Wednesday, November 16, 2005

Analysis of "The Libertine" by Aphra Behn

>> 412. The Libertine
>>
>> A THOUSAND martyrs I have made,
>> All sacrificed to my desire,
>> A thousand beauties have betray'd
>> That languish in resistless fire:
>> The untamed heart to hand I brought,
>> And fix'd the wild and wand'ring thought.
>>
>> I never vow'd nor sigh'd in vain,
>> But both, tho' false, were well received; The fair are
>> pleased to give us pain,
>> And what they wish is soon believed:
>> And tho' I talk'd of wounds and smart,
>> Love's pleasures only touch'd my heart.
>>
>> Alone the glory and the spoil
>> I always laughing bore away;
>> The triumphs without pain or toil,
>> Without the hell the heaven of joy;
>> And while I thus at random rove
>> Despise the fools that whine for love.
>>
>
> Do you suppose he's talking about breaking girls hearts, or hunting for
> sadomasochistic love slaves? (You might guess where my mind goes with
> it.)


Well let me see, the truth is I haven't thought it out very clearly yet. It looks like quite a piece of work, so I think it'll be worth the effort.


>> A THOUSAND martyrs I have made,
>> All sacrificed to my desire,


It seems to me, especially connected with the later parts, that the "martyrs" are likely to be lovers. His lovers are sacrificed, used, to satisfy him.


>> A thousand beauties have betray'd
>> That languish in resistless fire:


So he "has made" martyrs, and he "has betray'd" beauties. The martyrs and the beauties are the same people-- his past conquests. The second part I don't get. Resistless fire could be hell? But that doesn't feel like it's right. No I think maybe what he's talking about is lovers whose desire he's inflamed, but that he's moved on from.


>> The untamed heart to hand I brought,
>> And fix'd the wild and wand'ring thought.


I think here he's talking about taming lovers, bringing them around to him. Bringing heart to hand is also a very violent image. Then in the second part "wild" must again mean the heart, the (archetype of a) person he chased. He fixed it, he focused it, he led it very intentionally and deliberately, when it tried to stray to other things.


>> I never vow'd nor sigh'd in vain,
>> But both, tho' false, were well received;


He didn't just falsely vow ("oh i'll be with you forever, won't you marry me,.. oh & incidentally have sex tonight") in vain, he was good at pursuading women to make love to him.


>> The fair are
>> pleased to give us pain,
>> And what they wish is soon believed:


Hmm the first thing that comes to mind is that he's saying women want to give us men, that is give him, the pain & bother of committment. But they're easily tricked into thinking that a committment has been made.


>> And tho' I talk'd of wounds and smart,
>> Love's pleasures only touch'd my heart.


Ah no this makes more sense. What he's talking about is some sort of show he's putting on where he's terribly afflicted by longing. He's pained to be apart from his love; that shows the genuineness of his love. But really he's just patiently playing out the drama, looking forward to the sexual reward.


>> Alone the glory and the spoil
>> I always laughing bore away;
>> The triumphs without pain or toil,
>> Without the hell the heaven of joy;


He got what he wanted, & didn't have to give up his freedom.


>> And while I thus at random rove
>> Despise the fools that whine for love.


Hmm it seems to me like "despise the fools" goes along with "I always laughing bore away," grammatically, so I'm not sure why it's not "despised." Maybe I'm reading it wrong. Oh wait maybe what I'm confusing is "bore." I was thinking it's the past tense of "bear."

No it's a typo in the site I got it from, probably. I googled it and half the results have "Despis'd." But then maybe those were people who reasoned it out the same wrong way that I did. Ha!

I think the sentence works like this: He is bearing away glory & spoil. He also calls those the "triumphs," and he says that he got them without pain or toil. Again, the same image, him bearing away the glories, the spoils, the triumphs, but this time he calls them "the heaven of joy" and compares them to the "hell" of pain and toil. So he was going around doing this, at random, and at the same time he despis'd people who thought that love (as in committment, heaviness) was worthwhile.


The whole tone of the thing makes me feel like he's not quite serious about it, though. It's like he's looking back at the conquests of his youth with a disparaging, yet still sympathetic, remove.

<3

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Aphra Behn is a she, please correct. The genders are switched. However, I don't think she wrote this only for her lovers, she had relationship with females too.

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