Courtly Love's Veneration of the Lady
For indeed I knew
Of no more subtle master under heaven
Than in the maiden passion for a maid,
Not only to keep down the base in man,
But teach high thought, and amiable words
And courtliness, and the desire of fame,
And the love of truth, and all that makes a man.
(Alfred Lord Tennyson, Guinevere, lines 474-80)
The ideal of courtly love is espoused in Roman de la Rose, one of the great “Romances” of 12th-century France. In the Roman the poet is admitted to a garden with a magic pool. Reflected in the pool is a rose bush. He longs to pluck a single flower, evading the thorns and uniting with the beauty of the rose. The story is the defining allegory for the plight of the knight (poet) and the lady (rose). The French ideal of courtly love described the situation of the knight in service to an unattainable lady, often the wife of his lord, in a chaste but romantically idealized and infinitely noble relationship.
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