Love is Lord of All

Sir Walter Scott’s poem “It was an English Ladye Bright”1 was hauntingly set to music by Loreena McKennitt in “The English Ladye and the Knight”2 (hereinafter, “English Ladye”). The poem/lyrics are as follows:

It was an English ladye bright,
(The sun shines fair on Carlisle wall, )
And she would marry a Scottish knight,
For Love will still be lord of all.

Blithely they saw the rising sun
When he shone fair on Carlisle wall;
But they were sad ere day was done,
Though Love was still the lord of all.

Her sire gave brooch and jewel fine,
Where the sun shines fair on Carlisle wall;
Her brother gave but a flask of wine,
For ire that Love was lord of all.

For she had lands both meadow and lea,
Where the sun shines fair on Carlisle wall,
For he swore her death, ere he would see
A Scottish knight the lord of all.

That wine she had not tasted well
(The sun shines fair on Carlisle wall)
When dead, in her true love’s arms, she fell,
For Love was still the lord of all!

He pierced her brother to the heart,
Where the sun shines fair on Carlisle wall –
So perish all would true love part
That Love may still be lord of all!

And then he took the cross divine,
Where the sun shines fair on Carlisle wall,
And died for her sake in Palestine;
So Love was still the lord of all.

Now all ye lovers, that faithful prove,
(The sun shines fair on Carlisle wall)
Pray for their souls who died for love,
For Love shall still be lord of all!

The English Ladye reminds me of the C.S. Lewis book, “The Four Loves.” This is one of his most well-known books. First he separates out likes and loves for the “Sub-Human” and then categorizes the four human loves as: Affection, Friendship, Eros, and Charity. Categorization is clearly the theme. In his Introduction, he explains that he began with two loves, “Gift-love” and “Need-love,” but this ultimately did not work for him. It remains unclear to me why he stopped at four and did not go on to 8 or 16 or 32, ad infinitum, which, as I will attempt to say, makes more sense to me.

While Eros is the most obvious theme for English Ladye, all four of Lewis’s loves are present — to the arguable ruin of all. The song has a dark and sad tone to it, all the while championing Love as lord of all. That the Ladye is to marry a “Scottish Knight” gives us the obvious theme throughout of Eros. We see a parent’s love from her father in “Her sire gave brooch and jewel fine” and “she had lands both meadow and lea.” Lewis would call this “Affection” – “[m]y Greek Lexicon defines storge as ‘affection, especially of parents to offspring;’….” From her brother, the villain of the story, we expect both Affection, as part of the family, and Friendship (philia) towards both his sister and brother-in-law to-be. Friendship is an important but non-necessary category for life and progeny, according to Lewis. The brother appears to place a tribalistic desire perhaps connected to Affection as it pertains to the tribal/family lands over Friendship. And he kills his sister, lest a Scotsman rule over the family lands. In response, the Knight kills the brother. Again, no Friendship – though Eros is supreme. But, the Knight, perhaps in penance, gives his life to God and joins the Crusades so that his Ladye’s death will not be in vain. This is Eros of a kind, but it is primarily Charity. For Lewis, this is a heavenly love with God that will not pass away. The Knight dies for the Ladye and for God. “Now all ye lovers, that faithful prove, … Pray for their souls who died for love, For Love shall still be lord of all!”

Eros and Charity, here, seem to demand everything. The lack of Friendship seems to bring all to ruin. And what of the father’s Affection? He has lost a daughter, a son, and a son-in-law to-be in tragic circumstances. But at least it was all for “Love.” One point is to say that this shows the high need for Friendship. Lewis’s “least natural of loves; ….” Was the brother actually demonstrating Affection for the family with regard to its lands? Would the brother have shown Friendship to an English knight that his sister may marry, avoiding all tragedy? We are led to believe so. Did the sister forsake family Affection for Eros? It is possible. Which is the higher Love? We are often led to believe in poem and song that it is Eros. Is there a hierarchy? Should there be?

It is easy to romanticize and categorize. Doing so may help us get through this life. But the English Ladye demonstrates the flip side of that romanticization. A tragedy that need not be. Categorization which can cause “love” to take the form of “duty” may be helpful, but it is not necessary. Why not infinite loves rather than four? Each person is unique and, thus, each relationship is unique. Placing those relationships in little boxes may be handy for rule making and duties, but does it honor the individuality of that love so that Love is lord of all? It is often said that in English we have only this one word that covers such a broad range of feeling. And Lewis has tried to help by giving us four buckets to define it instead of one. I see it as a noble but insufficient effort. My problem is that objective criteria applied to “love” can bring about heroic and super-human feats, but they are more closely said to be demonstrations of “duty” rather than “love.” And perhaps here we veer off into Confucianism. To me, English Ladye is more about that philosophy than love.

So what is “love?” Let me propose that it is unique and infinite, just as we are. To put it in boxes of definitions feels like an offense. This does not mean it can not be dramatic or romantic, it simply need not be formulaic. Rather, it may be easier to say what it is not, and perhaps the best statement of what it is not comes from the New Testament (applying this to the poem/song would yield a very different result!):

[Love] does not envy, it does not boast, it is not proud. It is not rude, it is not self-seeking, it is not easily angered, it keeps no record of wrongs.3

Then what is it? It is the Lord of all.

1 https://rpo.library.utoronto.ca/poems/it-was-english-ladye-bright

2https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4KRCopc3jjo

31 Corinthians 13:4-5.