- Literature and Love
A king heard talk of a princess’s beauty and fell in love with her. Then he gave up his throne and crown, and set out for a remote country to see her with his own eyes. But Prince Jan-e-Alam did something even more marvellous, for he fell in love with Anjuman Ara sight unseen, on the mere word of a parrot, and wandered from pillar to post, covered with dust, in search of her. Then, there was the prince who saw a form in a dream, and in the morning described her appearance to his father, saying, “If I marry, I will marry only her; if not, I will drown myself.” And there was the prince who saw a slipper and said, “If the slipper is like this, then what must its wearer be like?!” and gave himself up in love to the wearer.
It was not just princes: in those days everyone loved, and they loved in this way. A young woodcutter, while felling a tree, would hear a sweet voice. The voice would carry him away. “If the voice is such, then what must its owner be like?!” Then when he had finished slowly felling the tree, a gracious, fairy-faced woman would appear to him. I use the word gracious deliberately. A woman in those days could only be gracious—she could not love. And love has remained the business of men. If a woman takes part in this business, it is a favor; if she does not, there is no cause for complaint. And when both are “gracious,” then complaint is absolutely unbecoming.
Well, I was saying that love in those days was really and truly blind. Even the mere sight of the beloved was as good as the sweet wine of union with her. But who ever saw the beloved? The scent of her perfume drifted all around, but her appearance was never to be seen in the light. Perhaps I am speaking too poetically. To be prosaic: in those days man was blind, and woman was a dark continent. This dark continent both called out to man and frightened him. Its allure and fearfulness gave birth to enterprises, battles, and events, and blind love became the vision of the age. By its light people walked and did their work. By its light suicides took place, journeys were made, battles were fought, victories were achieved. One man became a martyr; another became a victor; another was called a divine incarnation. Whoever could not become a martyr, or victor, or incarnation wrote poetry and recited romances.
This was the age when man had firm faith in emotion. No one was at all ashamed to express himself emotionally. Lord Krishna was both the sage of the era and also a professional lover. It was faith in emotion that drew Achilles to the battlefield of Troy, and it was faith in emotion that made him [End Page 220] disgusted with battle. He grew angry, put aside his weapons, and said, “To hell with the honor of the Greeks! Agamemnon has taken away my beloved. I will fight no more.”
Wars create and destroy sensibilities. As goes the battle, so goes the mind. The tale of the siege of Troy gave birth to Homer. Homer’s faith in the meaningfulness of emotion was such that he believed an emotion-based battle was all-inclusive—so inclusive that by describing it, the poet could explicate the sentiments, feelings, beliefs, and concerns of his age. But World War II produced Albert Camus. He wrote The Outsider, and he said that every writer tries to give form to the emotions of his age: yesterday, the moving sentiment was love; today, the sentiments of nationalism and freedom have stirred up a storm in the world. It used to be that a man would kill himself for the sake of his beloved. Today, collective sentiments are the agents for worldwide destruction.
Camus does not believe that love is a contemporary sentiment. However, he is considerate. He has given you and me permission to love from time to time, providing we...