❝ Love will take us to higher plaines
Love makes us feel alive
Love is painful
Love kills ❞
❝ Thou hast the keys of Paradise, O just, subtle, and mighty Opium! ❞ — Thomas de Quincey
❝ There is no intensity of love or feeling that does not involve the risk of crippling hurt. It is a duty to take this risk, to love and feel without defense or reserve. ❞ — William S. Burroughs
❝ When you stop growing you start dying. ❞ — William S. Burroughs
📙 Confessions of an English Opium Eater
— Thomas de Quincey (1821)
Describing the surreal hallucinations, insomnia and nightmarish visions he experienced while consuming large quantities of opium, De Quincey waxes lyrical on the associated pleasures and pains. De Quincey arguably scrutinise his life, somewhat obsessively in an attempt to articulate and understand better his own identity. The work portrays a nervous (postmodern?) self-awareness, a spiralling obsession with the enigmas of one’s own composition and relative (in)significance.
Critics broadly agree that The Confessions forges a clear link between artistic self-expression and addiction. According to Martin Geeson, what makes the book technically remarkable is its use of a majestic neoclassical style to confessional writing (of the rather romantic kind). The Confessions is a work of immense sophistication and certainly one of the most impressive and influential of the autobiographies of that century. Moreover, there’s a general consensus that it paved the way for later generations of literary drug-takers from Charles P. Baudelaire — “always be a poet, even in prose” — to William S. Burroughs.
— William S. Burroughs (1953)
Junky is semi-autobiographical work that focuses on Burroughs’ life as a drug user and dealer. It has come to be considered a seminal text on the lifestyle of heroin addicts in mid-20th c. America.
📙 Naked Lunch
— William S. Burroughs (1959)
Naked Lunch is structured as a series of loosely connected vignettes. These vignettes are drawn from Burroughs’ own experiences on the road and his addiction to drugs: heroin, morphine and, while in Morocco, majoun (which is a strong strain of hashish). The book was included in Time magazine’s “100 Best English-language Novels from 1923 to 2005.”
William S. Burroughs on 3/25/81 in Chicago, Il. (Photo by Paul Natkin/WireImage)
I’ll not lie, I studied him several semesters ago and, the poem that is obsessing my thoughts now (a highly charged and thinly veiled critique of the duplicity of the powers that be), its name I cannot recall; it is in here somewhere:
Reading is key…
…but that anthology’s at the house I dwell in and I am here on this hallowed campus, this poisoned chalice, where life’s been lived, where love was found and, alas, where love was lost. For now, for the right here and right now, I’ll post this (on love & loss):
❝ Farewell, false love, the oracle of lies,
A mortal foe and enemy to rest,
An envious boy, from whom all cares arise,
A bastard vile, a beast with rage possessed,
A way of error, a temple full of treason,
In all effects contrary unto reason. –
A poisoned serpent covered all with flowers,
Mother of sighs, and murderer of repose,
A sea of sorrows whence are drawn such showers
As moisture lend to every grief that grows;
A school of guile, a net of deep deceit,
A gilded hook that holds a poisoned bait. –
A fortress foiled, which reason did defend,
A siren song, a fever of the mind,
A maze wherein affection finds no end,
A raging cloud that runs before the wind,
A substance like the shadow of the sun,
A goal of grief for which the wisest run. –
A quenchless fire, a nurse of trembling fear,
A path that leads to peril and mishap,
A true retreat of sorrow and despair,
An idle boy that sleeps in pleasure’s lap,
A deep mistrust of that which certain seems,
A hope of that which reason doubtful deems. –
Sith then thy trains my younger years betrayed,
And for my faith ingratitude I find;
And sith repentance hath my wrongs bewrayed,
Whose course was ever contrary to kind:
False love, desire, and beauty frail, adieu.
Dead is the root whence all these fancies grew. ❞ — Sir Walter Ralegh
And this (on life & loss):
❝ Even such is time, which takes in trust
Our youth, our joys, and all we have,
And pays us nought but age and dust;
Which in the dark and silent grave,
When we have wandered all our ways,
Shuts up the story of our days!
And from which grave, and earth, and dust,
The Lord shall raise me up, I trust. ❞ — Sir Walter Ralegh
Dwell on his works awhile, they are profound and powerful. He was much more than a swashbuckling pirate with a crush on the virgin qween.
To engage in daring and romantic adventures with bravado or flamboyance. A swashbuckler is a heroic archetype in European adventure literature that is typified by the use of a sword, acrobatics and chivalric ideals.
❝ love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail –
it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea –
love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive –
it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky ❞ — E. E. Cummings (1939)
What is love? Oh Jay. . . what you on about? Me! Well, I’ll tell you my precious pearl, my turtle dove, the tea leaf who has rendered me Radio Rental. I’m going on about love and according to my interpretation of the poem, love is in fact, utterly ev-re:think. Moreover, as is evidenced in life and the poem, love is an oxymoron (oh! Ox.).
love is more thicker than forget / more thinner than recall
❝ Love can make us higher than satellites in the sky, and lower than pressure pulverised submarines irretrievably sunk in the Romanche Trench (i.e., more than 25 thousand feet below sea level in the middle of the Mid-Atlantic Ocean Rift). ❞
Well, where to start? This poem, in essence, tells us how contrary, complex and all consuming love can be — I ain’t being an arrogant British man, And, I ain’t being a spoiled Kuwaiti princess, but I’ll say this: you’ll only get this poem’s import/message if you have actually lived through (or are living through) a painfully intense and incredibly fraught affair of love, and I’ll say this: the poem’s usage of opposite adjectives to describe love illustrates that love is concomitantly good and bad (for one’s mental state), love is pleasure and love is pain, love is bitter and love is sweet, love is rough and love is smooth.
Highlighting love’s complexity is the continual usage of juxtaposition throughout the poem. The most notable juxtaposition in the poem is referring to love as both “most sane and sunly” and “most mad and moonly.” This emphasises love’s naturalness (to humankind only?) and at the same time its utter irrationality (we don’t need love to reproduce and rear do we?). Love is every-FUCKING-thing. It can make us more alive than any-FUCKING-thing else. It can make us deader than dead and number (nummber not numBer 😉) than numb in the merest of instances. It is: the be all. It is: the end all. Love can indeed circumference the spectrum of human expression: “fleeting (rare), yet common (everywhere).” As exemplified in the poem:
mad as the moon / sane as the sun
Like all works of literature, imagery is key in seeking to create a palpable connection in the reader’s mind’s eye to what the author is seeking to articulate and convey. Does what she’s banging on about (does what he’s harping on about) strike a chord with you (dear reader)?
The poem is written in four quatrains, making it iambic tetrameter (thus a balad?). It has (I think) the following rhyme scheme A B A B C D C D E F E F C G C G. This gives the poem precise rhythm. Furthermore, all of the independent clauses are connected to the first word: “Love.” Finally, in terms of rhyme and repetition, you’ll note that every other one rhymes at the end.
it is most sane and sunly / and more it cannot die / than all the sky which only / is higher than the sky
— The use of the letter “m” in “it is most mad and moonly”, using the letter “L” in the third verse, and the letter “s” in the last verse are all examples of alliterations. In stanza one, we’ve three lines starting with ‘more’ and in the third stanza, three lines starting with ‘less’ this too gives the poem precise rhythm.
Imagery 01. The Sea — Love has a greater depth than the ocean, a natural element of Earth that is literally so deep humans only know only a small fraction of it — we can’t really fathom its vastness. We might then say, referencing the sea makes the reader associate love with such limitless depths and expanses.
02. The Sky (and the sun and the moon) — Cummings expresses love’s infinitude by stating that it is “higher than the sky.” Again this reinforces the extent to which love’s power and gravitational pull can be limitless.
— This poem has many metaphors; arguably the whole poem is a metaphor. “Love is more thicker than forget” is a metaphor and so is, “it is most sane and sunly.”
— Love lightens one’s mood, love darkens one’s mood; we’ve sunny days, we’ve moonlit nights. So the poem’s mood is both upbeat and downcast; excepting of fate and fighting fate. It is then — in my own view — heavy; a mood that’s ultimately heavy on the soul.
There was a time when I would walk & talk
the veneration was captivating
in those halcyon days, I’d silk and milk
the politicking was everything Statecraft through court intrigue (my modes were old)
Machiavelli gave the manuscript
my words writ power plays (and paid me gold)
yet Cromwell showed, class can never be stripped Tittle-Tattle, the cut of the devil
— time and tome tell us the weak will relent
Telltale Tit, most will be nowt but evil
— there ain’t no doubt that the meek will repent Not I, Adversity… I’ll catch stars;
for you, my dearest, I’ll spar yet with Mars.
• • • and all the dogs in the town
/ Shall each be fed a little bit
Why should I blame her that she filled my days
With misery, or that she would of late
Have taught to ignorant men most violent ways,
Or hurled the little streets upon the great,
Had they but courage equal to desire?
What could have made her peaceful with a mind
That nobleness made simple as a fire,
With beauty like a tightened bow, a kind
That is not natural in an age like this
Being high and solitary and most stern?
Why, what could she have done, being what she is?
Was there another Troy for her to burn?
— W. B. Yeats
This twelve-line poem is addressed to Maud Gonne, who, to Yeats’s great distress, married John MacBride in 1903 (she’d rejected a number of Yeats’s marriage proposals). After Yeats received Maud’s final emphatic and shattering rejection, he wrote “No second Troy.” It is in no small part a poem of unrequited love and it articulates the moment in a tortured love affair when the unrequited lover, at their wits’ end, opens up emotionally — and sends a ‘flamer’ — in a spasm of candid and brutal honesty.
However, it doesn’t only focus on love’s destructiveness on a personal level, it considers this at the level of the state (Irish) and the mythological level too. We can say it is a truism that love and politics when mixed, shaken and stirred, will be an irresistible combination. So, alongside this poem’s clear references to Helen and Paris, think too of the enduring nature of troubled love stories such as Antony and Cleopatra and Romeo and Juliet. So here, while Yeats clearly criticises Maude’s political strategies (but not her goals) he seems to do so in a way to emphasis the larger point about being debilitated by love and the destructive power of beauty. The tightened bow referenced in the poem suggests an inherent tension in heroic beauty that necessarily results in destructiveness.
I view the switch from personal to political as Yeats somehow giving in, conceding defeat, he’s not prepared to destroy Maude’s marriage to MacBride. He doesn’t, metaphorically speaking, raise another Troy to the ground. Instead, he throws in the towel, he controls his passions and consoles himself by demeaning her political strategies as being rather naïve and exploitative of the uneducated common man. As an afterthought, I’d like to say I’d do the same but I fear that an inner fire would burn so searingly that my honed placidity and pacificity would soon shed and, my abyss-borne nihilistic self, with fire & fury, would hunt down and crush completely any sudden suitor for my version of Maude.
Imagining Helen Popularly mythologised as the world’s most beautiful women
Helen of Troy By Evelyn De Morgan (1898) Helen admiringly displays a lock of her hair, as she gazes into a mirror decorated with the nude Aphrodite.
Was this the face that launch’d a thousand ships
And burnt the topless towers of Ilium?
Sweet Helen, make me immortal with a kiss.
— Christopher Marlowe, Doctor Faustus
The mythic Helen of Troy, who, 2,500 years ago, set off a war that “launched a thousand ships,” need not be real, but the obsession with female beauty as blessing and curse surely is.* However, we must ask ourselves, was Helen a victim of her beauty or a free agent in full command of her power? As a stand-in for female beauty and sexual power, the myth of Helen and the ancient texts written about the Trojan War — Iliad and Odyssey by Homer and Aeneid by Virgil — are suggestive of male attitudes on control of women and what constitutes heroism.
A building or vault in which corpses or bones are piled; a place associated with violent death.
A person who directs a vitriolic or abusive message at someone on the Internet or via email. — “Dr Bun sent a flamer to his peers and the email went viral; he lives to regret it every day.”
To be strongly prejudiced against women. — “In most parts of the world there are deeply ingrained misogynistic attitudes.”
 A figurative or metaphorical use of a word or expression.
 A significant or recurrent theme; a motif.
— A literary trope is the use of figurative language, via word, phrase or an image, for artistic effect such as using a figure of speech. The word trope has also come to be used for describing commonly recurring literary and rhetorical devices, motifs or clichés in creative works. The phrase, ‘Stop and smell the roses,’ and the meaning we take from it, is an example of a trope. Derived from the Greek word tropos, which means, ‘turn, direction, way,’ tropes are figures of speech that move the meaning of the text from literal to figurative.
— The idiom at wits’ end means to be very upset, or at the limits of one’s emotional or mental limitations. It’s commonly spelled at wit’s end, but we say at the end of my wits, not at the end of my wit, so at wits’ end makes more sense.
* Readers beware! If we blame Helen for the Trojan War, what does it say about us? I am pasting here the opening paragraphs of a 2014 eye-opening article by Emilie Wilson published in The New Republic. The article is a review of Blondell’s 2013 book, Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation
Émile Zola’s gripping novel Nana (1880) evokes the rise, fall, and early death of a sexy blonde teenager, a celebrity actress and prostitute, who takes all of Paris by storm. She destroys every man who crosses her path before herself dying a dismal death of smallpox, portending the fall of the Second Empire. The novel is part of Zola’s series on urban industrialisation and its threat to traditional family life. Nana, although theoretically human, is a destructive and powerful machine, the engine of the new civilization as well as the motor of Zola’s novelistic plot. Her sexual allure, figured as an irresistible scent, is in the end transformed into, or revealed as, the seeping putrefaction of the charnel house. This is one of the most powerful modern versions of a far more widespread misogynistic trope. Heterosexual male desire for an exceptionally attractive woman tends to be projected onto the woman herself, who is then presented as particularly lustful. Since male desire can be experienced as mysterious, bewildering, and overwhelming, the woman herself must be destructive and deceptive, perhaps possessed of magical witch-like powers.
In ancient Greek mythology, one of the female characters who fits this general model is Pandora, the female sent by Zeus to punish humans for Prometheus’s theft of fire and to end the Golden Age, when she opens the jar of death, pain, and other evils upon the world. This is a relatively straightforward presentation of the beautiful woman as a mechanism for disaster—a mere instrument of divine vengeance. But Hesiod adds that Pandora herself had agency, “strength,” a “mind,” and a “voice,” allowing her to “devise” evils for humanity, when she made the fateful choice to open the jar—an action that, as Ruby Blondell rightly notes in, Helen of Troy: Beauty, Myth, Devastation, has obvious sexual overtones. The problem with Pandora, as with all beautiful women in a patriarchal society, is that she is “more than a statue. And there’s the rub.” The urge to objectify a desirable woman is undermined by the acknowledgment that she might be human; at the same time, her capacity for agency and choice only reinforces her desirability (and makes her seem all the more dangerous).
YOU say, to me-wards your affection’s strong;
Pray love me little, so you love me long.
Slowly goes far: the mean is best: desire,
Grown violent, does either die or tire.
Love me little, love me long,
Is the burden of my song:
Love that is too hot and strong
Burneth soon to waste.
I am with little well content,
And a little from thee sent
Is enough, with true intent,
To be steadfast friend.
Love me little, love me long,
Is the burden of my song.
Say thou lov’st me while thou live,
I to thee my love will give,
Never dreaming to deceive
While that life endures:
Nay, and after death in sooth,
I to thee will keep my truth,
As now when in my May of youth,
This my love assures.
Love me little, love me long,
Is the burden of my song.
Constant love is moderate ever,
And it will through life persever,
Give to me that with true endeavor.
I will it restore:
A suit of durance let it be,
For all weathers, that for me,
For the land or for the sea,
Love me little, love me long,
Is the burden of my song.
Of Love: A Sonnet
How love came in I do not know,
Whether by the eye, or ear, or no;
Or whether with the soul it came
(At first) infused with the same;
Whether in part ’tis here or there,
Or, like the soul, whole everywhere,
This troubles me: but I as well
As any other this can tell:
That when from hence she does depart
The outlet then is from the heart.
Robert Herrick (1591-1674) was an English poet best known for Hesperides: Or, The Works Both Humane & Divine (1648), a book of poems. This includes the carpe diem poem “To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time.”
To the Virgins, to Make Much of Time
Gather ye rosebuds while ye may,
Old Time is still a-flying;
And this same flower that smiles today
To-morrow 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.