Here’s what I am working with in the chapter I’m writing right now.  First, Richard Crashaw’s (17th-century English metaphysical poet, contemporary of John Donne’s) weird poem to St Teresa of Avila (16th-century Spanish mystic); second, the famous sculpture of her by Bernini in Rome; third, an excerpt from St Teresa’s writings on which Bernini’s sculpture and Crashaw’s poem are based.  All very weird stuff– the long tradition of mystics describing their experiences of divine rapture in erotic terms, and the metaphysicals playing off this tradition.  I’m of course looking at the veil in Crashaw’s poem, but it’s just so bizarre!  Imagine if someone wrote this kind of thing today…

The Flaming Heart

Vpon the book and Picture of the seraphicall saint Teresa, (as she is vsvally expressed with a Seraphim biside her)

WELL meaning readers! you that come as freinds

 
And catch the pretious name this peice pretends;  
Make not too much hast to’ admire  
That fair-cheek’t fallacy of fire.  
That is a Seraphim, they say         5
And this the great Teresia.  
Readers, be rul’d by me; and make  
Here a well-plac’t and wise mistake.  
You must transpose the picture quite,  
And spell it wrong to read it right;        10
Read Him for her, and her for him;  
And call the Saint the Seraphim.  
  Painter, what didst thou understand  
To put her dart into his hand!  
See, even the yeares and size of him        15
Showes this the mother Seraphim.  
This is the mistresse flame; and duteous he  
Her happy fire-works, here, comes down to see.  
O most poor-spirited of men!  
Had thy cold Pencil kist her Pen        20
Thou couldst not so unkindly err  
To show us This faint shade for Her.  
Why man, this speakes pure mortall frame;  
And mockes with female Frost love’s manly flame.  
One would suspect thou meant’st to print        25
Some weak, inferiour, woman saint.  
But had thy pale-fac’t purple took  
Fire from the burning cheeks of that bright Booke  
Thou wouldst on her have heap’t up all  
That could be found Seraphicall;        30
What e’re this youth of fire weares fair,  
Rosy fingers, radiant hair,  
Glowing cheek, and glistering wings,  
All those fair and flagrant things,  
But before all, that fiery Dart        35
Had fill’d the Hand of this great Heart.  
  Doe then as equall right requires,  
Since His the blushes be, and her’s the fires,  
Resume and rectify thy rude design;  
Undresse thy Seraphim into Mine.        40
Redeem this injury of thy art;  
Give Him the vail, give her the dart.  
  Give Him the vail; that he may cover  
The Red cheeks of a rivall’d lover.  
Asham’d that our world, now, can show        45
Nests of new Seraphims here below.  
  Give her the Dart for it is she  
(Fair youth) shootes both thy shaft and Thee  
Say, all ye wise and well-peirc’t hearts  
That live and dy amidst her darts,        50
What is’t your tastfull spirits doe prove  
In that rare life of Her, and love?  
Say and bear wittnes. Sends she not  
A Seraphim at every shott?  
What magazins of immortall Armes there shine!        55
Heavn’s great artillery in each love-spun line.  
Give then the dart to her who gives the flame;  
Give him the veil, who gives the shame.  
  But if it be the frequent fate  
Of worst faults to be fortunate;        60
If all’s præscription; and proud wrong  
Hearkens not to an humble song;  
For all the gallantry of him,  
Give me the suffring Seraphim.  
His be the bravery of all those Bright things.        65
The glowing cheekes, the glistering wings;  
The Rosy hand, the radiant Dart;  
Leave Her alone The Flaming Heart.  
  Leave her that; and thou shalt leave her  
Not one loose shaft but love’s whole quiver.        70
For in love’s feild was never found  
A nobler weapon then a Wound.  
Love’s passives are his activ’st part.  
The wounded is the wounding heart.  
O Heart! the æquall poise of love’s both parts        75
Bigge alike with wound 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 dy and kill;  
And bleed and wound; and yeild and conquer still.        80
Let this immortall life wherere it comes  
Walk in a crowd of loves and Martyrdomes  
Let mystick Deaths wait on’t; and wise soules be  
The love-slain wittnesses of this life of thee.  
O sweet incendiary! shew here thy art,        85
Upon this carcasse of a hard, cold, hart,  
Let all thy scatter’d shafts of light, that play  
Among the leaves of thy larg Books of day,  
Combin’d against this Brest at once break in  
And take away from me my self and sin,        90
This gratious Robbery shall thy bounty be;  
And my best fortunes such fair spoiles of me.  
O thou undanted daughter of desires!  
By all thy dowr of Lights and Fires;  
By all the eagle in thee, all the dove;        95
By all thy lives and deaths of love;  
By thy larg draughts of intellectuall day,  
And by thy thirsts of love more large then they;  
By all thy brim-fill’d Bowles of feirce desire  
By thy last Morning’s draught of liquid fire;       100
By the full kingdome of that finall kisse  
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;       105
Leave nothing of my Self in me.  
Let me so read thy life, that I  
Unto all life of mine may dy.  

 

 

St Teresa:

I saw an angel close by me, on my left side, in bodily form. . . He was not large, but small of stature, and most beautiful—his face burning, as if he were one of the highest angels, who seem to be all of fire:  they must be those whom we call Cherubim. . .  I saw in his hand a long spear of gold, and at the iron’s point there seemed to be a little fire.  He appeared to me to be thrusting it at times into my heart, and to pierce my very entrails; when he drew it out, he seemed to draw them out also, and to leave me all on fire with a great love of God.  The pain was so great that it made me moan; and yet so surpassing was the sweetness of this excessive pain that I could not wish to be rid of it.  The soul is satisfied now with nothing less than God.  The pain is not bodily, but spiritual; though the body has its share in it, even a large one.  It is a caressing of love so sweet which now takes place between the soul and God, that I pray God of His goodness to make him experience it who may think that I am lying.

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