There is a soft and gentle wanting—
to hold, even to touch, the painted hand.
It is a shamed yet pleasant haunting—
to reach, unseen to brush, the fallen strand.
Her knee just shows between the boot and skirt
and eyes flirt with the hemmed in edges of
a beautiful impasse, a treasured hurt,
for he calls one, and she another, “Love.”
There is danger in the space between;
they spoke vows, all others to forsake.
Yet undressed shadows cast upon a screen
resurrect an often murdered ache
that is in earthly life reserved for one.
But after this, what joys will be outdone?
Dante Alighieri, the Italian poet who wrote the Divine Comedy, met a woman name Beatrice twice in his youth and nurtured an infatuation for her for the rest of his life despite the fact that they were each married to other people. I wrote this poem in part to reflect on the treacherous affection prohibited in the ten commandments, “thou shalt not covet thy neighbors wife,” that is—perhaps comically—represented in Dante’s personal life; he dedicated another of his major works, La Vita Nuova, to Beatrice rather than his wife. And yet, it is not entirely comical, as honest married people can attest. The vows to forsake all others do not make the attractive forces that cause you to notice a pretty girl in the park disappear; wedding rings bear no magic power. The vows are there to preserve wandering humans when we do not feel like treasuring the one we are promised to, when others compete for our affection.
I am not immune to Dante’s temptation and have, in seasons, pined for women who are not my wife (the indefinite ‘A Dante’ in the title of this poem is an attempt to generalize the sentiment beyond the historic Dante to encompass all men, including myself). What I have had to learn is that the confinement of marriage, however prolonged and deadening it may seem during a season, is designed to teach me of the inviolate faith that God keeps with and expects from his people. It is a confinement that keeps me safe and makes me truer than I would otherwise be in this fallen world. The intimacy reserved for and concentrated within that relationship would do damage outside of such confinement.
And yet, intimacy is a beautiful thing born in the glory of God. Should it not be shared liberally? When Jesus states that in the resurrection humans will be like the Angels and will not marry does he insinuate that the intimacy enjoyed in marriage will be absent from heaven? I would find such withholding hard to believe from a God who lavishes so richly upon his people. My suspicion, and it is only a suspicion, is that in Heaven the curse that frustrates all of our human relationships will be so entirely removed that there will be no need for romantic exclusivity. In a new earth where all hearts have already been trained exclusively upon the Creator the level of intimacy between all of the people of God will surpass that which is currently enjoyed between married couples. We will be free to admire and enjoy all that is admirable, including one another.