Thursday, February 14, 2008

The holy god of Cynicism, reposted

I happened to remember that today is Valentine's Day (my nephew asked in the middle of dinner last night, as he reflected on a quip I had made twenty minutes earlier, "Auntie Em, why do you not have a Valentine's Day?"). Rather than ignore the holliday's existence as I normally do or bitterly oppose it as some of my undergrad friends did, I thought I would repost an old blog-post from last semester that seemed a more healthy attitude than either apathy or protest. Enjoy, and happy Valentine's Day.

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Of the few simple love-poems that the cynic in me is not able to dislike, Marlowe’s “Passionate Shepherd to His Love” is pretty near the top.
Come live with me and be my Love,
And we will all the pleasures prove
That hills and valleys, dale and field,
And all the craggy mountains yield.
He goes on to describe all the lovely things he and his beloved will do in the British countryside: sitting on rocks as they watch shepherds, rivers and melodious birds; laying on beds of roses; and wearing clothing made from the wool they pluck from their own sheep.
The shepherd swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me and be my Love.
Evidently Marlowe plays my tune; those delights my mind do move.

But unfortunately, Sir Walter Raleigh ruined the poem to the study of English literature by publishing a reply that the young Marlowe died before he could answer. Raleigh’s “Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd” is what the cynic in me should praise as being realistic and practical.
If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every shepherd's tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move
To live with thee and be thy love.
He goes on to describe the cares that prevent lovers from sitting on rocks, the wilting of the flowers, and the wearing out of the clothing. Every literature class I have ever had that looks at Marlowe’s poem (high school, undergrad and graduate) immediately follows it with Raleigh’s reply. Cynicism has the final word.

But cynicism is not a place to stand nor a momentous finish line. We are a culture that worships the holy god of Cynicism but has little to replace the things we criticize.

What if there are high virtues to strive for, despite the frailty of our attempts to reach them? What if the love that Marlowe’s shepherd sang of is worth dreaming of, even if his posies “soon wither”? Perhaps our call to listen involves some counter-cultural release of our cynicism.


Clifford said...

Could I reply with a blog post? Well, the link to one anyway. Not trying to pimp out my own blog, but in this case it actually seems kind of germane...and I'd be curious just to get your take on it as well.

Clifford said...

I'm also copying your idea now...mimicry is flattery!

But I do not mean to flatter...umm...

Take it as a compliment if you could for it is what I mean to do!

Chestertonian Rambler said...

You make an interesting point.

I think it aligns with a continual threat in the area of philosophy throughout history.

When people start talking about, say, the "corruption" of man without first positing some idea of the goodness that predates it, one gets a lopsided and artificially depressing view of the universe. Suddenly, everything is about "repression" even before the fundamental "humanism" which is being depressed is posited.

(Or, if you're a Calvinist, everything is about "Depravity," too little about the power of Christ.)