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Old 04-25-2017, 04:32 PM
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RCL RCL is offline
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Bill, regarding your question about types of love in Post 9, could they be caritas and cupiditas? Augustine talks about them: The carnal will he called cupiditas, or cupidity, and the spiritual will he called caritas, which is the Latin translation of the Christian term, agapé, which means "selfless love." But caritas is more than selfless love; it is the will to be like God and to be united with God. It is, in simple terms, the will to God, while cupidity is the will to flesh (think Cupid and his little darts).
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Old 04-25-2017, 05:15 PM
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Michael Ferris Michael Ferris is offline
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I take your point about the effervescence and zing of ‘first love’ or infatuation as compared to the (mellower? deeper? richer?) vintage of domesticity … and you are probably right that that is one reason why poets seem more often to write about the former than the latter. But I also remembered the writings of Kierkegaard, that poet among philosophers, specifically the letters of Judge William to the aesthete, the seducer. I opened up the book (Either/Or, volume II) to peruse it, and as luck would have it, my eyes alighted on this:

This much we have proved: that conjugal love … is not only quite as beautiful as first love but far more so, because it contains in its immediacy a unity of more opposites. It is, therefore, not true that marriage is a highly respectable estate but a tiresome one, while love is poetry. No, marriage is properly the poetical thing.

(I’ve written a few poems on the beauty of enduring love; I should write better ones.)

I have to post this poem by Yeats because it expresses, it seems to me, a love that goes beyond the sensual or ‘first love’ stage as well as the ache of frustration, so wondrously phrased:

When You Are Old

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

-- WB Yeats

Last edited by Michael Ferris; 04-25-2017 at 07:36 PM. Reason: a most lamentable typo
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Old 04-25-2017, 05:19 PM
William A. Baurle William A. Baurle is offline
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Did Ronsard actually say that, Julie, or are you paraphrasing his sentiments? I've not read the poet, so I don't know. But if he actually said that: Pregnancy has now changed those perfect, perky little tits I used to write sonnets about, so it's time again to turn my attention to another teenaged muse! - how appalling. My ex-wife was never more attractive to me than well after she's had our kids, when her breasts were far from "perky." Besides, one doesn't love a woman for her breasts! I used to tell my ex: "I don't love you because you have breasts, I love your breasts because they're yours." (Or, insert any body part for 'breasts".)

I'm certainly not denying that there are men with so low an opinion of women, I'm just not interested in that kind of person, nor their poetry.

The Jonson poem does seem to be exactly how you describe it. I'm sure there are many more poems of that nature, but they haven't impressed me nor stuck with me, which is why I can't recall any similar to Jonson's.


I think what I'm talking about is neither, since I'm referring to the romantic love of one person for another: not selfless (I'm not sure that anyone can be truly selfless, nor do I think it would be healthy), and not purely sexual. It's not an either/or kind of thing.

The subject of healthy, harmless romantic love is really not that complex (though it can be, just like any other aspect of being human), and the need to psychoanalyze people (or poets) for having natural feelings and emotions is what I find worrisome, not to mention a bit baffling, about this whole discussion. I'm glad there's this thread, however, and I'd rather hoped more Spherians would offer their opinions, since it's been something of a hot topic lately on the boards.

I'll have more to say later, after work. I'm on my break at the moment.

Last edited by William A. Baurle; 04-25-2017 at 05:26 PM.
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Old 04-25-2017, 06:14 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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It seems worth remembering that Yeats's "pilgrim soul" sonnet is in fact a paraphrase of Ronsard, with a twist:

"Quand vous serez bien vieille

Quand vous serez bien vieille, au soir, à la chandelle,
Assise auprès du feu, dévidant et filant,
Direz, chantant mes vers, en vous émerveillant :
Ronsard me célébrait du temps que j’étais belle.

Lors, vous n’aurez servante oyant telle nouvelle,
Déjà sous le labeur à demi sommeillant,
Qui au bruit de mon nom ne s’aille réveillant,
Bénissant votre nom de louange immortelle.

Je serai sous la terre et fantôme sans os :
Par les ombres myrteux je prendrai mon repos :
Vous serez au foyer une vieille accroupie,

Regrettant mon amour et votre fier dédain.
Vivez, si m’en croyez, n’attendez à demain :
Cueillez dès aujourd’hui les roses de la vie."

Pierre de Ronsard, Sonnets pour Hélène, 1578
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Old 04-25-2017, 06:28 PM
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Michael Ferris Michael Ferris is offline
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John -- worth knowing, not remembering, as I did not know it!

I have to say, I like what Yeats did with it.

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Old 04-25-2017, 07:23 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Michael,

I prefer the Yeats too (though I see it's no sonnet, my bad).
Yeats is routinely great IMO.
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Old 04-25-2017, 09:08 PM
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Julie Steiner Julie Steiner is offline
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Bill, I'm probably being unfair to Ronsard.

Ronsard certainly dedicated love poems to a long series of teenaged women, for some of whom we have historical details. But we know that at least some of these poems were commissioned in praise of other men's mistresses; and Ronsard's relationships with the others may have been mostly literary, modeled in part on Petrarch's ever-so-chaste yet ever-so-obsessive worship of his Laura, and in part on poetic traditions like the blazon and effictio (which Shakespeare mocks in his Sonnet 130; these systematically catalogued and praised each part of a beautiful woman's anatomy, apparently without implying that the poet had done actual primary research into the particulars; they're far too restrained to be exercises in bawdiness, IMO).

Yes, Ronsard fetishizes very young women's barely-budding breasts in several poems, but this may simply be his imagination at work, supplemented heavily with borrowings from tradition.

Ronsard couldn't marry Cassandre Salviati--an Italian who was 15 when he met her at age 21 at a court ball--because he had taken minor orders, although he was never ordained a priest; she married someone else the next year. He continued to dedicate poems to her, or to the idea of her. And he continued to receive ecclesiastical posts for the rest of his life, despite his well-known side job churning out erotic poetry.

Some scholars feel that Ronsard's relationship with Marie Dupin, also 15 years old when they met, may not have been strictly platonic. However, his relationship with Hélène de Surgères, who was a teenager when Ronsard was 45 years old (and who is the addressee of the sonnet John quoted above), is widely regarded as nothing more than literary.

The other dedicatees of his love poems include Marguerite, Jeanne, Madeleine, Rose, Sinope, Ginèvre, and Isabeau. We know that there was more than one Marie, but one was a duke's mistress, and her poem of praise was commissioned. Some of these names may have been pseudonyms, following the classical tradition, and some may have been entirely fictional constructs, created as excuses to write love poems. We don't know.

In sum, there's not enough solid evidence to support my earlier statement about Ronsard, which I retract.

I think several of us have taken stabs at translating the Ronsard sonnet above. I'll post mine if others will post theirs. (I've also translated his sonnet about the flea enjoying access to somebody's breasts--Cassandre's, I think.)
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Old 04-25-2017, 11:47 PM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Julie,

I'm no expert on Ronsard, but your mention of Ronsard's commissioned poem in praise of Marie got me thinking of my favorite sonnet of his, which I like not least because it passed from being a touchstone for authenticity, for the C19th, to being a great example in the C20th of commissioned sentiment. Is it this Marie sonnet you were referring to?

"Comme on voit sur la branche

Comme on voit sur la branche au mois de mai la rose,
En sa belle jeunesse, en sa première fleur,
Rendre le ciel jaloux de sa vive couleur,
Quand l’Aube de ses pleurs au point du jour l’arrose;

La grâce dans sa feuille, et l’amour se repose,
Embaumant les jardins et les arbres d’odeur;
Mais battue, ou de pluie, ou d’excessive ardeur,
Languissante elle meurt, feuille à feuille déclose.

Ainsi en ta première et jeune nouveauté,
Quand la terre et le ciel honoraient ta beauté,
La Parque t’a tuée, et cendres tu reposes.

Pour obsèques reçois mes larmes et mes pleurs,
Ce vase plein de lait, ce panier plein de fleurs,
Afin que vif et mort, ton corps ne soit que roses."

Pierre de Ronsard, Amours, 1560

I have a random online translation to hand:

"On The Death of Marie

Just as one sees, on its stem in the month of May, the rose
In its lovely youth, in its first flower
Render the sky jealous of its vivid colour,
As at dawn Aurora moistens it with dew:
Grace and love within its petals repose,
Suffusing the gardens and the trees with fragrance:
Yet, battered by rain, or excessive heat of the sun,
Languishing, it dies, petal by petal unfolding:
Thus, in your first youth and freshness,
When the earth and the heavens honour your beauty
The Fates have borne you away, and in ashes you repose,
For obsequy accept my tears and weeping,
This vase filled with milk, this basket full of flowers,
That in life, and death, your body may never be without roses."

(English translation by William Hawley). NB this is pretty literal, but honoraient for some reason is rendered honour not honoured.

Oh - it seems worth noting here that these two Ronsard sonnets were learned by heart by generations of French schoolchildren, all across France. Make of it what you will, folks!

Last edited by John Isbell; 04-25-2017 at 11:56 PM. Reason: schoolchildren
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Old 04-25-2017, 11:51 PM
William A. Baurle William A. Baurle is offline
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A Virginal

No, no! Go from me. I have left her lately.
I will not spoil my sheath with lesser brightness,
For my surrounding air hath a new lightness;
Slight are her arms, yet they have bound me straitly
And left me cloaked as with a gauze of æther;
As with sweet leaves; as with subtle clearness.
Oh, I have picked up magic in her nearness
To sheathe me half in half the things that sheathe her.
No, no! Go from me. I have still the flavour,
Soft as spring wind that’s come from birchen bowers.
Green come the shoots, aye April in the branches,
As winter’s wound with her sleight hand she staunches,
Hath of the trees a likeness of the savour:
As white their bark, so white this lady’s hours.

— Ezra Pound


I thought of this poem while at work, since it's one I always thought was superb, at least for its technique and beauty of language, albeit it's from his early period where he was writing in a very outmoded, high style.

There are many interpretations of this sonnet, all kinds of analysis available to read with a few clicks. I read several, and the one that I decided to share is from a blog whose author is no-one I know or have heard of. Their first name is Ashok (male or female? No idea), and they are (or were at the time of writing this I assume) a "graduate student in political science". The author of the following commentary admits to being "creeped out" by this poem, and offers what I think is accurate in some ways - and similar to other interpretations - but also over the top in suggesting that the subject of the poem is dying. I didn't see this interpretation in any other commentary on the poem. Not saying it's not out there, just didn't read it.

Here's the commentary (I would just link to it but I just noticed only last night the big warning about putting links in this forum. I assume this warning is still in effect, though it was put there in 2011? I've gone through my many posts here and deleted a whole slew of links. Sorry, Boss!):

A virginal was a small keyboard instrument played by young girls in the 16th & 17th centuries. Consider that, as well as this being a Petrarchan sonnet, and also that our narrator used the word “sheath.” All of those factors conspired to remind this reader of some swashbuckling type dude wearing tights and bright colors and having a sword, which he would use, of course, when his opponent broke into open laughter at his get-up.

I didn’t think of all those “romantic” Renaissance associations the first time I read this poem, though. There seems to be a rather dark sexuality at work here instead.

The word “virginal” has something to do with being a virgin, with purity and innocence. If we take “sheath” not to be part of a sword metaphor, but rather the human sheath, the skin, then what our narrator has is the glow that is emanating from his skin, or maybe his facial expression, at that moment. The “lightness” of the air he breathes, he claims, has caused that. It could be that the narrator is a guy in love, and that’s it. People do feel and look different when they’re in love.

But I feel like I’m describing a person after intercourse as I write this stuff. At the same time, I’m pretty sure his narrator didn’t have sexual intercourse with the girl who has bound him with her “slight arms,” the “magic” in her “nearness,” and the image of spring she evokes.

Actually, I know he didn’t have sex with her. “To sheath me half in half the things that sheathe her” is our first clue: there is no unity of the couple physically, even in metaphor here. He’s picked up “magic” in her “nearness,” that’s all, and hence only “half” of him is sheathed.

Secondly, our narrator is screaming at someone – probably another woman – to go away. How exactly has the virgin girl bound him that he cannot be in the presence of another? She is white like a birch tree, and he sees her “springness” staunching winter – he finds her a spring that actively stops coldness. It is her whiteness which connects her with winter, though, not just the birches. Her hours being white is the part that creeps me out the most; her delicateness and white complexion suggest that she is about to die, that the color of life has drained from her, and that this death is something he loves her for.

After all, her “death” is the loss of her virginity. What is creating the tension in the narrator’s voice throughout the poem is that he is bound to love something pure, but his own love is something less than pure: he’s not going to let her stay pure. She is the “spring” to his winter, after all, and the only way he can transcend his coldness is by residing within that spring. So far, all he’s getting, by his own account, is a whiff of the air – we can perhaps see that greenery and sweet leaves seem to be things that flavor the air, and nothing more. [emphasis mine]
I hate to say it, but this only increases my often-voiced concerns about just what goes on in college and university classrooms.

I will admit, the poem can be seen as rather sexist, if one want to see it that way: N seems, at least to my understanding of the poem, to have just come from a sexual rendezvous with a young woman, a virgin, or "virginal" it would seem, and is telling another person - I agree that it could be a woman, but it could be anyone - to stay clear because he doesn't want his experience spoiled by contact with someone less "pure". The above commentator seems to think N has not had sex with this young woman, but it seems to me that the mention of his "sheath" in L2 is pretty clear. Perhaps not.

This poem appeared in 1912, and may have been written earlier, but the oldest Pound could have been when he wrote the poem is 27. And there is no mention of how old the subject is. And he refers to her as a "lady", not a girl.

No matter what the details, the poem is devotional, and is clearly worshipful of this "lady". But then again, many readers are creeped out by it. Pound's silly political views certainly don't help.


As for Ronsard, Julie - from what you've told me, I don't think you need to retract your statement at all. In fact, it seems to be an apt summing up of the man's attitude towards women. And he seems to have obviously had a rather unsavory fetish for young women. But, like I said, I haven't read him, and know zilch about him. And he came from a different world.

If he had been born in certain parts of Africa, or some other region where human female breasts are not obsessed over by males, he wouldn't have been fascinated by breasts at all, I don't suppose. ?

Edited in: Hey, Julie, I clicked on the Lewis link, then clicked another, and discovered that I'm heterosocial. Cool! A new label for me:

The term heterosocial can refer to either:

an individual who prefers to befriend or socialize with the opposite sex, as opposed to homosocial (preferring same-sex social relations) or bisocial (enjoying social relations with both sexes - Wikipedia [emphasis mine to mean: me]

Last edited by William A. Baurle; 04-26-2017 at 12:20 AM.
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Old 04-26-2017, 12:07 AM
John Isbell John Isbell is offline
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Hi Bill,

I suspect Pound is punning on the Latin for sheath.
My best friend when I was about seven was named Ashok, it's a male name.


Oh - Ashok was also a Maurya emperor, who made Buddhism his state religion. He ruled most of India, and lived 300-230 BCE, more or less. Buddhism in India didn't last, of course, but it was exported.

Last edited by John Isbell; 04-26-2017 at 12:17 AM. Reason: Ashok
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