December 8, 2004


Category: Literature :: Permalink

In The Allegory of Love, C. S. Lewis writes about the Italian poet Ariosto:

The power in which Ariosto excels all poets that I have read is one which he shares with Boiardo — invention. The fertility of his fancy is “beyond expectation, beyond hope.” His actors range from archangels to horses, his scene from Cathay to the Hebrides. In every stanza there is something new: battles in all their detail, strange lands with their laws, customs, history, and geography, storm and sunshine, mountains, islands, rivers, monsters, anecdotes, conversations — there seems no end to it. He tells us what his people ate; he describes the architecture of their palaces. It is “God’s plenty”: you can no more exhaust it than you can exhaust nature itself. When you are tired of Ariosto, you must be tired of the world. If ever you come near to feeling that you can read no more adventures, at that very moment he begins another with something so ludicrous, so piquant, or so questionable, in its exordium, that you decide to read at least this one more. And then you are lost: you must go on till bedtime, and next morning you must begin again (p. 302).

As if that weren’t enough to whet one’s appetite, Lewis later makes this comment about all the great Italian epic poets, Boiardo, Ariosto, and Tasso:

Johnson once described the ideal happiness which he would choose if he were regardless of futurity. My own choice, with the same reservation, would be to read the Italian epic — to be always convalescent from some small illness and always seated in a window that overlooked the sea, there to read these poems eight hours of each happy day (p. 304).

Perhaps, then, I should be reading Ariosto right now. I’ve had his Orlando Furioso sitting on the shelf unread for many years, and yesterday I was struck by a rather nasty but short-lived flu from which I am recovering. Instead, however, I’ve been finishing Eugene Peterson’s Five Smooth Stones for Pastoral Work, starting George Weigel’s Letters to a Young Catholic, and delighting in Patrick O’Brien’s Master and Commander, the first of his Jack Aubrey and Stephen Maturin novels, not to be confused with the movie of the same name, which is a hybrid of this and some other O’Brien books.

Maybe tomorrow I’ll feel well enough to get some work done. But Lewis is right: There is some pleasure in being convalescent after an illness, at least for a time (his “always” I’m not so sure of!). Of course, there’s work to be done but it’ll have to wait till I’m well, and right now all I have to do is rest and read and recuperate.

Posted by John Barach @ 11:05 am | Discuss (0)

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