Monday, May 22, 2006

A poem about modern woman: updating the Song of Songs

on my cheeks I wear
the flush of two beers

on my eyes I use
the dark circles of sleepless nights
to great advantage

for lipstick
I wear my lips
Rochelle Kraut, My Makeup
Compare this to, for example, the Song of Songs of the Old Testament:
Thy lips are like a thread of scarlet, and thy speech is comely:
thy temples are like a piece of a pomegranate within thy locks.
Thy neck is like the tower of David builded for an armoury,

whereon there hang a thousand bucklers, all shields of mighty men.
Thy two breasts are like two young roes that are twins,

which feed among the lilies.
It also is reminiscent of Petrarchan amatory poetry--see, for example, Sonnett XXIII, Canzone III, "Whether or not he should cease to love Laura":
Green robes and red, purple, or brown, or gray
No lady ever wore,
Nor hair of gold in sunny tresses twined,
So beautiful as she, who spoils my mind
Of judgment, and from freedom's lofty path,
So draws me with her that I may not bear
Any less heavy yoke...
Who, in all Memory's richest cells, e'er saw
Such angel virtue so rare beauty shrined,
As in those eyes, twin symbols of all worth,
Sweet keys of my gone heart?
There is also poetry where the woman praises and discusses herself from Petrarchan sources (see Ariosto) and Old Testament verse; so the difference between the old days and the new is not a mere subjective turn. The question about this objectification, this analogizing from a woman's body to animals or towers or keys of truth--how are the harms different, or greater or smaller, than Kraut's naturalism? Is Kraut happier than Solomon's beloved, or Laura? Are her eyes baggy from fending for herself?--and has this independence gotten her what she wants? Her cheeks are rouged with drink and her eyes are mascaraed with life, but why are her lips bare?--has she nothing to say? Why is she wearing her lips? Are they protective? Are Solomon's sulamitess and Laura and Kraut overconfident, or underconfident, or broken? Is there some other choice between angel and victim? Does human love risk perversion if not situated in a virtuous mean, if not complemented by the divine love?:
Set me as a seal upon thine heart,
as a seal upon thine arm:
for love is strong as death;
jealousy is cruel as the grave:
the coals thereof are coals of fire,
which hath a most vehement flame.
Many waters cannot quench love,
neither can the floods drown it:
if a man would give all the substance of his house for love,
it would utterly be contemned.
As a wise man recently said, "Eros and agape—ascending love and descending love—can never be completely separated. The more the two, in their different aspects, find a proper unity in the one reality of love, the more the true nature of love in general is realized."

This is the Catholic tradition that caritas is composed of both agape and eros in their right relation, against other intellectual traditions that eros is a perversion. (See, e.g., "Eros and Agape in Karl Barth's Church Dogmatics," 2 Int'l J. Systematic Theology, 189.)

To be a woman--to be strong enough to not be overcome as object, to be strong enough not to retreat into wearing one's self to escape analogy--to fulfill the nature of femininity in all its universality and particularity... As Oscar Wilde noted, "To be natural is such a very difficult pose to keep up." A hard job, for a man or a woman; oddly, maybe it's easier for both together.


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