Wednesday, January 16, 2013

Air and Angels

Psyche et L'Amour (Psyche and Cupid), 1889, William Bouguereau

Twice or thrice had I loved thee,
Before I knew thy face or name;
So in a voice, so in a shapeless flame,
Angels affect us oft, and worshipped be;
   Still when, to where thou wert, I came,
Some lovely glorious nothing I did see,
   But since my soul, whose child love is,
Takes limbs of flesh, and else could nothing do,
   More subtle than the parent is
Love must not be, but take a body too,
   And therefore what thou wert, and who
     I bid love ask, and now
That it assume thy body, I allow,
And fix itself in thy lip, eye, and brow. 

Whilst thus to ballast love, I thought, 
And so more steadily to have gone,
With wares which would sink admiration,
I saw, I had love's pinnace overfraught,
   Every thy hair for love to work upon
Is much too much, some fitter must be sought;
   For, nor in nothing, nor in things
Extreme, and scatt'ring bright, can love inhere;
   Then as an angel, face and wings
Of air, not pure as it, yet pure doth wear,
   So thy love may be my love's sphere;
     Just such disparity
As is 'twixt air and angels' purity, 
'Twixt women's love, and men's will ever be.

by John Donne

Le Ravissement de Psyche (The Rapture of Psyche), 1895, William Bouguereau

Donne is again writing about love, not just any love but pure, immortal love. He talks about love in the abstract and unseen in the first stanza as he writes, "Twice or thrice had I loved thee,/ Before I knew thy face or name" and then begins to talk about love in a more tangible form at the end of the first stanza. As Donne continues to the second stanza he writes of the ethereal nature of love that exists in a free an pure state like that of angels and air. In two stanzas Donne moves from discussing love in a tangible, earthly form to an elevated and heavenly love.

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