“And yet, to say the truth, reason and love keep little company together nowadays. The more the pity that some honest neighbors will not make them friends.”
Shakespeare (Bottom, in A Midsummer Night’s Dream)
Lovers can be notoriously irrational. But is true love irrational?
In our age, as in all ages, what passes for love is not always true. It is not true inasmuch as it exceeds—or perhaps rather it falls short of—the right measure of love as determined by reason. For without measure, a thing cannot be itself.
This is a very difficult point inasmuch as love would seem to be precisely what draws us beyond the merely rational. Isn’t it love that frees us from the bonds of the mundane, the every-day? Isn’t it love that lifts a person above what seemed the limits of what he can rationally grasp and do? Isn’t it love that can finally bring out the inner self of the repressed or the painfully rational man?
Can one experience the great power and passion of love—including an aspect that simply ‘comes’ to us, and can sweep us off our feet, opening whole new horizons before us—and at the same time find and abide in the truth or the measure that gives love its real nature?
This is a central issue in life. It is a question that must be answered—at least by the integrity of our actions and relationships, even if not by full intellectual comprehension.
There is a way to love well, and there is a way to love badly, in loving others and self. True measure in love requires discipline and self-denial. Consistently. It is this that the romantic or the great proponent of free love proverbially misses or denies. Indeed, it is what we all can miss in various ways, to our detriment and that of those we love.
To impose, or rather to discover and enact the rational measure, is not to destroy the wild and free by imprisoning it in artificial bounds. Respecting rational measure makes for love that can really be itself, though this is mysterious and perhaps beyond full rational comprehension. This is how we receive the incomparable gift of love, which is a response from deep within us to the almost overwhelming beauty and goodness of persons and the life we can share with them. For at the end of the day, love is always about the persons loved and the persons loving, according to the truth of who they are and who they can be.
We can yet become, in Shakespeare’s words, the honest neighbors that show in our own lives, whatever our state in life might be, how love and reason actually are the best of friends.
Image: detail of Romeo and Juliet by Sir Francis Dicksee (English, 1853-1928)
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