John William Waterhouse, "Dante and Beatrice"

I have spent weeks reading through Dante’s Divina Commedia. I even taught myself Italian – medieval, Florentine Italian – so that I could see and feel the rhythm and rhyme of the original words. It has been such a joy. I am having trouble leaving Dante behind.

Dante was a poet, philosopher, and theologian. His life was basically a wreck, ending in exile and poverty. He never married the woman he loved most in the world. Yet his work – his grand work, no less than cosmic in scale – lived on. He never doubted it would. He changed Western literature forever.

I entirely over-identify with Dante. His interests in art and theology, losing none of the artistic genius in the face of equal rigor of thought, is something I aspire to imitate. And I love that he loved. His devotion to Beatrice is fascinating to me. I refuse to care about any critique leveled against her, or him. They are wrong. They do not understand, and might never. It is simply a fact that Dante could not have achieved his synthesis, his cosmic synthesis, without her. Without the one who was never his.

God works strange graces through loss.

Now I, who must move forward to write and fix other things, must lose Dante. At least for a time.

In Purgatorio, Virgil vanishes when Dante sees Beatrice for the first time. The great poet, Dante’s hero, had accompanied him through the terrible conflagrations of his journey up until now. But now Virgil can go no further, and must leave. Dante, upon realizing that Virgil is gone, cries.

So I, without Dante – who has been my Virgil – feel like crying.

How will I finish my dissertation without my guide? Dante has Beatrice, and I have…

please don’t say, “Hans Urs von Balthasar.” I think I’ll sit on the banks of the Lethe, and cry.

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