Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Idea 20: An evil spirit, your beauty, haunts me still - Michael Drayton

An evil spirit, your beauty, haunts me still,
Wherewith, alas, I have been long possess'd,
Which ceaseth not to tempt me to each ill,
Nor gives me once but one poor minute's rest.
In me it speaks, whether I sleep or wake;
And when by means to drive it out I try,
With greater torments then it me doth take,
And tortures me in most extremity.
Before my face it lays down my despairs,
And hastes me on unto a sudden death;
Now tempting me to drown myself in tears,
And then in sighing to give up my breath.
Thus am I still provok'd to every evil
By this good-wicked spirit, sweet angel-devil.

Michael Drayon, about whom I've written twice before, was an English poet, who lived in the Elizabethan, Jacobean, and Caroline periods.  His contemporaries are Edmund Spenser, Sip Philip Sidney, and Ben Jonson, and he is rightly held roughly in equal esteem with them.  His primary poetic output consisted on sonnets, as I've posted before, and historical epics, which aren't really suitable material for this blog.  Personally, I'm quite a fan of his sonnets, as they capture well the English Renaissance and Elizabethan ideals of affected emotion.  This poem rings out with exaggerated, beautiful sadness, which was at the time considered very fashionable.

The images we're dealing with are dramatic to say the least.  The narrator of the poem addresses a second person, a "you," presumably a lover, whose beauty is so terrible and great that it is portrayed here as an evil spirit which haunts the mind constantly.  It's so great that it is always on the mind of the narrator, driving him to madness.  It's so strong it might kill him, or as he puts it, "tempting me to drown myself in tears."  And yet for all this, we know the narrator loves this you, this beauty, and cannot live without it.  It's almost a hurts so good scenario.  "good-wicked spirit" and "sweet angel-devil" are the paradoxical phrases used to describe how sweet that pain is.  Sweet, exquisite pain is on display here, and the language is direct and lovely.

Though not in such extreme language, I'm sure many can relate to this idea of a haunting beauty.  Someone who, by virtue of their beauty, physical or otherwise, never leaves one's thoughts.  I'm sure we've all been "mad" about someone before.  I also get a whiff of the unattainable in this poem, a sense of la douleur exquise, that French phrase for the pain of wanting someone one can never have, but loving them anyways.  The narrator here is certainly powerless to exorcise that beautiful haunting spirit, and I suspect unwilling, as well.

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