Ryan listened to the conversation never expecting to become a part.
Resting in the college coffee shop, Ryan listened as two English Doctorates—each with their own private, and common, ambition to write the next Great American Novel—debated Dante and the identity of his beloved. As the often case of most such-dreamers, their minds were swept into ideations of grand that blinded sight to subtleties and truths by which such works endured.
“Of course it was her name,” the first spoke from behind spectacled frames around bright green centers and long hair swept back in wave above his brow. “History can identify her: name, husband, death…everything.” He spoke with the certainty of a student sufficiently taught but, in first-hand reading, remained ignorant to personal interpretation of the work.
The second spoke with less certainty and more nuanced perspective as a man aware, but still uncertain, of his own convictions.
The second responded, “But if he was so cautious of her in life, why would he speak so openly—still wed—of her name in his own living years after? In Vita Nuova, does he not speak and admit to using another’s name as guise in protection of his beloved? Does he not give intentional clue and sign right then as he tells the very story of her inspiration?
He’s a poet. Why would Beatrice not be a symbol to her gifts, the vision and blessings she brought to his life, and not her true living name? He says that, even in youth, some took to calling her by such name. He never said it was her name by birth. Why shouldn’t Beatrice be a metaphor to protect the name of his Great Love: leaving her both immortal, and safely anonymous, forever to Mankind?
Does not the ideal of such Love live stronger when addressed to one whose name remains a mystery; who could be any and every woman to grace this world? Yes, there is only one true Beatrice, but in anonymity of her true personage, she leaves behind a wonder that still affects.
Is that not the kind of Love and celebration of Woman—the miracle of Woman’s essence upon a changed-heart man—that Dante seeks to inspire?”
The first student laughed in hardly suppressed ridicule at the seconds musings. The tone of his voice cast a false-empathy that, in truth, was denigration for deviation from a fixed and decided narrative.
“Why would you even think that?” replied the first.
“It just seems weird…someone that reticent to speak face-to-face with his love would so openly share her identity to all forever after…”
“Who else could she have been?” pressed the first. “What sign did he leave?”
The second hesitated. His speech slowing, held in pause after completion of his first flush of thought, as mind addressed a new degree of contemplation without postulate or answer.
“I don’t know,” the second spoke. “I just don’t think it’s who history believes. It’s too simple for a man who spoke and lived in metaphors and mysteries.”
Ryan listened, contemplating the words and theories of the second as he gazed beyond a window where his eyes stared upon Appalachian hills rising in its view. Their sides shone green in spread of June foliage and pockets of open understory showing with colored face of laurel stands blooming white and pink-pastel beneath the light of the world.
Ray cast from the sun, falling in guiding beam onto pocket of colored mountainside, and as Ryan followed beam in trace from source to leading end, he smiled bearing witness to a sign.
“I know her name…” Ryan spoke with assertion making his words and addressment known to the debating two who, until then, did not know that they were heard.
The first student laughed, throwing his head back and running hand through the current of his comb-swept hair.
“What is it then?” posited the first to Ryan.
“Absurd!” The first’s voice rose in false humor as he answered in reply, “What do you know about Dante? Why would you ever read him?”
Ryan took time to answer, and as Ryan paused in formation of response, the students absorbed his image: plain and simple, a man of labor and not self-promoting mind.
Ryan responded, “I found him by accident, like many of the things and people I’ve discovered I love most. One book led to another and, in a moment of need and help, he appeared.”
“What have you been taught of him?” the first continued in query, seeking to establish perceived position of authority on premise of academic learning.
“Nothing from another’s mouth…only what I’ve read.”
The first student shifted his bodyweight, his body language seeking to dismiss and remove Ryan’s interjection from the conversation previously for just two.
Ryan spoke further to the contemplative second. “Dante spoke in simple words. They were simple in language, but not meaning, and they were understood by Her—not all—as was how he meant for them to be.
You spoke to symbolism in names. Perhaps his beloved was born to the name of Beatrice—Giver of Blessings—but I believe the same as you. Beatrice is a name, like angel—messenger—meant to explain an action and not the embodiment of a fixed figure.”
“Then how do you find her name?” the second student asked seeking for clue to foundation of Ryan’s surety.
“In every image you find of Dante, you will see her name. What is always on his mind? What rests as halo to his thoughts, crowned adornment to his dreams?
Paintings, sculptures, in all of these…what is there?
It is purposeful symbolism to communicate and same-time guard the name of his beloved.
The symbol is seen through the lens of what the heart seeks foremost to find.
To the heart desiring renown: it sees the laureate, symbol of fame and highest award. But to the heart in search for Love, the greatest treasure, a treasure hidden in unguarded symbol, is discerned for what it truly is: the name of his beloved…”
“That’s ridiculous!” cried the first, impetuous as he drew out phone and began to search for images that would disprove Ryan’s simple explanation.
Image after image, in every one, She was there.
Derision and dismissal humbled before Ryan and the second’s eyes as the first continued, futile in his search. Ryan smiled at the student’s transforming countenance as it played across changing face as it absorbed and discerned.
“How did you…” the student asked, eyes seeing Ryan differently after than before, though nothing of Ryan changed. Ryan remained simple in appearance wearing plain and haggard clothes.
“Perhaps my heart’s been touched the same, and from this affection, I have learned to see and sign the same…”
Ryan looked to the hills and the band of light still touching mountainside illuminating laurel stand as if each petal emanated its own ray of contributive, delicate light.
“Be open to the absurd,” Ryan responded, “and you may just find it is the absurd that is the simplest, most obvious answer.”
The light upon laurel disappeared as cloud moved and mountainside returned to matted, no longer glowing cast.
As Ryan departed, a new mind laid open—amazed—to mysteries in possibility.