The Weather; and John Donne

Today is one of the finest of autumn days, a day like eating a ripe apple.  The air is crisp, clean, sunny, washed-clear, the kind of air you gulp down as if you could eat sunlight.  After ten days of rain and feeling sick (sometimes both at the same time; the only nice days in the last fortnight I spent feeling miserable), I am deeply grateful for the sheer beauty of the day.  The leaves are starting to change, for the most part the golden ones predominating: the elm in front of my window is still mostly green, but sprinkling golden leaves with abandon.

The asters are blooming, pale purple wild ones and cerise in the ones that are bred for colour and shapeliness.  Chrysanthemums are popping up on porches; the garden ones on the street I walk back from work haven’t yet blossomed.  Japanese anemones are here and there white and pink.

But it is the air, the sunlight through yellow and green leaves, the blue sky between them, that I am most thankful for this morning.  It is a day where one feels that the hills are clapping their hands in joy.

As for things that I have learned: it is only the middle of the day, but I am preparing material for a course, and I have learned that John Donne is considered an Aristotelian because he wrote poetry about the resolution of the soul-body distinction common in the Neoplatonist love poetry of Elizabethan England.

Contemplating the arguments of the scholars who argue such things, and the poetry in question, and my own thoughts, I am coming to the conclusion that I am probably more of an Aristotelian than a Platonist for the same reason, that I think as human beings we are incarnate souls, unable to distinguish thought and feeling except in analysis.  I had always thought myself more of a a Platonist, because I also believe in ideas and ideals; but perhaps I do believe more in the importance of nurturing both body and soul, and that caritas, love, reconciles the earthly Venus of sensual love with the heavenly Love of the mind.  A good Platonist would seek to replace the sensual with the heavenly; but this is where I think Christianity allows one to have one’s ideal cake and eat it, too.  Our souls may need to be disciplined and trained on the higher love, but it doesn’t necessarily require kicking the Platonic ladder of bodily existence out from under us to do so.

So my learning for today is not simply a deeper understanding of Donne’s religious poetry, but also that I should read more Aristotle.  Later.  For now I am going to keep considering Donne.

Let mans Soule be a Spheare, and then, in this,
The intelligence that moves, devotion is,
And as the other Spheares, by being growne
Subject to forraigne motions, lose their owne,
And being by others hurried every day,
Scarce in a yeare their naturall forme obey:
Pleasure or businesse, so, our Soules adit
For their first mover, and are whirld by it.

From “Goodfriday, 1613.  Riding Westward.”


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