Wednesday, June 13, 2012
Irresolute as I am I still love you, and yet I must hope for nothing.
I have renounced life, and stript myself of everything, but I find
I neither have nor can renounce my Abelard. Though I have lost my lover
I still preserve my love.
O vows! O convent! I have not lost my humanity
under your inexorable discipline!
You have not turned me to marble by changing my habit;
my heart is not hardened by my imprisonment;
I am still sensible to what has touched me, though, alas! I ought not to be!
Without offending your commands permit a lover to exhort me
to live in obedience to your rigorous rules.
Your yoke will be lighter if that hand support me under it;
your exercises will be pleasant if he show me their advantage.
Retirement and solitude will no longer seem terrible
if I may know that I still have a place in his memory.
A heart which has loved as mine cannot soon be indifferent.
We fluctuate long between love and hatred
before we can arrive at tranquillity,
and we always flatter ourselves with some forlorn hope
that we shall not be utterly forgotten.
Yes, Abelard, I conjure you by the chains I bear here
to ease the weight of them, and make them as agreeable as I would they were to me.
-by Heloise, From the Love Letters of Heloise and Abelard-
O my, and how persistent we are. Some people would call it romantic. Others would say we're just stubborn, what with all the parting and pairing and parting again. I'm sure we bore other people who would rather that ours be a doomed affair. Tragedy makes for romance.
Heloise and Abelard were the star-crossed lovers of the eleventh century. Heloise, niece of a beneficent aristocrat who sought to have her well educated (she was reportedly very beautiful) hired a tutor, Peter Abelard. The two began a passionate affair, which left her with child. Though she initially spurned his offer of marriage, they were secretly wed and eventually separated, to preserve Abelard's reputation as a philosopher and man of letters. She, on the other hand entered a convent, (yeah, its always the woman that pays). Believing that the Abelard had spurned Heloise, her family hired thugs to attack and castrate Peter.
The letters they wrote to each other after he survives the attack, and in the course of their separation -- 'til death -- is now the stuff of legends, immortalizing their tragedy and their love.
But it is the persistence that gets us. Love in spite of all that -- separation, castration, vows of chastity -- they make us believe that love is that pure stuff, emotion devoid of the physical. Or, they allow us a measure of compensation, that their letters, their words sustained them, made things bearable for each other. They would take this, if there was nothing else.
And no, they didn't kill each other. They survived until natural death took them. They bore their sorrows and took what little comfort they could in an exchange of letters. But they did love until death.