Sunday, July 19, 2015

Abelard and Heloise

One of the great romances of all time is that of Abelard and Heloise. Peter Abelard was a twelfth century French scholar who was hired to tutor a gifted young Parisian maiden named Heloise. He seduced her; they had a child and there was a public scandal. They were secretly married. However, the girl's outraged guardian hired ruffians to attack Abelard. He was mutilated and the couple separated. Abelard became a monk and Heloise, a nun. They both grew into accomplished scholars and influential religious. They never ceased to love each other, although they stayed apart, being under solemn vows. Heloise was particularly tormented by the memories of her lost love and grief over the disaster that had befallen them. She poured out her sorrow to Abelard in letters; he placated her by telling her that although he would always love her, what had happened was God's will. He enjoined her to forgive him for taking advantage of her innocence and that he, Abelard, accepted their separation as a penance. They are buried together at the Père Lachaise cemetery in Paris.

Alexander Pope composed a long poem based upon a letter of Heloise to Abelard. Here is an excerpt:

Of all affliction taught a lover yet,
'Tis sure the hardest science to forget!
How shall I lose the sin, yet keep the sense,
And love th' offender, yet detest th' offence?
How the dear object from the crime remove,
Or how distinguish penitence from love?
Unequal task! a passion to resign,
For hearts so touch'd, so pierc'd, so lost as mine.
Ere such a soul regains its peaceful state,
How often must it love, how often hate!
How often hope, despair, resent, regret,
Conceal, disdain — do all things but forget.
But let Heav'n seize it, all at once 'tis fir'd;
Not touch'd, but rapt; not waken'd, but inspir'd!
Oh come! oh teach me nature to subdue,
Renounce my love, my life, myself — and you.
Fill my fond heart with God alone, for he
Alone can rival, can succeed to thee.


1 comment:

Dymphna said...

I always considered Abelard as an example of what can happen when you don't keep an eye on the teacher