Sunday, October 18, 2009

From “Spring,” in James Thomson’s The Seasons

A lively discussion's underway over at Teach Me Tonight about the nature of love (here and here) in romance novels and elsewhere. Whenever I hear these discussions, I think of a line from James Thomson's The Seasons—"Perfect esteem enlivened by desire"—which Jean Hagstrum borrowed for the title and epigraph of a very good book a few year ago. The line comes from the "Spring" section of The Seasons, and although you can find the whole text on Google Books, I thought I'd post the immediate context here, for easier reference. (I've added the verse-paragraph breaks, to make the selection a bit easier to read.)


One thing I do notice: Hagstrum (and I, following) have always cut off the quotation at "enlivened by desire." In fact, there's an immediate adjective: "desire / Ineffable." What to make of that, I'll decide another time.


But happy they! the happiest of their kind !

Whom gentler stars unite, and in one fate,

Their hearts, their fortunes, and their beings blend,

'Tis not the coarser tie of human laws,

Unnatural oft, and foreign to the mind.

That binds their peace, but harmony itself

Attuning all their passions into love,

Where friendship still-exerts her softest power,

Perfect esteem enlivened by desire

Ineffable, and sympathy of soul;

Thought meeting thought, and will preventing will.

With boundless confidence : For nought but love

Can answer love, and render bliss secure.


Let him, ungenerous, who, alone intent

To bless himself, from sordid parents buys

The loathing virgin, in eternal care,

Well-merited, consume his nights and days ;

Let barbarous nations, whose inhuman love

Is wild desire, fierce as the suns they feel ;

Let Eastern tyrants from the light of Heaven

Seclude their bosom-slaves, meanly possessed

Of a mere, lifeless, violated form ;

While those whom love cements in holy faith.

And equal transport, free as Nature live,

Disdaining fear. What is the world to them?

Its pomp, its pleasure, and its nonsense all?

Who in each other clasp whatever fair

High fancy forms, and lavish hearts can wish;

Something than beauty dearer, should they look

Or on the mind, or mind-illumin'd face ;

Truth, goodness, honour, harmony, and love,

The richest bounty of indulgent Heaven.


Meantime a smiling offspring rises round

And mingles both their graces. By degrees

The human blossom blows ; and every day,

Soft as it rolls along, shews some new charm

The father's lustre, and the mother's bloom.

The infant reason grows apace, and calls

For the kind hand of an assiduous care.

Delightful talk ! to rear the tender thought.

To teach the young idea how to shoot,

To pour the fresh instruction o'er the mind,

To breathe th' enlivening spirit, and to fix

The generous purpose in the glowing breast.


Oh, speak the joy ! ye, whom the sudden tear

Surprizes often, while you look around,

And nothing strikes your eye but sights of bliss

All various Nature pressing on the heart ;

An elegant sufficiency, content,

Retirement, rural quiet, friendship, books

Ease and alternate labour, useful life,

Progressive virtue, and approving Heaven.

These are the matchless joys of virtuous love ;

And thus their moments fly. The Seasons thus,

As ceaseless round a jarring world they roll,

Still find them happy; and consenting Spring

Sheds her own rosy garland on their heads :

Till evening comes at last, serene and mild ;

When after the long vernal day of life.

Enamour d more, as more remembrance swells

With many a proof of recollected love,

Together down they sink in social sleep ;

Together freed, their gentle spirits fly

To scenes where love and bliss immortal reign.

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