Ever felt that your inner feelings just don’t quite match the outer reality of your world? Sort of like shopping for new shelves in IKEA whilst also feeling super-sexy, powerful, and aware…, I wonder how this discontinuity between the internal and external self can arise ? , and how we might start to find more concordance between the two ?
I’m going to make a bit of an apparent leap here, from feeling sexy to political and social revolutions, bear with me there is a link….,
I’m fascinated by social change; what causes a change in political organisation, economic structures or culture ? To further my understanding I have been reading a number of texts on 3 major European revolutions: 18thC French, 20thC Russian, 16thC English (more of a cultural revolution).
Repeatedly I come back to Voltaire (François-Marie d’Arouet (1694–1778)) as a genesis of Enlightenment thinking, and as such at the root of much we consider to be contemporary liberalism (e.g. human rights, democracy, freedom of expression etc). There is much which could be written about Voltaire’s philosophy, but what most amuses me is that he wrote about hedonism, and wrote verse which could be described as “erotic poetry”.
I think that he wrote erotic poetry as this represented the lived reality of liberty: freedom begins with freedom of self. If we want a free society we must first free our bodies.
The poem below, To A Lady Very Well Known To The Whole Town, is a really easy to read and amusing poem paying tribute to a lady who may have been rather free with her favours. She was certainly an attractive and alluring lady who was confident in her sexuality. Voltaire pays respect to (& expresses a desire for) a woman who may have been condemned by moralistic and normatively monogamous society.
In this work Voltaire shows how we could achieve more sexual freedom, and relationship happiness, in a free liberal-pluralist society. He does this with an accessible and funny poem. This is one of the many reasons that Voltaire was a genius !
To A Lady Very Well Known By The Whole Town
by Voltaire (Francois Marie Arouet, 1694-1778)
Phillis, how much the times are changed,
Since in a hack the town you ranged,
Since without finery or train you shone,
Conspicuous for your charms alone;
When though you supped on sorry fare,
You nectar seemed with gods to share.
You foolishly to one consigned
Beauty which might charm all mankind:
A desperate lover, who for life
Engaged you when he made his wife.
You then no treasure did inherit,
Your beauty was your only merit,
Your bosom charms divine displayed;
There Cupid still an ambush laid;
Your heart was tender, and your mind
To youthful frolics much inclined.
With so many charms endued,
What woman e’er could be a prude?
That fault, oh! beauty all divine,
Was very far from being thine;
Because of favors you were free,
You were the better liked by me.
How differently you live, grown great,
Your life is but the farce of state;
The hoary porter, who still plies
At your own door, and tells such lies,
Is a just emblem of the age,
His very looks ill-luck presage;
He thinks the duty of his place is
To drive away the loves and graces.
The tender swain’s abashed, afraid
Your pompous palace to invade.
When you were young, to my amazement
I’ve seen them enter at the casement;
I’ve seen them enter every day,
And in your chamber nimbly play.
Not all your carpets, and your plate,
Not all your proud parade of state,
Those goblets which so brightly shine,
Graved by Germain with art divine;
Those closets nobly furnished, where
Martin’s exceeds the China ware,
Your vases of Japan, and all
The brittle wonders of your hall;
Your diamond pendants which appear
With such bright lustre at each ear;
Your solitaires so dazzling bright,
Your pomp which strikes the gazer’s sight,
Are worth one quarter of that bliss,
Which once you imparted by a kiss.