Blake and others on coming on too strongly.

Coincidentally, after posting about Emily’s insight into the Rules, I stumbled onto the following on-topic fragment by Blake:

“The look of love alarms,
Because it’s fill’d with fire;
But the look of soft deceit
Shall win the lover’s hire”

He elaborates in another fragment that was collected together with the one above (all under the heading “Several Questions Answered”):

He who bends to himself a joy
Doth the winged life destroy;
But he who kisses the joy as it flies
Lives in Eternity’s sunrise

As previously noted, Plato was way ahead of them all, of course, and as usual.

Relatedly, see Alphafemme and I on the universality of brokenness and hiding it.

Of course, Borges understood the appeal of the not-quite available, and perhaps that’s part of it. Here’s Borges:

To a Cat

Mirrors are not more silent
nor the creeping dawn more secretive;
in the moonlight, you are that panther
we catch sight of from afar.
By the inexplicable workings of a divine law,
we look for you in vain;
More remote, even, than the Ganges or the setting sun,
yours is the solitude, yours the secret.
Your haunch allows the lingering
caress of my hand. You have accepted,
since that long forgotten past,
the love of the distrustful hand.
You belong to another time. You are lord
of a place bounded like a dream.

Edit: This video, which is making the rounds of the internet, is also relevant. It tells the story of what happens when a miscommunication causes the thin barrier between the frontstage presentation of each of us and our backstage neediness[es] to break. The video is incredibly irritating for fast readers because it could just be a short page of text rather than seven minutes of timed delivery, but it’s still worth watching just for the horrible painful train wreck quality. I disagree, though, that this is a problem about “passionate people.” It is a problem about us all. (I actually had a relationship go kaboom once under similar, though much less extreme, circumstances.)


6 Responses to “Blake and others on coming on too strongly.”

  1. Ryan Says:

    Though Blake may have been an extremist adherent to this school of thought as demonstrated by this famous life line: “never seek to tell thy love, love that’s never told can be…’

  2. Paul Gowder Says:

    I had actually never read that one! Let’s post it in its entirety, shall we?

    Never seek to tell thy love,
    Love that never told can be;
    For the gentle wind does move,
    Silently, invisibly.

    I told my love, I told my love,
    I told her all my heart;
    Trembling, cold, in ghastly fears,
    Ah! she doth depart.

    Soon as she was gone from me,
    A traveller came by,
    Silently, invisibly;
    He took her with a sigh.

    How on earth did I miss that poem?

    Oh Blake. Nobody understood the human condition as well as you did. Nobody.

    Though I wonder about that last poem whether it might work better as a gesture to renunciation rather than coyness, a la knight of resignation in Fear and Trembling.

  3. Ryan Says:

    Paul, in my life it certainly has had the function of a chastening call to renunciation. But I think this is against Blake’s intention and the deeper import of the poem. Blake is asking us to re-discover the natural bases that underlie social abstractions like ‘love’. It is not that we ought to deny that love exists, or renounce it as impossible, but rather that we have peel away the layer of verbal abstraction that disguises it and chokes us off from it. There is a real basis for love in nature but to be in line with it we must resist the temptation to try force nature’s hand and make our fate.

    Still, I think it is also a lament of our inability to resist this vain temptation to exert our will upon nature in excess.

    Not sure what I think about Blake’s views, if these are in fact Blake’s view, though.

  4. Paul Gowder Says:

    That definitely sounds like the sort of view that I’d associate with Blake. Against it, I’d probably argue that the verbal abstraction is all there is — that to the extent there is such a thing as love different from lust and a bunch of stupid bonding hormones, it exists only in the ways we give voice to it and communicate it to one another.

  5. Ryan Says:

    I think that’s a good point. If you can’t get on board with Blake’s naturalistic project this will function as a sad reminder of the relative futility of fighting for the ideal against the merely biological.

  6. Ryan Says:

    But then again. The Blake doesn’t seem to be idealizing the stranger who takes her ‘with a sigh’ as the paragon of love. It seems as if Blake is asking us to carve out a middle ground between angsty, nervy verbal ‘love’ and a thoughtless and subhuman biological ‘love’. But i’m not sure where that ground would be and Paul’s concern over whether there is room for anything higher in love once we decide that the verbal is the ‘merely verbal’ is well taken.

Leave a Comment