Sweet Desire, Theme and Variations

As you may recall from earlier on this blog or elsewhere, C.S. Lewis writes about sweet desire: a hunger that is better than any other fullness, a sensation of miserable longing so beautiful that one feels compelled to recapture it and fails.

In lieu of a longer post tonight, I thought I’d share two excerpts from two very different poems that bring me some of the pale imitations of sweet desire I have known….

Lap me in soft Lydian airs,
Married to immortal verse,
Such as the meeting soul may pierce,
In notes with many a winding bout
Of linked sweetness long drawn out
With wanton heed and giddy cunning,
The melting voice through mazes running,
Untwisting all the chains that tie
The hidden soul of harmony….


Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear,
And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear;
With only the howl of a timber wolf, and you camped there in the cold,
A half-dead thing in a stark, dead world, clean mad for the muck called gold;
While high overhead, green, yellow, and red, the North Lights swept in bars?–
Then you’ve a hunch what the music meant…hunger and night and the stars.

The first is from Milton’s L’Allegro (I discovered it tracking down a quotation in “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow”), the second from “The Shooting of Dan McGrew” by Robert Service, a poem my mom introduced me to, and which she’d learned from her father.
They have wildly different registers, moods, times of day, landscapes, everything—they wound up next to each other in my commonplace book by chance—and both (to me; but remember, I have no taste) at once describe and evoke something like sweet desire with poignant intensity.

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