Friday, 6 May 2005

Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind

Maybe people who saw the film "Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind" will know the story of Eloise and Abelard, whose love affair in the late middle ages was as tragic as it was passionate.
The title of the film comes from a poem by Alexander Pope, entitled "Eloise to Abelard".

Eloise was an extremely clever young woman of 18 when she met Peter Abelard, who was 51. Abelard was a philosopher and priest and Eloise's uncle had arranged for him to be her tutor. From the moment the two met they fell madly in love. They secretly got married and managed to keep their secret very well until Eloise got pregnant and her uncle found out. Furious at this, Eloise's uncle had Abelard hunted down and castrated.

After this the two lovers were not allowed to meet again. Eloise was sent off to be a nun and Abelard, who had now lost his official position in the church, was forced to retire in a monastery. They exchanged letters for the rest of their lives, but never met again...

Their passion did not die out as a letter from Eloise to Abelard states, painfully: "Even during the celebration of the Mass, when our prayers should be purest, lewd visions of the pleasures we shared take such a hold upon my unhappy soul that my thoughts are on their wantonness instead of my prayers. Everything we did, and also the times and places, are stamped on my heart along with your image, so that I live through it all again with you."
Due to the thinking of the time, Abelard came to see his fate as a well deserved punishment from God for having succumbed to sexual pleasure. How different things would have been if they were alive today!

In Alexander Pope's poem, Eloise envies the women around her who became nuns by choice and not by force:

"How happy is the blameless vestal's lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd; Labour and rest, that equal periods keep; "Obedient slumbers that can wake and weep;" Desires compos'd, affections ever ev'n, Tears that delight, and sighs that waft to Heav'n. Grace shines around her with serenest beams, And whisp'ring angels prompt her golden dreams. For her th' unfading rose of Eden blooms, And wings of seraphs shed divine perfumes, For her the Spouse prepares the bridal ring, For her white virgins hymeneals sing, To sounds of heav'nly harps she dies away, And melts in visions of eternal day."

For the full Alexander Pope poem, click below.


gettinggrip said...

Just like Colleen McCullough's Thornbirds :) priest falling in love with a woman.
it's not so surprising to hear about a very young lady falling in love with a very old about a 51-year old woman falling for an 18-year old guy during that time?

Alterior said...

Yes, priest falling in love with young woman is almost a bit of a cliche isn't it! :-)
As for the age difference being the other way around in those days, I don't think so. There may well have been plenty of older women in love with young men, but as this was a very patriarchal society, I should think they would have done their best to conceal any such feelings, even from themselves. Sex in those days was shrouded with guilt and the sense that anything to do with carnal desire was unnatural, against the laws of God and on the side of Satan, etc. People were imprisoned in a cage of religious dogma, which breeds hate, fear, guilt, shame and self-loathing.

Anonymous said...

Great to think about and to discuss such lives...but get the facts right FIRST...he was 38 not 51...viist many websites or their tombs (where their remains may or may not be) in Paris.
Pregnant first...marriage later. Amazing stuff.

Eloise said...

I am Eloise Juliette and am fascinated by the historical nature of the two names.

Joanna_lee47 said...

Actually, Pierre Abedlard was not a priest, he was a lecturer at what eventaully became the Sorbonne. It was customary for the teachers to be celibate, but not a sacred vow. Still, he did succumb to guilt and felt the castration was proper punishment. Read Marion Meade's Stealing Heaven, or if possible, see the film. Glorious story gloriously told.