La Petite Mort- Hozier

Am I the only one who feels like I’m listening to a 17th century English poet when I listen to Hozier sing his 2013 song “Take Me to Church”?

Birth of a Buzz: Behind the Scenes as Hozier Goes Viral

Maybe not. After all, song lyrics are some of the only poetry our generation reads regularly. But for anyone who wants to give the man credit (or burn him) for relating love to a religious experience, or make sex something holy, they should go back a few centuries and look at the real poets: Shakespeare, Ben Jonson, Andrew Marvell, and of course, John Donne.

Not that I’m saying Hozier’s lyrics aren’t canonization worthy themselves, to some extent. There are some beautiful metaphors and phrasings here:

“Take Me To Church”

[…]
“Knows everybody’s disapproval
I should’ve worshipped her sooner”If the heavens ever did speak
She’s the last true mouthpiece
Every Sunday’s getting more bleak
A fresh poison each week

“‘We were born sick, ‘ you heard them say it

“My Church offers no absolutes
She tells me, ‘Worship in the bedroom.’
The only heaven I’ll be sent to
Is when I’m alone with you—

“Offer me that deathless death
Good God, let me give you my life

“If I’m a pagan of the good times
My lover’s the sunlight
To keep the Goddess on my side
She demands a sacrifice

“Drain the whole sea
Get something shiny
Something meaty for the main course
That’s a fine looking high horse
What you got in the stable?
We’ve a lot of starving faithful

That looks tasty
That looks plenty
This is hungry work

[…]

No Masters or Kings
When the Ritual begins
There is no sweeter innocence than our gentle sin [am I the only one who hears “genital” here?]

In the madness and soil of that sad earthly scene
Only then I am Human
Only then I am Clean
Amen. Amen. Amen. Amen.
[…]

That’s all nice, you may say. Makes for good radio (and LGBTQ rights discussion). But what about this makes you think of 17th century poetry?
It’s this line:  “Offer me that deathless death”
But, to make your education complete, I ask you to look at something you may not have seen since 10th grade English class: John Donne’s

The Canonization

For God’s sake hold your tongue and let me love,
Or chide my palsy, or my gout,
My five gray hairs, or ruin’d fortune flout,
With wealth your state, your mind with arts improve,
Take you a course, get you a place,
Observe his Honour, or his Grace,
Or the King’s real, or his stamped face
Contemplate ; what you will, approve,
So you will let me love.

Alas, alas, who’s injured by my love?
What merchant’s ships have my sighs drowned?
Who says my tears have overflowed his ground?
When did my colds a forward spring remove?
When did the heats which my veins fill
Add one more to the plaguy bill?
Soldiers find wars, and lawyers find out still
Litigious men, which quarrels move,
Though she and I do love.

Call us what you will, we are made such by love.
Call her one, me another fly,
We are tapers too, and at our own cost die,
And we in us find the eagle and the dove.
The phoenix riddle hath more wit
By us ; we two being one, are it.
So to one neutral thing both sexes fit.
We die and rise the same, and prove
Mysterious by this love.

We can die by it, if not live by love,
And if unfit for tomb or hearse
Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms.
As well a well-wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
And by these hymns, all shall approve
Us canonized for love:

And thus invoke us, “You whom reverend love
Made one another’s hermitage;
You, to whom love was peace, that now is rage;
Who did the whole world’s soul contract, and drove
Into the glasses of your eyes
(So made such mirrors, and such spies,
That they did all to you epitomize)
Countries, towns, courts:  beg from above
A pattern of your love!”

Specifically, I ask you to look at these lines of the second to last stanza. .

We can die by it, if not live by love,
And if unfit for tomb or hearse
Our legend be, it will be fit for verse;
And if no piece of chronicle we prove,
We’ll build in sonnets pretty rooms.
As well a well-wrought urn becomes
The greatest ashes, as half-acre tombs,
And by these hymns, all shall approve
Us canonized for love:

What is this thing we can “die by,” and “live by”? Is it similar to the “deathless death”?

Yup, in my mind, same thing. Both can refer to the orgasm.  If you’re interested in the pun on orgasm as a “little death,” or “la petite mort” as the French say, I encourage you do do some research on your own. 🙂 If you’re interested in a poetry analysis of “The Canonization” let me know and I’ll send an essay I wrote on it your way.

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