Collect


Preface for Paschaltide

It is very meet, right, and our bounden duty, that we should at all times, and in all places, give thanks unto thee, O Lord, holy Father, almighty, everlasting God; but chiefly are we bound to praise thee for the glorious Resurrection of thy Son Jesus Christ our Lord; for he is the very Paschal Lamb, who was sacrificed for us, and hath taken away the sin of the world; who by his death hath destroyed death, and by his rising to life again hath won for us everlasting life.

Tuesday, January 31, 2017

Be Alert

Let him begin by treating the Patriotism or the Pacifism as a part of his religion. Then let him, under the influence of partisan spirit, come to regard it as the most important part. Then quietly and gradually nurse him on to the stage at which the religion becomes merely part of the ‘cause,’ in which Christianity is valued chiefly because of the excellent arguments it can produce in favor of the British war-effort or of Pacifism. The attitude which you want to guard against is that in which temporal affairs are treated primarily as material for obedience. Once you have made the World an end, and faith a means, you have almost won your man, and it makes very little difference what kind of worldly end he is pursuing. Provided that meetings, pamphlets, policies, movements, causes, and crusades matter more to him than prayers and sacraments and charity, he is ours—and the more ‘religious’ (on those terms) the better. I could show you a pretty cageful down here.
Your affectionate uncle
Screwtape


C. S. Lewis


✠     ✠     ✠


I’d like to address my fellow Christians, liberal and conservative. The last several days have scared me: not (primarily) what the administration has done, but the vitriolic, shrieking, arrogant spite I’ve been seeing from both sides of our political spectrum toward their opposites—even from many people that I regard as friends. To our shame, I have seen no difference between those of us who believe on Jesus and those who don’t.


So I’d like to make a few points. I do not write impartially; I certainly have a point of view. But I hope I write rationally, with an eye to truth rather than to my likings.


1. Conceding that someone could rationally disagree with you is not conceding the argument. Let’s suppose that you are right. (Of course you are.) Let’s suppose, also, that a reasonable person takes a different view than you do. We have now imagined a scenario that is possible and sometimes happens.


I say this because I’ve been seeing, over and over,1 memes and statuses to the effect of ‘If you really cared about X, you’d care about Y, but you don’t, so stop pretending you care about X when really you’re just [insert preferred genre of awfulness]!’ This is objectionable on many levels—not least of which is that running around accusing strangers of being remorseless liars is rather cockbaggish and not in the best of taste—but the worst thing about it, intellectually, is that it’s profoundly shallow. People could care about X for a multitude of reasons, some of which have no implications for Y at all; people could care about both X and Y for unrelated reasons. This reductio ad ad hominem doesn’t really grapple with the opponent’s views or reasoning, nor is it very likely to convince anyone of anything. It’s preaching to the choir—cheap, in every sense.


Here’s the thing, though. Suppose that any reasonable caring about X would logically involve you in caring about Y. Okay; does the person you’re talking to know that? The only way to find out is to ask them. And the most effective way of asking is going to be with good manners: i.e., posing a question rather than a challenge, and listening to the answer for its contents rather than its incrimination value.


2. Catholic teaching2 addresses not only individual virtue but social justice, and isn’t adequately represented by either party. Good things always start with an individual, because individuals are the only entities that can choose to do things. No system is a substitute for personal justice, generosity, and compassion, and every system that exists was designed and run by individual people. To assign all responsibility for social justice, or injustice, to the state is either naïveté or a sham. And to talk as though people who object to the state doing X are really objecting to X is neither fair nor intelligent.


However. Catholic teaching, especially the teaching promulgated by the Popes over the course of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries, has stated in no uncertain terms that the task of caring for the poor and vulnerable is something society as a whole is responsible for, not just individuals. In 1931, Pope Pius XI wrote:


One class, very small in number, was enjoying almost all the advantages …; the other, embracing the huge multitude of working people, oppressed by wretched poverty, was vainly seeking escape from the straits wherein it stood. Quite agreeable, of course, was this state of things to those who thought it, in their abundant riches, the result of inevitable economic laws, and accordingly—as if it were for charity to veil the violation of justice which lawmakers not only tolerated but at times sanctioned—wanted the whole care of supporting the poor committed to charity alone.3


When personal responsibility and hard work and charitable gifts have all had their say, there still remains a corporate duty—one that the government must attend to, and that its citizens must accept as citizens, not just as men and women—to relieve the destitute. Does that mean every possible form of relief, for everyone in the world, is the state’s obligation? No. But it does mean that we can’t casually, or indignantly, dismiss calls for official humanitarianism as though they weren’t the government’s business.


3. Violence provokes violence in response. After Richard Spencer, a prominent white supremacist,4 was punched in the face on TV after the inauguration, ‘Punch a Nazi’ became a meme. It wasn’t the first instance of violence I’ve encountered, on either side, but it seems to have raised the temperature considerably.


That’s really scary to me, because I not only don’t want the government exercising a fascist level of power, I also don’t want to see them given an excuse to do so. A punch in the face isn’t about justice, it’s about satisfying your outrage, and while that might make it more excusable it doesn’t make it better. Still less does it make it safer. If you’re worried that a government is turning authoritarian and could resort to false flags to bolster its power, giving them true flags is a very silly response.


4. The scale of an event often matters less than its context. The executive order that halted the settlement of Middle Eastern refugees5 in this country, while the vetting process is revamped, was, of course, perfectly legal. But when authoritarians take power, things usually do start quite small. It’s a procedural reform. It’s a leave of absence. It’s not a big deal. Because if and when it is a big deal, they’re not going to tell you that. They want you to be used to accepting this stuff as normal. Tyrants practically never take over by force: they get the populace to beg them to assume power.

EDIT: A couple of readers have pointed out that, given the judicial challenges it has already faced, the legality of the EO is in fact dubious. I thank them for reminding me of this.


Don’t just look at the order, in this or any case: ask what we were doing about it before, look to who profits, examine the voice as well as the words. And listen to the other things they plan to do; the means a person is willing to use is a measure of their character, and when a President, or anyone, openly advocates torture and the murder of foreign civilians, it ceases to be uncharitable to treat him with a modicum of suspicion. Don’t panic—but be alert.


✠     ✠     ✠


1I have, for the most part, been seeing this in the leftist response to Trump’s order halting the acceptance of refugees. But the syllogism is not reserved to anti-conservative use.
2This point will inevitably matter more to my Catholic readership than my Protestant. But on this subject, Catholic teaching is at any rate fairly representative of the views of most Christians at most times.
3Quadragesimo Anno §§3-4. I’ve adapted the punctuation a little for easier reading.
4To be fair, Spencer disavows the term white supremacist and prefers identitarian. To be even fairer, he has quoted from Nazi propaganda multiple times, advocated a white homeland, and called for a ‘peaceful ethnic cleansing’ (whatever the fuck that’s supposed to mean) to preserve white culture. So I find it hard to see the practical distinction.
5That is, refugees from certain countries (e.g. Syria, Iraq, Yemen). As far as I can tell, there is no relationship between the countries subject to the order and those whose citizens have committed terrorist acts on American soil in the past; Saudi Arabia and Egypt, for instance, were not subjected to the EO’s restrictions.

Thursday, January 26, 2017

Why I Am Pro-Life

‘I drowned a boy,’ Tarwater said.
‘Just one?’ the driver asked.
‘Yes.’ He reached over and caught hold of the sleeve of the man’s shirt. His lips worked a few seconds. They stopped and then started again as if the force of a thought were behind them but no words. He shut his mouth, then tried again but no sound came. Then all at once the sentence rushed out and was gone. ‘I baptized him.’
‘Huh?’ the man said.
‘It was an accident. … I only meant to drown him,’ the boy said.

Flannery O’Connor, The Violent Bear It Away, p. 209

✠     ✠     ✠

Trigger Warning: this post deals with abortion and rape, among other pleasant subjects. Read with caution.


HEY LOOK A DISTRACTION

Being pro-life in this country has come to mean something very weird and arbitrary under the capitalist influence of the GOP, especially since the War on Terror began. I’d like to explain not only why, but how, I am pro-life: partly because the anniversary of the Roe vs. Wade case just passed on the 23rd and the March for Life is tomorrow1; partly because I haven’t written about it before, out of timidity, and I felt it was time to fix that; and partly because I’d like to clearly articulate what I believe as distinct from what the Trump administration seems poised to enact.

The simplest part is why. I believe that everyone, from the moment they start being alive, has the right to life. If this isn’t granted, I don’t understand how any concept of human rights can hold together—what could we possibly have a right to if even our lives, when we are most innocent and most defenseless, are entirely negotiable?

Now, sometimes lives are in danger and can’t be saved, as in the case of ectopic pregnancies2; sometimes the only way to defend yourself from an aggressor is by killing him; there are such things as hard cases. But the basic premise, the one that has to lie beneath the complexity, is that human life is sacred.

One point that may need clearing up is that fœtuses are indeed alive. This is not a religious dogma, but an observation of medical science. So the ‘lump of tissue’ argument I’ve run across now and then isn’t a good one. A related argument I’ve occasionally heard is that the baby is part of the mother, but since it has its own DNA from the moment of conception, I don’t think that holds water either. Nor does saying ‘It’s not a baby, it’s a fœtus,’ because fœtus is just the name of a stage of development: it isn’t a different kind of thing, any more than an adult is a different kind of thing from a human.

There are a number of other pro-choice arguments in favor of the legality and morality of abortion. I won’t deal with the ones that seem transparently awful—as that babies are parasites that the mother has a right to divest herself of, which would seem to justify infanticide as well. I do not for one moment believe that a majority of pro-choice people, of either sex, believe that. And there is something cowardly in dealing only or primarily with an opponent’s weakest arguments.


LOOK AT THE CUTE PUPPY

The best argument I’ve heard so far came from a friend of mine, who posed me this thought experiment (I forget where he got it). Imagine that you’re knocked on the head, and when you wake up, you’re in a hospital bed with an IV that runs from your arm through a curtain to the next bed over. You ask a nurse what’s going on, and she explains that you’ve been hooked up to a man who needs to share your blood for the next nine months, or he will die.3 All of this has taken place without your consent, and, you know, you have a life which you’d like to live, for the next nine months as well as afterward. Do you have the right to pull that IV out and leave?

The analogy, of course, is to cases of rape. And rape and the mother’s life are certainly the two instances in which the argument for legal abortion is strongest.4 I touched on the latter above, and will repeat here that there are cases where the life of the fœtus can’t be saved, though this doesn’t entitle a person to take it away: you can do things to save the mother’s life, including extracting the baby, even knowing with near certainty that you won’t be able to save the baby’s life (which will hopefully become less true as medical technology advances). What you can’t do is deliberately kill the baby.


DUCKLINGS MAKE EVERYTHING BETTER

And I’m afraid I believe that holds in cases of rape, too. Even in the thought experiment, while I’m not certain, I don’t think you do have the right to pull out that IV and leave. And in the reality the thought experiment is about, we’re not talking about a stranger. We’re talking about a child, in the womb—the most intimate relationship in the world. Yes, the way in which that child was conceived was completely horrible; but that isn’t the baby’s fault. And I don’t believe that violating a woman’s motherhood will actually help her recover from having her personhood violated.


AAAAA

But I don’t just care about getting babies born. When I say I believe in the right to life, I mean life, not birth. And that means a lot of things that the Republican party, for nearly a century now, has been hostile to: in particular, it means making healthcare, food aid, and financial assistance readily available to expectant and new mothers (especially single mothers) and guaranteeing maternity leave,5 as well as making sure that giving a child up for adoption is feasible for women who aren’t ready to raise a baby, or who conceived due to rape. Crisis pregnancy centers provide some assistance, but they only have so much to work with resource-wise, and some of these things have to be enshrined in law if they’re going to happen at all.

In addition to all this, I think it’s important not to criminalize getting an abortion. I think performing abortions should absolutely be criminalized, because it’s taking a human life, i.e. murder. But the woman who gets an abortion for fun does not exist. Everything I’ve come across, whether in person or through reading, says that having an abortion is deeply traumatizing, and that women who get one mostly resort to it because they feel they have no other options. They don’t need a trial thrown on top of that.6 There are two victims in an abortion: the child and the mother. And the latter, in my opinion, has suffered enough from her experience.

And now, commence the river of flame that my social media will become. It was very nice knowing you all.

✠     ✠     ✠

1I will not be going to the March for Life; I’ve been in the past, and judging from those experiences, the point is to stand in the freezing cold on the National Mall for a couple of hours listening to a fury of self-congratulation, and then do the actual marching. The appeal of this is, to me, opaque.
2An ectopic pregnancy is the implanting and development of the fœtus outside the mother’s uterus, usually in the fallopian tube. The fœtus has to be removed, or the mother will die; unfortunately, the baby usually cannot be saved (though there are rare cases of survival).
3Hey shut up, it’s a thought experiment, it doesn’t have to be plausible.
4Incest is traditionally a third, but I’ve never quite understood why rape and incest are distinguished in this context. If the incest wasn’t consensual, then it’s rape, by definition. And if it was, then it may be gross but it’s still consensual sex, so I don’t see why it should get special treatment (or, if you prefer, why the baby should lack special treatment).
5I’d also be in favor of guaranteed paternity leave, though I consider it a slightly lower priority.
6I have similar thoughts about prostitution: I’d be hesitant about legalizing soliciting or purchasing the services of a prostitute, but I think I’d be in favor of decriminalizing being a prostitute. The way it’s done now, where (so far as I can tell) the johns usually get away with it while the hookers are treated as the scum of the earth, seems completely backwards to me.

Thursday, January 19, 2017

Two Sinners at an American Chapel

Love, we have been told, is slow to anger; it is, as a result, slow to forgive, for it will not be in a hurry to assume that there is anything to forgive; and if there is, it will not be in a hurry to make a business of forgiving. … The good manners of the City of God are supernaturally instinctive; the instinct of the new way of life should warn us of any approaching danger of pomposity or guile, and the danger is subtle. The new way—forgiveness, humility, clarity, charity—is there; it is the old man on the new way who is the tempter, and who beguiles us away from it while we think we are walking on it. … Rejoicing in other people’s iniquity, one way or another, is a not uncommon fault.

Charles Williams, The Forgiveness of Sins, pp. 161-162

It is, no doubt, impossible to prevent his praying for his mother, but we have means of rendering the prayers innocuous. Make sure that they are always very ‘spiritual,’ that he is always concerned with the state of her soul and never with her rheumatism. Two advantages will follow. In the first place, his attention will be kept on what he regards as her sins, by which, with a little guidance from you, he can be induced to mean any of her actions which are inconvenient or irritating to himself. … I have had patients of my own so well in hand that they could be turned at a moment’s notice from impassioned prayer for a wife’s or son’s ‘soul’ to beating or insulting the real wife or son without a qualm.

—C. S. Lewis, The Screwtape Letters III

✠     ✠     ✠

The Prayer of the Leftist


God, please, protect us from Drumpf. He’s an idiot—how could anybody vote for him! Racist, sexist, childish—rrgghhh! I am so angry with the people who voted for him! Bunch of backwoods morons and CEOs and white supremacists, overjoyed to finally have somebody who’s as evil as they are in the White House. And now we’re completely screwed. I never thought I’d live to see this kind of fear and animosity ruling America. Those stupid bastards! He’d better get impeached.

Who knows if he’d even notice, though. Guy’s got the attention span of a tossed salad. I am so scared of what he might do with our nuclear arsenal. Or his own twitter account—imagine the disasters he could manage with a few stupid, unretractable words to Xi Jinping or Salman Saud.

Just when everything was going so well, too. Obamacare was just implemented. We were all set to have our first female President. We’d ended … well, okay, we hadn’t ended the War on Terror, but we were close! We were doing better than we ever did under Bush, anyway! And now health care’s gone and education’s going, racism among the police is only going to get worse, everything the government does is going to favor big businesses at the expense of the poor. And they aren’t going to let any immigrants in no matter how badly they need refuge, just because their skin is brown! These people are disgusting! And they’re my neighbors, my relatives! How can I ever forgive them for this?

They don’t deserve to be forgiven. The only right they really seem to believe in is the right to bear arms; they deserve everything that gets taken from them by this administration. They’d better not come crying to me when the tables are turned, because I’ll look them right in the eye and say You did this.


The Prayer of the Nationalist


Lord, thank You for Donald Trump. Thank You for giving us a President who’s going to put America first, instead of constantly bashing our country and values and traditions. A President who’s pro-life, unlike that baby-killer Hillary. One who’ll defend traditional families and—well, he isn’t perfect, but he hasn’t done anything those nutjob liberals don’t expect us to praise other people for doing, and then they get mad, and even expect us to be, when he does them? Idiots.

Hardly surprising. All they can do is whine! They’ll moan about police violence against blacks, but with the way liberals are about guns, what do you expect? Nobody can defend themselves against the government without a gun. Or if you want to defend American lives overseas, or even come to the defense of countries or ethnicities that are being battered by foreign oppressors—like, say, the Coptic Christians in Egypt being screwed over by the Muslims—they instantly start screaming about imperialism! Or racism, since as far as they’re concerned everyone they don’t like is racist. Doesn’t matter if your closest friends are minorities, doesn’t matter if you married one, it doesn’t even matter when minorities flat-out tell them they’re wrong. They’ve got their religion of socialist politics, and their faith is blind. Except to Christians—oppression never matters if it’s oppression of Christians, like in Egypt or Indonesia or Pakistan.

They want a perfect world to come out of a microwave, without ever getting their hands dirty. Not any dirtier than a retweet. That’s why they all work in white collar jobs and despise anybody who’s less educated than they are. Real, hard work is embarrassing to the likes of them.

All they can do is talk about what’s wrong with America. No gratitude for how good they’ve got it here. No respect for the sacrifices other people made to give them such a nice life. They’re all talking about running away, moving to Canada! Good riddance is what I say. Oh, you don’t like America, you self-righteous jackasses? Well, there’s the border! See if you find anywhere better!

Tuesday, January 10, 2017

The Poems of Charles Williams, Part Three: The Beatrician Vision

The Beatrician experience may be defined as the recovery (in respect to one human being) of that vision of reality which would have been common to all men in respect to all things if Man had never fallen. The lover sees the Lady as the Adam saw all things before they foolishly chose to experience good as evil … The great danger is lest he should mistake the vision which is really a starting point for a goal; lest he should mistake the vision of Paradise for arrival there. He must follow this road till it leads him to the Byzantine precision. … The Beatrician experience does not usually last … The glory is temporary; in that sense Beatrice nearly always dies. But a transitory vision is not necessarily a vision of the transitory. … The phenomenal Beatrice—Beatrice as she is in this fallen world—has for an instant been identical with the real Beatrice—Beatrice as she (and all things) will be seen to be, and always to have been, when we reach the throne-room at Byzantium. The precise moment at which the phenomenal Beatrice loses her identity with the real one is a repetition of the Fall …

C. S. Lewis, Arthurian Torso, “Williams and the Arthuriad,” pp. 116-117


✠     ✠     ✠

I’ve written a little already about Williams’ Arthurian cycle, contained in the two volumes Taliessin Through Logres and The Region of the Summer Stars. I’d like to continue my analysis, turning now to his doctrine of romantic love as expressed there.

Doctrine is not too strong a word. Williams was a thoroughgoing Neoplatonist, and considered every earthly good a ‘preparatory form’ of the universal Good, i.e. God. The two ways of communion with God—renouncing earthly goods, like the hermit, or embracing them, like the husband—must both acknowledge their reality and objective good-ness. The hermit may renounce them in his preference for the final reality, but he must not condemn or despise them; the husband may embrace them in legitimate delight, but must not content himself with them as though they could finally deserve his whole worship or satisfaction. And, as many works have been written on ascetic theology, so Williams wrote on romantic theology: the way of the affirmation of images, as asceticism is the way of the renunciation of images.

The Romantic Way experiences its object in a certain mode. This can be a person (like Beatrice for Dante, or in a quite different way, Frodo Baggins for Samwise Gamgee), or a thing (like nature of Wordsworth, a favorite reference point of Williams); its key quality is that all goodness is understood through it and in relation to it. It is a kind of temporary theophany.


Tristan and Isolde [or Iseult], Herbert Draper, 1900

Williams describes Sir Palomides, a Saracen knight who joined the Round Table, meeting Queen Iseult of Cornwall between her husband, King Mark, and her lover, Sir Tristram, and falling in love himself:

I saw the hand of the queen Iseult;
down her arm a ruddy bolt
fired the tinder of my brain
to measure the shape of man again;
I heard the king say: ‘Little we know
of verses here; let the stranger show
a trick of the Persian music-craft.’
Iseult smiled and Tristram laughed.
Her arm exposed on the board, between
Mark and Tristram sat the queen,
but neither Mark nor Tristram sought
the passion of substantial thought,
neither Mark nor Tristram heard
the accent of the antique word.
… Blessed (I sang) the Cornish queen;
for till to-day no eyes have seen
how curves of golden life define
the straightness of a perfect line,
till the queen’s blessed arm became
a rigid bar of golden flame
where well might Archimedes prove
the doctrine of Euclidean love,
and draw his demonstrations right
against the unmathematic night …1

In Iseult’s body, Palomides sees the logic of the universe. Her arm exhibits the Logos to him, the Word of the Father, and to that extent he is momentarily converted: God-made-flesh is a beheld and believed reality.

But neither vision nor belief lasts. The former passes, and the latter is forsaken with it. We experience the fall, the loss of the glory, with a renewal of terror:

In the summer house of the Cornish king
suddenly I ceased to sing.
Down the arm of the queen Iseult
quivered and darkened an angry bolt;
and, as it passed, away and through
and above her hand the sign withdrew.
Fiery, small, and far aloof,
a tangled star in the cedar roof,
it hung; division stretched between
the queen’s identity and the queen.


It’s too familiar. How many couples have we known who’ve broken up, even by the violent, organic schism of divorce, because one or the other is no longer in love? How many times have we ourselves met someone who used to be enchanting, and found them suddenly vacant of that radiance? The contrast is a shock, sometimes to the point of being actively disgusting.2 And Palomides, lacking either habitual grace or the theology of romantic love to guide him through the occlusion of the glory, pursues what little he still perceives:

Relation vanished, though beauty stayed;
too long my dangerous eyes delayed
at the shape on the board, but the voice was mute;
the queen’s arm lay there destitute,
empty of glory …
Cœlius Vibenna over the dead
cast the foul Chthonian spells,
on ghost and bone and what lingers else;
… the Pope in white, like the ghost of man,
stood in the porch of Lateran;
and aloof in the roof, beyond the feast,
I heard the squeak of the questing beast,
where it scratched itself in the blank between
the queen’s substance and the queen.3

None of the knights of the Round Table have been able to capture the Questing Beast. Palomides, who being still unbaptized is not yet eligible for the Table, decides to do so—he becomes obsessed with it.

I determined, after I saw Iseult’s arm,
to be someone, to trap the questing beast
that slid into Logres out of Broceliande
through the blank between the queen’s meaning and the queen.

Having that honour I would consent to be christened,
I would come then to the Table on my own terms …
But things went wrong; Tristram knocked me sprawling
under the tender smile of Iseult; my manhood,
chivalry, and scimitar-play learned from the Prophet,
could not gain me the accurate flash of her eyes.

Once I overthrew Lancelot by cheating at a tourney,
whence, enraged, fleeing, I was taken by pirates;
Lancelot freed me—he rode on to Carbonek;
did I smile when I heard that he my saviour was mad?

For bees buzzed down Iseult’s arm in my brain;
black gnats, whirring mosquitoes …
and I thought if I caught the beast they would cease certainly.
… There would be nothing but to admire the man
who had done what neither Tristram nor Lancelot did.4

Smarting under the loss of Iseult before he has even gained her, and unable to conceive the Dantean road of love as intellectual adoration without carnal consummation, Palomides has attempted the egoïst’s compensation of proving his worth before conceding that worth to others; and, though baptism is oriented to God, in Christendom it is inevitably a concession to one’s fellow Christians as well.

So the Questing Beast is met in the blank between / the queen’s substance and the queen—i.e., in the moment when the meaning of the beloved and her person are perceived as horribly separate—because it is a symbol of ‘the conversion of the Godhead into flesh,’ the theory of the Incarnation which the Athanasian Creed specifically disclaims. It is an attempt to reclaim the Beatrician vision by force: an attempt to make love operate entirely in terms of appetite.


He tries to defeat Tristram and so win Iseult’s love, but is beaten himself; he tries to triumph over Sir Lancelot, the finest of Arthur’s knights, so salvaging his ego, yet he can do so only by cheating, and is then rescued by him—the secret and the public humiliations coïnhere. Neither erotic consummation nor knightly glory is available to him any more. And in pursuing the Questing Beast at all, Palomides rejected the possibility of erotic love as a way of the soul: renouncing carnal enjoyment of the beloved, but remembering the vision of her identity and simply rejoicing in that beauty, maintaining faith in the queen’s substance even when it is obscured by the queen.

This may sound like a fantasy, but minds like Charles Williams, C. S. Lewis, and Dorothy Sayers all accepted it. The idea that sex is, for a lover, kind of beside the point (however licit and fun it might be) goes right back to the troubadours. They didn’t all agree, but there were those among them for whom the simple contemplation of glory in the beloved was the essential end of courtly love, and everything else was icing. A culture like ours, in which egalitarianism and sexual satisfaction are the basic standards of happiness, is almost unable to believe that somebody could feel that way.5 But the poets and their commentators tell us that it was a real phenomenon—the Divine Comedy is about that very thing—and facts don’t have to be likely or even comprehensible.

✠     ✠     ✠

1The Coming of Palomides ll. 35-48, 55-64.
2The disgust may be reasonable: romantic love is no respecter of persons, and can be felt for someone who is, in their phenomenal identity (i.e. the person we meet), ghastly. The next poem in Taliessin, ‘Lamorack and the Queen Morgause of Orkney,’ deals with just such a love—even in the throes of his devotion, Sir Lamorak doesn’t consider Morgause beautiful or good, but he is overpowered by the experience of her nonetheless. But this disgust may also be a mundane result of suddenly seeing the flaws we had formerly missed or deliberately ignored in the excitement of eros; or, it may be an expression of the horror of suddenly lacking the vision of glory that had inhered in the beloved, perhaps mere moments ago.
3The Coming of Palomides ll. 65-69, 76-78, 81-86. Cœlius Vibenna was an Etruscan noble and a friend of Romulus; the Etruscans were notorious sorcerers, and introduced divination by entrails to Rome. Chthonian is a reference to Vibenna’s magic (from the Greek χθών chthōn, ‘deep earth, under-soil’)—gods such as Hades, Persephone, Hecate, and the Furies were chthonic.
The Questing Beast, also called the Blatant Beast or Beast Glatisant in some Arthurian sources, is an interesting, difficult symbol. It is usually depicted similarly to the ancient Egyptian serpopard. The names blatant and glatisant come from archaic words meaning ‘yelping’ or ‘barking’ (glapissant in Old French, while blatant is related to the word bleat). I think the interpretation I’ve provided here is accurate, but I’m sure others are possible.
4Palomides Before his Christening ll. 9-14, 17-26, 28, 31-32.
5‘How are these gulfs between the ages to be dealt with by the student of poetry? A method often recommended may be called the method of The Unchanging Human Heart. … Just as, if we stripped the armor off of a mediæval knight or the lace off of a Caroline courtier, we should find beneath them an anatomy identical to our own, so, it is held, if we strip off from Virgil his Roman imperialism, from Sidney his code of honor, from Lucretius his Epicurean philosophy, and from all who have it their religion, we shall find the Unchanging Human Heart, and on this we are to concentrate. … But how if these [“lowest common multiples”] are not really the most important elements in the actual balance of the poem we are reading? Our whole study of the poem will then become a battle between us and the author in which we are trying to twist his work into a shape he never gave it …
‘Fortunately there is a better way. Instead of stripping the knight of his armor you can try to put his armor on yourself; instead of seeing how the courtier would look without his lace, you can try to see how you would feel with his lace; that is, with his honor, his wit, his royalism, and his gallantries out of the Grand Cyrus. I had much rather know what I should feel like if I adopted the beliefs of Lucretius than how Lucretius would have felt if he had never entertained them. … To enjoy our full humanity we ought, so far as is possible, to contain within us potentially at all times, and on occasion to actualize, all the modes of feeling and thinking through which man has passed. … For the truth is that when you have stripped off what the human heart actually was in this or that culture, you are left with a miserable abstraction totally unlike the life really lived by any human being.’ From C. S. Lewis’ Preface to ‘Paradise Lost,’ pp. 62-64.