Never Mark Antony

“The past is a foreign country,” as Leslie Poles Hartley pointed out, but they don’t always do things differently there.  It is a peculiar feeling, especially to one who views history through the dual prisms of Heidegger and Foucault, to find the distant past thoroughly familiar.  Such is my experience in reading Elizabethan poet John Cleveland’s Marc Antony, in which the refrain is both trite and profound, and perhaps only matched in this characteristic by Eliot’s refrain from The Lovesong of J. Alfred Proofrock, as well as a few of the better tracks off of Bob Dylan’s Desire.

Whenas the nightingale chanted her verses
And the wild forester couch’d on the ground,
Venus invited me in the evening whispers
Unto a fragrant field with roses crown’d,
Where she before had sent
My wishes’ complement;
Unto my heart’s content
Play’d with me on the green.
Never Mark Antony
Dallied more wantonly
With the fair Egyptian Queen.

First on her cherry cheeks I mine eyes feasted,
Thence fear of surfeiting made me retire;
Next on her warmer lips, which, when I tasted,
My duller spirits made me active as fire.
Then we began to dart,
Each at another’s heart,
Arrows that knew no smart,
Sweet lips and smiles between.
Never Mark Antony
Dallied more wantonly
With the fair Egyptian Queen.

Wanting a glass to plait her amber tresses,
Which like a bracelet rich decked mine arm,
Gaudier than Juno wears whenas she graces
Jove with embraces more stately than warm,
Then did she peep in mine
Eyes’ humor crystalline;
I in her eyes was seen
As if we one had been.
Never Mark Antony
Dallied more wantonly
With the fair Egyptian Queen.

Mystical grammar of amorous glances;
Feeling of pulses, the physic of love;
Rhetorical courtings and musical dances;
Numbering of kisses arithmetic prove;
Eyes like astronomy;
Straight-limb’d geometry;
In her arts’ ingeny
Our wits were sharp and keen.
Never Mark Antony
Dallied more wantonly
With the fair Egyptian Queen.

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