Richard Crashaw – 2 (Saint Teresa)

Gian Lorenzo Bernini – St Teresa in Ecstasy (detail) ) c.1647-52

AG: But better than those, there’s one other poem to Saint Teresa, which begins, idiotically, with the image that her heart was so hot that the angels would be set fire by it, rather than the angels setting fire to her heart, or something like that.. Saint Teresa – “(The Flaming Heart) Upon The Book and Picture of (the seraphical) Saint Teresa (As she is usually expressed with Seraphim beside her)” –  So the whole poem is not worth our time now, we’re limited, but the end is one of the great, rhetorical, run-on, build-up, endings in poetry in English, the whole canon  So I’ll read that.

[from “The Flaming Heart...”]

“O heart, the equal poise of love’s both parts,/ Big alike with wounds and darts..” – Wait a minute, before I go on.. This is a breakthrough, in that we had the intellectual poets, the metaphysical poets, like (John) Donne (we’ll get more), we had country-parson poets (like (George) Herbert and (Robert) Herrick), we had sort of the.witty poets (like (John) Suckling) and the serious priest-poets (like Donne) and then the heavy-heavy-heavier, you know, like, religious nuts, like (John) Milton. And then here’s a sudden excrescence or a weirdness of a…all that rolled up into one..but an actual mystic, somebody who had some kind of mystical experiences and now is trying to write about them. And so it’s a breakthrough from the rational logical metaphysical intellectual to something to do with the heart (and this is a poem about the sacred heart,), on (one of) the major Catholic saints, Saint Teresa of Avila, whom you may or may not have heard of, but I think, her Castle..? –  what’s the name of her great book? The Castle? – (The Interior Castle). Her image is of the Castle of Love, I think. Anybody know about Saint Teresa here?  Anybody ever hear of…yeah..Saint Teresa?

Student; All I know is the great sculpture by Bernini

Gian Lorenzo Bernini – St Teresa in Ecstasy – marble sculpture in the Comaro Chapel, Santa Maria della Vittoria, Rome

AG: Okay. Yes. Well, ok – heart, bhakti, devotion, faith (so it’s about her heart). And the first few, the first twelve lines are just building up

“O heart, the equal poise of love’s both parts,/ Big alike with wounds and darts/Live in these conquering leaves; live all the same,/ And walk through all tongues one triumphant flame;/ Live here, great heart, and love and die and kill,/ And bleed and wound, and yield and conquer still./Let this immortal life, where’er it comes,/ Walk in a crowd of loves and martyrdoms;/ Let mystic deaths wait on ’t, and wise souls be The love-slain witnesses of this life of thee./ O sweet incendiary! show here thy art,/Upon this carcass of a hard cold heart,/ Let all thy scatter’d shafts of light, that play/Among the leaves of thy large books of day,/ Combin’d against this breast, at once break in/ And take away from me my self and sin;/ This gracious robbery shall thy bounty be,/ And my best fortunes such fair spoils of me./ O thou undaunted daughter of desires! /By all thy dow’r of lights and fires,/ By all the eagle in thee, all the dove,/ By all thy lives and deaths of love,/ By thy large draughts of intellectual day,/ And by thy thirsts of love more large than they,/ By all thy brim-fill’d bowls of fierce desire,/ By thy last morning’s draught of liquid fire,/ By the full kingdom of that final kiss/ That seiz’d thy parting soul and seal’d thee his,/ By all the heav’ns thou hast in him,/ Fair sister of the seraphim!/ By all of him we have in thee, Leave nothing of my self in me:/ Let me so read thy life that I/ Unto all life of mine may die.”

That’s pretty good rise, rapture.  So the rapture. So he’s trying to imitate mystical rapture, and he does get it with that anaphoric repetition (anaphora is repetition of a…. “who threw themselves [“who plunged themselves’]  under meat-trucks looking for an egg..”, “who lit cigarette in boxcars boxcars boxcars”, a repeated refrain. “Or ever the silver cord be loosed, or the golden bowl be broken, or the pitcher be broken at the fountain, or the wheel broken at the cistern” – (from Ecclesiastes (12-6)) Anaphora – A-N-A-P-H-O-R-A – Anaphora – is that use of a repeated refrain  (I think! – I’ll look it up later and find out).

[Audio for the above can be heard here, beginning at  approximately twenty-nine-and-a-quarter minutes in and concluding approximately  thirty-four-and-a-quarter minutes in]

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