Monday, January 27, 2014

They All the Mysteries of Friendship Know

The Defence
by John Norris


I. That I am colder in my Friendship grown,
My Faith and Constancy you blame,
But sure th' inconstancy is all your own,
I am, but you are not the same;
The flame of Love must needs expire
If you subtract what should maintain the Fire.

II. While to the Laws of Vertue you were true,
You had, and might retain my Heart;
Now give me leave to turn Apostate too,
Since you do from your self depart.
Thus the Reform'd are counted free
From Schism, tho they desert the Roman See.

III. The strictest Union to be found below
Is that which Soul and Body ties,
They all the Mysteries of Friendship know,
And with each other sympathise.
And yet the Soul will bid adieu
T' her much distemper'd Mate, as I leave you.

Donne couldn't write a metaphysical poem with metaphysical conceits that were more metaphysical; the oddity of the second stanza Protestantism metaphor (the breaking of a friendship as the Reformation) is as striking as a good metaphysical conceit should be, and that in the third, while less original, is well expressed.

John Locke and John Norris had their big break in 1692. Collection of Miscellanies, which this is from, was first published in 1687 (and went through nine editions by 1730). Unfortunately, I don't have any access to the earlier editions; I am assuming that this was in the original. If that's so, then it predates the Locke/Norris spat, making it somewhat ironic, since it fits what must certainly have been Norris's perspective on the quarrel perfectly. An additional irony is the explicit Protestantism of the poem, given that one of the many insults Locke and Masham applied to Norris after the break was that his views were Papistical superstitions imbibed from Malebranche.

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