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Letter to Beatrice

Sunday, 22 March 2020 at 17:32

Poet and books on Dr John Dunn.









“In that book which is my memory,
On the first page of the chapter that is the day when I first met you,
Appear the words, ‘Here begins a new life’.”

Dante Alighieri, Vita Nuova

From your first knowing glance, the shell began to crack and Eros stood erect.

Now I know that all creation mythologies are personal mythologies.

Just as the stories of the gods twisted and turned, I became Psyche to your Eros.

Initiatory lust gone, you consigned me unblinded to Hades.

There I met other lost souls.

The myth has it that Eros returned to rescue Psyche, which in my mythology you did.

Wearing the blue of Mary, you held out your hand and offered salvation, and yet I turned to walk away.

Was not the hell of Francesca and Paolo an eternity of blissful togetherness?

You, Beatrice, ultimately frowned upon me and became a goddess.

Unrequited love is ever-living. I now know the eternal consequences of a chance encounter.

I want to see you again, but need I be like Orpheus? Will you vanish forever if I do look back?

Beatrice, salvific conflation of Eve and Christ, held out the hope of Paradise to Dante.

Will your saving hand reach out to me in Purgatory?

Held to the wheel of passion, you faced Eros well before you ever set eyes on me.

You returned to him once. Did you ever look back again? What happened to you? What on Earth happened to you? Tell me, please tell me.


© John Dunn.

Divine co-penetration

Wednesday, 18 March 2020 at 17:33

Beatrice on Dr John Dunn. Beatrice by Dante Gabriel Rossetti

Augustine knew that the mind must have the capacity for God (capax Dei) in order to recognise the presence of God, let alone even imagine that presence; and that this capacity for God must have something to do with the dialectical relationship with God, which is described by John as one of mutual indwelling, but only, and this is the key point, when love is accepted. ‘He that dwelleth in love dwelleth in God, and God in him.’ (1John 4:16) (from John Dunn, Child of Encounter, p.236)
The dialectics of love noted in my reading of John in the Bible find a precursor in Dante’s dialectical penetration of courtly love into the Bible and theologising of courtly love.

Dante’s La dispietata mente is a secular poem with latent theological content. There is a conflation of the human and the divine. In the poem, Dante compares the duty of the lady to the lover, who carries her image painted in his heart, to the duty of God to human beings, created in His image:

And more intensely is its pain inflamed
when I reflect, my lady, that it’s you inside
who’s painted by the hand of Love.
And so indeed you must devote
to its wellbeing much greater care,
for He from Whom we learn about the good,
holds us more dear because we bear His image
(La dispietata mente, 20−26)]


At the end of the Paradiso the image of the lady painted in the heart of the lover becomes the human image painted in the “heart” of the Trinity, that is, our image painted in Christ.

In Dante’s poem Donne ch’avete, Eros, or Love, affirms that the ‘cosa mortale’ (mortal thing) that is the Lady is so wondrous and pure that God means to make of her a new and wondrous thing ‘cosa nova’. She is a miraculous being but who has simultaneously the characteristics of a mortal woman.

Dante’s love for Beatrice was such that he regarded her as ‘cosa mortale’ and ‘cosa nova’, both part of and beyond the natural order. This is an implication that is carried over to the whole of humanity, as implied by the human effigy painted in the ‘heart’ of the Trinity, i.e. that human beings are simultaneously inside and outside of the natural order.

It is the definition of ‘human’ found in the ‘heart’ of the Trinity that is tied up with the experience of Eros, the saving devotion of the loverto his Lady; saving in the sense implied in Dante’s poem Lo doloroso amor in which he writes that if God does not pardon the soul its sins, it will depart with the punishments it deserves, but that in Dante’s case his soul will imagine his lady to such an extent that it will not feel any pain.

This same saving grace of Eros reappears in Paradiso 7

Beatrice didn’t let me suffer for long, and she began, dazzling me with a smile such that would make a man happy in the fire... (Par. 7:13-18)

The dialectics of love and mutual indwelling found in I John is reworked by Dante as the rhetoric of Eros in Paradiso. Speaking to Beatrice, Dante’s language expresses an erotic and divine co-penetration:

“God can see all,” I said, “and, blessed spirit,
your vision is contained in Him, so that
no wish can ever hide itself from you.
Your voice has always made the heavens glad
as has the singing of the pious fires
that make themselves a cowl of their six wings:
why then do you not satisfy my longings?
I would not have to wait for your request
if I could enter you as you do me.”
(Par 9: 73-81)


The poetic codes of courtly love in Paradiso express the mutual indwelling of Eros and divine love.


© John Dunn.

Eternal, wild, and infinite

Sunday, 15 March 2020 at 20:32

Beatrice on Dr John Dunn. The chance encounter connects our physical, sensible Erotic love with a cosmic love that is eternal Logos. In awakened passion, the eternal and the present truly find a meeting place. The first touch is sacred.

One of Rossetti’s paintings of Beatrice. Jane Morris as a goddess-like figure worthy of worship

Desire for Beatrice led Dante from the dark wood of Chaos to a conscious state of being. Before the chance encounter there was only the state of pre-being, i.e. the Chaos from which Eros burst free. Dante’s journey was one of Eros and first Creation.

It was in a brief meeting of eyes with Beatrice, a specific woman with her own peculiar existence, that the arrow hit. She was the particular creature through whom the divine revealed itself. Chaos, Eros, passion and new life was the Creation that resulted from the chance encounter.

Love is not abstract. Love is a specific person, living at a specific time, inhabiting a life of his own. Love is the passion and pain before new life. This was Dante’s journey as he was led by desire for Beatrice through the heavenly spheres, each of which perfected Eros

In the first canto of Paradiso, re-imagining the arrow of Eros as something received, Beatrice describes love as an arrow shot to heaven. Awakened to Eros, the true essence of Love escapes the human imagination. Love is eternal, wild, and infinite. God is Love.

© John Dunn.

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