Old Courtly

A wonderful exchange on love, manhood, and womanhood, by Mark Helprin:

“I want to court you…to go slow, as you have never been courted. Every little thing. Every touch. Every word. I felt that the first time I saw you, as you were walking onto the ferry, before I had any reason.”

“We were told,” she began, “that courtly love…”

“Told by whom?”

“By our professors…that courtly love is twisted.”

“How so?”

“Demeaning. Controlling.”

He straightened in his seat, lifting himself until he seemed taller, unconsciously positioning his body as if for a fight – not with her, but with an idea. “I don’t know who told you, but I do know that whoever said this was an idiot who must never have seen anything, or risked anything, who thinks too much about what other people think, so much so that he’ll exterminate his real emotions and live in a world so safe it’s dead. People like that always want to show you that they’re wise and worldly, having been disillusioned, and they mock things that humanity has come to love, things that people like me – who have spent years watching soldiers blown apart and incinerated, cities razed, and women and children wailing – have learned to love like nothing else: tenderness, ceremony, courtesy, sacrifice, love, form, regard… The deeper I fell, the more I suffered, and the more I saw…the more I knew that women are the embodiment of love and the hope of all time. And to say that they neither need nor deserve protection, and that it is merely a strategy of domination, would be to misjudge the highest qualities of man while at the same time misread the savage qualities of the world. This is what I learned and what I managed to bring out with me from hell. How shall I treat it? Love of God, love of a woman, love of a child – what else is there? Everything pales, and I’ll stake what I know against what your professors imagine, to the death, as I have. They don’t have the courage to embrace or even to recognize the real, the consequential, the beautiful, because in the end those are the things that lacerate and wound, and make you suffer incomparably.”

– In Sunlight and In ShadowLeighton-God_Speed!

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