04 May Destructive Desire As Demonstrated by Four Writers from Different Spots in Time
Destructive Desire As Demonstrated by Four Writers from Different Spots in Time
by S. Peckenpaugh
“In like a fly.
Out Like a fly
She’d mixed up my head.
She’d driven a fork right through my fucking heart.
I miss you too my Stellafly (“Stellafly” last stanza) 1
Love and intense desire ignite the burning flames of which lead to destruction. Along with Ithaka Darin Pappas’ “Stellafly”, “The Story of Pyramus and Thisbe” by Ovid2 , “Batter My Heart, Three Personed God” by Jonne Donne3, and Shakespeare’s “Th’ Expense of Spirit”4 all share the same theme. Desire is not without pain and havoc. Two ways that this damage is demonstrated are: self-destruction because of the love and/or desire for another, and destruction of love-feelings in the fulfilling of lustful desire. The huge span of years that these four pieces cover illustrates the inevitable love traps that are but a part of what we refer to as “the human condition”.
In their own different ways, John Donne’s poem about tearing down and rebuilding himself to truly love God, and Ovid’s tale of lovers who kill themselves separately believing the other had died, show the intrinsic nature of love which makes people turn to self-destruction. Donne’s persona in “Batter My Heart, Three-Personed God’ feels that he can live up to loving God only if he rids himself of his old ways and habits to which he has become accustomed. He must be peeled back to his basic core; begging of God “…o’erthrow me, and bend/Your force to break, blow, burn, and make me new”. (lines 3-4). In order to be with God and be free, he must go through pain. The paradox throughout this poem is demonstrated in the last line., “Nor ever chaste, except you ravish me.” This is the author’s way of describing that his desire is to be pure and with God, but he needs to erase what he has become without God and to be taken over and completely influenced by God and His powers in order to fulfill that desire.
This conflicting situation of security through insecurity or wholeness through devastation bridges the similarities between Donne’s poem and Ovid’s tale of “Pyramus and Thisbe”. In the quest to be united, the two young lovers resort to lethal action. Coming up with a plan to physically be together, and no longer separated by the wall or society, was their first hurdle. So they decided to “Run away from home, and even leave the city” (line 86). They broke down the barriers of their of their unapproving parents and the brick wall. In the choice of leaving their families and their city, they were leaving the foundations that had built them. They destroyed those ties in order to become a new united couple. Those events make the fatal end follow logically. They now had committed to being together. It is true that Pyramus had jumped the gun in killing himself, but he saw it as the only way to fulfill his ultimate goal: to be together with “Thisbe, Loveliest of all those Eastern girls.” (lines 57-58) As Donne was self-destructive in pleading to be broken, knocked and battered by God.
When Thisbe committed suicide upon seeing still-bleeding Pyramus, the strength of their desire was once again shown. Three individual decisive acts of ruin brought two lovers together as Donne’s provoked punishment would make him close to God.
The two poems, however, are not entirely identical in meaning. While the tone of self-destruction for oneness ties them together, Donne begs for pain while Ovid’s characters’ miscommunication triggers it. Readers know that the three-person God addressed in Donne’s poem is about the subordinate speaker. God does not ask Donne’s persona to ravish Him! In contrast, Pyramus and Thisbe were equals with a common motive.
“I too/Have a brave hand for this one thing, I too/Have love enough, and this will give me strength/For the last wound. I will follow you in death,” Metamorphoses, lines 149,152)
Thisbe chose to exterminate herself in the name of love. The two characters decided that life was not worth living without the other person. It was their mutual desire that made them choose to end their lives. The speaker in “Batter My Heart, Three-Personed God” desires to be closer with God, but feels he can only do so by metaphorically killing himself. God has no opinion in this matter. The way that this “Three-Personed God” sacrificed his body for love was as Jesus Christ. Maybe like Pyramus and Thisbe, Donne is following the lead of that who he desires.
“…break, blow, burn…” (line 4) this alliteration used in Donne’s poem creates a harsh rapid succession of sounds followed by the gentle iambic meter of, “and make me new.” (line 4) The sound of the line is excellent because it correlates with the “sense” – harshness for security. Two examples of how the words at the end of lines rhyme and relate are: “You”, “new” (lines 1 and 4) and “free”, “me” (lines 13 and 14). He carefully chose the words to fill his sonnet. “You” equals God who makes him “new” and “free” is what God will make “me”. Donne’s persona uses the simile, “I, like an unsurped town,” (line 5) to compare himself to something destroyed that needs renewing and rebuilding . “Take me to you…” (line 12) is common request to the divine, yet the rest of the line, “…imprison me, for I, / Except you enthrall me, never shall be free,” shows his true desire by saying that without being completely overcome, he shall not be taken to God and therefore will never be free. In this context, the paradox of being imprisoned to be free is given light.
“The Story of Pyramus and Thisbe” has interesting images of hot and cold. The love between the two characters is compared to fire which is a clear reference to love being the catalyst to devastation. The name “Pyramus” even, alludes to fire in the first three letters. “You know how fire suppressed burns all the fiercer.” (line 63) Desire is strong between the two lovers; and that love and desire’s potential to ruin is intensifying. The mulberry tree, which is the secret meeting place for Pyramus and Thisbe come nightfall, is “loaded with snow-white berries” (line 91) Those berries have a sterile cold image, and in line with that theme, they grow next to “…a cool spring…” (line 92) Warm crimson is the blood of lovers. The strength of their love is demonstrated by in the color of the mulberry berries. Like the fire of desire, their blood spreads. The red is left forever on the berries and serves as a reminder of young Pyramus and Thisbe’s desire of togetherness. “…for the mulberry fruit / Still reddens at its ripest, and the ashes / rest in a common urn.” Through the heat and pain did they achieve togetherness in death. Pyramus saw his own death as the only way to one with Thisbe of their desire was once again shown.
“Stellafly” by author Ithaka Darin Pappas was written very recently, and Shakespeare’s sonnet “The Expense of Spirit…”, written in the 1500’s, share the common tone that unacknowledged love and potential love can be ameliorated by succumbing to reckless lust. Similar to our modern theories of cigarette smoking, in Shakespeare’s time it was believed that time was knocked off your life every time you climaxed. His warnings against lust, however, are not just in reference to that medical belief. It is instead more about emptiness of lust, described well in line six through eight: “…and no sooner had / Past reason hatred as swallowed bait / On purpose laid to make the taker mad;” The fulfilling of desire seems to offer much, but leaves the recipient empty-handed. Lust feels empty afterwards and void of any love-rewards.
The rewards Stella and Stan had in “Stellafly” (even though their love was unacknowledged) were wiped out in this way. Before either had admitted those feelings to the other, they came home drunk one night and fell victim to lust. The love was there, but they were afraid to admit it.
“But I loved this little girl,
She loved me too,
But was afraid to admit it.
For the simple reason that I didn’t look good on paper.” (lines 76-80)
Their insecurity destroyed potential joy. Her insecurity was how her family back home would see him and his insecurity was about how he saw himself through her. There were many opportunities for them to share their love, but their uncertaintly kept them from exposing their emotions. They never communicated their feelings for one another.. Booze made them finally face their sexual desires. “The worst because of its four-second duration and transformation of a girl who talked, laughed / ate with me / and cared about me, / into one who only said / Hi Stan. / Bye Stan.” (lines 127-134) Unfortunately, because of the guilty, empty feelings of lust, everything they had and could have had crumbled down to nothing in the way Shakespeare had warned in his sonnet: “A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;” (“Th’ Expense of Spirit line 11)
Desire and destruction tie “Stellafly” and “Th’ Expense of Spirit” together. The differences in these poems are mainly formal. Shakespeare’s poem is a sonnet. It is general of its discussion of lust. There are no examples of how it tears people apart – it just tells that it does. Ithaka Darin Pappas’ poem tells a story, it has two characters, a narrator and some specific action. Lust’s evil influence is seen in a certain series of events. With its fourteen-line form, Shakespeare’s sonnet has a typical English rhyme scheme of abab cdcd efef gg. The sonnet has three quatrains about lust. The first talks about what a shameful action it is, the second is about how lust is like bait on a hook and the third is about how the anticipation is good, but afterwards lust is a big let down. The rhyming words at the end of the lines such as, “shame, blame” (lines 1 and 3) and “well, hell” (lines 13 and 14) are intelligently placed: they are connected words that intensify the point, or they are contrasting words that show the two-sidedness of lust. Shakespeare cleverly uses words with more than one connotation as with, “On purpose laid”, employing an economy of words to relate to both bait and sex. (line 8) The ending couplet, “All this the world well knows; yet none knows well / To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.” Concludes the poem with a summing up statement. He says that everyone knows what he described in the first three quatrains, but no one is good in avoiding succumbing to lust because the short-term pleasure and anticipation block out the looming let down.
Ithaka Darin Pappas’ poem really has no special form. His lines and stanzas guide how he wants readers to follow. It is pretty empty of figures of speech, yet it is still effective. He repeats letters and uses capital letters to demonstrate the way words are spoken such as, “SSTTAAANLEYYEEEYYY!!!! (line 57) or “THAT’S NOT FUNNY STAN!!!!” (line 97). This is done because dialogue is an important factor of this poem; colloquial speech gives it its flavor and attractiveness. Shakespeare is a known anti-Petrarchan and we can see that Ithaka Darin Pappas is too. The choice of the name “Stella” for the love interest in his poem is stated to be from Tennessee Williams’ play A Streetcar Named Desire, but it also seems to be a reference to Petrarch’s Stella. Pappas’ Stella is shown in an anti-Petrachan way. “The girl spent money like an oil sheik” (line 34) and “Who the fuck takes a cab from Hollywood to the beach?” / RENT A CAR! I told her (line 47-48) Show the readers that the man who loves Stella sees her in a realistic light; he loves her as the eating, breathing human she is. He obviously knows her well. This is important in the poem because it makes the let down of their sexual act that much stronger. Their desire for one another was not just carnal, but since they were so timid with the love they had, the guilt surrounding their tiny sexual experience completely destroyed everything they had had. Stella ended up leaving, but four months later she left a message: “It’s Spring here, she said on my answering machine, / the sun is shining, / the flowers have blossomed………..I miss you Stan.” (lines 158-161) ‘Four months of guilt and regret and loss to recognize destroyed love and maybe rehash it.
“All this the world well knows; yet none knows well / To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.”4 explains why century after century man still falls victim to intense desire. It is the breakdown of self that can make us into one, and it is the becoming of one that can rip us apart. However the flame of desire will continue to burn and the heaven it creates will forever overshadow the “hell”.
Pyramus and Thisbe said “goodnight” to one another at bedtime with the suppressed longing of Stella and Stan. Shakespeares’s rundown of carnal desire is “Savage, extreme and rude…” (line 4) as is Donne’s journey in satiating his appetite for the devine. The four poems, “The story of Pyramus and Thisbe”, “Stellafly”, ‘Batter My Heart Three-Person God and “Th’ Expense of Spirit” bridge the centuries. Seeking to honor their wishes, each poet is faced with and must deal with the omnipresent destruction of desire. As long as man can glimpse the paradise of met desire, the looming, burning inferno will be both ignored and stumbled upon.
1 Ithaka Darin Pappas, “Stellafly” Lava Magazine (Vol 1 –issue 2, September 1994) pp. 30-31
2 Ovid, “Pyramus and Thisbe” Metamorphoses, (Humphries edition University Indiana Press: 1955) pp. 83-86
3 John Donne, B”atter My Heart, Three-Personed God” (reprinted in Laurence Perrine
4 Wm. Shakespeare, Sonnet #129. “Th’ Expense of Spirit” (repreinted in Own Stanley, English 4 Course Reader, UCLA: 1994)