Medieval to Modern Love Poems #
We must remember that for the noble classes, marriage was a commercial contract to consolidate alliances and to provide male heirs. Romantic love was not in the considerations. Love might or might not eventuate.
Gentlemen were expected to have extra marital affairs, but women doing so was a blemish on his honour.
The following assortment of English Love poems, professing devoted love by an admirer in order to attract a lady’s attention, must be viewed in context of Courtly Love.
They are post Shakespeare. They either conform or mock Petrarchan approaches to wooing women.
Go, lovely Rose #
Tell her that wastes her time and me,
That now she knows,
When I resemble her to thee,
How sweet and fair she seems to be.
Tell her that’s young,
And shuns to have her graces spied,
That hadst thou sprung
In deserts where no men abide,
Thou must have uncommended died.
Small is the worth
Of beauty from the light retired:
Bid her come forth,
Suffer herself to be desired,
And not blush so to be admired.
Then die—that she
The common fate of all things rare*
May read in thee;
How small a part of time they share
That are so wondrous sweet and fair!* …
To Virgins to make much of Time #
ROBERT HERRICK 1591 - 1674
Gather ye rose-buds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
Tomorrow will be dying.
The glorious lamp of heaven, the sun,
The higher he’s a-getting,
The sooner will his race be run,
And nearer he’s to setting.
That age is best which is the first,
When youth and blood are warmer;
But being spent, the worse, and worst
Times still succeed the former.
Then be not coy, but use your time,
And while ye may, go marry;
For having lost but once your prime,
You may forever tarry.
Both poems develop the Carpe Diem philosophy espoused by Horace, a Roman poet during the time of Julius and Augustus Caesar. They emphasise the brevity of life, imposing a more pagan view of courtship – sensual pleasure. “Carpe diem – seize the day – eat drink and be merry, for tomorrow we die"
Upon Julia’s Clothes #
Whenas in silks my Julia goes,
Then, then (methinks) how sweetly flows
That liquefaction of her clothes.
Next, when I cast mine eyes, and see
That brave vibration each way free,
O how that glittering taketh me!
What is so attractive about the opposite sex is that it is so opposite. Each gender can get absolutely smitten by its other.
Freud claimed: “All human behaviour is ultimately motivated by sexuality.” He also he said, “We are never so defenceless against suffering as when we love.” Did he mean both genders?
The Trojan War was fought over women; both Helen and comfort women for the soldiers.
Hesiod warns his listeners:
“Men have been undone both by being trusting and by not being so. Let not a woman who dresses to show off her behind deceive your noos, cajoling you with her crafty words, ready to infest your granary".
“Eros unnerves the limbs and overcomes the mind and wise counsels of all gods and all men within them”.
Plato maintained “Love can light that beacon which a man must steer by when he sets out to live the better life.” Rather than physical or emotional, it is rational.
Hamlet accuses all women of affectations and cosmetic ruses to seduce men.
I have heard of your paintings too,well enough;
God has given you one face,
and you make yourselves another:
you jig, you amble, and you lisp,..
Yeats too ponders the duality of love:
But Love has pitched his mansion in
The place of excrement;
We have to learn to live with the animal instincts within us as well as the angelic aspirations.
The revered French actor Catherine Deneuve insisted that women were “sufficiently aware that the sexual urge is by its nature wild and aggressive.
Richard Lovelace, was a leading Cavalier poet, and an Englishman who supported, and fought for, King Charles I during the Civil War.
To Lucasta, Going to the Wars #
Richard Lovelace 1617 - 57
Tell me not (Sweet) I am unkind,
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind
To war and arms I fly.
True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.
Yet this inconstancy is such
As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee (Dear) so much,
Lov’d I not Honour more.
To Althea, from Prison #
When Love with unconfinèd wings
Hovers within my Gates,
And my divine Althea brings
To whisper at the Grates;
When I lie tangled in her hair,
And fettered to her eye,
The Birds that wanton in the Air,
Know no such Liberty.
When flowing Cups run swiftly round
With no allaying Thames,
Our careless heads with Roses bound,
Our hearts with Loyal Flames;
When thirsty grief in Wine we steep,
When Healths and draughts go free,
Fishes that tipple in the Deep
Know no such Liberty.
When (like committed linnets) I
With shriller throat shall sing
The sweetness, Mercy, Majesty,
And glories of my King;
When I shall voice aloud how good
He is, how Great should be,
Enlargèd Winds, that curl the Flood,
Know no such Liberty.
Stone Walls do not a Prison make,
Nor Iron bars a Cage;
Minds innocent and quiet take
That for an Hermitage.
If I have freedom in my Love,
And in my soul am free,
Angels alone that soar above,
Enjoy such Liberty.