Paul Claudel. Religion and the Artist: Introduction to a Poem on Dante. Communio 22, no. 2 (1995): 357-367 RT.

From the text:

Love, for Dante, is a full and integral love, the desire for the absolute good which was sparked in his heart by the innocent glance of a maiden. Fr. Lacordaire explains that there are not two different loves. Indeed, God’s love calls upon the same faculties in us as that of other creatures; it draws on that feeling we have that we are not complete alone, that the supreme good that will fulfill us is something beyond us, a person. But God alone is this reality, of which creatures are only an image – I say image, and not phantom, because the creature has its own personal beauty and its proper existence. The removal of this image, this betrothed, began Dante’s exile; and it is she who, outside the walls of an ungrateful homeland, invited him to the realm of the living.

Dante did not resign himself to separation from his beloved, and his work is nothing but an immense effort of the intelligence and imagination to reunite this world of trials, where he prepares himself, this world of effects which, seen from where we stand, seems the domain of chance and incomprehensible mechanisms, with the world of causes and final ends. His is a gigantic work of engineering to rejoin, to unify, the two parts of creation, to fasten them into one indestructible expression, and thus to achieve a hint of that vision of justice which another great poet says belongs to God alone.

And because the whole of the Divine Comedy finally resumes itself in the encounter between Dante and Beatrice, in the reciprocal effort of two souls separated by death in which each works to bring himself to the other in the solidarity of this world that each has endured, it is this essential encounter that I have tried in turn, after so many other readers, to imagine and to paint; it is this dialogue between two souls and two worlds which forms the subject of the poem to which these lines serve as introduction.

Dante speaks a verse inspired by the drudgery of this base and banal life, ultimately so foreign to the best nature in each of us. He too experienced the same exile that we do – one could say he is the paradigm of the exiled soul, banished from a world in which no part was large enough to hold him. Because he could not remake that world, Dante undertook to judge it and bring it onto the plane of justice to which Dona Bice had invited him. . . . (Full text).

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