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

By T. Anthony Perry | Go to book overview

Chapter 4
Return and Reincarnation in Scève's Délie

My theory that Délie is part of the ascetic tradition of the Phaedo1 will surely upset some critics because, being concerned with asceticism and so-called Platonic love, it fails to account for the sensual side of man's nature. Yet it will be clear that Platonic authors such as Antoine Héroët, Pernette du Guillet, and John Donne were rarely puritanical about sexuality; that, while firmly insisting that the meaning of human life exceeds the normal cycles of pleasure and pain, hope and fear, they were supremely able to accommodate concrete sensual experience as necessary for any truly human development. The two moments of the dialectic were clearly grasped by Ronsard, for example, in a poem that accompanied a gift of Leone Dialoghi d'amore to Charles IX:

L'un pousse les âmes guidées
Aux belles contemplations,
A l'intellect et aux idées,
Purgeant l'esprit de passions.
L'autre à Nature est serviable,
Nous fait aimer et desirer,
Fait engendrer nostre semblable
Et l'estre des hommes durer
. 2

One [kind of love] leads souls
To contemplations of beauty,
To the intellect and the Ideas,
While purging the spirit of the passions.
The other serves nature,
Causes us to love and desire,
To procreate our fellow man
And to sustain our lives.

Referring to Scève, Dorothy Coleman has correctly detected that Délie's "unsubdued virginity has an element of wildness: her rule over the world of nature and the favours she has accorded to Pan and Endymion seem to place her on the borderline of chastity and sensuality." 3 Such a state of grace is a

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