In The Lobster Books, I have entered what amounts of “Volume II: The Curious Lobster’s Island.” I have read up to page 298 of The Lobster Books and the book is just shy of 450 pages. Reading Richard Hatch’s book, I find this profound truth of all of childhood’s best loved books,
Old things and places newly discovered are better discovered than really new ones because there are memories to go with them…
To reread a passage of scripture or a quotation from a classic or even ordinary book loved as a young person gives a special pleasure that the dazzle of novelty cannot rival. That is why reading a passage of Psalms for the fourth or fifth time does not seem tired or dull but warm and alive. When I wrote my best book–or four-book set–The Bible According to Eve, I knew that what made that book profound–if anything did–was that it was my third reading of the Hebrew Bible and–more–I had read it from childhood if you counted a children’s Bible I read in grade school and the fact of hearing Esther and Daniel at that age, too. Language is enriched by scripture, as Lincoln used Biblical cadences “Four score and seven years ago,” in his Gettysburg Address, or–though mentioning two such unrelated men may appear odd–it never occurred to Milton not to use the language of the Homeric epics in his Christian epic about the Fall of Humankind from Paradise, of which the Romantic Robert Burns declared Milton made Satan the accidentally greatest hero in Milton’s Paradise Lost. Yes, it is amazing how many people mistakenly believe it is in the Bible or the Catholic Church fathers that Satan says he would rather be King of Hell than Servant in Heaven.
It is true of books with such eloquent passages as Shakespeare, Dickens or the Brontë sisters. It is also moving in Keats’s “Ode to a Grecian Urn”; Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty”; Shelley’s “Ozymandias”; and of course such succulent poems as Elizabeth Barret’s in “Sonnets of the Portuguese” to her future husband Robert Browning the words,
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways,
ending with the promise that love will be greater in death than in life. I have longed–after reading Elizabeth Browning, to read her husband’s The Ring and the Book… but I never seem to find the time… These poets have the special lushness of love… yet perhaps there is a dark side of passion, in Wuthering Heights and even Don Juan (if you ever think about the poor girls Juan seduced and dumped in the poem). The Americans who knew love could have a dark side were Nathaniel Hawthorne and Emily Dickinson, and later F. Scott Fitzgerald in his autobiographical Tender is the Night–which I admit is my favorite of his books. Yet even in these works, eros had its appeal…
Love… the Bible’s Song of Songs is as luscious as any of the poems mentioned here and yet describes the passion of married love, condoned by God but transcending the marriage for social convenience or economic status instead of true love. This is the love that many a misconceived romance novel tries to capture. Yes, the novels parodied by Madam Bovary probably mean well in the heart but miss that timeless quality of the love of the Song of Songs–or even, Byron’s “She Walks in Beauty,” written by a man who desired love but could not love any woman truly. No, he and his friend Shelley were too bent on being a “stud” to embrace any one woman to the exclusion of the others in his head or heart. Yet despite lacking the heart deep enough to love any one woman fully, what Byron and Shelley describe in some of their poems, the sweetest of them… portray something which all people wish for… for is there a person alive who never wanted to be in love?
The point behind all of this is that there is a deeper love than even the romantic, and it is the heartfelt love which comes from God… and it reaches to the reader from the Prophets and the Psalms… and perhaps–if it is not blasphemous to say as a Jew–from the Christian Gospels and Holy Quran. Love… the Greek Agape… the truest feeling of the human being, and yet the one so few of us can live for entirely. No, most of us only capture it at odd moments in prayer or worship… though perhaps in eros people get a hint of its power… I think of Plato, who believed love was the Desire for Immortality… yet I have always believed love is more properly the Desire for God… and Plato believed that the seduction of the beautiful was itself an echo of the love of the good, and that if a person caught the signs, it might take them to the True Good for which all humankind were made. Plato–being pagan–believed human friendship and the immortality in it were what love was… and in that sense The Lobster Books record a worthy story of the Symposium which Plato wrote… even though it is for children… yet ultimately even the love of friends is only a part of the Good… or a part of the Search for God.