Crashaw Passivity as Active and Term Paper

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Again, this feminine passivity outshines masculine action in its ability to experience divine and even human love.

As Crashaw continues, the erotic imagery becomes more emboldened and perhaps slightly more ambiguous, not clouding or confounding interpretation but suggesting several alternatives that work towards the same end of demonstrating the purity of passivity in its relation to the divine. After setting up the concept of virginity, love, and an active passivity with the juxtaposition of love with blood, Crashaw either extends or shifts this image further with the lines, "Scarse has she Blood enough to make / a guilty sword blush for her sake" (25-6). There is the clear surface image that juxtaposes the child with the soldier; the child is so small that she would scarcely stain the sword of a soldier that slays her, and already the grotesque nature of this image emerges as a means of shocking the reader into a deeper inspection of potential meaning. There are direct and indirect recalls to earlier portions of the poem, from the soldiers mentioned in the first lines to the repeated beginning of a phrase with "scarse has she," which contextualize and inform this particular metaphor in several ways.

First, the "guilty sword" cannot be seen as fully guilty, or at least not evil in intent, just as the soldiers and active male figures mentioned in the first few lines of the poem are dismissed not because they are evil or working against faith and the divine, but simply because they are mistaken in their violent pursuit of divine love. The concrete image of the soldier and the child with a literal sword is thus an image of misunderstanding, and of the extreme degree to which the violent pursuit of faith warps good intents and actions. Second, the repetition of "scarse has she" reinforces both the innocence and the passivity of the child Teresa, denoting the outwardly limited capacity and capabilities of the erstwhile saint and thus serving to emphasize the internal and private realm in which her receptive power exists. The image of a soldier standing over her with a barely bloodied sword is grotesque because it is at once horrific and pacifying in this context, full of the initial pathos one would expect on viewing a slaughtered child yet immediately tempered by the context that shows this as the child's final reclamation of the divine love towards which she strives -- again, a conquering in passivity, and a private longing finally yielded to in an all-too-public display.

All of this can be read into Crashaw's lines before even delving the obvious symbolic interpretations of this image, wherein the sword is not simply phallic but truly penile and still more representative of the violence that is inherent to masculine and to human love, or to the standard consummation of that love. This can be read as a direct continuation of the comment on virginity that Crashaw begins in line 21 as quoted above, wherein the speaker is simply commenting that the child Teresa does not possess enough of her own blood to present a substantial stain upon the member that first fills her, which greatly reinforces the sense of passivity and the grotesqueness of the image and which also suggests that her passivity makes her all but guiltless, and her striving for love a wholly pure and innocent act of faith without acknowledgement of the physical components -- without the blood to blush a sword coming from her. The blood she scarce has enough of can also be read as symbolic of her own beauty, which she has not grown into; she does not have blood enough to cause the maiden flush of attraction, and is thus again passive and innocent yet able to work all the more ardently towards the divine for this passivity. In this reading, her inability to "make a sword blush for her sake" retains the anatomical interpretation of the sword and even extends (if you will pardon the pun) this symbolism to note the lack of arousing effect her age and innocence would produce (with male arousal marked by a "blushing sword" much as flushing marks female arousal). Grotesquery continues, then, as Crashaw uses fairly explicit references to sexual arousal as a means of demonstrating complete innocence, and reinforcing the notion that passivity need not equate to docility but might simply be beyond the realm of physical action rather than resigned to it.

Towards the end of the poem, as Teresa nears the completion of her quest to merge with the divine love she has already experienced in part, there is definitely a sense of greater activity at least in terms of accomplishment, though the emphasis on the passivity and the feminine aspects of her personality, spirit, and sexuality is still quite strong. The association of death with the loss of virginity, at least in a symbolic sense, continues to build and grow ever more explicit throughout the poem, and yet there is a juxtaposition -- again, a grotesqueness -- to be found in the manner in which these elements are applied. Death is not death when it is achieved through the fulfillment of divine love, and the act of destroying virginity is presented not as violent but as a fulfillment willingly accepted and accomplished perhaps not gently, but with complete regard and accord for the nature of the vessel being filled. The speaker turns to questioning Teresa, asking, "How kindly will they gentle Heart / Kisse the sweetly-killing Dart!," again juxtaposing the innocence of the female saint with an image that even by the more permissive standards of the day would be considered lewd (taking the obvious phallic interpretation of "dart" as the instrument of her death and deflowering) (105-6). The full extent of this line of symbolism further glorifies the female receptive capacity and "conquering passivity" not simply through reference to the physical apparatus of feminine consummation, but also to the effects of the act to the point that orgasm becomes associated with death (recalling the French phrase le petit morte):

And close in his embraces keep

Those delicious Wounds, that weep

Balsom to heal themselves with. Thus When These thy Deaths, so numerous,

Shall all at last dy into one,

And melt thy Soul's sweet mansion


The weeping wounds are both indicative of Christ's wounds on the cross and of the aroused female genitalia, preparing for consummation and/or showing an active receptiveness for the love intruding in their demesnes, while the numerous deaths are clearly a reference to the ongoing and ever-building throes of passion -- explicitly, to multiple orgasms -- experienced as constantly increasing build up, abandonment, and release of passion. This is the ultimate symbol or testament of the ability for female passivity to conquer or become more active than male activity, in that the receiving of divine love leads to multiple and ongoing reaches of ecstasy while the male climax is as brief and violent as the action of a sword.

"The Flaming Heart"

Many of the same themes and even the same explicit symbols that appear in "A Hymn to…Sainte Teresa" are repeated in "The Flaming Heart," and the central point that the experience of divine love is most fully realized through the passivity and receptivity that is a naturally feminine quality is consistent across both poems. Crashaw is far less direct in making this point at the outset of "The Flaming Heart," however, beginning not with a simple declaration of love as the ultimate power in the universe but rather with an appeal to the reader that creates a frame for the poem that seems strange and distancing, yet that ultimately strengthens Crashaw's thesis of passivity. The poem, as the author notes below the title, is written in regard not to Saint Teresa's internal experience (at least, not directly in regard to this experience), but rather to the external visual representation of that experience as it is typically reproduced by artists, with a Seraphim beside her. The sexual connotations of such depictions are, of course, no accident, but Crashaw turns the presented eroticism on its head -- grotesques it, as it were, not by juxtaposing horror or lewdness with innocence and purity but by a re-appropriation of gender -- by calling on readers to see Teresa as the Seraphim and the represented female as the angel. Through this direct address to the reader in both form and content, Crashaw explicitly makes the passive an active conquering force, and shows the traditional view of masculine virile action to be meaningless without the presence of a receptive femininity to complete the action of divine love.

There is some irony on Crashaw's first…[continue]

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