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.


occupatio- A note from “History of the German Language Literature from 1600- Present”

I have so many things I’m reading an learning about that I don’t have enough time to blog about them before I learn something new. I have a post I’d really like to write about “post-colonial” literature and about the uncanny, but those will have to wait. For now, I’m using the time between my literary history lecture and Russian grammar seminar to write about something I learned today, namely the term occupatio. 

Because this is something people do when introducing a term, I’m going to do it too (namely, insert a definition from the Oxford Dictionary of Literary Terms): 

 A rhetorical device (also known under the Greek name paralipsis) by which a speaker emphasizes something by pretending to pass over it: ‘I will not mention the time when…’ The device was favoured by Chaucer, who uses it frequently in his Canterbury Tales.

I came across the concept that occupatio describes for the first time in my Russian short-fiction class when my professor was pointing out the strange way the narrator addressed the cockroaches in a text that I’m ashamed to say I can’t recall the name of. I just remember how the narrator mentioned cockroaches that weren’t scurrying under the staircase. So, for me, that rhetoric device that I’ve seen in several literary texts since then finally has a name for me.

Apparently, this rhetorical device gets used a bit in Barock (Baroque)  literature. It’s a literary move parallel to ineffability, namely the Unsagbarkeit, or inability to express something (whether it be from conceptual difficulty or taboo).

I am happy I learned this today, and maybe you are too.

In closing, I leave you with this that I found when googling “cockroaches in Russian literature”:

And Mitka I shall squash like a cockroach. At night I crush black cockroaches with my slipper: it makes a cracking sound when you tread on them. Your Mitka will make a cracking sound, too.
Dostoevsky. The Brothers Karamazov. Book Eleven.

The Tragical History of Dr. Faustus

Not to be confused with Johann von Goethe’s Faust (Books One and Two), or with Thomas Mann’s Doktor Faustus, or with dozens of other theatrical, musical and literary reworkings of the story, this play is inspired by the same real life persona (sources differ on which one it is): Dr. Johann Georg Faust of the 15th century. The basic gist is that Faust is a learned scholar who becomes dissatisfied with all he can learn and do with human knowledge, and turns to alchemy and “dark knowledge.” It’s not so much the fascination with the dark magic that forms the crux of these tales, but rather the lengths to which a person’s soul will go to obtain that beyond his/her reach and what s/he does when s/he obtains it. One should probably elaborate on that further, but first I wanted to address the short summary on the back of my edition of the 1604 Quarto:

Marlowe was an English poet, dramatist and translator [no Oxford comma!] in the Elizabethan period. Faust is the famous story of a man selling his soul to the devil for power and knowledge. On a deeper level man’s decay from choosing material things over the spiritual is depicted.

I don’t think this is a bad summary of the play or the story. It’s not inaccurate and captures the main idea of the story pretty well. Faustus’s main goal is to gain knowledge and power after he has achieved the highest levels of learning in science, medicine, philosophy and theology. He wants more knowledge because it grants him, to some extent, more power. I see his greatest vice as being pride, with a close second as gluttony, but this does not contradict the summary. Where I find the summary lacking is the supposed “deeper level” of the play. I don’t think material wealth over spiritual is the main point at all. I see this interpretation weakly when the “Good Angel” and “Evil Angel” enter for the first time:

GOOD ANGEL. Sweet Faustus, think of the heaven and heavenly things.

EVIL ANGEL. No, Faustus, think of hounour and of wealth.

Clearly, the reader is introduced to two opposing forces here. Yet the struggle cannot be so deep when the one thing is as a “thing” while the other is tangible and strikes the desires more closely. I think the struggle lies even deeper, and to understand where I think one should look at where Faust is first tempted to repent. It happens right after Faustus  asks Mephistophilis about heaven and who created the earth. Mephisto explains how there are nine heavens and spheres, but will not tell Faustus who made the world. It is “against our kingdom.” Denied this knowledge, Faustus wants to repent and the Good Angel and Bad Angel enter again.

However, why did Faustus want to know? And why wasn’t he told? And why would not being told and still not knowing make him want to repent? I think this has to do with the nature of knowledge and the deeper struggle at work here. It does not have to do with wealth so much as with faith and the ability to accept that there are things unseen and unimaginable. Thus, it is humility that I think Marlowe tries to teach the reader with his play, not so much a particular religious message that spiritual wealth is better.

This interpretation is fueled in part by my knowledge of Marlowe’s other play, The Jew of Malta, which also walks fine lines between religious beliefs, tolerance, and stereotypes, but in the end questions other values.

Mephisto is always my favorite character. He’s neither good nor bad (I mean, why else would he speak in favor of the poor farmer who wants to buy Faustus’s horse?), but he’s more of a joker figure. Plus, when Arthur Darvill plays him, it’s only better.

So, while I appreciate what I got from this play through Marlowe, I still like Goethe’s better. In Goethe’s works, the moral ambiguity is more strongly portrayed and Faust isn’t irrevocably damned. He is able to redeem himself. Maybe I’m just a sucker for happy endings, I guess.