Western world and probably are the source of the romances of the high Middle Ages, including the Grail, or "Arthurian" stories, where the adulterous lovers Tristan and Iseult become Lancelot and Geneviere.) Proving that life—in this case, the facts of Heloise's and Abelard's love-life—is just as dramatically interesting and profound in its thematic scope as purely fictionalized accounts. Indeed, the star-crossed lovers Heloise and Abelard have become legends and their names synonymous with the syndrome of impossible love. Yet their real-life love story is also “mythic” in the sense that it contains all the universal and archetypal elements of the configura¬tion of impossible love anywhere and any time—the passion, the betrayal, the destruction, the longing, the separation, the bitterness, the transformation, and the unswerving loyalty of both individuals to one truth.
Heloise and Abelard lived over 900 years ago. Modern scholars credit Abelard as “the keenest thinker and boldest theologian of the twelfth century” (the scholar who was responsible for the formation the the first universities). Heloise is the learned young woman who the French refer to as the “Woman Who Invented Love.” Their story—a mixture of erotic passion, philosophical learning, horrific brutality, spiritual quest, monastic political intrigue, and exile—is probably the most memorable tale of all from the Middle Ages. It became fictionalized when it passed into the hands of the poet Jean de Meung who, in 1275, became the first person to mention the couple in writing when he incorporated their story into his epic poem the Romance de la Rose. This roman, along with de Meung’s French translation of the letters of Abelard and Heloise in 1290, assured their immortality as symbols or patron saints of romantic love. In a very short time these two real-life lovers became the model for the later romances. (Abelard and Heloise were contemporary with the Troubadours in the south of France, or Occitania.)
Heloise and Abelard is one of history’s most passionate and romantic true love stories. The impossible love affair of the twelfth-century philosopher-theologian and his student, Heloise, continues to inspire and move us. Their illicit relationship scandalized the community in which they lived, one whose policies resulted in rigid attitudes of intellectual, theological, and sexual repression. This great impossible love story and the courage and passion of its protagonists has much to teach us not only about the power of "romantic love" (amor), but also about our own understanding of sexual equality, intellectual freedom, and "the twelfth-century renaissance."
We know Abelard and Heloise through their letters, which not only reveal Heloise (who identified herself with Mary Magdalene!) to be one of the most learned women of her time, but the more profound and spiritually superior of the two. Spiritually superior because it is Heloise who, although Abelard (who sent her to a convent, where she in time became a famous abbess) is her brother superior in Christ, remains true to her heart's (human) love and (despite a lifetime of prodding and duress) never denies her ideal her ideal of love (a combination of friendship and eroticism she called dilectio). She therefore, in denying Christian love as greater, paradoxically achieves a self-sacrifice that makes the case for "romantic love" as being equal in transformative power to religious love. Indeed, reading between the lines of her letters, it could be argued that Heloise—matron saint of lost love—is the first individual in the Western world to unite profane love with sacred love (as her contemporaries in Occitania, the troubadours, were also doing). Heloise's human love—he love of Eros, not Christ—for Abelard binds them by its own nature; it doesn't need any public sanction, much less the Church's sacrament of marriage. It is Heloise's preeminent example that has become the standard for what we mean as "true love" between a man and a woman. Indeed, she shows the rest of us, despite the suffering and grief that it brings in its wake, the value and virtue to our souls of impossible love.
Abelard & Heloise caught in the act
Abaelardus and Heloise in the manuscript Roman de la Rose (14th c) by Jean de Meun
Abelard & Heloise: a Synopsis of the Story
Abelard, born in Celtic Brittany from a father who was a knight, instead decides to become a scholar. After traveling all around Europe as a wandering scholar ("a Peripatetic Paladin"), he comes searching his fortune to Paris, then the intellectual capital of Latin Europe. Abelard takes Paris by storm, overturning the position of its greatest scholars and putting himslelf in their place. His Aristotelean dialectic is put into the service of uniting reason and faith. Soon, he is the most celebrated scholastic philosopher in the land and students come from all over Europe to attend his lectures. In twelfth-century Paris, the intellectually gifted young Heloise, the niece of Notre Dame’s Canon, Fulbert, strives for knowledge, truth, and the answer to the question of human existence. She has already acquired a great reputation for her classical learning. It soon becomes apparent that only one teacher in Paris can provide the education that she seeks. Abelard, now master and canon at Notre Dame, takes her on as a student. (At their meeting, Abelard was about thirty-seven and Heloise was in her early twenties.) Abelard quickly becomes intrigued and smitten by Heloise’s learning and her uncommon wit and intelligence, for Heloise is an intellectual match for the celebrated scholar. They soon find themselves so caught up in discourse that neither can resist the inflamed desires of their bodies, yet they both know that the laws of the time forbid such a relationship. But their physical love and the strength of their passion proved to be a power impossible to resist. It is at this time (c.1115-1116) that they correspond with each other in what are now called "The Lost Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise." Not only did Abelard write his share of these love letters, but he also wrote love songs to Heloise, songs which spread the fame of their illicit love far and wide. It was through indiscretions such as these that eventually got the couple discovered by her uncle Fulbert.
When Heloise becomes pregnant, they realize it is not safe for her to remain in Paris. Abelard sends her to Brittany, his home country, to be looked after by his family. It is here that their child, Astrolabe, in born. In a scheme to protect the dignity of his fallen niece, and return Heloise to his home, Canon Fulbert arranges a secret marriage between Heloise and Abelard. Heloise, true to her idea of love and fearing for Abelard's reputation and career, refuses to hear of it. Nonetheless, both Abelard and Fulbert overrule her. But shortly after the two lovers are wed (c.1117-8), they discover Fulbert’s true plot is to ruin Abelard and keep Heloise for himself. For her safety, Heloise escapes to the convent at Argenteuil, but it is too late for Abelard; he is brutally attacked in his bed by Fulbert's relatives and castrated (c.1117-8) in punishment for his sexual relations with Heloise.
As a result of his humiliating punishment, Abelard no longer considers himself capable of continuing as a teacher at Notre Dame, and he decides that they should enter the monastic life. Canon Bedell pleads with Abelard to not force such a fate upon Heloise, but Abelard insists, again against the wishes of Heloise, that they must take holy orders as monk and nun (c.1117-8). Yet, what will later come out in the letters between them is that Abelard didn't trust Heloise, and therefore made her enter the religious life before he did.
Years later, the repentant Abelard writes his autobiography in the form of a long letter to an anonymous younger monk, whose stated purpose is to serve as a cautionary tale to demonstrate that the young monk's troubles pale in the light of Abelard's. It is this "letter of consulation" (The History of My Calamities) to a third party that Heloise, now the abbess of the convent Abelard founded (c.1122), receives (1132), after not hearing from her estranged husband for fifteen years. (Prior to the discovery of the early love letters in 1980 and published in 1999, these eight letters exhanged were the bases of all the knowledge we had of the famus couple.) In their famous correspondence of twenty years, we witness, through Heloise's refusal to forget about the past and the true love they shared, the star-crossed lovers, who were was the talk of all Paris, trying to come to terms with what had happened to them. For Abelard's part, he was now a converted monk and an abott, who only loved and served God. He tried, albiet unsuccessfully, to convince Heloise that she should forget him and do the same.
Abelard, as recounted in his autobiography, was, for his radical and controverisal ideas, brought up on charges of heresy at the Council of Soissons in 1121, where he was forced to burn his book on the Trinity. Yet this was not the end of his troubles with the eccliastical authorities, like St. Bernard. He was from this time on embroiled in one conflict after another as a monk (e.g., the Counncil of Sens, 1140, accuses him of heresy), and he finally had to flee to exile under the protection of the famous Peter the Venerable of Cluny. Abelard died there in exile in 1142. Heloise lives on as abbess, successfully managing the Paraclete and expanding it to its daughter foundations. She died in 1163. They never met again, yet through their famous letters, their love endures.
Six hundred years later Josephine Bonaparte, so moved by their story, ordered that the remains of Abelard and Heloise be entombed together at Pére Lachaise cemetery in Paris. To this day, lovers from all over the world make pilgrimages to visit the tomb where the remains of Heloise and Abelard rest eternally together.
The letters of Abelard and Heloise are in two collections. The first, consisting of only eight letters, was discovered within a century after Heloise died in 1163. This first collection of letters was written and exchanged some fifteen or sixteen years after their impossible love affair, when Abelard was in exile at a monastery in his home country of Brittany and Heloise was the abbess of his convent in Troy, France. Written in Latin probably in the year 1132, they were first published in Paris in 1616 and then in 1728 in England in their original Latin. These post-affair letters contain almost all the information we had about the famous couple. The second collection of letters was written and exchanged during their intense two-year love affair in Paris, when Abelard was her famous tutor and she his most gifted student. This second collection was accidentally discovered by a scholar in 1980, who was looking for an obscure Latin book from the fifteenth century, which was a collection of examples of how to write letters; correct forms of address, good style, etc. He soon discovered that these 113 Latin letters, originally given the anonymous title “From the Letters of Two Lovers,” were none other than those of Abelard and Heloise, writers who are simply: “The Man” and “The Woman.” These were published under the title of The Lost Love Letters of Abelard and Heloise in 1999. The first collection of the letters are now commonly known as the "later letters," while the second collection is known as the "early letters."
"Lady Reading the Letters of Heloise & Abelard" (1780)
Introducing the Gypsy Scholar's Essay-with-Soundtrack series— "The Impossible Love of Abelard & Heloise: the Letters of Love & the Love of Letters"
We know about the love story of Abelard and Heloise is because of the letters they exchanged, both during their two-year affair and some sixteen years later after the affair when they had entered the religious life. Thus, the impossible love affair of Abelard and Heloise was in its most basic sense a literary relationship, developed through the exchange of letters. And their impossible love story was intensified by the literary way the lovers wrote about themselves, especially Heloise.
I interpret this literary affair in a double sense; “letters” meaning both the epistolary form of private correspondence and learning. This second meaning is the way it was understood in the 12th century. In fact, this is what Abelard means by “letters,” when he states in his autobiographical letter about the young Heloise: “. . . in the extent of her learning she stood supreme. A gift for letters is so rare in women that it added greatly to her charm and had won her renown throughout the realm.” Hence my subtitle, “The Letters of Love and the Love of Letters,” reflects the twin theme of “letters” in the impossible love story of Abelard and Heloise—love expressed in letters and the love of learning; love and ideas; eros/amor and philosophy. (Epistolary or epistolatory: 1. associated with, conducted by, or suitable for letters; 2. taking the form of a letter or series of letters. Letters: 1. a personal and informal piece of correspondence addressed to another person or organization. 2. literature or literary culture; 3. knowledge and education.) This twin theme perfectly reflects the twofold concern of the Gypsy Scholar’s radio program —desire and knowing; the secret relationship between love and ideas. (“. . . the identity of desire and learning, of love and philosophy, Eros and Socrates.”)
Therefore, the new learning of the era in which the intellectual couple lived—the "twelfth-century Reniassance"—is the social and cultural background to the impossible love of Abelard and Heloise. This education in Latin "letters" manifested in something medievalists call “scholasticism," which laid the foundation for the rise of medieval humanism and its by-product of individual subjectivity. Therefore, if scholasticism stands for the love of learning, then the love letter stands for the learning of love, as displayed in literary background of the letters of Abelard and Heloise.
The Gypsy Scholar searches for the "Voice of Heloise" searching for lost love.
Heloise’s Lament and Complaint
Long after the secret love affair between teacher and student had been discovered, and the affair ending with Abelard's casration, the post-affair correspondence between the former lovers began. Due to abbot Abelard's autobiographical letter to a third party, abbess Heloise's response became both a lover’s lament and a lover’s quarrel, or, more precisely, Abelard’s and Heloise’s argument about love. In this epistolary argument we hear what can be called “Heloise’s Lament and Complaint,” which can be seen as a an instance of the genre the lover’s complaint in the tradition of troubadour courtly love that was soon to become so popular in southern France (Occitania) and later throughout European unrequited love literature (e.g., Shakespeare’s “Lover’s Complaint”). Heloise’s grief over her unrequited love also belongs in the genre of classical and medieval literature—the planctus (a lament, or song or poem which expresses grief or mourning, which became a popular form in the Middle ages, written both in Latin and the vernacular).
In many of the musical essays on the impossible love of Abelard and Heloise, Gypsy Scholar searches for the "Voice of Heloise" (and voice of the lover's lament and complaint) through a variety of unrequited contemporary love songs.
Thematic Images for "The Impossible Love of Abelard and Heloise"
Abelard and His Pupil Heloise (E. B. Leighton, 1882)
Abelard and Heloise French Scholar and Nun Embracing in the Scriptorium (E.F. Brickdale)
Abaelardus and Heloïse in manuscript Roman de la Rose (14th c.) debating love and marriage.
the Seine from Abelard's school on Montagne Sainte Geneviêve
the Seine from Abelard's school on Montagne Sainte Geneviêve
Paris from Montagne Sainte Geneviêve
Pictorial Impressions of Heloise & Abelard
"Heloise" (J. Chi)
"Heloise and Abelard" (J. Chi)
"Abelard and Heloise"
Some Books, Plays, Musicals, Dances, Poems, and Albums on Heloise & Abelard
Père Lachaise Cemetery, the final resting place for Abelard & Heloise
Tomb of Abaelard & Heloisa in Pere Lachaise Cemetery
Tomb of Heloise & Abelard Pere Lachaise Cemetery (1815-20)
THE CARMINA BURANA
Carmina Burana (Latin for "Songs, or Chants, of Beuern") is the name given to a manuscript of 254 poems, songs, and dramatic texts from the 11th or 12th century, although some are from the 13th century (circa 1230). The collection was found in 1803 in the Benedictine monastery of Benediktbeuern, Bavaria. Along with the Carmina Cantabrigiensia, the Carmina Burana is the most important collection of Goliard and vagabond songs. Most of the poems and songs appear to be the work of the Goliard poets in the thirteenth century, by students and clergy when the Latin idiom was the lingua franca across Italy and western Europe for traveling scholars, universities and theologians.
The Goliards were an assortment of clergy (mostly students), defrocked or renegade monks, wandering poets and minstrels, who satirized the Church and who venerated Peter Abelard. They called themselves "goliards," possibly after the name "Golias." (Abelard, once a "wandering scholar," was not the mysterious and infamous Arch-Poet of the Metamorphosis of Golias, published in the year Abelard died, 1142, but he may have been the original lord of misrule, the mythical "Bishop Golias," whose name became associated with the secular poetry of the Carmina Burana. "Bishop Golias" was the medieval Latin form of the name "Goliath," given to Abelard by his arch-enemy Bernard of Clairvaux, and is suggestive of the goliards posing as heavy drinking yet learned students who lampooned the ecclesiastical and political establishment.) Traditionally, the Goliards have been identified as "vagantes" ("wandering scholars," or vagrant students, vagabond monks and minor clerics), said to have been "better known for their rioting, gambling, and intemperance than for their scholarship." The poems and songs of the Goliards captured the adventurous world of dropouts and rebels from the medieval clergy, who were lovers and drinkers on the road, "celebrating existence rather than living the meditative, celibate life of the monastery." (Note: Not all "clergy" were monks, nor were they necessarily part of a religious order, since they could also be, like free-lance scholar Abelard, clerics or "clerks;" i.e., scholars.) The Goliards expressed themselves through poetry, song, and performance, much like the jongleurs (minstrels) of the period.
The collection preserves the works of a number of poets, including Peter of Blois (a student of Peter Abelard), Walter of Châtillon, and the anonymous one, referred to as the goliardic "Arch-Poet." The pieces were written almost entirely in Medieval Latin; a few in Middle High German, and some with traces of Old French or Provençal. Many are macaronic, a mixture of Latin and German or French vernacular. The manuscripts reflect an international European movement, with songs originating from Occitania (southern France, home of the troubadours), France, England, Scotland, Aragon, Castille and the Holy Roman Empire. Some scholars have suspected that the author of some of the songs in the Carmina is actually Peter Abelard (in the role of jongleur), who is known to have written love songs to Heloise, which are now lost. Thus attributed to Abelard are two songs (part of the grouping referred to as "Love Songs"): CB 62, "Dum Dianae vitrea" ("When Diana's silver light") and CB 57, "Hebet sidus" ("Dull Star").
The theme of Carmina Burana is spring, wine, love, all symbolic of ecstasy and divine creativity as well as pagan joy in the basic realities of life, the first principles of existence. Its writings were not what you would have expected to find in a monastery. The poems include the freshness of medieval love lyrics, exuberance of the drinking song, the zest of the sinner's "confessions," the wild humor of the hymns to gambling and gluttony, the stoic litany to Lady Luck ("Fortuna Imperatrix"). Sex is also a dominant theme in many of the songs, along with bawdy drinking songs on par with what you might hear at your local pub. We can imagine the members of the monastery not being too thrilled with this particular discovery. One might wonder why the supposedly pious and reserved monks would keep such a collection on hand. In the equally reserved climate of the 1800s, various translations were attempted. Translations were usually restricted to a very small portion of the collection, and most didn't attempt to copy the rhyme and rhythm of the original text (but did manage to minimize any bawdy references).
The Carmina Burana contains the main collection of "secular" (or "profane") poetry and song from the Middle Ages (if, of course, the poetry/song of the troubadours of the south of France is excluded). However, some of its material falls in between the genre of sacred and secular. It contains Latin plays on Biblical themes, pastoral and religious poems, recruiting songs for the Crusades, satires, and a large group of lively, sometimes licentious, love songs and drinking songs. It has become one of the best-known sources for medieval European literature.
Generally, the works contained in the Carmina Burana can be arranged into four groups according to theme: 55 songs of morals and mockery (CB 1–55), 131 love songs (CB 56–186), 40 drinking and gaming songs (CB 187–226), and two longer spiritual theater pieces (CB 227 and 228).
(This outline, however, has many exceptions. CB 122-134, which are categorized as love songs, actually are not: they contain a song for mourning the dead, a satire, and two educational stories about the names of animals. There also likely was another group of spiritual poems included in the Carmina Burana, but they have since been lost. The attached folio contains a mix of 21 generally spiritual songs: a prose-prayer to Saint Erasmus and four more spiritual plays, some of which have only survived as fragments. These larger thematic groups can also be further subdivided, for example, the end of the world [CB 24-31], songs about the crusades [CB 46-52] or reworkings of writings from antiquity [CB 97-102].)
Other frequently recurring themes in the Carmina Burana include: critiques on simony and greed in the church, that, with the advent of the monetary economy in the 12th cenutry, rapidly became an important issue (CB 1-11, 39, 41-45); lamentations in the form of the planctus, for example about the ebb and flow of human fate (CB 14-18) or about death (CB 122-131); the hymnic celebration of the return of spring (CB 132, 135, 137, 138, 161 and others); pastourelles about the seduction of shepherdesses by knights, students/clergymen (CB 79, 90, 157-158); and the description of love as military service (CB 60, 62, and 166), a topos known from Ovid's elegiac love poems. Ovid and especially his erotic elegies were reproduced, imitated and exaggerated in the Carmina Burana. In other words, for those unfamiliar with Ovid's work, depictions of sexual intercourse in the manuscript are frank and even sometimes aggressive. CB 76, for example, makes use of the lyrical I to describe a ten hour love act with the goddess of love herself, Venus. The Carmina Burana also contains numerous poetic descriptions of a raucous medieval paradise (CB 195-207, 211, 217, 219), for which the ancient Greek philosopher Epicurus, known for his advocation of the blissful life, is even taken as an authority on the subject (CB 211). CB 219 describes, for example, a vagrant order or "bawdy paradise" to which people from every land and clerics of all rankings were invited—even "priests and their wives" (humorous because Catholic priests must swear an oath of celibacy). In this parody world, the rules of priesthood include sleeping in, eating heavy food and drinking rich wine, and regularly playing dice games. In fact, this outspoken revelry of living delights and freedom from moral obligations shows "an attitude towards life and the world that stands in stark contrast to the firmly established expectations of life in the Middle Ages."
The manuscript of the Carmina Burana (abbreviated CB) was scribed in 1230 by two different writers in an early gothic minuscule on 119 sheets of parchment. In the 14th century, a folio of free pages, cut of a slightly different size, was attached at the end of the text. The handwritten pages were bound into a small folder, called the Codex Buranus, in the Late Middle Ages. However, in the process of binding, the text was placed partially out of order, and some pages were most likely lost as well. The manuscript contains eight miniatures (a term for drawings in illuminated manuscripts): the wheel of fortune (which actually is an illustration from the songs CB 14-18, but was placed by the book binder as the cover), an imaginative forest, a pair of lovers, scenes from the story of Dido and Aeneas, a scene of drinking beer, and three scenes of playing games – dice, ludus duodecim scriptorum, and chess.
Composer Carl Orff selected portions (24) of Carmina Burana for what became his most popular work, a "scenic oratorio" designed for the stage as well as for concert performance. It was first performed in 1936. Orff adapted some of the original medieval music, but most of the score was of his own design. Orff's Carmina is divided into three parts framed by a prologue and an epilogue. The last chorus,Fortuna Imperatrix Mundi, is a counterpart of the first, suggesting the turn of Fortune's wheel, indifferent to good and bad alike. The first main section, Primo vere, evokes budding, blossoming spring with a sequence of fresh-sounding quasi-folk dances. Part Two is an inebriated scherzo in which the tenor impersonates a roasted cygnet, the Abbot of Cockaigne encourages intemperance, and a final chorus sets the world reeling with merry-making. Part Three contains sublimely beautiful love songs, leading to Blanzifor et Helena, a high-summer celebration of love's consummation. At this dramatic climax, Fate again intervenes, spinning us back to the starting point.
Most people today only know it through the sudden popularity of one of its movements, Fortuna, Imperatrix Mundi, or simply O Fortuna (Fortuna meaning Fortune in Latin, as well as a Roman goddess). The composition appears in numerous movies, TV programs, and even commercials. For instance, it was first used as a soundtrack for the 1981 film Excalibur and the 1991 film The Doors. So it has become a staple in popular culture, setting the mood for dramatic or cataclysmic situations.
The songs of the Carmina Gallica ("Songs of the French;" from Gallic or Gaul, the Roman province) don’t quite fit into the historical progress that took music from Latin church compositions to vernacular courtly love songs; they fall into genres—the dance-like rondellus, the conductus, the motet, the sequence, and some just designated as chansons. The songs are primarily from the 12th century. They were written by highly educated clerics for their own amusement or for that of a lord. Some of the texts lie right in between sacred and secular, as they seem to condense the sacred-secular mixes of the polytextual motet into a single unified form of expression. They are all over the map when it comes to subject matter. Some are long, involved, ambitious religious poems. Some point clearly to the tradition of courtly love; some meditate gloomily on death.
The chansons "Vitam duxi," "Sevit aure spiritus," and "Spoliatum flore partum" were by Pierre de Blois. The chanson "Sic mea fata" was by Hilaire d'Orléans. Both of these composers were students of Peter Abélard.
Dante's Quest for Impossible Love
Dantis Amor Dante (Rossetti)
Dante & His Poem
Dante falls in love
Love (Eros) Smiteth Dante
Dante's Dream at Beatrice's Death
"Love's Pallor": Dante weeps & scribes
The Salutation of Beatrice
Beatrice, Queen of All Good
Meeting of Beatrice & Dante in Paradise
Dante & Divine Comedy
The Mission of Virgil
Cicle of Lustful: Francesca & Paolo
Souls in Hell
Angel Inviting Dante Into Fires of Purgatory
Dante Entering Fires of Purgatory
Ascent of Mount Purgatory
Beatrice Addressing Dante
Recording Angel of History
Vision of Deity
Dante in Dark Wood
Lucifer in lake of ice
"By that hidden way /My guide and I did enter, to return / To the fair world"
"Thence issuing we again beheld the stars"
Dante & Eagle
Vision of Beatrice
"And I beheld myself / Sole with my lady, to more lofty bliss / Translated"