28 April 2011

King Solomon, Faulkner and Boney M.

 When I was a child, Boney M. was very popular in Spain. I must have sung most of their songs hundreds of times. However, if there is a song that I remember more than the others is the one that speaks of the 'rivers of Babylon'. The rhythm is very catchy and I must admit that sometimes I hum it without realizing it.
Boney M's song is based on King Solomon's Psalm 137 in which one reads about rivers, Babylon, Zion, singing songs, foreign lands, Jerusalem and the Lord. It is precisely the same biblical psalm the one that links Boney M. and King Solomon with Faulkner (1897-1962). 
If I Forget Thee, Jerusalem (Psalm 137:5) is the title W. Faulkner gave to the novel he published in 1939. However, the publishers decided to print it with a different title: The Wild Palms. Be as it may, Faulkner's story is now known to by both names to avoid confusion.


Obviously, these interconnections between King Solomon's psalms, Boney M.'s music and Faulkner's novel reminds me of Roland Barthes' ideas on intertextuality. I have the feeling that he was right when he said that " Every text is an intertext; other texts are present in it, at variable levels, in more or less recognizable forms...every text is a fabric woven out of bygone quotations."

 Psalm 137 (King James Version)

By the rivers of Babylon, there we sat down, yea, we wept, when we remembered Zion.
We hanged our harps upon the willows in the midst thereof.
For there they that carried us away captive required of us a song; and they that wasted us required of us mirth, saying, Sing us one of the songs of Zion.
How shall we sing the LORD's song in a strange land?
If I forget thee, O Jerusalem, let my right hand forget her cunning.
If I do not remember thee, let my tongue cleave to the roof of my mouth; if I prefer not Jerusalem above my chief joy.
Remember, O LORD, the children of Edom in the day of Jerusalem; who said, Rase it, rase it, even to the foundation thereof.
O daughter of Babylon, who art to be destroyed; happy shall he be, that rewardeth thee as thou hast served us.
Happy shall he be, that taketh and dasheth thy little ones against the stones.

10 April 2011

Harlots, wives and celibacy in Paradise Lost

Book IV compares marital love and the love one can easily buy from women who sell their bodies for a short period of time in exchange of some money. Milton compares both types of love while he critizises the position of Catholicism in the issue of celibacy. His attack is straightforward and directed to "whatever hypocrites austerely talk / Of puritie and place and innocence, / Defaming as impure what God declares / Pure, and commands to som, leaves free to all./ Our Maker bids increase, who bids abstain / But our Destroyer, foe to God and Man?" (744-749). Basically, Milton´s logical idea is based upon the question: who said that priests cannot get married or cannot have sexual relationships? Milton knew well that the Bilble does not say anything about it. Actually, it would not come as a surprise that Milton knew that the Bible talks about the apostle Peter´s "mother-in-law" (Mattew 8:14). There one reads that " When Jesus came into Peter’s house, he saw Peter’s mother-in-law lying in bed with a fever" (Mattew 8:14). 

I have taken a look at quite a few Bible translations and this is what I have found out: The New International version 2011, the New American Standard bible, the New Living Translation, the English Standard version and countless list of other versions use the term "mother-in-law". However, I have found that some versions are even more specific. In this respect, the King James version says: "And when Jesus was come into Peter's house, he saw his wife's mother laid, and sick of a fever." 

Certainly, Milton knew that God had never ordered anybody not to get married and the poet mentions in Book IV that Adam and Eve enjoyed their sexuality. Hence he pens that the first couple were created "To fill the Earth ..." and they went "into thir inmost bowre [...] and eas'd the putting off / These troublesome disguises which wee wear, / Strait side by side were laid, nor turnd I weene / Adam from his fair Spouse, nor Eve the Rites / Mysterious of connubial Love refus'd" [732-742].

For Milton, who had married three times by the time he wrote those verses, the idea of celibacy was nonsense and was simply based on tradition. In this context, the Oxford Dictionary of Popes by Kelly mentions that there were 39 popes who were married. Tradition seems to be under the idea of modern celibacy.

If Milton describes marital love in romantic and pure terms such as being together " into thir inmost bowre", "fair Spouse" and "Mysterious of connubial Love", his description about having sexual relationships with prostitutes is much more different. A few verses later, and without using his well-known convoluted style, he writes: "[...] about not in the bought smile / Of Harlots, loveless, joyless, unindeard, / Casual fruition" [765-767].

If money buys a smile, a loveless and joyless short period of time with an unknown woman who sells her body for money in exchange of a "casual fruition" or copulation, marital love has God´s blessing.

Paradise Lost IV 765-767
by John Milton

not in the bought smile
Of Harlots, loveless, joyless, unindeard,
Casual fruition
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