The "Impossible Love"
of the Troubadours
Re-Vision Radio's Quest for "Impossible Love"
Because "There Ain't No Cure" (a la Leonard Cohen) for IMPOSSIBLE LOVE, the Gypsy Scholar presents the theme of IMPOSSIBLE LOVE though his Orphic Essay-with Soundtrack. The Gypsy Scholar would remind his listeners that there's a place other than the one of our daytime routine —a "somewhere else"— , where we also long to belong and need to go to from time to time. The Gypsy Scholar knows "that we are reminded of this place by a song we hear on the radio," and that we can even go there through the gateway of song(s) we hear on the radio. In the Gypsy Scholar's lexicon, that "place," that "somewhere else" is the Tower of Song.
"There is no cure for impossible love when it revolutionizes our lives. When it leads to the future as well as into the past, when it cannot be comprehended on a purely personal level, then it is not an illness, but an initiation. Initiation into depths, but also into longing, and this will not, should not, ever cease. This longing keeps us in proximity to our souls. It reminds us, as we conscientiously go through the obligations and activities of every day, that there is a place, a somewhere else where we also belong and need to go to from time to time. We are reminded of this place by a song we hear on the radio, a sentence we read in a newspaper, a picture on a subway wall, a memory brought to life by a smell. We usually associate this longing with the human object of our impossible loving, but such reminders may also evoke a time —a year of happiness long forgotten— or a place —a country loved and left — or an activity — music embraced and then given up. In fact, when we can actually go to that place, do that activity, re-create all the elements of that happy time, we find that it's not that either. Even if an impossible love becomes possible, our longing will still be there. It will simply change form, reminding us that we are never quite all here and that part of us always belongs to an Other." ~Jan Bauer
The excesses of the passion of Love (Amor) has been explored, from the Troubadours to the Romantics, as “Unrequited Love” and “Transgressive Love” (love that exceeds the accepted social and moral boundaries), even conceiving of love as a “madness” or “sickness.” However, this was re-visioned by the Troubadours of fin' amor as the great paradox of love; you couldn't have the ecstatic "rose" (the "beloved") without its wounding "thorns." For these Troubadours, the reigning god of love, Eros, is the arrow, the disease, and the cure.
Thus, the following from two troubadours:
"He knows little of love who does not await mercy, for love desires us to suffer and to wait; then in a little time love repairs and amends all the pain he has made us endure so long, and that is why I prefer to die having known true love than to live with a high heart empty of love, for so love fated me from the beginning,"
"Blessed be the pains, the sorrows and the cares which I have long suffered cause of love. Because of them I taste a thousand times more intensely the good which love now makes me feel. So much do the ills of the past cause me to enjoy my present happiness that it seems to me that if there were no evil one would hardly be able to savor the good. Thus evil enhances the good and therefore should be welcomed when it comes."
So we find the same paradoxical ideal in Wolfram's Parzival Trevrizent the hermit says to Parzival:
"The spear had to be thrust into the wound; then one pain helped the other, and from this spear became blood-red... What wondrous things this poison can do. From sorrow they received their wages, for the spear which pierced their hearts to the core carried away their joy. Then in the constancy of their grief they were baptized anew."
Then there's the following from Chreitien De Troyes, the great medieval romance writer:
"From all other ills doth mine differ. It pleaseth me; I rejoice at it; my ill is what I want and my suffering is my health. So I do not see what I am complaining about; for my ill comes to me by my will; it is my willing that becomes my ill; but I am so pleased to want thus that I suffer agreeably, and have so much joy in my pain that I am sick with delight."
The same sentiment can be found from a later Baroque poet in this love tradition, Richard Crashaw:
"For in Love’s field was never found / A nobler weapon then a wound. / Love’s passives are his activ’st part, / The wounded is the wounding heart."
The poet Novalis carries this troubadour paradox of love into the 18th century and the Pre-Raphaelite poet, Dante Gabriel Rossetti, carries it into the 19th:
"Whoever flees pain / will love no more./ To love is always / to feel the opening / to hold the wound / always open."
"Beyond the sphere which spreads to widest space / Now soars the sigh that my heart sends above ; / A new perception born of grieving Love / Guideth it upward the untrodden ways."
Finally, this troubadour paradox of love finds its champion in the 20th century with the modern troubadour, Leonard Cohen:
"… The thorn of the night in your bosom / The spear of the age in your side / Lost in the rages of fragrance / Lost in the rags of remorse / Lost in the waves of a sickness / That loosens the high silver nerves … // And leave no word of discomfort / And leave no observer to mourn / But climb on your tears and be silent / Like a rose on its ladder of thorns …."
"Love Wounds" (Bouguereau 1897)
Lancelot and Guinevere
Plato's primordial Androgyne
In search of the "Beloved," Re-Vision Radio, quests back--"way, way back"--to Plato's myth (in the Symposium) of the primordial Androgyne. According to the myth, human beings were once androgynous--both male and female. These round beings--"man-woman children of the Moon"--were so powerful that the gods became jealous and cut them in half. From then on, each half passionately longed for its lost other half.
"Each of us, when separated, having one side only ... is but the indenture of a man, and is always looking for his other half.... And when one of them meets with his other half, the actual half of himself ... the pair are lost in an amazement of love and friendship and intimacy, and one will not be out of the other's sight, as they say, even for a moment...."
Thus, this may be the origin of the belief--found in many cultures--that every male and female on earth has a "heavenly counterpart." This, of course, is associated not only with the modern psychological idea of the "psychic other" (Jung) in each gender (anima/animus), but also the popular (new-age) idea of the "soul mate."
This ancient mythic theme has taken many forms over the ages. Sometimes the person dreamt of a supernatural lover and sometimes the person actually meets the supernatural lover, who oftentimes was actually a "fairie." (Given that the medieval narratives of the "unhappy love" of Tristan & Iseult--"an old tune so full of sadness"--were taken from an older Celtic legend, the mythogem of the "fairie" is retained in that Iseult's mother was a sorceress--she prepared the magic love-potion--and by hints that Iseult was a fairy-queen.) The legend became especially popular as a subject of poetry in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries with the Romantics. Keats' "Eve of St. Agnes" and "La Belle Dame Sans Merci" are good examples of the poetic treatment of the theme. In the former, the lady to be wed meets the supernatural lover through a dream, and in the latter, darker poem, a knight is pinning away to death because he met a beautiful, wild-looking woman in a meadow who, although she spoke a language he could not understand, sang him a mysterious song. He is bewitched and finally kisses her to sleep, and then falls asleep himself. Awakening later, the woman was gone, and the knight is left alone on the cold hillside.
In the medieval romances (e.g, Tristan & Isolde) and these Romantic (e.g., "La Belle Dames Sans Merci") poems, the more tragic aspects of Romantic Love--impossible love--are emphasized.
IMPOSSIBLE LOVE: or Why the Heart Must Go Wrong
Wrong Kinds of Love
Certain kinds of love affairs are both impossible to live and impossible to forget. They may last a month, or they may go on for years. It doesn't really matter, because they mark our lives far beyond the actual time spent in living them.
A description of these love affairs would not correspond to the relationships that psychology and the experts hold up as proof of maturity and healthy self-esteem. Indeed, they go against every official version of good and "possible" love. They happen at the wrong time, in the wrong place, and with the wrong person. They lead less to intimacy on earth than to intimations of immortality somewhere between heaven and hell. No wonder they go by the name of "impossible love" impossible to live, impossible to give up, impossible to understand—more about confusion than complicity. They exalt and they humiliate, they promise and they disappoint, but they do not bring peace of mind. In addition to all this, they usually end badly. We may become saints or sinners, but we will not become "winners" in these particular love affairs.
Frequently, we sense this from the beginning, and we go into these relationships knowing we shouldn't. We can already count the reasons, proving it will never work. And yet we go. And once in, we stay in them long after we should, even when the impossibility is "proven" beyond a reasonable doubt. But these are not reasonable events, and they are definitely not the "right" kinds of love we would probably have if we had been reasonable in the first place and listened to the advice of concerned friends and therapists. From a healthy minded point of view, these relationships remain both impossible and wrong.
Their impossibility may come from obvious outer taboos or hidden inner inhibitions, material difficulties or psychological differences. Whatever the cause of the obstacles that intrude between the lovers and their love, transgressing them becomes irresistible and heightens the feeling of intensity, but it doesn't make the love any more possible. It just adds to the sense of "wrongness." Wrong to love, wrong to fail to overcome the obstacles to loving.
In former times, this kind of love was called tragic, romantic, or doomed, a great passion or even a "folie a deux." Today, it is more often termed a neurosis, an addiction, or a projection. The star crossed lovers of yesteryear have become the dysfunctional, co dependent patients of today. In the twelfth century, Abelard and Heloise were punished and ostracized for loving wrongly. Today, they would be labeled and treated. Each epoch provides its opportunities for impossible love and creates sanctions to deal with it. Today, as in the past, in spite of psychology, people go on loving wrongly and impossibly. They may read self help books by day, but they read love poems by night, and they feel as caught by their own contradictions as they do by the passion itself.
Why would any normal person, especially any normal person with some psychological and practical understanding, consent to such an experience? Why would anyone risk loss of control, of face, of well being, perhaps even of family and reputation for an impossible love? Clearly, a normal person in a normal state of mind would not. Faced with the advent of passion, he or she would consider the risks and run the other way, tie him or herself to the mast, if necessary, in order not to succumb to the siren's call. And many people do run away or bravely and successfully resist before it is too late. Others, even "luckier;" never even hear the song and may manage to live a whole life long without the experience of such disruptive love. It isn't for everyone, nor is it the only way for normal people to be catapulted into abnormal states. Impossible love is just one of the routes into great pain, and through it perhaps great depth and new meaning.
Death, illness, divorce, failure, reversal of fortune and hopes are a few of the other blows that life may reserve to jolt us into an awareness beyond that of everyday consciousness. Sometimes the jolt comes from outside, sometimes it comes from within. In one form or another, life provides the raw materials. Unfortunately, it doesn't give the directions or the answers. Maybe that will take a lifetime, but let us at least start by asking the questions. Not the "Why me?" or the "Who can I blame?" or the "What did I do wrong?" questions, but the "Why now?" and the "What for?" questions. What does this event mean in my life, and how can I live it so that at my death I can say I have lived, and not that I was lived?
To ask this question takes a particular kind of courage, not necessarily of the active, heroic kind. It means holding the balance between the temptation to give up and the temptation to strike out. It means having the courage to face the "dragon" (or the symptom, or the problem, or the "bad" guy in our dreams and lives) and find out what it wants, instead of killing it and walking away untouched. It means, if we are engaged in the dragon energy of an impossible love, facing its fire and inquiring what it is bringing into our lives.
It isn't natural to do this. Even Parsifal, the hero of the Grail Quest, who went through death defying adventures in order to find the sacred chalice, forgot to ask what the quest was all about the first time he came to the place of the grail. Because he forgot, because he just wanted to grab and run, the grail disappeared, and so he had to leave and be further tried before he could return, chastened and less greedy, to claim the prize. Like him, most of us forget many times around. We want the prizes of answers and solutions, not meaning. We may be willing to read books and pay therapists but we want results. It is so much harder to let events take their course in our lives, to meet them, and to let their meaning unfold, without over controlling or passively submitting. When something hurts, we want to find a cause, and our "culture of impatience" leads us to look for someone or something to blame: men, women, mothers, fathers, patients, therapists, ourselves, our bodies, our lovers, our lovers' lovers.
... We all have the potential to become psychological fundamentalists when we resist coming to terms with life's ambiguities, including especially the contradictions in our own psyches. Blaming as a way of dealing with the paradox of impossible love doesn't help, either. The love may be all wrong, but there is no right answer—no diagnosis or theory to cure it. You can blame yourself and your vulnerability or foolishness. You can blame the other's ruthlessness, seduction, and unconsciousness. Still, the love is there, inappropriate, wrong, impossible perhaps, but undeniable.
Impossible love is not just undeniable in the psyche of a particular smitten individual, however. It is also undeniable in our culture, as a myth and a cultural "imago." Whether we actually live an impossible love or not, we are all deeply influenced by the myth of the star crossed lovers, the central image of Romantic Love. We just don't realize that behind the modem sentimentalized versions of romantic love lies the darker story, a story of impossibility, tragedy, arid death, not happy endings as in Hollywood. When we think of Romeo and Juliet, Abelard and Heloise, Tristan and Iseult, we think of their beauty and commitment, but we forget about their fate. We repress or blithely ignore their unhappy endings when we fall into fantasies of living a legendary love affair, and we are astonished by the darkness when we actually live one....
... We chafe in our relationships or their absence, decrying the lack of romance and/or passion. We yearn to partake in something that is more stirring, more momentous, more transcendent than the relationship we are living or have lived. We long for intensity and for transformation, but we are naive about that word "transformation." In our innocence, we often think it can just "happen" if we live right and go to the right workshops. Therapy will fix us, the workshop will change everything, or, better still, a passionate love affair will give us back our taste for life and transform our whole being. Unfortunately, this is magic thinking. It may happen that way on television, but not in real life. Transformation in real life takes place both gradually and imperceptibly or violently and rapidly, but it rarely takes place at the speed or in the way we had planned.
In cultures where transformation from one state to another is provoked by initiatory rites, the process is invariably and deliberately painful. Skin is lacerated, bodies are mutilated, the mind is stricken, as if to guarantee that there will be no going back to the way it was before. In our culture, where we have few official initiatory rites, our psyches seem to have found other ways to "lacerate" us into initiation and, perhaps, transformation.
An impossible and passionate love may be one of these ways. In that case, it is more than a romantic fantasy, and it may also be more than just a passing madness, a self destructive impulse, or a stubborn addiction. Whatever our ignorance or apprehension about its actual reality, it does continue to fascinate us as a cultural ideal and archetype. There must, therefore, be more to understand about it than its dark destruction, or even its sweet beauty. Indeed, as we shall see, in the "impossibility" of certain passions may lie the possibility of initiation into unknown depths of ourselves, of life, and even death.
This sense of "unknown depths" is what pulls us into the enchantment of a great and impossible love story, whether it be told in an old legend or shown in a modern movie. Our minds follow the story, the plot, the development and adventures of the characters, but our psyches respond to the archetypes. They respond to what is eternal and meaningful and universal behind the particular names and places, and in the responding they remind us that we do not just participate in the practical, linear here and now, but in the timeless space of myth and feeling and destiny.
If this were not true, we would simply leave the theater or put down the book and forget about it, like a meal enjoyed or a newspaper read. We would not be interested in love tales from another century about people we will never meet. But we are interested, and we don't forget these stories, any more than we forget the ones we live ourselves. How else to make sense of what we live? If impossible love is an initiation, it is not just a private one. It is a collective event, as well, that puts us in touch with aspects of human experience much vaster than our own lives.
.... How is it possible to survive and make some sense out of a love affair that erupts between two people, but cannot be lived out? How can we understand the disruptive message of impossible love in the cultural psyche of the world at large? There are no absolute or "right" answers in the pages that follow but rather patterns of experience and conclusions to be drawn from them. Most of all, however, starting with an old and true tale of impossible love upon which many of our modem fantasies are based, there is company, lovers past and present to meet and learn from, as we ask the question "What for?"
"La Belle Dame Sans Merci" (Diksee)
"La Belle Dame Sans Merci" (Hugues)
O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms,
Alone and palely loitering?
The sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.
O what can ail thee, knight-at-arms!
So haggard and so woebegone?
The squirrel's granary is full,
And the harvest's done.
I see a lily on thy brow
With anguish moist and fever dew,
And on thy cheek a fading rose
Fast withereth too.
"I met a lady in the meads,
Full beautiful -a faery's child,
Her hair was long, her foot was light,
And her eyes were wild.
I made a garland for her head,
And bracelets too, and fragrant zone;
She looked at me as she did love,
And made sweet moan.
I set her on my pacing steed,
And nothing else saw all day long,
For sidelong would she bend, and sing
A faery's song.
She found me roots of relish sweet,
And honey wild, and manna dew,
And sure in language strange she said
`I love thee true.'
She took me to her elfin grot,
And there she wept, and sighed full sore,
And there I shut her wild wild eyes
With kisses four.
And there she lulled me asleep,
And there I dreamed -Ah! woe betide!
The latest dream I ever dreamed
On the cold hill's side.
I saw pale kings and princes too,
Pale warriors, death-pale were they all;
They cried -`La Belle Dame sans Merci
Hath thee in thrall!'
I saw their starved lips in the gloam,
With horrid warning gaped wide,
And I awoke and found me here,
On the cold hill's side.
And this is why I sojourn here,
Alone and palely loitering,
Though the sedge has withered from the lake,
And no birds sing.
"La Belle Dame Sans Merci" ~John Keats
"La Belle Dame Sans Merci" (Cowper)
Dante's Impossible Love
O the dim light and the large circle of shade
I have clomb, and to the whitening of the hills,
There where we see no color in the grass.
Natheless my longing loses not its green,
It has so taken root in the hard stone
Which talks and hears as though it were a lady.
Utterly frozen is this youthful lady,
Even as the snow that lies within the shade;
For she is no more moved than is the stone
By the sweet season which makes warm the hills
And alters from afresh from white to green
Covering their sides again with flowers and grass.
When on her hair she sets a crown of grass
The thought has no more room for other lady,
Because she weaves the yellow with the green
So well that Love sits down there in the shade,--
Love who has shut me in among low hills
Faster than between walls of granite-stone.
She is more bright than is a precious stone;
The wound she gives may not be healed with grass:
I therefore have fled far o'er plains and hills
For refuge from so dangerous a lady;
But from her sunshine nothing can give shade,--
Not any hill, nor wall, nor summer-green.
A while ago, I saw her dressed in green,--
So fair, she might have wakened in a stone
This love which I do feel even for her shade;
And therefore, as one woos a graceful lady,
I wooed her in a field that was all grass
Girdled about with very lofty hills.
Yet shall the streams turn back and climb the hills
Before Love's flame in this damp wood and green
Burn, as it burns within a youthful lady,
For my sake, who would sleep away in stone
My life, or feed like beasts upon the grass,
Only to see her garments cast a shade.
How dark so'er the hills throw out their shade,
Under her summer-green the beautiful lady
Covers it, like a stone cover'd in grass.
"Of the Lady Pietra degli Scrovigni"
~Dante (trans. by D.G. Rossetti)
Impossible Love & the Supernatural Lover:
"Angel Lover," "Demon Lover," "Faery Lover"
Re-Vision Radio's Quest for "Impossible Love"
Crosses Over to "The Borderlands"
In various legends, the heavenly counterpart or supernatural lover--sometimes called the "demon lover"--is able to temporarily pass between worlds into the human world to meet his or her lover. One such legend, of Celtic origin (with its mythology of the pagan, magical "Otherworld"), is that of the "Borderlands." Although the legendary theme ranges from the more positive to the negative aspects of passionate love with a non-human lover, nevertheless the spiritual dimension of "Romantic love" can be felt in these tellings. This is, in fact, the great legacy of the Troubadour's more esoteric conception of amor. Here we discover that there is more to the Troubadour's paganistic and feministic "Religion of Love" than almost all scholar's have missed, and that is a "sacramental vision of nature."
"Furthermore, this secret doctrine is not a message, but more an alternate state of mind, a new way of being in the world. Hidden in the verse of Troubadour poetry is a sacramental vision of nature, a sort of eroticized perception, in which nature and the body is affirmed as the way to the Goddess."
(From Essay-with-Soundtrack, 'The Troubadours & the Beloved')
".... But I will be your pillow
Where e’er your head will lie
And I’ll be the star you can only catch
In the corner of your eye
And I’ll be the sound of laughter
In the first low flower of dawn
And I’ll be the touch to brush your cheek
And wake you in the morning’....
And the maid she opened up her eyes
And smiled up through the trees
For as she listened she could almost hear
His voice upon the breeze-o...."
(Caswell Carnahan, 'The Borderlands')
Often, Impossible Love entails the love relationship between a mortal and a superhuman figure, sometimes called the archetype of the "demon-lover," or "faery-lover." In Celtic myth and lore, this superhuman lover is female and known as the "Lenanshee."
Lenanshee (the Irish Gaelic Leanan Sídhe, Leanain Sidhe, or Leannan Sidhe; Scottish Gaelic, Liannan Shìth, Lianhan Sidhe, or Leanhaun Shee) in Celtic folklore is a mystic figure. The name translated means fairy lover, or fairy mistress. (The name comes from the Gaelic word leannan, a sweetheart, concubine, or favorite.)
The Lenanshee is a beautiful woman of the Aos Sí (or fairy folk) who takes a human lover. Lovers of the leanan sídhe are said to live brief, though highly inspired, lives. The leanan sídhe is generally depicted as a beautiful muse, who offers inspiration to an artist in exchange for their love and devotion; however, this frequently results in madness for the artist, as well as premature death. W. B. Yeats popularized a slightly different perspective on these spirits with emphasis on their vampiric tendencies (a feature also shared by the Manx analogue the Lhiannan Shee):
"The Leanhaun Shee (fairy mistress) seeks the love of mortals. If they refuse, she must be their slave; if they consent, they are hers, and can only escape by finding another to take their place. The fairy lives on their life, and they waste away. Death is no escape from her. She is the Gaelic muse, for she gives inspiration to those she persecutes. The Gaelic poets die young, for she is restless, and will not let them remain long on earth - this malignant phantom." (Yeats)
"Lenanshee: A faery lover, mistress. The concept is commonly indicated in English by an anglicization of the ModIr. phrase leannin sidhe [faery lover], e.g. leannan shee, lannan shee, lannanshee, leanan sidhe, leanhaun shee, lianhan shee; OIr. lennin side; Manx lhiannan shee. This most dramatic and poetic of all faery stories concerns the doomed love between a mortal (usually male) and an immortal (usually female). The many Celtic instances of the story follow a fixed pattern found in international folklore. 1. The mortal loves the supernatural being. 2. The supernatural being consents to marry or to make love to the mortal subject to a certain condition, such as his not seeing her at specified time. 3. He breaks the taboo and loses her. 4. He then tries to recover her and sometimes succeeds, usually with great difficulty. In one familiar variation on the pattern, the fairy lover entices or seduces the mortal and pines for him when they are separated; i.e. she loves him deeply (though he may not have merited it) and is parted from him only by the conventions of her status. A second variation depicts a woman of dreadful power who seeks both the love of and dominion over mortal men. Male fairy lovers also exist in stories, characteristically well mannered and talkative but imperious.
Lady Wilde (1887) said that the leannan-sidhe was the spirit of life, and inspirer of the singer and poet, and thus the opposite of the banshee. W.B. Yeats (1888) thought the leanhaun shee would inspire a poet or singer so intensely that its earthly life would necessarily be brief. The Manx lhiannan-shee is distinguished from her Irish counterpart in two aspects: (1) She haunts wells and springs, like Melusine. (2) She attaches herself to one man, to whom she appears irresistibly beautiful while remaining invisible to everyone else; if he yields to her seduction, she will drain him body and soul, like a vampire."
--The Oxford Dictionary of Celtic Mythology (James MacKillop)
Thus, the leannin sidhe is clearly an example of a world-wide motif. A well-known example of the motif is Keats' "La Belle Dam Sans Merci." Well-known examples of the variant in which the otherworldly lover is male and the mortal is female include Beauty & the Beast, Amor & Psyche, and The Phantom of the Opera.
(You can hear the term Lenanshee used in the traditional Celtic tune "My Lagan Love.")
My Lagan Love
" Lagan stream sings lullaby
There blows a lily fair;
The twilight gleam is in her eye,
The night is on her hair.
And, like a love-sick lenanshee,
She has my heart in thrall;
Nor life I owe, nor liberty,
For Love is lord of all ...."
The Celtic Lenanshee as Selkie
Selkies are mythological creatures found in Irish, Scottish, Faroese, and Icelandic folklore. Selkies are said to live as seals in the sea but shed their skin to become human on land. The stories tell of both female and male selkies (who are very seductive to human women), but frequently revolve around female selkies being coerced into relationships with humans by someone stealing and hiding their sealskin, often not regaining the skin until years later upon which they commonly return to the sea, forsaking their human family. The legend is most common in the Northern Isles of Scotland and is very similar to those of swan maidens. These Celtic Selkies are also mythologically related to "Mermaids." (A mermaid is a legendary aquatic creature with the head and upper body of a female human and the tail of a fish. Mermaids appear in the folklore of many cultures worldwide, including the Near East, Europe, Africa and Asia. They are sometimes equated with the "Sirens" of Greek mythology.)
The Fairy Lover
It is by yonder thorn that I saw the fairy host
(O low night wind, O wind of the west!)
My love rode by, there was gold upon his brow,
And since that day I can neither eat nor rest.
I dare not pray lest I should forget his face
(O black north wind blowing cold beneath the sky!)
His face and his eyes shine between me and the sun:
If I may not be with him I would rather die.
They tell me I am cursed and I will lose my soul,
(O red wind shrieking o're the thorn-grown dun!)
But he is my love and I go to him to-night,
Who rides when the thorn glistens white beneath the moon.
He will call my name and lift me to his breast,
(Blow soft O wind 'neath the stars of the south!)
I care not for heaven and I fear not hell
If I have but the kisses of his proud red mouth.
Films about Supernatural Impossible Love
The Demon Lover
The Romantic poets, Coleridge and Keats, enjoyed contouring “demon Lovers” in their poetry. Coleridge’s poem, “Kubla Khan” (1816), contains the following lines describing the "deep romantic chasm” in Xanadu: “A savage place, as holy and enchanted / as e’er beneath the waning moon was haunted / by woman wailing for her demon lover.” His gothic ballad of the supernatural, “Christabel,” tells of the mysterious Geraldine who is the serpent in disguise, a female “demon lover,” a lamia. Keats’ “La Belle Dame Sans Merci” is a femme fatale with “wild eyes,” a woman who brings death to many, a demon lover. Keats’ “Lamia” is a serpent who is transformed into a beautiful woman by the god Hermes.
The succeeding Victorian writers continued the Romantic stories of “demon lovers.” The prime example of such is Emily Bronte’s 1847 gothic novel Wuthering Heights. Here, the most passionate of romantic anti-heroes, Heathcliff, is described by the narrator as maybe a “ghoul or a vampire.” As the gothic story progressed in British literature, the “demon lover,” who could be likened to a vampire, becomes an actual vampire.
In the 1992 film adaptation of Bram Stoker's classic 1897 vampire novel, Bram Stoker’s Dracula, the character of Dracula (Gary Oldman) is a dark, lonely soul determined to reunite with his lost love, Mina (Winona Ryder).
To the GS’s Romantic way of seeing things, this film adaption is essentially a love story—an “impossible love” story—disguised as “horror” story. After all, Victorian writer Bram Stoker wrote it in the style (genre) of the Romantic-Gothic novel, which follows the tradition of Romantic dark love stories.
This vampire story of "Impossible Love," Only Lovers left Alive, is about Adam (Tom Hiddleston), an underground musician who reunites with his centuries-old lover (Tilda Swinton), after he becomes depressed and tired with the direction human society has taken. Leave it to director Jim Jarmusch to cast the vampire as an acid-rock musician! You wonder why no director thought of this before; the underground rock musician (like Jim "Serpent King" Morrison) is perfect for the vampire role!
Wim Wenders' 1987 film, Wings of Desire, is, because of its romantic-archetypal content, propbably the greatest in this genre. This masterpiece about "Impossible Love" is like a "big dream" out of the GS's collective unconscious. It's a story about an angel who tires of overseeing eons of human activity and wishes to become human when he falls in love with a mortal. He thus descends into the human world.
The film Ondine (2009) is about an Irish fisherman who one day finds a nearly-drowned young woman in his net; she calls herself Ondine and wants no one to see her. He puts her up in an isolated cottage. His daughter Annie discovers Ondine's presence and believes she is a selkie, a seal that turns human while on land.
Mearra: Selkie from the Sea (2015) is a TV movie is about a Selkie maiden, Mearra, who falls in love with Ian, a lonely fisherman entranced by her beauty. It’s an enigmatic and bittersweet story of love, loss, and transformation.
This film of “Impossible Love,” The Shape of Water (2017), is an otherworldly fable set against the backdrop of Cold War era America circa 1962. At a top secret research facility in the 1960s, a lonely janitor, trapped in a life of isolation, discovers a secret classified experiment and forms a unique erotic relationship with an amphibious humanoid creature that is being held in captivity. As a result, her life is changed forever.
(The Shape of Water is a cinematic masterpiece that garnered numerous award nominations, including the most  from a film at the 2018 Golden Globe Awards. It won two awards at the Golden Globes, including Best Director for Guillermo del Toro. It also won Best Picture and Best Director at the Critic's Movie Choice Awards. At this point, it has garnered 13 nominations for Oscars at the up-comming Academy Awards.)
Impossible Love in Films & TV Shows
How the Gypsy Scholar Learned the Secret “What for” of Impossible Love
"Most of all, however, starting with an old and true tale of impossible love upon which many of our modem fantasies are based, there is company, lovers past and present to meet and learn from, as we ask the question 'What for'?" ~Jan Bauer
The Gypsy Scholar one day found himself part of the company of the "Beautiful Losers" [L. Cohren] in love. This was because at some point in his life he “succumbed to the siren's call” and discovered that “certain kinds of love affairs are both impossible to live and impossible to forget.” Thus, he found himself in a very strange place, a place where love led “less to intimacy on earth than to intimations of immortality somewhere between heaven and hell.” This led him, in turn, on a lonely quest, searching for some sort of sanctuary in order to heal and hold the initiation into the paradoxical mysteries of impossible love. This is how the Gypsy Scholar found the Tower of Song (where “they don’t let a woman kill you ...”). In the Tower of Song’s labyrinthine library, he found old books about the star crossed lovers of yesteryear, both real and fictional—Abelard and Heloise, Tristan and Isolde—, and these stories took him deeper into the mythic labyrinth of the chambers of the heart. (“This is what pulls us into the enchantment of a great and impossible love story, whether it be told in an old legend or shown in a modern movie. Our minds follow the story, the plot, the development and adventures of the characters, but our psyches respond to the archetypes. They respond to what is eternal and meaningful and universal behind the particular names and places, and in the responding they remind us that we do not just participate in the practical, linear here and now, but in the timeless space of myth and feeling and destiny.” ~Jan Bauer) Because these lovers have become so famous (“love in the Western world”), he realized that what he was experiencing was not just his own particular passion and wound, but actually “undeniable in our culture, as a myth and a cultural imago.” Once more, he read that “Whether we actually live an impossible love or not, we are all deeply influenced by the myth of the star crossed lovers, the central image of Romantic Love.” (~Denis de Rougemont)
The Gypsy Scholar sought out the Tower of Song because he could not rely on help from the usual resources in our society; i.e., the psychotherapists. From the “healthy minded point of view” of modern psychiatry, “these relationships remain both impossible and wrong.” (“In the twelfth century, these star-crossed lovers were punished and ostracized for loving wrongly,” whereas “they have become the dysfunctional, co dependent patients of today.”) And, generally speaking, we have bought into the clinical model of healthy-mindedness, ignoring what the great pioneering American psychologist, William James observed: “There is no doubt that healthy-mindedness is inadequate as a philosophical doctrine, because the evil facts which it refuses to account for are a genuine portion of reality; and they may after all be the best key to life's significance, and possibly the only openers of our eyes to the deepest levels of truth.” Instead, we want happy endings and the rewards of a “healthy relationship,” as defined by our therapists and self-help gurus. Everybody knows “We want the prizes of answers and solutions, not meaning. We may be willing to read books and pay therapists but we want results.... When something hurts, we want to find a cause and ... to look for someone or something to blame.” (~Jan Bauer) In their love relationships, Everybody knows “Everybody wants a box of chocolates / And a long-stem rose / Everybody knows.” [L. Cohen] Thus, the impossible loves of our lives are judged by our “sense of wrongness” about these kinds of relationships, “and many people do run away or bravely and successfully resist before it is too late.” (“Why would any normal person, especially any normal person with some psychological and practical understanding, consent to such an experience? Why would anyone risk loss of control, of face, of well being, perhaps even of family and reputation for an impossible love? Clearly, a normal person in a normal state of mind would not.” ~Jan Bauer) We consider those lovers lucky who “never even hear the song” of the siren of impossible love and “manage to live a whole life long without the experience of such disruptive love.” And, yes, we enjoy and praise the stories of the great lovers, from Tristan and Iseult to Romeo and Juliet, but we shut out the knowledge of their fate. “We just don't realize that behind the modern sentimentalized versions of romantic love lies the darker story, a story of impossibility, tragedy, arid death, not happy endings as in Hollywood. When we think of we think of their beauty and commitment, but we forget about their fate. We repress or blithely ignore their unhappy endings when we fall into fantasies of living a legendary love affair, and we are astonished by the darkness when we actually live one.” ~Jan Bauer
This is exactly the love-lesson the Gypsy Scholar had to learn in the Tower of Song. However, that’s not all there is to it. Yes, he had been seduced by the siren’s song and suffered the fate that impossible love visits upon the foolish lover. Yet, in the library of the Tower of Song, the grieving and depressed Gypsy Scholar heard another song; one that healed from the first song, a song which, paradoxically, he couldn’t have really heard without hearing the first.
About “love and death in the Western world,” the Gypsy Scholar read the following: “Whatever our ignorance or apprehension about its actual reality, it does continue to fascinate us as a cultural ideal and archetype. There must, therefore, be more to understand about it than its dark destruction, or even its sweet beauty. Indeed, as we shall see, in the 'impossibility' of certain passions may lie the possibility of initiation into unknown depths of ourselves, of life, and even death.... Impossible love is just one of the routes into great pain, and through it perhaps great depth and new meaning.” (Jan Bauer) In fact, he eventually discovered that impossible love, in the absence of a collective cultural ritual, was a secular/profane kind of initiation into the mysteries and (if rightly dealt with) psycho-spiritual transformation. As in traditional societies, the initiate undergoes an ordeal, oftentimes involving some sort of laceration. (“In cultures where transformation from one state to another is provoked by initiatory rites, the process is invariably and deliberately painful. Skin is lacerated, bodies are mutilated, the mind is stricken, as if to guarantee that there will be no going back to the way it was before. In our culture, where we have few official initiatory rites, our psyches seem to have found other ways to 'lacerate' us into initiation and, perhaps, transformation.” ~Jan Bauer)
What impossible love can contribute to our otherwise superficial lives, bereft of traditional meaning, is a sense of "unknown depths." (“If impossible love is an initiation, it is not just a private one. It is a collective event, as well, that puts us in touch with aspects of human experience much vaster than our own lives” ~Jan Bauer). Indeed, the Gypsy Scholar discovered that it can be a path to what the great Romantic poet Keats called “the vale of Soul-making.” (“Do you not see how necessary a World of Pains and troubles is to school an Intelligence and make soul? A place where the heart must feel and suffer in a thousand diverse ways!”) Yes, the new sense of “unknown depths.” On this path of “exploring the dark passages” one comes upon the essential “paradox of impossible love.” Expressed in terms of “Soul-making,” the psychopathology of impossible love goes against the grain of our modern model of psychotherapy and its “healthy-minded” ethic: "The soul sees by means of affliction. Illness opens doors to a reality which remains closed to the healthy point of view. . . . The soul's native insight is its native pathology." (Dr. James Hillman) In other words, in the Tower of Song, the Gypsy Scholar realized the mad truth of the paradox of impossible love: "The love may be all wrong, but there is no right answer—no diagnosis or theory to cure it." (Jan Bauer) As the Gypsy Scholar repeated these startling words, he recalled the lyrics of a song he once heard, and then knew he had always had an inkling of this mad truth about impossible love.
I loved you for a long, long time
I know this love is real
It don't matter how it all went wrong
That don't change the way I feel
And I can't believe that time's
Gonna heal this wound I'm speaking of
There ain't no cure,
There ain't no cure,
There ain't no cure for love.
However, this wasn’t the final song the Gypsy Scholar associated with his healing revelation in the Tower of Song. As previously mentioned, impossible love can serve as a profane initiation ritual that lacerates the heart into transformation. The music the Gypsy Scholar heard began to sound when he serendipitously turned to a passage from a book in the Tower of Song’s library and finally understood that in impossible love’s body beats an eternally broken heart: “To be is to be vulnerable [wounded]. The defense mechanisms, the character armor, is to protect from life. Frailty alone is human; a broken, a ground-up (contrite) heart. . . . Open is broken. There is no breakthrough without breakage. . . . The body is made whole by being broken.” (N. O. Brown) In this weird sense, impossible love is at the same time both the disease and the healing (but not the “cure” in our modern clinical sense). Or, as the Romantic poem goes: “Nothing can be sole or whole / That has not been rent.” (W. B. Yeats) In other words, here’s the secret paradox of impossible love: if Gypsy Scholar were to “never even hear the song” (“siren’s song” of impossible love), he would not hear the "other side" of it ... from the Tower of Song:
Now I greet you now from the other side
Of sorrow and despair
With a love so vast and so shattered
It will reach you everywhere.
Moonstruck (1987) is a romantic comedy about the Impossible Love of Ronny & Loretta. No sooner does Italian-American widow Loretta accept a marriage proposal from her doltish boyfriend, Johnny than she finds herself falling for his younger brother, Ronny.
Ronny Cammareri: You ruined my life.
Loretta Castorini: That's impossible! It was ruined when I got here! You ruined my life!
Ronny Cammareri: No, I didn't.
Loretta Castorini: Oh, yes, you did! Oh, yes, you did! Y'know, you got them bad eyes, like a gypsy, and I don't know why I didn't see it yesterday. Bad luck! That's what it is. Is that all I'm ever gonna have? I should have taken a rock and killed myself years ago!
Ronny Cammareri: Everything seems like nothing to me now, 'cause I want you in my bed. I don't care if I burn in hell. I don't care if you burn in hell. The past and the future is a joke to me now. I see that they're nothing. I see they ain't here. The only thing that's here is you--and me.... Loretta, I love you. Not like they told you love is, and I didn't know this either, but love don't make things nice--it ruins everything. It breaks your heart. It makes things a mess. We aren't here to make things perfect. The snowflakes are perfect. The stars are perfect. Not us. Not us! We are here to ruin ourselves and to break our hearts and love the wrong people and die. The storybooks are bullshit! Now I want you to come upstairs with me and get in my bed!
Ring the bells that still can ring
Forget your perfect offering
There is a crack in everything
That's how the light gets in.
"Stealing Heaven is a 1988 film, a costume drama based on the French 12th-century medieval romance (a true story) of Peter Abelard and Héloïse and on a historical novel by Marion Meade. The director was Clive Donner."
Abelard is a famous teacher of philosophy at the cathedral school of Notre Dame, and a champion of reason, at a time when academics are required to observe chastity. He falls in love with one of his students, Héloïse d'Argenteuil, a young gentlewoman raised in a convent, who has both intellectual curiosity and a rebellious view of the low status of women in 12th-century Europe. When the relationship is suspected, Heloise's uncle Fulbert, who had other plans for her marriage, works with the bishop of Paris to put a stop to it. Nevertheless, Abelard and Heloise have a child together and later are secretly married. Abelard faces a struggle with himself for acting against the will of God and yet loves Heloise too much to be able to stop himself. Heloise's uncle takes a terrible revenge on Abelard for ruining Heloise's chance of a rich husband."
"White Palace (1990) is a film starring Susan Sarandon and James Spader. It is a romantic drama about the unlikely and complex relationship between a young upper class widower (Spader) who falls in love with a middle-aged working class waitress (Sarandon) in St. Louis, Missouri." The film was based on a novel of the same title by Glenn Savan and was directed by Luis Mandoki from a screenplay by Ted Tally and Alvin Sargent. The original music score is composed by George Fenton. The film is marketed with the tagline "The story of a younger man and a bolder woman." Despite the great difference in ages and classes of the two lovers, this is a story about Impossible Love that becomes possible.
"Light Sleeper (1992) is a story about the discovery of the spirit, the lure of decadence, and the chance for escape. He was a good man in a deadly business. She was his only way out. A drug dealer with upscale clientele is having moral problems going about his daily deliveries. A reformed addict, he has never gotten over the wife that left him, and the couple that use him for deliveries worry about his mental well-being and his effectiveness at his job. Meanwhile someone is killing women in apparently drug-related incidents." The leading roles are played by Willem Dafoe (John LaTour, the drug dealer) and Susan Sarandon (Ann, the drug Lady). John has had a secret love for Ann for a long time, but she's way out of his league, not to mention being his boss. This independent film by Paul Schrader is contemporary film noir, an existentialist story of the city streets of the Night (the "dark side of town")--drug dealing, obsession, depression, insomnia, suicide, murder, and redemption. In other words, just the kind of story the Gypsy Scholar loves (not to mention Susan Sarandon)! And what a soundtrack by Michael Been of The Call! Despite all the obstacles that would thwart their relationship. this is a story about Impossible Love that becomes possible.
The film Moulin Rouge (2001) is an Impossible Love story about a poet, Christian, who falls for a beautiful courtesan, Satine, whom a jealous duke covets. Christian has come to Paris in 1899 to follow the Bohemian revolution taking hold of the city's drug and prostitute infested underworld. And nowhere is the thrill of the underworld more alive than at the Moulin Rouge, a night club where the rich and poor men alike come to be entertained by the dancers, but things take a wicked turn for Christian as he starts a deadly love affair with the star courtesan of the club, Satine. But her affections are also coveted by the club's patron: the Duke. A dangerous love triangle ensues as Satine and Christian attempt to fight all odds to stay together but a force that not even love can conquer is taking its toll on Satine. As the young lovers meet in secret, Satine's wedding day draws closer but she hides a fatal secret from both Christian and the Duke.
The Phantom of the Opera (Le Fantôme de l'Opéra ) is a novel by French writer Gaston Leroux. It was first published as a serialization in Le Gaulois from September 23, 1909 to January 8, 1910. But it is overshadowed by the success of its various film and stage adaptations. The most notable of these in our day is Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1986 musical, and Lloyd Webber and Joel Schumacher's 2004 film.
The Phantom of the Opera (stage musical and movie) is a modern-day classic story of Impossible Love. The Gypsy Scholar would remind his listeners that there's a place other than the one of our daytime routine —a "somewhere else"— , where we also long to belong and need to go to from time to time. The Phantom of the Opera's magical underground chamber is a "somewhere else" place of Impossible Love. The Gypsy Scholar knows "that we are reminded of this place by a song we hear on the radio," and that we can even go there through the gateway of song(s) we hear on the radio (i.e., "The Music of the Night").
Brokeback Mountain (2005) is an Impossible Love story about a rodeo cowboy, Jack, and a ranch hand, Ennis, in Wyoming. One night on Brokeback Mountain, Jack makes a drunken pass at Ennis that is eventually reciprocated. Though Ennis marries his longtime sweetheart, Alma, and Jack marries a fellow rodeo rider, the two men keep up their tortured and sporadic affair over the course of 20 years.
The Lake House (2006) is a "fantasy romance about a relationship that forms between an architect and the doctor who lived in his new lakeside house two years previously. Only able to communicate by passing letters into the house's mailbox, the pair begin to fall for each other, but will they ever be together?"
The film, despite its flawed internal logic (its confused timeline, particularly the time paradox at the end), at least has this virtue going for it:
It is a contemporary metaphor of the old Romantic theme of "Impossible Love." Although the supernatural aspect of this theme is gone, the film substitutes the modern theory of time travel and two earthly lovers for the old supernatural theme of an other-worldly dimension that collides with the earthly time, when a demon-lover encounters a human lover. The lovers in the film must wait for the right time when their worlds come together again. Yet, whether a supernatural or natural "impossible love," the main theme of Romantic "impossible love" is still the basic organizing idea. This is evidenced by that premiere Romantic writer of "impossible love," Jane Austen, whose novel Persuasion is an integral part of the film's thematic background. (Kate and Alex, at their first encounter, discuss the novel and how its impossible lovers get a second chance to meet.)
"There could have been not two hearts so open, no tastes so similar, no feelings so in unison." This is the passage that Kate reads from Jane Austen's novel, which Alex leaves for her to find under the floor-boards of the Lake House.
Thus, in spite of the film's flaws it nevertheless has this going for it. This must be one of the reasons why Roger Ebert gave it a "thumbs up:" "What I respond to in the movie is its fundamental romantic impulse."
To substantiate my claim of the film's "impossible love" metaphor, I offer the following dialogue between the main character, Alex Wyler, and his brother Henry, after Alex thinks he's lost his beloved.
Henry: Hey, come on! This is a good thing. You know, you need a real woman . . .
Alex: Henry, listen!
Henry: --A woman.
Alex: Listen to me! While it lasted, she was more real to me than any of that stuff. She was more real to me than anything I've ever known. I saw her. I kissed her . . . I love her! And now she's gone--she's gone.
A Star Is Born (2018) is a story about the Impossible Love between a musician Jackson, and a struggling singer Ally, whom he discovers and falls in love with. She has just about given up on her dream to make it big as a singer until Jackson coaxes her into the spotlight. But even as Ally's career takes off, the personal side of their relationship is breaking down, as Jackson fights an ongoing battle with his own internal demons.
The Professor and the Madman (2019) is biographical drama of the life of Professor James Murray, who in 1879 became director of an Oxford University Press project. As he is compiling words for the first edition of the Oxford English Dictionary in the mid-19th century, he receives over 10,000 entries from one source in particular—a patient at Broadmoor Criminal Lunatic Asylum, Dr William Minor. The story of Impossible Love comes in when a relationship develops between Minor and Eliza, the widow of a man Minor accidentally killed (for which he is incarcerated in the asylum).
In the following dialogue between Murray and Minor about Eliza, it is highly significant that Murray echoes the theme of Impossible Love and the paradoxical mad truth about it that the Gypsy Scholar has emphasized in his musical essays concerning "lovesickness."
James Murray: Who's she?
Dr. William Chester Minor: The impossible.
James Murray: The more impossible, the greater the love.
Dr. William Chester Minor: Do you truly believe that? My heart is so sick.
James Murray: Well... what I know of love is that the sickness often becomes the cure.
Outlander is a TV series about a time traveller, Claire Randall, a married woman who goes back (once in 1945 and again in 1960) 200 years in time (through a stone portal in an ancient stone circle) to 18th century Scotland and meets the love of her life, Jamie Fraser, a chivalrous and romantic young Scottish warrior. (This love affair, accompanied by Celtic folk song, is worthy of the eternal love stories in both medieval romances and Romantic poetry.) Their passionate relationship tears Claire's heart between two vastly different men in two irreconcilable lives, and events constantly present new obstacles designed to keep Claire and Jamie apart, preventing their happiness together.
Outlander is thus an "Impossible Love" story across time.