Erotic Spirituality: The Integrative Tradition from Leone Ebreo to John Donne

By T. Anthony Perry | Go to book overview

Chapter 3
Délie! An Old Way of Dying (The Meaning of Scève's Title)

The relations between body and soul--this is the main theme of all "metaphysical" poetry.

JEAN-PIERRE ATTAL

Death is twofold, one known by all when the body is loosed from soul, and the other that of the philosophers where the soul is loosed from body.

PORPHYRY1


Plato's Phaedo

The above epigraphs are intended to provide the proper perspective for what is to follow. The point in citing the first is not to discuss the definition of metaphysical poetry but rather to assert that Scève Délie is metaphysical in Attal's sense because it places a primary focus on the relationships between soul and body. The Porphyry passage is a succinct reminder of two traditional ideas: (1) that death may be described metaphorically as an "untying" or "loosening" of bonds; and (2) that philosophers may engage in such untying already in this life, indeed that this is their chief preoccupation. The usual philosophical source of these ideas of Porphyry, Plato Phaedo, provides a suggestive discussion of death and, therefore, may be regarded as an excellent introduction to the Délie. 2 The single concern of philosophers, we are told, is "nothing other than dying and being dead" ( Phaedo, 64a), but people fail to realize what kind of death this implies (64b). Now all agree that death is "nothing but the separation of the soul from the body" (64c), and this is in fact the constant preoccupation of the philosopher: "releasing his soul, as far as possible, from its communion with the body" (65a). 3 This is the catharsis alluded to by the ancient Orphic tradition: "the parting of the soul from the body as far as possible, and the habituating of it to assemble and gather itself together . . . released from the body as from fetters." This is, in fact, the precise meaning of death: "a release and parting of soul from body" (67c-d).

-35-

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