07 February 2010

The Dark Wood of Error

In The Romance of Tristan and Iseult, after being condemned by the king for adultery, the two lovers escape the gallows, and, in the words of the poet,

"They wandered in the depths of the wild wood, restless and in haste like beasts that are hunted, nor did they often dare to return by night to the shelter of yesterday. They ate but the flesh of wild animals, and missed the taste of salt. Their faces sank and grew white, their clothes ragged, for the briars tore them. They loved each other and they did not know that they suffered."

This passage reminded me of the beginning of Dante's Divine Comedy:

Midway upon the journey of our life I found myself in a dark wood, where the right way was lost. Ah! how hard a thing it is to tell what this wild and rough and difficult wood was, which in thought renews my fear! So bitter is it that death is little more.

And so it was that Tristan, through his courtly love of Iseult, found himself in the dark wood of error. Dante, on the other hand, through his courtly love of Beatrice, was brought out of the dark wood and found what he was truly looking for: the love of Christ.

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