Greek ‘n’ Roman love

6 love blinds / love binds 9

“Love, bittersweet and inescapable, creeps up on me and grabs me once again”

Such heartfelt words expressing personal emotion by the Greek poet Sappho led to a mode of poetry in addition to the histrionic and impersonal epic: a focus on the self. The power of the words used by Roman poet Catullus to describe his heartfelt longing and love (and obsession?) are palpable:-

“…as many as the stars, when night is still,
gazing down on secret human desires:
as many of your kisses kissed
are enough, and more, for mad Catullus”

Together, Catullus and Sappho provide the inspiration for many of the articulations on, and metaphors for, love that have been seen time and again in prose and poetry throughout the ensuing centuries, by way of Shakespeare and Spenser et al., to the present day (e.g., Sergei Yesenin and E. E. Cummings).

In the audio file below (lasting around 28 minutes), academics discuss Greek and Roman love poetry, focusing on Sappho and her erotic descriptions of romance on Lesbos and, the love-hate poems of Catullus.

Greek & Roman Love Poetry
In Our Time, BBC (2007):

1280px-Sir_Lawrence_Alma-Tadema_-_The_Meeting_of_Antony_and_Cleopatra
Antony and Cleopatra by Lawrence Alma-Tadema (1885)
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Triumph of the Marine Venus by Sebastiano Ricci (c. 1713)
1863_Alexandre_Cabanel_-_The_Birth_of_Venus
The Birth of Venus by Alexandre Cabanel (1875)


p.s.

Palpable
1. (of a feeling or atmosphere) so intense as to seem almost tangible. — “A palpable sense of loss.”
2. Able to be touched or felt.

Tangible
Perceptible by touch. — “The atmosphere of neglect and abandonment was almost tangible.”

Intangible
Something that is unable to be touched; not having physical presence. — “The rose symbolised something intangible about their relationship.”

Love me little, love me long

[Robert Herrick | 1591–1674]

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,
Lasting evermore.

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.

^ In the genre of carpe diem

Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May, by John William Waterhouse
‘Gather Ye Rosebuds While Ye May’ by British Pre-Raphaelite artist, John William Waterhouse (1909).

Mary Ann Evans

[English | 1819–1880]

a.k.a., George Eliot

Mary Ann Evans was a philosopher, journalist and translator before she became a novelist. Her first book of stories was published in 1856. She led an unconventional life, co-editing the liberal journal Westminster Review for three years and living with the married man and philosopher George Henry Lewes. Her novels, in particular, Middlemarch, are acclaimed for their realism and psychological insights.

Only in the agony of parting do we look into the depths of love.

Mary Ann used the pen name George Eliot to write her novels because at that time in history female novelists were seen as only capable of being romantic authors. Thus, the argument goes, she wanted to be taken seriously as a writer, so felt that using a man’s name would afford her the credit.

What loneliness is more lonely than distrust?

Middlemarch

— 1871, Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons.

Today it is widely considered to be the case that her novels are amongst the greatest works of English literature produced in the 19th c.

Middlemarch contains all of life: the rich and the poor, the conventional and the radical, literature and science, politics and romance, but above all it gives us a vision of what lies within the human heart, the roar on the other side of silence. In the story, Dorothea is bright, beautiful and rebellious. Lydgate is the ambitious new doctor in town. Both of them long to make a positive difference in the world. But their stories do not proceed as expected and both they, and the other inhabitants of Middlemarch, must struggle to reconcile themselves to their fates and find their places in the world.

Adam Bede

— 1859, Edinburgh: John Blackwood.

In this novel, the protagonist is Adam Bede, a wood worker, who is in love with the beautiful Hetty Sorrel, but unknown to him, he has a rival, in the local squire’s son Arthur Donnithorne. Hetty is soon attracted by Arthur’s seductive charm and they begin to meet in secret. The relationship is to have tragic consequences that reach far beyond the couple themselves…

The Mill on the Floss

— 1860, Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons.

In this novel, we meet Maggie Tulliver, a young lady who worships her brother Tom and is desperate to win the approval of her parents, but her passionate, wayward nature and her fierce intelligence bring her into constant conflict with her family. As she reaches adulthood, the clash between their expectations and her desires is painfully played out as she finds herself torn between her relationships with three very different men: her proud and stubborn brother; hunchbacked Tom Wakem, the son of her family’s worst enemy; and the charismatic but dangerous Stephen Guest. … choice-overload, right?

Romola

— 1863, London: Smith, Elder & Co.
This is said to be one of Eliot’s most ambitious and imaginative novels. It is set in Renaissance Florence during the turbulent years following the expulsion of the powerful Medici family during which the zealous religious reformer Savonarola rose to control the city. At its heart is Romola, the devoted daughter of a blind scholar, married to the clever but ultimately treacherous Tito whose duplicity in both love and politics threatens to destroy everything she values, and she must break away to find her own path in life.

Felix Holt, the Radical

— 1866, Edinburgh: William Blackwood & Sons.

The novel centres around a lady called Esther. When the young nobleman Harold Transome returns to England from the colonies with a self-made fortune, he scandalises the town of Treby Magna with his decision to stand for Parliament as a Radical. But after the idealistic Felix Holt also returns to the town, the difference between Harold’s opportunistic values and Holt’s profound beliefs becomes apparent. Forthright, brusque and driven by a firm desire to educate the working-class, Felix is at first viewed with suspicion but, as Esther discovers, his blunt words conceal both passion and deep integrity. Soon the romantic and over-refined Esther finds herself overwhelmed by a heart-wrenching decision: whether to choose Transome or Holt… ch- ch- choices — again 😦

It is never too late to be what you might have been.


p.s.
The Guardian view on George Eliot: a novelist for now
— Editorial
“It is 200 years since the birth of George Eliot, and her artistic virtues – humanity, honesty, seriousness – are more necessary than ever…”

Also, I wanna introduce to A.S. Byatt who has written a lot about George Eliot, is a well regarded literary critique (heart) and is a novelist in her own right and is, according to one essayist, “a gifted observer, able to discern the exact but minor details that bring whole worlds into being.”

Possession
It says ‘Romance’ and in some ways it is, but in others it is not…

Possession is not just a novel; it’s a collection of poetry, letters, journals and diaries, each with their own distinct voice. A tour de force of prose-wring skill, beyond the usual demands of fiction, written by a literary ventriloquist. The novel begins in the Reading Room in the London Library. Part-time research assistant Roland Michell, finds letters hidden inside a book. They were written by celebrated Victorian poet Randolph Henry Ash to Cristobel LaMotte, a lesser-known writer, suggesting an adulterous affair…

✍🏻 Abandonment

❝regrets do crush me flat❞

Why?
Before & After the split.

Sunlit I

Me and you were a real life fantasy
You and I were the destiny I’d dreamed
In you and your soul I found ecstasy
In your deep eyes and open mind I beamed.

I read it said that love can truly kill
This sounds far-fetched but I’ll tell you it’s not.
Since being forsaken I’ve been so ill
This ain’t hype, I’m tied in an awful knot.

Forsaken by you, abandoned at sea
Pushed to yesterday, by your doubting mind?
Thrown to history, I’m trapped, not free
Dumped in the basket, due to a new bind?

All’s not lost for after all, you’re alive,
in this cell, I etch: “Our love will revive!”

— Sensitive Soul to Secret Sharer


The moment’s monument

( 4, 4, 4, 2 IV–IV–IV–II )

Marcel Proust

[French | 1871–1922]

Proust was a French critic, and essayist who is now best known for his monumental novel: In Search of Lost Time (sometimes known as: Remembrance of Things Past). This was published in seven parts between 1913 and 1927. Today, Proust is considered by critics and writers — e.g., Melvin Bragg and guests — to have been one of the most influential authors of the 20th c.

Love is a striking example of how little reality means to us.

Nostalgia… do you want to be dragged there? Then read on.

Happiness is beneficial for the body, but it is grief that develops the powers of the mind.

As Proust saw it:

The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new lands but seeing with new eyes.

In Search of Lost Time — a novel of over 4,000 pages — is considered by many to be the definitive modern novel. This is not least because it has influenced directly and indirectly generations of writers, in 1922 Virginia Woolf said, “Oh if I could write like that!” Vladimir Nabokov — author of Lolita and himself considered one of Europe’s most talented writers of prose — said in a 1965 interview, that the greatest prose works of the 20th c. were “Joyce’s Ulysses, Kafka’s The Metamorphosis, Bely’s Petersburg (see Endnotes), and the first half In Search of Lost Time.”

Lost in Time isn’t exactly easy reading but somehow you can get carried along by them if you can allow yourself to fall int the flow or, you can begin by listening to it in this ten part, ten hour BBC dramatisation:

📻 — In Search of Lost Time

(listening to the radio’s easier on your green eyes Jay; yes Jay, it’s easier on your brown eyes too Jay.)

Marcel Proust
Marcel Proust: Gadfly? Man for the men? A reader of Ruskin

In Search of Lost Time, is compiled in a number of volumes:


And has been republished a great many times…

To somehow summarise the work, many describe it as something of a fictional autobiography by a man whose life almost mirrors that of Marcel Proust. The first forty pages of the novel describe the narrator as a young boy in bed awaiting, and as a middle-aged man remembering, his mother’s goodnight kiss. Though it is not obvious to the reader at the time, these first forty pages also establish most of the themes of the next seven volumes and introduce most of the major characters. The rest of the novel traces the chronology of Marcel’s life over the next fifty years and the lives of his family, friends, and social acquaintances. The novel concludes at a grand party in Paris attended by Marcel and most of the remaining characters.

Because the story is told with two “voices,” that of the narrator as a young boy and also as an older man recalling his youth, it is sometimes difficult to tell Marcel’s age at any particular moment in the novel. The reader must rely on the context of the action.

Two of the novel’s major themes concern Marcel’s frustrated desire to become a writer and his despair at the corroding effect of Time, which makes all human feelings and experiences fade into nothing.

Unhappy love affairs are a leitmotif of the novel.

The best known is that of Charles Swann, which could act as a template for all the rest and is described in “Swann in Love.” The tension and swing of power between lovers and the inevitable disappointment when we achieve the object of our desires is a constant theme throughout the book. (Swann’s love for and pursuit of Odette takes him from the pinnacle ofsmart society to the depths ofsocial rejection and eventual oblivion.)

All the book’s love affairs essentially describe:

the futility of trying to possess or even understand another person

Love is a metaphor for all human experience. According to Proust:

all man’s suffering is caused by his desires [and] achieving those desires only increases the suffering.


Endnotes

1. — Bely

Petersburg
— Andrei Bely

Andrei Bely (1880-1934) was educated at Moscow University where he studied science and philosophy, before turning his focus to literature. In 1904 he published his first collection of poems, Gold in Azure. Petersburg, was published in 1916.

Petersburg is Bely’s masterpiece and it is generally considered to be a vivid, striking story. Bely’s richly textured, darkly comic and symbolic novel pulled apart the traditional techniques of storytelling and presaged the dawn of a new form of literature. This book is considered to have heavily influenced several literary schools, most notably Symbolism, and his impact on Russian writing has been compared to that of James Joyce on the English speaking world.

The novel is set at the heart of the 1905 Russian revolution. In the book. a young impressionable university student, Nikolai, becomes involved with a revolutionary terror organization, which plans to assassinate a high government official with a time bomb. But the official is Nikolai’s cold, unyielding father, Apollon, and in twenty-four hours the bomb will explode. Petersburg is a story of suspense, family dysfunction, patricide, conspiracy and revolution. It is also an impressionistic, exhilarating panorama of the city itself, watched over by the bronze statue of Peter the Great, as it tears itself apart.

2. — Ruskin

The best thing in life aren’t things.