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And The Greatest Of These Is Love

Jeffrey Schrader

I picked it up at a used bookstore: Tyndale’s version of the bible. It was the first version ever printed in English, and it’s not divided into verses. There were a few that came soon after it; the Geneva translation was the quickest reply— 60 years later, and the first to introduce the idea of verses. But, I still preferred Tyndale’s. It’s written in that Anglo-Norman tongue; the one Chaucer pretty much invented. So, in general I’m pretty big on metaphor, imagery, and hyperbole; and I only love voices that speak in poesy. Today’s translations just can’t compare. The funny thing is looking at a King James’ Version. It was a return to the Catholic Latin, replaces the word “love” with “charity” throughout the New Testament. So I guess the story begins when I was sitting on my front porch, trying to hack my way through pre-Elizabethan, archaic diction and backwards syntax…

I don’t know exactly where she came into the picture. She was a graduate student— writing a doctoral thesis on how early Christian monks corrupted the texts of Beowulf, altered the primary theories behind the Anglo-Saxon epic. She pulled her Honda Accord into the driveway; we had been dating for a while. I found it hard to meet women: my job sucked. I was a critic. Not a critic for television, or music, or anything like that. I was a writer of critical texts and analysis for monumental texts of literature. I only worked with the big stuff: Beowulf, The Canterbury Tales, Sir Gawain and the Green Knight, Doctor Faustus, The Divine Comedy, Paradise Lost… you get the picture, all the big pre-Romantic epics. It was the type of job you really had to have a passion for, and I did. Unfortunately, most women didn’t like the big nerd-type who spent the majority of his day in his library reading and writing notes. I have a total of 65 books published. All of them are these “critical analysis, complementary to the poem” style books. I’m pretty sure that all across America only five or six people have ever heard of me; and they probably picked up one or two of my books to cite for a source for some mundane college course that cares more about proper MLA format than substance. Anyway, I digress… Her name was Juliet. Now, I’m not the biggest Shakespeare fan, but I like him enough that as soon as I met her my interest was piqued. She was everything I wanted in a relationship, and everything my previous two wives weren’t: intelligent, happy, beautiful, sardonic, liberal… But, why I do go on describing? I’ve already told you that she was perfect. This is the doctor in me; I can’t shut up, and I explain things way too much.

She and I did all the proper cliché dating rituals. We walked on the beach, we partook in fine dining, we walked around the mall wearing matching sweatshirts, and we stayed up until the wee hours of the morning discussing social and literary influences of the great pieces of writing. Okay, so maybe that’s one dating ritual I reserve for my own relationships. I’m not sure how many people out there enjoy a good healthy discussion of Caedman’s Hymn and the religious tension of the Venerable Bede. Anyway, this story begins in the museum. There was a special exhibit of Gustav Klimpt’s work— being surrealist fans; Juliet and I made a day of it.

We had been arguing. She was feeling a lot of anxiety and frustration: her thesis would soon be due. I also had a deadline fast approaching. So, we had our equally distressing veils of frustration to work through, which always make relationships next to impossible to fully appreciate. You can’t be in love with someone when you’re too busy working. Okay, so I’m not the most chivalrous fellow on the planet, sue me. I walked into the designated smoking area and lit up. She ran in furious:

“I thought you quit!” – “I did.” – “It doesn’t look like you did.” – “I always keep an extra pack around for when you piss me off.” – “Where do you keep them at?” – “Don’t end your sentences with a preposition.” – “You are so aggravating.”

Yeah, so maybe I’m not painting a picture of love here, but we had plenty of that, don’t worry. For some reason literary types always have short fuses, that’s just the way it is. Believe me, we were a pretty healthy couple, just having a turbulent period of time, that’s all. So to make up for my general immaturity, I bought her a present. That night I came home with a dozen roses, and a CD of Seamus Heaney reciting his translation of Beowulf. Okay, being hardcore scholars of pure Anglo-Saxon writing, Seamus’ version is pretty much sacrilegious to us; it is however, one of the few versions of Beowulf you can find on audio. She smiled and said she wasn’t coming to bed; she had too much work to do.

The next morning we didn’t talk. We stared down at our bowls of cereal, and silently thought to ourselves about our respective plans for the day. She muttered a quick goodbye and rushed out the door. All right, so maybe I’m petty and an emotional child, but I was mad that she didn’t even give me a goodbye kiss. I decided to not work. For the first time in years, I read for fun. I pulled off some more emotional poetry from my library’s shelves: Keats, Shelley, and Byron. It was a day of the Romantics; it was really what I needed. I took a short walk in the woods behind my house. I considered going fishing, but I’m a horrible fisherman— always coming home empty handed. In any case, I called up my editor and told him I was quitting the critical text writing business. I packed up my stuff in boxes and prepared to leave.

When Juliet got home I told her how I thought that we’d grown stale: “It’s nothing anymore. Every day you come home and you have that disgusted look in your eye like a mange-ridden dog returning to smell its own puke. I’m no prize, I know this— you’ll find better. Finish your degree, get a good job, and find a more stable man.” She said “okay.”

So that’s how I ended up here, at this university teaching writing and literature. And maybe that’s why I remembered the Tyndale’s translation of the bible. (Oh the beauty of an ambiguous beginning and seemingly unimportant details! The circle is almost complete now… watch out, the shroud is lifting…) After the whole Juliet episode it made me realize that I do in fact prefer the King James’ Version in all it’s protestant-ized Catholicism. Now, I’m not Catholic. Actually, I’m not much of anything. If I had to label myself it would have to be “confused.” However, at least in the Catholic versions, and the King James’ Version of the bible they understand humans. They know that we aren’t capable of truly understanding love. They water it down to more accurately coincide with our human shortcomings and ignorance. Is love out there? Probably, I can only guess. But in any case, it’s not that important to me anymore; and I’m glad that there are religious texts out there to back me up.

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