Tuesday, 7 July 2009

Landor 2

In every hour, in every mood,
O lady, it is sweet and good
To bathe the soul in prayer,
And, at the close of such a day,
When we have ceased to bless and pray,
To dream of thy long hair.

This little lyric 'On Lady Godiva' was written, according to Landor, when he was a schoolboy at Rugby; and the balance of five lines of praying to one line of erotic reverie looks like an imagination making a deal with itself—buying itself a little sensual indulgence at the cost of a lot of piety. This in itself is eloquent about the extent to which desire is not only gets repressed but is actually determined by the restriction. Does the schoolboy Landor really dream about Godiva’s hair? Or about what the hair conceals? The perhaps counterintuitive answer offered by this little poem is—the former; because by transferring libidinous yearning into a secondary, symbolic order the psyche actually increases the erotic charge. In this poem prayer is a cleansing and purifying thing (it bathes the soul) not despite but because young Landor is addressing his religious devotions to Godiva rather than the Virgin Mary.

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