Tuesday, May 13, 2014

To a Young Lady, Netting - Thomas Love Peacock

While those bewitching hands combine,
With matchless grace, the silken line,
They also weave, with gentle art,
Those stronger nets that bind the heart.

But soon all earthly things decay:
That net in time must wear away:
E'en Beauty's silken meshes gay
No lasting hold can take:

But Beauty, Virtue, Sense, combin'd,
(And all these charms in thee are join'd)
Can throw that net upon the mind,
No human art can e'er unbind,
No human pow'r can break.

Observing a woman weaving nets by hand, Peacock first marvels at the artfulness of the work, relates it to how love can act as a net on the heart, and how none but a perfect love, in which all virtues are combined, can be everlasting.  The central message is that just Beauty alone (or by extension, just Virtue, or just Sense) can create anything resembling permanence.

The woman to whom the poem is addressed is spoken of only obliquely.  We have no account of what she looks like, no sense of her station, or thoughts.  The only things we are told is that her hands are "bewitching" in how they work the net, and that in her, Beauty, Virtue, and Sense are all combined.  Rather than this being an actual love poem, it seems fairly clear that it is a meditation on those qualities that are required for a perfect, or lasting love, and the "Young Lady" of the title is simply a vessel to embody these qualities.

A perfect "net" is one that cannot be unbound or broken by any human power.  This is the net in which perfect love snares the heart, as Peacock makes clear with the line "those stronger nets that bind the heart."  What I wonder is if this is meant to idealize a fleshly love, one between two people, why not assign more physical descriptors apart from bewitching hands to this young lady netting?  And if it is meant to be a stand in for a more perfect, Divine love, why not include more devotional imagery?  I suppose I am left feeling somewhat unsatisfied with the poem's conclusion.  It seems too easy, somehow too simple.  I do enjoy the language of the poem even if it is direct and un-imaginative.  It's pleasant enough to read, but I feel as a whole, it lacks art, and its message is worn and faded.

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