The poem’s speaker is an anonymous lover who contemplates the nature and definition of love. He begins by saying that his love is both “rare” and “strange” because it was “begotten by Despair / Upon Impossibility.” He goes on to claim that only despair could reveal to him “so divine a thing” as this love, because “Hope” could never come near it. He imagines that he “quickly might arrive” where this love is leading him, but finds that his soul’s inclinations are thwarted by Fate, who “drives iron wedges” between the speaker and the object of his affection.
According to the speaker, the problem is that Fate cannot allow “Two perfect loves” to come together. Doing so would overthrow Fate’s power, so Fate has placed the two lovers into physically separate spaces, like “distant poles” that can never come together. They must remain separate, the speaker laments, unless “giddy Heaven” falls or the entire world is suddenly “cramped into a planisphere.” The speaker then compares the lovers’ connection to two infinite lines, each of which forms a perfect circle. Because these lines are parallel, though, they shall never intersect. Therefore, the speaker concludes, Fate has enviously thwarted the love that binds him to his beloved, and the only way they can be together is in a union of their minds.
Scholars often connect Marvell’s “The Definition of Love” to John Donne’s metaphysical lyrics, due to the elaborate imagery and the neo-platonic implications of love between souls or minds that is distinct from the physical body. The poem constitutes an exploration of love by depicting two perfect yet irreconcilable loves – the love of the speaker, and the love of his lover. These two loves are perfect in themselves and they face each other in an opposition of perfection, but, according to the speaker’s formulation, that same condition prevents them from meeting in the physical sphere. The poem is composed of eight stanzas, each of which features four lines of iambic tetrameter that rhyme alternately, in a pattern of ABAB, CDCD, and so forth.
In the first stanza, the speaker makes an odd and striking claim – that his love is so unique and “rare” it must have been born of “Despair” and “Impossibility,” which is a surprisingly dark and tragic formulation of love. The speaker goes on to explain that only despair could have revealed this love to him, because it shows both the utter perfection of the love he feels, and at the same time, the impossibility of its physical fulfillment. Hence, the speaker constructs an oxymoron – “Magnanimous Despair” – as an attempt to bring his reader closer to understanding the nature of his love.
Marvell further develops the speaker's frustration at being separated from his beloved in stanza three, where the speaker elaborates upon the role of Fate. The speaker claims that his perfect love would lead him to the place where his “extended soul is fixed,” or in other words, would lead his body to the location where his soul is already connected to his beloved's. However, Fate actively prevents this by erecting an “iron wedge” between the two lovers. The speaker then explains that Fate keeps the lovers from each other because it perceives their union as usurping its power. The speaker represents Fate as a tyrant with a “jealous eye” who desires to maintain control over the two perfect loves.
He goes on to say that Fate has given “decrees of steel” that place the two lovers distantly apart, which effectively prevents a perfect union of both their physical and spiritual love. The symbols of an iron wedge and a steel decree suggest Fate’s dominion over the hard, physical realities of the body, which contrasts sharply with the speaker’s claim that the lovers enjoy metaphysical perfection in their own transcendent love.
Next, the speaker attempts to imagine the only conditions in which he and his lover might be physically united. These include the Heavens falling, an earthquake collapsing the Earth, or the entire planet being compressed into a flat plane. The speaker uses the paradoxical term “Planisphere” for this imagined event. Each of these conditions is impossible, and as the speaker acknowledges this fact, he goes on to construct a new, geometrical conceit that contrasts the love of the speaker and his lady with a more typical love. Their love is like a pair of parallel lines – infinitely perfect as they extend - yet they shall never meet. Meanwhile, common love is less perfect, like a pair of oblique lines, which by nature will eventually intersect.
In the final stanza, Marvell delivers two definitions of the speaker’s love: it is both “the conjunction of the mind” and the “opposition of the stars.” This two-part definition encapsulates the divided nature of their love. On one hand, the image of conjunction suggests proximity and harmony, while the image of opposition implies that their love can never be fully realized. This idea implicitly refers to the power of Fate in the physical universe, which in this case, prevents the lovers from meeting on the plane of material embodiment.
Don't let the word love define your LOVE
Love is the most powerful emotion a human being can experience. The strange think is, that almost nobody knows what love is. Why is it so difficult to find love? That is easy to understand, if you know that the word "love" is not the same as one's feeling of love.
The word "love" is used and abused for the expression of different sets of feelings.
The word love is used as an expression of affection towards someone else (I love you) but it also expresses pleasure (I love chocolate). To make it a little more complicated, the word "love" also expresses a human virtue that is based on compassion, affection and kindness. This is a state of being, that has nothing to do, with something or someone outside yourself. This is the purest form of Love.
The ancient Greek used 7 words to define the different states of love:
Storge: natural affection, the love you share with your family.
Philia: the love that you have for friends.
Eros: sexual and erotic desire kind of love (positive or negative)
Agape: this is the unconditional love, or divine love
Ludus: this is playful love, like childish love or flirting.
Pragma: long standing love. The love in a married couple.
Philautia: the love of the self (negative or positive)
These are 7 different kind of feelings. The love you feel for your partner is not the same as the love you feel for your mother. Even the love for your partner changes in time. You feel different emotions for different situations and people.
But still, we use the same word. It is easy to understand that a confusion is easy made while communicating. I can say "I love you" to two different people (and mean it), but I am actually feeling in a different way.
This confusion is not only the case while 2 people are talking, your own brain does not get it.
What you feel is controlled by the right side of your brain and language is controlled by your left side. If you use the word "love" 10 times a day with different situations, it losses power. Your left part or your brain does not get fully activated when you really mean "I love you" and want to get exited about it. 50% of your brain is a lot.
The first thing that you need to do is learn the differences of the (7?) states of love. Not the words, but how they feel. It is easy if you recognize the words. It is basic training. Awareness, that is the secret to love.
Love is a practice, it is not something you find or don't find. You can practice love for the rest of your life.
Don't abuse the word love. Use other words where you are not addressing emotion towards other people.
Example: I love chocolate, becomes: I enjoy chocolate. I love my job, becomes: I have passion for what I do.
Enjoying, loving and passion are 3 different emotions. It is essential to learn (again) the true meaning of words, not merely to communicate with someone else, but also so learn to experience them. Words are very powerful instruments. Not only to communicate with others, but also with your self. The words you use, creates awareness and eventually your reality.
If you use words wisely, you can learn to recognize what kind of love you are feeling, and enjoy the different kinds of love. With one person of different ones.
If you don't know how to find love with in you, you will never find it outside you.
Words are agreements to express ideas or feelings. The meaning of words is not absolute, it is always a personal interpretation. The group of feelings associated with the word "love" is difficult to understand, and even more difficult to express to other person. Let put is this way: it is impossible with only one word.
With the creation of a word, you can give it a special meaning. Some lovers create words to express what they feel to each other. A word creates and agreement or memories. This moments can be repeated when you use that word or when you think about it.
In other languages exist words, related to love, that expresses different situations that don't have a translation to English. When you know this words, you recognize this feelings. You get more grip in what you are experiencing.
Beautiful words in other languages:
Yuanfen (Chinese): A love relationship that has been established by lot, based on principles of Chinese culture.
Mamihlapinatapei (Yaghan): A look that without words is shared by two people who want to initiate something, but neither start.
Cafuné (Brazilian Portugees): Slowly stroking your fingers through someone else's hair.
Retrouvailles (France): The happiness of seeing someone again after a long time.
La Douleur Exquise (France): The enormous pain in your heart when you desire someone you cannot have.
Ya'aburnee (Arabic): The hope that you will die earlier than the other, so you don't need to live without the other.
Forelsket (Nordic): The euphoria you feel when you fall in love for the first time.
Saudade (Portugees): The feeling of longing for someone you love, but is far away.
This "moments" are so important in other cultures that they have words to express them. My point is, don't use just one word to define your love. Learn this "words" and recognize them when you are living them.
With love, you get what you put in
Love is an emotion in action. You can learn how to feel and cultivate your love... First learn and know the different situations of love. Learn how to recognize them when you are feeling them. Then you go and share your love with others.
Love between 2 people can only begin if the interaction is based on truth, trust and respect. That is something you start giving. This is essential to grown mutual love between 2 individuals. If the other person gives you wat you give, then you start feeling love for each other and it can grow...
It is not difficult to understand love, once you know how love works.
It is very easy to fall in love with someone. The difficulty is to stay in love. But if it is difficult to stay in love, that means, that it is not the love of your life. It is a love experience. Love is always beautiful, if it is not beautiful, it is not love. Time to move on. Sometimes, love just fades away. It is better to move on when you don't feel anything, then when you feel the opposite of love.
Finding your loved one or a relationship...
If you want to find the love of your life, start being aware of your use of the word love. Saying and thinking I want to find the love of my life and not I want a relationship is fundamental. You find what you are looking for.
"Being in a relationship" is a marketing term invented in magazines. Everyone that is not single is in a relationship. To address a large group of people it is perfect, but it is to vague to define your personal situation.
The only important question for you should be: "Am I experiencing love or not?"
This is the first philosophy essay forming a series under the name: "Natural Philosophy" about the most important matters of life, trying to define a "Theory of everything". Continue reading here.
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