More than once, attempting a story of high and passionate love--in this book, for example, and still more recklessly in my tale of Sir John Constantine--I have had to pause and ask myself the elementary question: Can such a story, if at once true and exemplary, conclude otherwise than in sorrow?
The great artists in poetry and prose fiction seem to consent that it cannot: and this, I think, not because--understanding love as they do, with all its wonder and wild desire--they would conduct it to life-long bliss if they could, but simply because they cannot fit it into this muddy vesture of decay. They may dismiss us in the end with peace and consolation:
And calm of mind, all passion spent.
And we know or have known that of its impulse among us lesser folk it holifies and populates this world. But our own transience qualifies it. Only when love here claims to be above the world--"All for Love, and the World well Lost"--we feel that its exorbitance must wreck it here and now, however it may shine hereafter. That is why all the great legends of love--the tale of Tristan and Iseult, for instance-- are unhappy legends: as that is why they still tease us.
I hope these remarks will not be deemed too pompous for the preface to a story in which true love is crossed by a soldier's sense of honour. The theme is a variant on a great commonplace: and, following my habit, I let the incidents and characters have their own way without the author's comment or interference.