THE TRANSFIGURATION OF THE SENSES
The mystics are among the most trustable in this are of sensuous love. The mystics have a lovely theology of the sensuous implicit in their writings. They never preach a denial of the senses, rather they speak of the transfiguration of the senses. The mystics recognize that there is a certain gravity or darkness in Eros which can sometimes predominate. The light of the soul can transfigure this tendency and bring balance and poise. The beauty of such mystical reflection on Eros reminds us that Eros is ultimately the energy of divine creativity. In the transfiguration of the sensuous, the wildness of Eros and the playfulness of the soul come into lyrical rhythm.
Modern Ireland has had a complex and painful journey towards the recognition and acceptance of Eros. In the old Irish tradition, there was a wonderfully vibrant acknowledgement of the power of Eros and erotic love. This finds expression in one of the most interesting poems from that era, a poem by Brian Merriman called ‘Cúirt an Mháin Oidhche’ or ‘The Midnight Court’. This comes out of the eighteenth century. Much of it is written from the perspective of the woman. It is a radically free, feminist perception. The woman’s voice speaks:
Amn’t I plump and sound as a bell?
Lips for kissing, and teeth for smiling,
Blossomy skin and forehead shining?
My eyes are blue and my hair is thick
And coils and streams about my neck,
A man who’s looking for a wife,
Here’s a face that will keep for life;
Hand and arm and neck and breast,
Each is better than the rest:
Look at that waist. My legs are long,
Limber as willows and light, and strong.
(trans. Frank O’Connor)
This is a very long poem, a ribaldry celebration of the erotic. There is no intrusion of the frequently negative language of morality which tires to separate sexuality into pure and impure. It is redundant in any case to use such words about clay creatures. How could you possibly have such purity in a clay creature? A clay creature is always a mixture of light and darkness. The beauty of Eros is its passionate threshold where light and darkness meet within the person. We need to reimagine God as the energy of transfigurative Eros, the source from which all creativity flows.
Pablo Neruda has written some of the most beautiful love lines. He says: ‘I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells, / dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses. / I want / to do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.’ This thought is so beautiful; it shows that love is also the awakening of springtime in the clay part of the heart. Yeats, too, wrote some inspiring love poetry. He has lines like: ‘But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you / and loved the sorrows of your changing face.’ These poems show a recognition of the special depth and presence within the beloved. Love helps you to see the Other in his or her own unique and special nature.