(Note: The poetry passages quoted below are all from the collected edition of Abraham Cowley. This book is was downloaded from, and is available for free on, Google Books.)
In Medea's day, when a witch wanted something done, she cursed a demon into doing it for her. She didn't beg and plead. She told the demon if it didn't work for her, she would find a way to destroy it.
Abraham Cowley begins his cycle of "love poems," known as "The Mistress," in a similar way. Cowley, not really knowing physical love, but feeling obliged, in his heritage as a poet, to pay his respects to Aphrodite, worked a magic spell so that he could, hopefully, fall in love. His magic spell addressed Cupid, the god of Love.
Perhaps the invocation could have been more supplicative. But Cupid is a male god. And Cowley, I would argue, has a peculiar father complex. Cowley's father died before Cowley was born. Cowley must have called to his father, often, in vain.
The psychologist Bruno Bettelheim says in his book The Uses of Enchantment, his study of fairy tales and child psychology, that when children are separated from their parents for a period of time longer than they are currently comfortable tolerating, they develop a conviction that the next time they see their parents, they'll be so angry that they'll hate, hurt, or even kill their parents. However, once the parents come back, the children are filled with such gratitude that they love the parents again.
An idea in another Bettelheim book, Symbolic Wounds, is mostly hearsay, or, rather, what Bettelheim seems to understand from Margaret Mead's research. In this research, mothers in tribes in Borneo, I believe, think that it is actually necessary to stand away from babies and to let them cry for things for a little while. They believe that it helps them to make their lungs strong. After an appropriate time of howling separation, the mothers, Bettelheim relates, indulge their children fondly.
I believe the idea of a magic spell based more on threats than on supplication would be based on both these ideas. Magic comes from a source that we think of as parental. We obviously lack it, or else we wouldn't call for it. But, since we lack it, and we don't quite believe it will arrive, we resent it. We feel we must threaten it in order for it to take us seriously. We must make our lungs strung in howling for it. And, at the appropriate time, it will indulge us fondly.
However, I think that Cowley's model for crying out is that of a man crying out to a male deity: King David crying out to God. God seldom seems to appear for David, if one were to judge by King David's Psalms. And these Psalms often border on the destructive, almost on the curses of God which had been forbidden in the book of Job, which precedes the book of Psalms.
It might also seem odd that Cowley's opening for a cycle of poems would begin, not with an invocation to the Muses, but with an invocation to Cupid. It might even seem interesting to note that, when Cowley mentions a "Muse," he actually calls it "foolish!" However, Cupid is a male god, and, as I said before, Cowley has a father complex which requires him, I believe, to search for a male counterpart in his soul.
It may be said that Cowley is using Cupid as a male Muse, which I believe is a fine idea. Camille Paglia gave Wordsworth, I think, as an instance of a man who wrote to a male Muse. But Wordsworth's poetry has none of the passion that Cowley's has -- in my opinion.
But, as I see things -- and this is just my own guessing -- Cowley had an almost complete certainty of failing in his endeavor, once he'd called on a male Muse. Why? Because Cowley was writing love poetry. The Mistress is a tribute to love, to Aphrodite. I believe that once Cowley called upon a male Muse to guide him in his writing of love poetry, he was almost certain to fail.
Why didn't he fail?
Well -- today -- some would argue that he *did* fail. But in his time, people loved "The Mistress." It was wildly popular. It wasn't just popular, in the sense of poets and critics loving it. It was popular, in the sense of rock and roll being popular. And this in the middle of a Civil War! So -- how did Cowley, who should have failed, succeed so wildly?
Let's say that the Muses are the instinctive aspects of a poet, the unconscious aspect, embodied by the poet's anima, the feminine side of his soul, in a variety of ways. The Muses can all embody themselves in one Muse, which the poet can invoke. This Muse might more closely represent the poet's anima, the unconcsious, feminine side of the poet.
But Cowley addressed a male Muse: Cupid. I would personally argue that, as much as Cowley constantly wished to bury his own feminine side, his anima, in hopes of finding a father-figure animus in his place -- he just couldn't do it.
And I think this illustrates itself quite well in the poem "Spring," where Cowley seems to be in a garden all by himself, talking to a "love" that isn't there. This "love," I believe, is this male animus that Cowley keeps searching for, but never finds. The garden would be a Spenserian Bower, which Camille Paglia defines as the realm of the feminine. I would call it the realm of the anima, in this sense. And Cowley, searching for an animus, finds nobody.
And, here, Cowley might have failed in his work. But he didn't. Because he found an animus. I believe this animus came from the unconscious of Queen Henrietta Maria. I don't mean that I think Queen Henrietta and Abraham Cowley were involved in any way.
However -- Cowley served as letter-writer for the Queen while she was in exile in Paris. When the Second Civil War in England began, and the Queen went to Paris in exile, certain members of the court came with the Queen. Among those people were Henry, Lord Jermyn, who served as the Queen's Secretary. Cowley was friends with and employed by Lord Jermyn. So he followed Lord Jermyn to Paris.
As letter-writer for the Queen, Cowley wasn't actually writing letters: he was transcribing them into a secret code. These letters would be to King Charles I, who was fighting in the war in Britain.
So here, we already have a number of interesting ideas. Cowley finds a worldly father-figure in Lord Jermyn. He then follows the Queen to Paris, where the Queen employs him in sending letters to her husband. Cowley is, in a sense, helping his mother, the Queen Mother, send letters to his missing father, the King. This activity must have been enough to stir up strong emotions in Cowley.
But then -- Cowley has to write these letters from his "mother" to his "father" in code. This would, I believe, put Cowley in touch with the unconscious elements of these letters. Encoding letters into cypher, though not an "instinctive" activity, is obviously an automatic one -- and thus this writing would become for Cowley an automatic writing. Automatic writing is, obviously, known for putting people in touch with the unconscious level of existence.
This would illustrate itself in the ghostly poem with the silly name "Written in Juice of Lemon." Juice of lemon is used as invisible ink. When the ink is on the paper, the paper only looks like a blank page. But when the paper is held close to a fire, the heat makes the ink change color, and letters appear on the page.
Thus, as the blank page in the poem is held before our eyes, letters -- de-coded letters -- appear like ghosts. This is the first instance of the animus speaking with Cowley, like a spirit making communications with a psychic medium through the use of automatic writing.
From this point in the cycle of poems, Cowley, I would argue, goes through a series of conflicts, both with himself and with the animus, who, I would again argue, is the animus of the Queen, if not in reality, then at least in Cowley's psychological reality.
The poem cycle is attractive to people, not because it is about sexual love, but because it is something like a Gothic, ghostly love story, a love story crossing from the world of the spirits to the world of the flesh.
But every poem is a good poem because it is multi-dimensional. And this interpretation of these poems, which, despite what people have said about them, I do believe to be good -- and passionate! --, is only one dimension.
Another example of why the cross-over story would be popular among British people at the time the cycle was published would be that Britain was split in two. The general run of British people probably didn't want to be split in two. And so a cross-over story, uniting two halves: spirit and flesh, would be popular.
It didn't just unite spirit and flesh: it united male and female. But it also united Catholic and Protestant -- Cowley often brazenly allowed his sentiments to vacillate, one way and another -- and beyond: for he moves on to pagan Goddess worship, to witchcraft, and even beyond Devil worship, to the point where Cowley is himself teaching the Devil new tricks (in the poem "The Prophet").
My plan, from here, is to walk us through the "story" laid out by this cycle, looking at each of the poems briefly, but as "stories" in themselves, as if each lyrical poem were a dream, in an overall dream cycle, as Jung might look at certain groupings of dreams as being a dream cycle.
For tonight, I'm going to stop at about midway through the cycle of "The Mistress." I will resume and finish the cycle later on. I only got a little past the midway point in the cycle today -- which is the only reason I'm doing it this way, to be honest with you.
Also, if the following looks like an outline, I apologize.
THE REQUEST -- Cowley wishes to write love poems to a woman, but realizes he has to woo Cupid first. Cowley has never fallen in love with a woman, it seems, because he hasn't been educated by the maleness in himself on how to love women. In other words, he feels he lacks the training of a father.
So he needs to woo his father first. But he doesn't believe his father exists. So he begins to challenge his father, trying to make him appear. Cowley then speaks of a woman he could love. He doesn't care what she looks like, as long as he can feel love for her. He doesn't even care if she loves him -- he can turn his own desire into a mistress. He only needs first actually to feel real love. But only the action of his animus can inspire him to real love.
In one of the first passively sexual metaphors, Cowley asks Cupid to "strike deep" his "burning arrows in." Again, Cowley challenges the animus figure, Cupid.
THE THRALDOM -- Cowley seems to have a devastating spiritual experience. Lightning, pain, ice, and poison wrack his body in the first stanza.
Cowley then again begs to labor in love -- to "dig the mine" in the "quarries of a stony heart."
THE GIVEN LOVE -- In this scene, I would say, Cowley's *anima*, which Cowley doesn't seem to admit the existence of at all, first shows itself to Cowley as what Cowley accepts her as: Cupid, the male Muse.
Cowley then seems to fly over all society, cursing all the males who he feels have grown to be superior to him, because, presumably, they've been raised by fathers. Cowley seems to let his *anima*, who has been disguised as Cupid, take off her garb.
Cowley's anima then exhibits herself to Cowley as his anima, whom he thinks of as the beloved of his poems.
THE SPRING -- Cowley finds himself in the realm of the anima, the Bower. But there is no anima. The anima has already revealed herself to Cowley as who she is -- but not who she is *as* who she is. In other words, she's revealed herself to Cowley as a projection, but not really as herself.
Cowley, still expecting to find an animus in the Bower of his unconscious, finds nothing but happy trees and Apollonian light. Cowley is the only miserable being in this shockingly happy and bright, peculiarly Apollonian garden.
The fact that Cowley is calling not for a woman (though it seems he is) but a man, is clarified when Cowley compares his lover to Orpheus.
WRITTEN IN JUICE OF LEMON -- Without the silly title, this poem might almost be as haunting as a poem by Edgar Allan Poe. The anima reveals herself as Muse to Cowley. But the Muse takes the strange shape of a piece of paper.
Cowley says he can employ the Muse "Whilst I write what I do not see:" in other words, while he is unconscious.
I think that Cowley actually sees through his beloved's eyes at one point, reading the letters that appear on the page -- so that in this poem, he himelf becomes a woman. He'll keep on doing this all throughout the poem. It's strange -- but Cowley often only seems able to accept his Muse as a feminine figure when he himself is a woman.
I also believe that the page is Cowley's anima, and that the letters themselves, the "buds" and "sprouts," are the animus, which I call the Queen's animus, even though he might only be the Queen's animus in Cowley's imagination. My imagination of Cowley's imagination.
Cowley then consigns the anima and animus to burn in a fire, regardless of whether the beloved woman loves Cowley. Actually, in this image, the anima and animus are combined in the fires of passion.
INCONSTANCY -- Following on the last poem, I believe this poem is actually of the Muse addressing Cowley. The Muse tries to explain, as a man, why he cannot love Cowley, as a woman. This is reassuring to Cowley.
The Muse explains to Cowley that she cannot love Cowley as her son, as that would be incest. And I believe that if all the letters of the lemon-ink page had become visible to Cowley, they might have said as much.
NOT FAIR -- The anima begins in female form, but tries to retain as much of the appearance of a blank, white page as she can. But Cowley, as a man, gets into bed with her and discover's her "cleft foot," or her vagina. He is frightened of having to be with a woman, and he flees the bed.
PLATONICK LOVE -- Cowley imagines his anima as containing a man within her. This man is her soul -- her animus. Cowley is actually looking at his anima. But he also sees the animus within her -- the Queen's animus, which joined with her in the fires of passion in the invisible ink poem.
The anima and animus have then combined in a nifty trick on Cowley. They've let him stay convinced him that the soul of all people is masculine. Cowley thinks his "masculine" soul is still inside him.
Cowley asks if it could still be love if "a fair woman courts her glass." Cowley seems to desire to take on a female body and to have lesbian sex with his anima. This can be true love, it seems, since there is the necessary variety of male and female: male souls loving female bodies.
THE CHANGE -- Whereas a lot of the transformative work up to this point has been the work of Cowley's anima and the Queen's animus, Cowley himself now initiates the magic spell. Cowley takes the Queen's animus and puts it in his body, as his soul He then gives his animus to the anima.
Nothing has really changed for Cowley's anima. But, since Cowley has been allowed to incorporate the Queen's animus into his consciousness, he feels secure taking on the persona of a woman. He quite consciously takes on the bodily form of a woman. He has made a magical spell, by which he has changed his sex.
CLAD ALL IN WHITE -- Cowley's anima tries to present herself to Cowley, now that Cowley is apparently safe, in a female persona, with the Queen's animus giving him masculine strength.
At first, things seem fine. The anima has a pure-white body again. But suddenly, Cowley, as Alcione, ends up seeing the body of his anima wash up on the shores of the unconscious, a torn, ragged body. Cowley is afraid and flees.
ANSWER TO THE PLATONICKS -- Considering the "PLATONICK" poem above, I'd guess that in this poem, Cowley has been extremely frightened by the spiritual experiences he's been having. He chooses instead to try and make another go at earthly, physical love.
Cowley also disparages trying to love statues, i.e. pure-white bodies -- his anima, like Pygmalion did, as that is lust, in the sense of it being "inordinate desire."
THE VAIN LOVE -- Cowley actually reflects on his spiritual experiences as having been some form of "witchcraft."
He calls the process he's been involved with with his anima:
"Strange art! like him that should devise
To make a burning glass of ice."
This image had previously been expressed by the sun hidden behind clouds, but brightly lighting it up. Previously, the sun had been obscured, so Cowley didn't know it was his anima. But now she shows herself clearly. She does this with the help of Cowley's animus, whom Cowley calls "stately and monarchical," but "brave and haughty."
Cowley fantasizes that he's "wakened" from this "dream," to the "impossibility" of a union with his anima ever occurring. In other words, he hopes he doesn't have to continue.
I think by fantasizing that he's awakened from what he supposes has been a dream, Cowley believes he is able to turn this beloved figure he's made, who is really his anima, into a conscious figure. This helps Cowley -- and I think it *is* good, in fact, to bring consciousness into the transformative process. Even dreaming isn't unconscious -- it's pre-conscious.
THE SOUL -- Cowley, now thinking of his anima as an imaginative figure, is able to perform his second magic spell. This spell is a spell of devotion to his anima.
Again, interestingly, Cowley's magic invocations involve a curse:
"An if (for I a curse would give,
Such as shall force thee to believe)
My soul be not entirely thine;
May thy dear body ne'er be mine!"
THE PASSIONS -- Cowley actually faces the anima as a feminine being. The wine of the anima is "poison" and "vinegar," but it is also "nectar" and "water."
The poem's last stanza includes these lines:
"Fear, Anger, Hope, all passions else that be,
Drive this tyrant out of me,
And practise all your tyranny!"
It would appear that Cowley wants the Queen's animus to leave his anima, so that his anima can come back into his body, even though he thinks it would be more like a lesser-of-two-evils situation than a happily-ever-after situation.
WISDOM -- Cowley speaks to himself about trying to remain one-hundred percent masculine. But he realizes it's impossible to resist the call of the anima once she tells you to "Come at night."
Cowley again realizes that the anima, who would really be the one to put him in touch with his physically romantic state, is not wholly pleasing. However, this Southern Queen (his own unconscious Queen):
"...came for that, which more befits all wives,
The art of giving, not of saving, lives."
THE DESPAIR -- Cowley practices another magic spell, in which he addresses all the nature of his psyche. It calls back to him, in cooperation with him.
Cowley's magic spell calls his soul -- which he addresses as a woman, not a man! -- back into his body.
When Cowley sees this happen, however, he gets upset, asking his soul why she couldn't just leave altogether and let him die.
THE WISH -- Cowley finds himself back in his Bower. However, this time the Bower is a place for the feminine in him, rather than the masculine. But Cowley still seems to be obsessed with death.
In fact, Cowley can't deal with being so alone with the feminine. So he multiplies male images in his head in a fantasy of a masculine invasion of this feminine Bower:
"How happy here should I,
And one dear She, live, and embracing, die!
She, who is all the world, and can exclude,
In deserts solitude.
I should have then this only fear --
Lest men, when they my pleasures see,
Should hither throng to live like me,
And so make a city here."
MY DIET -- Cowley again wishes to be removed from his anima. She shouldn't get too close to him. She should be satisfied knowing he loves her. She should have, really, no reactions to him.
THE THIEF -- The thought of the anima consumes Cowley and follows him around like a phantom. He sees the anima everywhere he goes. Again, like Poe's stories:
"And still thy shape does me pursue,
As if, not you me, but I'd murder'd you."
The anima becomes a deity to Cowley, and Cowley is so tormented by her that he feels like he is in Hell.
ALL-OVER LOVE -- The anima, as a deity, fills Cowley in all his parts, but, like a god, is completely whole in each of Cowley's parts. Cowley explodes and fills the universe, which is his mind, as if to die and escape from the anima. But the anima is now fully in every part of Cowley's universe.
LOVE AND LIFE -- Cowley is so weighed down by the anima's presence in him that it seems as if he's getting unnaturally older.
THE BARGAIN -- Cowley calls his anima a prostitute, but then says that the only person on earth worthy of her is him:
"Nothing on earth a fitting price can be,
But what on earth's most like to thee;
And that my heart does only bear;
For there thyself, thy very self is there."
THE LONG LIFE -- Cowley basically feels like a bird plucked of all its feathers. He feels weighed down by the mental strain involved of dealing with his anima within him as she is. He asks for relief, to be a "normal" human again. The anima seems to comply.
COUNSEL -- The anima has actively made Cowley into a woman this time -- apparently having gouged a vagina into him.
Cowley desires lesbian sex with his anima. Cowley is actually too tired to ejaculate or "purge" into his anima. But he wishes for her to ejaculate her "cordials" into him.
The Queen's animus, again, seems to have entered Cowley's anima -- almost at Cowley's wish. And the animus penetrates Cowley's vagina by cunnilingus:
"Thy tongue comes in, as if it meant
Against thine eyes t'assist my heart;
But different far was *his* intent,
For straight the traitor took their part;
And by this new foe I'm bereft
Of all that little which was left."
The little left would probably be what little was left of Cowley's penis. The Queen's animus' tongue, in Cowley's anima, in other words, made quick work of Cowley's clitoris.
The anima's eyes, which one would usually think of as Apollonian and masculine, were actually those of the anima. And as the anima gazed on Cowley, she was about to enter him again. But the Queen's animus took over the situation and penetrated Cowley through his vagina. Cowley felt less overwhelmed by the sexual penetration than the spiritual penetration.
RESOLVED TO BE BELOVED -- Cowley longs to be back in the feminine Bower, though he calls it his "fatal soil," a land of death, though also full of nourishment.
He then has a strange phallic fantasy where his compass-needle is attracted to the great North Pole. He says that if he ever manages to fix his needle onto the direction of this distant North Pole, he'll never travel from the spot at which he's managed to do this:
"Then may my vessel torn and shipwreck'd be
If it put forth again to sea!
It never more abroad shall roam,
Though't could the next voyage bring the Indies home."
It seems that Cowley wishes to go all the way back to the empty Bower, locate only the direction of the huge phallus of his distant father, and face in that direction forever, without moving. He's willing to forego any benefit in life, if he can just point his little penis in the direction of his distant phantom-father's huge penis.
THE SAME -- But it would seem that Cowley's anima has managed to take some control back in her Bower. She tells Cowley he can't stay. But Cowley is afraid to go. He insists that if he's given another chance, he'll surely do his best to meet the anima again, as she is, and give himself to her.
THE DISCOVERY -- The anima has taken the role of deity again. Instead of Cowley thinking of the anima as a prostitute and himself, oddly enough, as the only one great enough to pay for her, he thinks of himself as a lowly sacrifice to her, which she shouldn't feel scorned by, simply because someone so low as he would like to sacrifice himself to her -- and then, oddly, he says that because he feels this way, he's the only one worthy of her.
AGAINST FRUITION -- Cowley is a woman again. He has sex with his anima, who, because she has the Queen's animus inside of her ("thou'rt queen of all that sees thee"), is phallic, and fills up Cowley's insides. But Cowley asks the Queen's animus not to ejaculate inside him ("should'st thou nectar give, 'twould spoil the taste).
Cowley is afraid to have the anima inside him again, though he wishes for nourishment from the anima. He imagines a male hawk vomitting its food -- as if it were a female bird, feeding its babies. He then expresses a castration fear involving drone bees, the followers of the Queen bees.
LOVE UNDISCOVERED -- Under the conceit of keeping his love a secret from the Queen, Cowley really expresses his fear of having the anima inside him again, as she is. He fully expresses the fact that he doesn't feel worthy of her. He believes she could leave him and let him die. But if she cried for him, desired him back, he'd only have to come alive all over again. He hopes this doesn't happen.
THE GIVEN HEART -- Cowley simply wishes he could get rid of his anima once and for all. He tries to convince himself that he has a male soul -- father's soul. He fantasizes that if his animus came back one day, it would blow his anima up, like a hand grenade.
However, the Queen's animus comes into the situation -- this time he is disguised as Cupid -- and manages to take Cowley, as a feminine vessel, a metal shell, and fill him with the anima as seed, or "th'allay." The animus has managed to impregnate Cowley with the anima.
THE PROPHET -- Cowley says that nobody can teach him of love. He knows a lot about love. He's a love magician. He can teach not only Cupid, but the Devil about love. He even knows how to keep his anima in his body, even when he doesn't like it.
"I'll teach him (the Devil) things he never knew before.
I'll teach him a receipt to make
Words that weep and tears that speak;
I'll teach him sighs like those in death,
At which souls go out too with the breath:
Still the soul stays, yet still does from me run,
As light and heat does with the sun."
Cowley, having reached the Bower again, calls himself the Christopher Columbus of love. He also says that he's "love's last and greatest prophet."
(This is interesting, since Johnson later calls Cowley the last and greatest metaphysical poet.)
THE RESOLUTION -- Cowley is again a woman, talking to the Queen. Cowley, as a woman, fantasizes a world where men exclude women altogether. Ostensibly, this would lead to Cowley, as a woman, and the Queen having a lesbian relationship. But the real fantasy Cowley seems to be looking for is not having to accept his anima as a woman or himself as a man.
CALLED INCONSTANT -- Cowley is a male shore, embracing whatever waves roll his way. I'd argue Cowley actually thinks of himself as a female shore, based on his lines in the next poem which explicitly compare landforms to the female body. He doesn't want to have to decide to accept his anima as his soul. So he just lets whatever waves lap up onto him that will.
THE WELCOME -- Cowley acts as the prodigal son. His anima acts as his father. This might seem good to Cowley. But Cowley finds that playing this role too strongly actually repels his anima-father from him. It might be a question of magnetic poles. Remember how far away Cowley's compass-needle had to be, just so he could face his father's North Pole.
THE HEART FLED AGAIN -- Cowley becomes a woman, like a Dido, as he watches the anima, in the guise of his father, flee again. Cowley insists he can live without his anima, but that his anima cannot live without him. However, he only speaks in the role of a woman. He's really speaking for his anima -- and he knows he can't live without his anima.
WOMEN'S SUPERSTITION -- Cowley complains about women stubbornly holding to their ways, as if trying to rationalize the anima into being more of a male figure. He finally complains of women that "Before their mothers' Gods they fondly fall." However, the anima is his deity.
THE SOUL -- Cowley admits that he cannot survive without his anima. Interestingly he's arguing with some pedantic, old philosopher, which may be the Queen's animus in disguise, but is probably his own anima in transsexual disguise. So the anima, who had been greatly repelled by acting the part of Cowley's father, has now returned. And Cowley (as in his previous poem to "The Soul" in this cycle) pledges allegiance to the anima.
To be continued...