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

By T. Anthony Perry | Go to book overview
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Chapter 5
Pernette du Guillet's Poetry of Love and Desire

Do I teach you to slay your desires? I teach you the chastity of desires.

F. NIETZSCHE, Thus Spake Zarathustra

Desire itself is movement Not in itself desirable; Love is itself unmoving, Only the cause and end of movement.

T. S. ELIOT, Four Quartets

Pernette du Guillet's small poetic legacy--amounting to less than 1,600 verses at the time of her death at the supposed age of twenty-five--was posthumously collected, arranged, and published in Lyon in 1545 by the poet-editorAntoine du Moulin. 1 This thin volume of épigrammes, chansons, épîtres, and élégies2 is a poetic journal intime of Pernette's nine-year love relationship with the famous poet of La Délie, Maurice Scève. From both the Délie and Pernette's verse we discover that, like Filone in Leone Ebreo's Dialoghi d'amore, the learned Scève was condemned to temper his sexual impulses with elevated philosophical discourse. In turn, in her study of Leone Ebreo, Pernette may have recognized a literary counterpart in the beleaguered but serene Sofia. It may be that, like Sofia, Pernette was attracted as much by her teacher's "eloquent learning" (epig. 6) as by the teacher himself, and such an attraction would have been intensified by her own youthful search for knowledge (e.g., epig. 3). In her identification of her teacher through the anagram "CE VICE MUERAS" (epig. 5), she says that Scève will help her overcome the vice of ignorance. However, we shall see that the new knowledge acquired from Scève (and from Leone Ebreo) is, more than general humanistic learning, a deeper understanding about the nature of her love experience. In fact, Pernette's poetic diary records her grasp of that high doctrine of love that Scève was perhaps able to teach but not to master.

The central issue quite properly concerns the true nature of love, an issue which is approached through Leone Ebreo's distinction between love and

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