Lament for Zion

This famous elegy was written in the sixth century by Rabbi Elazar HaKalir.

For Zion and her towns complain

Like woman in her birthing pain

Or like a sackcloth girded maid

Whose husband in the ground’s been laid.

For devastation of her hall

By wretched flock’s most sinful fall;

For blasphemers who boldly came

Into the room that housed His name.

For holy priests in exile grim,

And singers of her faithful hymn;

For rivers of their kindred blood

Which coursed through courtyards in a flood.

For cities cloaked in silence thick–

Sans joyful calls from dances quick;

For meeting room that’s barren of

Men’s learned words and wars of love.

And for her daily sacrifice,

Redemption of her firstborns’ price,

For sacred bowls defilers broke,

For ceasing of her incense smoke.

For sons of kings without their swords,

Good David’s children, Zion’s lords,

Whose faces fair were darkened when

Her shining crowns were reft from them.

For Glory which, at that time, fled

Her ruined home amidst the dead.

For foeman fell, oppression cruel,

For sackcloth worn instead of wool.

For painful wounds and lashes strong

Her patient princes suffered long.

For bodies of her babes and youth

–smashed on stones without all ruth.

For gaiety of hateful foes

Who laughed to see her shames and woes.

And for free men reduced to scorn —

The pure of heart and noble born.

For crooked paths towards which she turned

From happy road in childhood learned.

And for her sad and swarthy throngs

All burnt by sins and scorched by wrongs.

For imprecating voices shrill

When rife she was with corpses still;

And for the shrieks and echoed call

Of stranger’s curse within her Hall.

O for Thy name that’s been profaned

By those who with her blood are stained.

When Exile’s prayer they cry to Thee

Incline and hear and set her free!

The Heiress of Dickens

There are few pieces of criticism written on the books of JK. Rowling which neglect to mention the supposed influences of C.S. Lewis and J.R.R. Tolkien on the Harry Potter novels. Nothing could be neater than tying popular, literary, twentieth century writers of fantasy fiction into one bundle. This pretty packaging, however, must seem forced to those who, like myself, are fans of all three writers. How can one seriously claim that the vibrant primary colors of Harry Potter are substantially derived from the golds, grays, muted blues, and greens of Narnia and Middle Earth?

Furthermore, the works of the two Oxbridge professors are permeated with ineffable nostalgia, a feeling that is rarely encountered in Rowling’s work. The magical world that Harry enters is not older or essentially better than ours; it is just more fascinating. If J.K. Rowling is ever really guilty of nostalgia, it is the nostalgia for the future commonly known as progressivism. Hogwarts, which, as Mr. Filch is fond of reminding the students, used to use interesting methods of corporal punishment, was not always as nice a place as it now is. Dumbledore is kinder and wiser than previous headmasters, — one of whom unjustly expelled Hagrid. In the larger wizarding world, the abuse of house elves used to go unquestioned, but Hermione Granger is determined to end this practice and liberate the downtrodden house elves from their bonds. We are always made to feel that Middle Earth and Narnia, on the other hand, were once much better places than they now are. The spiritual decline of those lands has come to such a point, in fact, that The Lord of the Rings must conclude with the departure of the Elves — with all their magic and wisdom — from Middle Earth, while the Chronicles of Narnia end with total moral decay and an apocalypse.

With the exception of Lewis’ lamp post, inanimate objects belonging to the post-industrial world are, in the eyes of Lewis and Tolkien, symbolic of evil and ugliness. Rowling, on the other hand, embraces such objects and gives them a magical twist: while the victorious hobbits get rid of Saruman’s utilitarian, modern buildings, and the children entering Narnia are thankful to shed their ugly clothes for beautiful ones, in Rowling’s world, train stations are enchanted, modern canvas tents are larger on the inside than on the outside, and old newspapers and rubber tires are given the ability to magically transport groups of people from one place to another.

There are two schools of romance. One, which can be traced back in a straight line to the Romans (hence, we suppose, the word romance), is the refined, discontented school: its members are always impatient with their actual surroundings and yearning for goodness that can only be found somewhere “far, far away,” whether in a pastoral idyll or a mythical past. A representative work from this group is Coleridge’s “Frost at Midnight,” in which the poet tells his child that

                                          I was reared
In the great city, pent ‘mid cloisters dim,
And saw nought lovely but the sky and stars.
But thou, my babe! shalt wander like a breeze
By lakes and sandy shores, beneath the crags
Of ancient mountain, and beneath the clouds,
Which image in their bulk both lakes and shores
And mountain crags: so shalt thou see and hear
The lovely shapes and sounds intelligible
Of that eternal language, which thy God
Utters, who from eternity doth teach
Himself in all, and all things in himself.

The other school sees lovely things everywhere, and hears the eternal language of God even in a cloistered city. Its doctrine is encapsulated in Chesterton’s poem about a mailbox:

“In mine own city” thus he said—
“There stands a little man in red
Who in the steep street standeth still
And morn and even eats his fill
Of tales untold, wild truths and lies
Small wars and secret chivalries
You may walk round him as may be
He guards his secrets soldierly—
A quaint red tower not three feet wide
And thousands of mens’ souls inside.”

Lewis and Tolkien mainly belong to the first school (although they both incorporate some elements of the second school into their stories); Rowling belongs solidly to the second school.  While the history and origins of the everyday sort of romantic poetry are not as obvious as those of the classical kind, one earlier author who stands out for seeing magic in the mundane is Charles Dickens.

While Dickens is most regarded for his deeply humorous characters and biting social commentary (both of which qualities can be found in Rowling’s books as well), it is less often remarked that he is a pioneering writer of fantasy fiction as well. Several of Dickens’ works contain magical elements, and it is to these, and not to any twentieth century book, that Rowling owes her greatest debt. The device of Dumbledore’s “Pensieve,” which carries its user back into memories in which he can observe without being observed, is a pretty obvious homage to A Christmas Carol. The general kind of magic that can be found in Harry Potter — the all-embracing, humorous kind — is similar to the magic in some of  the random anecdotes found scattered throughout The Pickwick Papers. We hear in the cheeky banter of Hogwarts students with the school’s resident ghosts echoes of the young lawyer in Pickwick cleverly advising the tortured ghost-of-a-lawyer he encounters to leave his stuffy rooms in London and seek out fresher climes. Rowling’s image of an overstuffed couch that is revealed to be, in fact, a cowardly, obese man, is reminiscent of a chair in Pickwick with an old man’s features which coarsely boasts about all of the women who have “sat on its lap for hours together.”

Although we are certainly very lucky that Rowling picked up where Dickens left off, we suspect that even if Dickens hadn’t left any explicitly magical thread at all, it is possible that Rowling could still have been inspired by him (and similar authors) to create the wizarding universe. When Harry Potter first rides the Hogwarts Express, he discovers that wizard candy is more interesting than Muggle candy: Bertie Bott really does include all flavors in his jelly beans, including pepper, ear wax, and grass. There is nothing specifically “magical” about this; it is just amusing and different. Chesterton defines humor as “a rather deep and delicate appreciation of the absurdities of others.” It is in Pickwick, which is the work of Dickens at his funniest and most incorrigible, that Dickens’ enthusiasm boils over: he cannot confine himself to appreciating the absurdities of other people, but must also explore the eccentricities and exaggerations of inanimate objects and imaginary beings. Given the long and rich tradition of English comedy — and the benefit of hindsight — we may even feel that the creation of a world in which everything is perceived through humor’s exuberant lens and in which many objects undergo a supernatural transformation (or transfiguration), was inevitable.

Rowling shares a few other stylistic similarities with Dickens, the most notable of which is a penchant for gloriously improbable plots (although hers are much more tightly constructed than his). Something else the two authors have in common is that the books of both have been received with wild popularity. Of course, it would not have been possible for them to be so popular if they weren’t good. We all know, however, that there are many excellent, literary books that will never be so widely read. What makes our two authors popular is the fact that, morally outraged and satirical as they may occasionally be, they are, essentially, unabashedly joyful. And it is this very joy which enables them to see everything transformed by a magical light. If the somber moods of Lewis and Tolkien can be traced back to Virgil (as well as, in Tolkien’s case, Anglo-Saxon and Norse poets), who was a typically pensive pagan, the joyous moods of Dickens and Rowling may be traced to Isaiah, who proclaimed that “the mountains and the hills shall break forth before you into singing, and all the trees of the field shall clap their hands.”

The Feminine Logic of Libertarianism

Rand Paul’s approval ratings among Republican women lag far behind his approval ratings among Republican men. An explanation for this phenonomeon is offered by Katherine Mangu-Ward and quoted in Jeet Heer’s The New Republic article on this topic: Libertarianism,” she says, “has historically been a fringe movement. And fringes tend to be populated by men. There are exceptions, of course, but in general, if you investigate the long tails of any bell curve you’re going to discover a sausage fest, and libertarianism is no exception.” Although this theory resonates strongly with me, I disagree with Mangu-Wards’s characterization of Libertarianism as something that has “historically been a fringe movement.” Libertarianism is now a fringe movement and was a fringe movement for the better part of the twentieth century, and that is enough to explain why there are not many female libertarians today. But Libertarianism has not always been on the fringes. Classical Liberalism, the political philosophy from which Libertarianism derives, was actually quite popular in both the eighteenth and the nineteenth centuries. Furthermore, in an essay about Suffragettes entitled ‘The Modern Surrender of Woman,” G.K. Chesterton argues that a radical form of Libertarianism has actually been the preferred political doctrine of approximately half of the population in almost every historical era:

By the beginning of the twentieth century, within the last few years, the woman has in public surrendered to the man. She has seriously and officially owned that the man has been right all along; that the public house (or Parliament) is really more important than the private house; that politics are not (as woman had always maintained) an excuse for pots of beer, but are a sacred solemnity to which new female worshipers may kneel; that the talkative patriots in the tavern are not only admirable but enviable; that talk is not a waste of time, and therefore (as a consequence, surely) that taverns are not a waste of money.

This is an interesting and timely idea for us. Perhaps, if Rand Paul can convince women that, far from being a fruitless and fantastical habit for male nerds, Libertarianism – the political doctrine which states that the government should be as unobtrusive as possible – is an essentially feminine idea, he would gain more female supporters.

We can test Chesterton’s theory about the political inclinations of women by contrasting the political views of male and female writers from a time when Liberalism was popular. In the nineteenth century, before there was much talk about extending suffrage to members of the gentler sex, not a few women took a share in the political discourse of the day by writing political novels and poems. These literary ladies can generally be relied upon to protest against intrusive and inefficient central planning, to maintain that the government cannot be relied upon to solve problems, to rail against the inhumanity of collectivist force, and even to propose private sector solutions to large-scale dilemmas.

While most nineteenth century male writers do not promote Socialist, big government policies any more than their female counterparts do, they are much less emotionally incensed by injustices perpetrated by the government than the women writers are. Something else that sets the men apart is that, regardless of whether they are Conservative or Liberal, they tend to revere and honor the idea of government and the calling of the men who work for it (Dickens is a notable exception to both of these rules). Lord Macaulay, a Victorian historian who was also a politician himself, regulary heaps scorn upon men in his histories who –he thinks – should have become involved in the political struggles of their day, but instead chose to live at home and lead “Epicurean” lifestyles. Thackeray wrote a thrilling historical political novel – Henry Esmond – which is inspired by Macaulay’s account of the Stuarts’ struggle to maintain power. Any political thriller grants implicit significance to the question of “who will be in power?” Although the novels of Anthony Tollope gently satirize politicians and the political system, there is in all of them, and especially in the Palliser novels, an underlying reverence and love for the business of politicans. Trollope states in his Autobiography that

I have always thought that to sit in the British Parliament should be the highest object of ambition to every educated Englishman….that to serve one’s country without pay is the grandest work that a man can do,—that of all studies the study of politics is the one in which a man may make himself most useful to his fellow-creatures,—and that of all lives, public political lives are capable of the highest efforts.

This statement typifies what Chesterton characterizes as the masculine attitude towards politics. A brief survey of the political writings of four nineteenth century women will reveal a feminine scorn directed towards those who seek power which surpasses the scorn of Macaulay for those who do not. Nineteenth century women are not certain, as the Classical Liberals Macaulay, Thackeray, and Trollope are, that it is our politicians who “are capable of the highest efforts.”

The novels of Jane Austen are not, of course, explicity political. Chesterton, in his essay, ‘The Evolution of Emma,’ was the first critic to recognize the deep political ramifications of Jane Austen’s fifth novel. It is the story of an energetic and domineering young lady whose attempts to make her lower-class friends happier by arranging their lives for them end up causing misery. Jane Austen’s satire of the hubris of a certain kind of upper-class busybody foreshadows the dismay of contemporary libertarians when a nanny state punishes its least fortunate citizens with measures that are intended to help them. The modern government behaves like Emma when it sickens the children of the poor with its nutritional guidelines, prevents their mothers from working with its minimum wage, and puts their fathers in jail with its wars on drugs -– all with the most charitable of intentions.

Elizabeth Gaskell was a minister’s wife who lived in the manufacturing town of Manchester and who, unlike Jane Austen, was on familiar terms with many of her poorer neighbors, and wrote novels in which working class people and their problems are central. In Mrs. Gaskell’s first novel, Mary Barton, a Manchester workers’ union sends a delegation to Parliament, hoping to convince the lawmakers there to prevail upon the factory owners to cede to the union’s requests. The spirits of the delegates are shattered when they discover that the men who are supposed to govern their country have no interest in even hearing them speak of their problems. When asked about his experience at the Parliament house, one of the delegates says

If yo please, neighbour, I’d rather say nought about that. It’s not to be forgotten or forgiven either by me or many another; but I canna tell of our down-casting just as a piece of London news. As long as I live, our rejection that day will bide in my heart; and as long as I live I shall curse them as so cruelly refused to hear us; but I’ll not speak of it no more.

Although her sympathy for the poverty and difficulties of members of the labor unions is real, Mrs. Gaskell also sympathizes strongly with the dilemma of the factory owners: throughout her novels, she demonstrates a keen understanding of economics and the market forces which may constrain “the masters” to offer their hands low wages. Mr. Thornton, the factory owner who is the hero of North and South says, “We will hardly submit to the decision of an umpire, much less to the interference of a meddler with only a smattering of the knowledge of the real facts of the case, even though that meddler be called the High Court of Parliament.”

Mrs. Gaskell’s strongest charitable feelings, however, are reserved for the “knobsticks” or would-be knobsticks – those factory hands who work while the union is striking. One of the most dramatic scenes in North and South occurs against the backdrop of an angry mob physically threatening the Irish knobsticks who have been brought in to replace the usual factory workers because of a strike. Later in the book, one of the strikers, whose wife is ill and who has many hungry children pleading for food, kills himself out of despair. He was forced to strike by the union and is not able to deal with the consequent privations and stress. Despising the national government and detesting the coercive union, Mrs. Gaskell proposes a cooperative, free market solution to the conflict between masters and hands: Mr. Thornton anticipates Silicon Valley by over a century when he offers the benefit of free communal lunches to the workers in his factory. Unlike Silicon Valley CEOs, who are fiercely competing with each other for highly skilled workers, Mr. Thornton implements this measure because it is a cost-effective way of ensuring that his employees and their families will not be in danger of starving or of striking.

In Felix Holt, the Radical, George Eliot is witheringly skeptical of the inherent value of male political posturing. Felix Holt, an educated middle-class young man who gives up his patrimony and devotes his life to teaching the children of the poor, is contrasted with the comfortable and callous upper-class Harold Transome, who wants to become a Radical member of Parliament, but never does or says anything particularly radical. The point of the novel is given away by its title: it is conscientious private citizens, and not ambitious politicians, who accomplish real change in society. Another George Eliot novel with a similar message is Middlemarch, which features a brilliant and intense young woman whose dreams of implementing Christian Socialist policies for the poor in her rural area are frustrated. In the beginning and middle of the novel she is constatly chafing at the fact that, as a woman, she cannot find an outlet for her rather masculine ambitions and talents (she is also interested in scholarship). By the very end of the novel she is happily married and has found peace, despite the fact that

Her full nature, like that river of which Cyrus broke the strength, spent itself in channels which had no great name on the earth. But the effect of her being on those around her was incalculably diffusive: for the growing good of the world is partly dependent on unhistoric acts; and that things are not so ill with you and me as they might have been, is half owing to the number who lived faithfully a hidden life, and rest in unvisited tombs.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s long narrative poem, Aurora Leigh, is the most ambitious and explicit piece of feminine libertarianism from the nineteenth century. Just before Romney Leigh, a Christian Socialist, proposes to his cousin Aurora, who is an aspiring poet, he semi-playfully rebukes her for her lack of interest in projects to alleviate the suffering of the multitude. He maintains that women think only of individuals and never of the big picture, that Aurora fails to sympathize with his Socialist ideals because of her sex, and that a woman, because she cannot think in general terms, can never be a poet.

…does one woman of you all,
(You who weep easily) grow pale to see
This tiger shake his cage?–does one of you
Stand still from dancing, stop from stringing pearls
And pine and die, because of the great sum
Of universal anguish?–Show me a tear
Wet as Cordelia’s, in eyes bright as yours,
Because the world is mad? You cannot count,
That you should weep for this account, not you!
You weep for what you know. A red-haired child
Sick in a fever, if you touch him once,
Though but so little as with a finger-tip,
Will set you weeping! but a million sick…
You could as soon weep for the rule of three,
Or compound fractions. Therefore, this same world
Uncomprehended by you must remain
Uninfluenced by you.

Aurora rejects Romney’s proposal that they should get married and work together to make a Socialist utopia, because her individualist, artistic aims and aspirations differ so much from his general, material ones, – and because she despises his aims:

I hold you will not compass your poor ends
Of barley-feeding and material ease,
Without a poet’s individualism
To work your universal. It takes a soul,
To move a body: it takes a high-souled man,
To move the masses . . even to a cleaner stye:
It takes the ideal, to blow a hair’s breadth off
The dust of the actual.–ah, your Fouriers failed,
Because not poets enough to understand
That life develops from within.

Aurora’s cousin, motivated by altruistic guilt and despair, becomes engaged to marry a working class woman he does not love; his plan backfires when a jealous female friend has his intended bride kidnapped and sold into prostitution. He transforms his stately home into a charity commune, but this project also goes awry; some of the communards set fire to it (Romney Leigh can be thought of as a humorless version of Emma Woodhouse, — on steroids). He is blinded by the blaze. This blindness is, of course, symbolic of the spiritual blindness that has been plaguing him all along. When Aurora tells him that she loves him and regrets her rejection of him in the last book of the poem, he tells her that he repents of his old philosophy and agrees with hers.

‘Fewer programmes; we who have no prescience.
Fewer systems; we who are held and do not hold.
Less mapping out of masses, to be saved,
By nations or by sexes. Fourier’s void,
And Comte is dwarfed,–and Cabet, puerile.
Subsists no law of life outside of life;
No perfect manners, without Christian souls.

Many books have been written about the eternal struggle between the ideals of men and the ambitions of women (for examples, Virgil’s Aeneid and Tennyson’s The Princess). Aurora Leigh is wonderful and unique because it is the first book (that I am aware of) in which the feminine ends up totally vanquishing the masculine. It is a story of generality and power bowing to individualism and influence.

In the twenty-first century, the majority of educated women are, for better or for worse, wedded to the essentially masculine idea that government matters. In a time when the State has achieved Orwellian levels of intrusion into citizens’ private lives, this shift in feminine attitudes is no longer to be wondered at or thought of as some kind of pitiable surrender. The power of a State which drops bombs on children, which incarcerates more than one sixth of its black male population, which complicates healthcare with bureaucracy and inefficiency, which sprays toxic pesticides on public land, and which ushers younger and younger children into crowded, centrally controlled preschools, reaches into the traditionally feminine province of the home. Once women do take an interest in politics, they are most genuine and, therefore, most impactful when they hew to the power-averse values of their great-grandmothers. It is no accident that the most brilliant and powerful female politician of all time and that the most dynamic and effective crusader against the intrusive, big-government policies of the twentieth century were one and the same person: Margaret Thatcher. Rand Paul will be able to win the female vote when he convinces women that his message is not inherently masculine, strange or nerdy (although it has unquestionably been adopted by many masculine, strange, and nerdy people). The political ideals he is advocating are as ancient, as familiar, and as common as the idea of the inviolate home itself. And they are, like that idea, very feminine.

Failure of the Feminine in the Aeneid

Man is associated with a driving, pushing force, seeking after honor and glory. Woman is associated with the preservation of the status quo. Men value honor in battle above life. Women value home, marriage, and children. Because for the man what is important is his immortal soul, he promotes death. Women, who are the guardians of the body, champion life. In the Aeneid there is a cosmic war between these two forces – the masculine and the feminine, the spiritual and the physical. The champion of the masculine is Aeneas, the protagonist of the poem. He is constantly faced by various feminine obstacles, many of which are planted in his path by none other than Juno, the goddess of marriage, the hearth, and childbirth. In the first scene of the poem, Juno is mobilizing all of the force she can to stop Aeneas from reaching his goal. She, the most feminine deity, is Aeneas’ greatest enemy. She constantly causes delays and troubles to Aeneas, but, ultimately, all of her efforts are in vain. Opposed to Juno is her husband Jove, who wishes for his grandson Aeneas to win power and glory in Italy, and supports and encourages him on his journey. In the end of the poem Juno capitulates to Jove, and Aeneas triumphs over her champion, Turnus, in combat. The Aeneid teaches that the physical feminine force will always be subject to the spiritual masculine force. Although it may momentarily gain the upper hand, it will never gain a real victory, because it is inherently weaker. The Aeneid is essentially a song celebrating the victory of the masculine over the feminine, of reason over passion, of the spiritual over the physical.

The poem begins with Aeneas meeting Dido after his shipwreck. Of course, this eventually leads to their romantic involvement. The way that Rumor describes their situation is striking; “in lust, forgetful of their kingdom, they take long pleasure (IV, 255-256).” Their relationship is clearly perceived as unbecoming for a king and a queen. Jove is opposed to the continuation of this romantic involvement because “His lovely mother did not promise such/ a son to us; she did not save him twice/from Grecian arms for this – but to be master of Italy, a land that teems with empire/and seethes with war (IV, 303-307).” It is obvious to Jove that when the values of love and glory come into conflict, the masculine value of glory is to be preferred. While love may be a nice thing, when bought at the expense of glory it is ignoble and disgraceful. Since the Fates have determined that Aeneas is to gain glory in Italy, it is his duty to conquer his passion for Dido and to leave. When Mercury rebukes Aeneas and urges him to leave Carthage and travel on to Italy, he uses even stronger and more explicit language than Jove; “Are you now…servant to a woman…? Are you forgetful of what is your own kingdom, your own fate (IV, 353-357)?” Aeneas heeds their rebukes without delay, and his men “all are glad (IV, 394)” when he gives them orders to make the ships ready for further sailing. They, like Rumor, Jove, and Mercury, had also perceived the behavior of their leader as unbecoming. Aeneas’ forgetfulness of his destiny and his submission to love are inglorious and effeminate. However, he rectifies his shortcomings very quickly when he is made aware of them.

Dido’s reaction to Aeneas’ declaration that he is going to leave is emotional, hysterical, and supremely irrational. She is “a woman driven wild (V, 8).” She upbraids Aeneas for his reticence and lack of emotion – “For did Aeneas groan while I was weeping (IV, 535)?” She then curses Aeneas and threatens revenge, saying “I shall hunt you down with blackened firebrands (IV, 528).” Finally, she commits suicide. She values only family life, claiming to Aeneas that “Had I at least before you left conceived…if there were but a tiny Aeneas playing by me in the hall…then indeed I should not seem so totally abandoned, beaten (IV, 440-445).” To the feminine Dido, being a glorious queen is no consolation to compensate for her frustrated desire for a husband and children. It is Juno, the goddess of mothers and wives and Aeneas’ enemy, who has pity on Dido and eases her death. Aeneas’ calmness and determination in the face of Dido’s love and hysteria can almost be seen as the passing of a test. He proves that his piety and values are real, and cannot be compromised by feminine tricks. Additionally, Aeneas’ voyage from Carthage can be seen as a declaration of identity. He declares by leaving Dido that he values piety and honor above love.

The next feminine event in the Aeneid occurs in book V. While the men are involved in the funeral games for Anchises, the women are by the ships, wishing that they could settle down in Sicily. “They pray to have a city;/they are tired of their trials at sea (V, 812-813).” As women, they are not excited by the prospect of war and glory in Italy. They would rather assimilate into the kingdom of Acestes and build peaceful homes. Juno takes this opportunity to set an obstacle in Aeneas’ way, and sends Iris in disguise to convince the Trojan women to burn the Trojan ships (which is actually something that, in book IV, Mercury warns Aeneas that Dido is planning to do). Iris urges “we chase fleeing Italy…shall never see the Samois and Xanthus, Hector’s rivers? No! Come now and burn these damned ships with me!…Look here for Troy; here is your home (V, 829-842)!” The reasoning that Iris offers is that since the women cannot have their Trojan homes, any hospitable land to which they come is equally good. Iris ignores the idea which Aeneas explains to Dido; “If fate had granted me to guide my life by my own auspices then I should cherish first the town of Troy…but now Grynean Apollo’s oracles would have me seize great Italy…it is right that we…seek out a foreign kingdom (IV, 463-476).” His masculine ideals of power and honor will not allow Aeneas to settle anywhere other than Italy. According to some, the lines in which the matrons pause between the ideals of adventure and glory for their countrymen that are opposed to their ideals of home and comfort are the most poignant in the poem: “Torn between the present land and those that call by fates’ command (translation taken from Preface to Paradise Lost by C.S. Lewis, corresponding to V, 864-5).” The matrons give in to their feminine sides and set fire to the Trojan ships.

Aeneas is more affected by the burning of the ships than by all of Dido’s crying and pleading. Even after Jove has performed a miracle and all but four of the ships have been saved by rain, he sits by the ships and actually considers “whether to settle in the fields of Sicily,/forgetful of the fates, or else to try/ for the Italian coast (V, 925-8).” Perhaps Aeneas’ uncharacteristic despondence and lack of piety result from a feeling of betrayal. Even his own fellow Trojans are unwilling to continue! However, this despondence is only temporary. Anchises appears to him in a vision and encourages him to continue. Armed with new strength, Aeneas continues his journey to Italy.

Once the Trojans do arrive in Italy, the Italian women, animated by another messenger of Juno, Allecto, behave in a manner similar to that of the Trojan women animated by Iris. The Italian queen, Amata, is “kindled by a woman’s anxieties and anger (VII, 445-6)” regarding the prospect of her daughter being given in marriage to a foreigner – Aeneas – instead of Turnus, her Italian betrothed. Amata entertains the feminine values of stability and familiarity, and is annoyed by the fact that her husband is going to upset the status quo. She is also worried that Aeneas is not trustworthy and will take Lavinia away from her. Allecto is apparently more powerful than Iris. The Trojan women hesitate before setting fire to the ships, and are then instantly ashamed of their deed. The Italian women are totally carried away by the madness inspired by Allecto.

The wretched queen rages through the city…all of the matrons feel the same zeal, kindled by Furies in their breasts, to seek new homes…Amata lifts a blazing firebrand…her cry is savage, sudden: “O Latin mothers, listen now, wherever you are: if any love still lives within your pious hearts for sad Amata, if care for a mother’s rights still gnaws at you, then loose the headbands on your hair, take to these orgies with me.”

This is explicit rebellion of women against men. Fired by Juno, they protest against their husbands’ domination and ignoring of the feminine values, and then run off into the woods to celebrate the traditionally all-female Bacchanalian rites. They do not want progress, danger, honor, and change. They want their home to remain as it was. It is Aeneas who is threatening them, and they oppose him with all of their might.

The account of Camilla in Book XI is almost a story within a story. It is significant that the famous female warrior in this battle is fighting for the general feminine cause – for the preservation of the status quo. She is fighting on the side of Turnus, Lavinia’s Italian betrothed. Fierce and deadly, Camilla has been trained in the arts of war by her father from a young age. In the descriptions of her battle scenes, she seems just like a man. But she is only like a man. Her underlying womanhood is her undoing. Arruns, who is trying to kill her, cannot find an opening until she charges towards Chloreus. She picks out Chloreus because of his elaborate dress combined with her “female’s love of plunder and of spoils (XI, 1038-40)” – that is, with her female love of the material. This female inclination is a weakness, and it betrays her to Arruns’ shaft. So, although in some ways Camilla’s exploits form a story within a story, in other ways they serve to encapsulate the entire theme of the Aeneid into a smaller space. The feminine threat, although it may be menacing for a while, will inevitably disappear, because it is inherently weaker. It will bring about its own destruction.

All of this action occurs against the backdrop of Juno, the goddess of womanhood, desperately trying to stop Aeneas from succeeding. The poem begins with her complaint, “Am I, defeated, simply to stop trying, unable to turn back the Trojan king from Italy. No doubt, the Fates won’t have it…For after this, will anyone adore the majesty of Juno or, before her altar, pray to her (I, 55-74)?” Juno really knows that her efforts will be in vain, but she cannot prevent herself from trying to stop Aeneas. It is she who gives the signal for Aeneas and Dido to meet in a cave during a thunderstorm, she who incites both the Dardan and the Latin women. The goddess of womanhood, she takes advantage of women’s natural inclinations and emotions to further her greater plan of stopping the Trojans from settling from Troy. She tries to appear to be strong, but she knows that she is really weaker. When she sees that Turnus is about to die, she asks Jove to allow her to intervene. He allows only “respite from impending death for the doomed youth (X, 855).” She takes even that, continuing to hope against hope that he – the masculine god -will change his mind, and that she, his wife, will be able to save face. Finally grown impatient, Jove demands of his wife, “What is your plan? What is the hope that keeps you lingering in these chill clouds (XII, 1055-57)?” She, the weaker, finally realizes that she must succumb. There must be honor and glory for the Trojans. Still wanting to save face, she requests that Jove will at least destroy the name of the Trojans, if not their race. Like a parent smiling on an inconsequential child, Jove smiles and yields to her request. Weak, defeated, but not honest enough to admit that she is defeated, Juno agrees and “with gladness…quit(s) the skies, her cloud (XII, 1118-19).” Jove and his champion Aeneas have won. Masculinity has triumphed over femininity.

John Donne

John Donne, relatively neglected for centuries, regained some measure of popularity in the early twentieth century, which he has not now lost. Much of the twentieth century criticism written about him is focused on his “metaphysical” style:  critics generally just throw out the observation that he has both “love poems” and “religious poems” before moving on to discuss the origins, merits, and flaws of his form.

The substance of his work is, in its own way, quite as shocking and novel as his style. At least, some of his comtemporaries thought so. Henry Vaughan dismisses the love poems of Donne as “lust in robes of love.” It is hard to imagine that any American of my generation has read “The Indifferent,” a lamentation on the inconstancy of woman, in which the poet draws attention to his ability to enjoy and appreciate all different kinds of women, without being forcibly reminded of a certain not particularly sentimental popular song entitled “Mumbo Number 5.” Donne’s most famous poem, “The Flea,” is of course, a plea to a woman to “yield to him,” using a cleverly absurd a fortiori argument. Nowhere in the poem does he describe any emotions other than desire and frustration.

Actually, it is difficult to find in any of Donne’s amatory poems those sentiments normally associated with “love”: they are curiously bereft of humility, concern for the well-being of the beloved, or admiration, even of a physical kind. He has written no “sonnets to his lady’s eyebrow.” Instead, the poems are expressions of physical desire, exultation in satisfied desire, recriminations for the inconstancy of women, or musings on his own inconstancy.

Donne’s religious poems are even more unique in matter than his love poems. He is neither the first nor the last poet of lust, but the specific kind of religious feeling he expresses is very hard to find in poetic form anywhere else. If the love poems express an appetite that may be felt by a wild animal, the religious poems primarily express anxiety (and conclude with the soothing of that anxiety), feelings that may also be experienced by an animal:

Wilt thou forgive that sin where I begun,

Which was my sin, though it was done before?

Wilt though forgive that sin through which I run,

And do run still, though still I do deplore?

When Thou hast done, Thou hast not done;

For I have more.

Throughout the religious poems, there is indeed some humility and a bit of admiration, together with much bargaining and pleading, — all of which elements are common enough in the religious experience. But nowhere does Donne round out his religion by doing what is done so beautifully by some of his contemporaries, and more fully echo the genuine love of the songs directed by David towards his Heavenly Beloved. For true love involves not only recognition, but also striving for genuine attachment and connection, in the strain of “my soul thirsts for You,” or “Oh, that my ways were correct, to keep Your laws!” As we may rebrand Donne’s love poems, and call them lust poems instead, it would also be appropriate to rename the poems directed towards God, and call them “superstition poems.” For John Donne suffered from the same unfortunate diagnosis which was given by Chesterton to another man of

artistic temperament: that fear of the mere strength of destiny and of unknown spirits, of their strength as apart from their virtue, which is the only proper siginificance of the word superstition. No man can be superstitious who loves his God, even if the God be Mumbo-Jumbo.

John Donne, unique among poets, moved through life concerned with his own pleasure and pain, loving neither God nor woman. Although he was full of information and employed a clever, “metaphysical” style, his poetry is barren of real ethical or metaphysical thought. No wonder that the moderns find the content of his poetry unremarkable.