Relevant media

Love is a pretty universal experience, and as a result there's a wide range of materials out there that deal with the subject. Movies and music get the most exposure in contemporary Western society, but it really runs the whole gamut of humanity's artistic expression. I've gathered here some references to and excerpts from creative work on the subject of the joys and sorrows of loving another. Some of it is specifically geared to unrequited love, but not all.

MUSIC - I'm providing my own, personal master list of painful music, which lists those songs with which I masochistically bombard myself when I'm feeling lonely or sad. There's also a much briefer list (for now, at least) of songs recommended by visitors. I want to give a few of the better or more obscure wallowing pieces a spotlight here, though:

COMICS - One of my favorite comic strips is Liberty Meadows, by Frank "Monkey-Boy" Cho. It used to run in some newspapers, but is now available only in comic book collections. (The author got sick of tailoring his strip to pass the censors at his syndicator.) One plot thread which ran for a long, long time was that the vet, Frank, and the animal psychiatrist, Brandy, both had secret crushes on each other (although usually not at the same time). Here are a few cute strips that struck a chord with me. The first two are from the hardcover collection, The Big Book Of Love, and the third is from issue 31 of the ongoing comic from Image. You can click the strips to see larger versions.

[A trumpeting cherub appears when Brandy touches Frank.]

[Frank turns down social opportunities to do work, until he gets an invitation from Brandy.]

[Brandy struggles to pick up the phone and call Frank.]

MOVIES - As with music, there's simply way too many sappy movies for me to provide a comprehensive catalog. So, this is a highly-truncated list, focusing mainly on unrequited love.

LA VITA NUOVA - The great poet Dante Alighieri is most famous for The Divine Comedy in which he recounts a journey through Heaven, Purgatory, and Hell. Throughout his life, though, the greatest and most persistant inspiration for his work was a woman named Beatrice, to whom he completely devoted himself essentially from the time of their first meeting, when he was less than nine years old. Apparently, she was the sister of one of his closest friends, but he and she were little more than acquaintances. And yet, he loved her with all his heart for his entire life, long past her death. If this story were told in a modern setting, I suppose Dante could come off as incredibly creepy and pathetic... as it is, though, the story of Dante and Beatrice is presented only in his book, La Vita Nuova, and instead he appears like a tragic hero, chivalrously devoted and completely at Love's mercy. He is the ultimate extension of the generic male lead in any modern romance film.

This book was written as a manual of sorts for aspiring poets, and Dante uses some of his many love poems about Beatrice as the examples. Before and after each poem there is a passage of prose in which he explains the context of the poem in terms of the events which inspired him to write it, and also describes each poem's structure. These poems -- and some of the prose -- are by far the most beautiful and profound words on the subject of love which I have ever come across. Reading it is, at times, almost unbearable, such as with this passage from a canzone in chapter XXXIII, where he describes his grief at her passing:

When I recall that nevermore, alas!,
That lady shall I see
On whose account I mourn with such dismay,
My grieving thoughts about my heart amass
Such sorrow that I say:
'My soul, why dost thou not depart from me?'

Earlier, before she had fallen ill, he described her power to change those who beheld her in this manner: I say in truth that she appeared so gracious and in every way so pleasant that those who looked at her experienced in themselves a sweetness so pure and gentle that they were unable to describe it; and there was no one who could look at her without immediately sighing. These and more marvellous things resulted from her influence. (XXVI: 14-20) In a similar vein, he also said, Whenever and wherever she appeared... I glowed with a flame of charity which moved me to forgive all who had ever injured me. (XI: 1-5.) And then, So it is plain that in her greeting resided all my joy, which often exceeded and overflowed my capacity. (XI: 20-22.)

Throughout the book, Dante often personifies Love as a spirit or god who claimed dominance over Dante's soul upon his childhood meeting with Beatrice. Love himself has fallen for Beatrice, and is only able to live out these feelings by inhabiting Dante's body and experiencing life through him. Dante's feelings for Beatrice are completely beyond his own control. He is at Love's mercy; a willing slave, but a slave nonetheless. Dante also personifies different aspects or "spirits" of his mind and body. For example, when he describes that first meeting with Beatrice, he reports that the spirit of his heart trembled and uttered (in Latin) Behold a god more powerful than I who comes to rule over me. His mind, speaking to "the spirits of vision" then says (also in Latin) Now your source of joy has been revealed. (Both II: 18-24)

As a young adult Dante once attended a party where he discovered Beatrice to also be in attendance. He writes this description of his state upon learning she was there: Then my spirits were so routed by the power which Love acquired on finding himself so close to this most gracious being that none survived except the spirits of vision; and even they were driven from their organs because Love himself desired to occupy their noble place in order to behold her who inspired such wonder. (XIV: 25-31) He then proceeds to make such a fool of himself that a friend drags him from the room and away from the group of women (including Beatrice) who have started to mock him. Dante flees from the party in shame, retreating to his "room of tears" where he writes a poem which, basically, says "if you understood how much I loved you, you would stop laughing at me and feel pity". This man is clearly Love's fool.

You may note that some of these quotes are rather similar to things I've written here and there throughout the site; in fact, many of the phrases I use as a substitute for "Adored One" are inspired by or taken directly from Dante. This book had an enormous effect on me. As my last example of its greatness, and my last pitch for everyone visiting this site to go out and pick a copy up, I'll quote a stanza from a canzone in chapter XIX. Here, Love himself stands in awe of Beatrice's virtues:

Love says of her: 'How can a mortal thing
Have purity and beauty such as hers?'
Then looks again and to himself he swears
A marvel she must be which God intends.
Pearl-like, not to excess, her colouring,
As suited to a lady's face, appears.
She is the sum of nature's universe.
To her perfection all of beauty tends.
Forth from her eyes, where'er her gaze she bends,
Come spirits flaming with the power of love.
Whoever sees her then, those eyes they prove,
Passing within until the heart each finds.
You will see Love depicted in her face,
There where no man dare linger with his gaze.

NOTE: My Dante quotes come from a 1969 translation by Barbara Reynolds. Obviously, if you read a different translation, there will be some variations from what I've written here.

NOTE 2: I discovered this book thanks to an episode of Star Trek: Voyager which misquotes it. According to Voyager, the book opens thusly: 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. Those words are quite beautiful, and it was on their merit alone that I went out to find the book. It's a description of how meeting someone can turn you into someone new and make everything that came before seem meaningless. The true opening of the book, though, is not even remotely about Beatrice, or even love. It says: In the book of my memory, after the first pages, which are almost blank, there is a section headed 'Incipit vita nova'. Beneath this heading I find the words which it is my intention to copy into this smaller book, or if not all, at least their meaning. It's still a lovely group of words, but a little disappointing in comparison.

* What's .ogg? "OGG Vorbis" is a sound format, like mp3, and most current media players (including Zinf/Freeamp and Winamp 2.80 and above) can play OGG files with no additional software. The difference between OGG and MP3 is that OGG is an open format that will never cost money. MP3 is owned by Thomson Multimedia and the Fraunhofer Institute, and they have to be paid royalties for every MP3 player and encoder bought or downloaded. Visit the Vorbis website to learn more about it. If your media player of choice doesn't support OGG natively, you can download the codec you need, too.

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Last modified on 2005-February-05.