Backtracking to the previous week is perhaps a slightly suspect way of starting a new one, especially while we’re still clinging on to the remnants of a New Year and so the philosophy should be all about leaping ahead rather than stepping back. Yet return I will, for the sake of maintaining a rather neat flow of poetic theme. You’ll recall that last week’s Featured Poem mentioned in its title the notion of self-love. Though Coleridge did not tackle the idea directly within the poem itself, us readers can recognise that he didn’t hold it in high-regard; his scorn for the deep dark feelings of egocentricity that reside within all of us seeps through quite clearly. Putting concern for ourselves and how we are personally effected by things that often aren’t really of direct interest to us in a primary position is simply outrageous, and such frivolous thinking should rightly be replaced by the much more important matter of duty.
It was rather coincidental then that I should come across a Shakespearean sonnet in my collection of collated poems that dealt with the very same subject. That the Bard himself should write about self-love seems a little strange at first, considering that as a fad (or even a cult, if you wish to put it in such terms) it’s very much grounded in the 21st Century. But of course, Shakespeare was light years ahead of his time in judging the temperature of heated social concerns. It’s also quite reassuring to know for sure that our distant cousins had almost the same pre-occupations as we do. Old Bill’s take on the topic is not as negative or subtly scathing as Coleridge’s, yet again it is clear that loving one’s self is not to be lauded too much, even if it does take up a considerable amount of being, time and wall space for all those mirrors. Indeed, self-love is termed a ‘sin’ – surely the worst thing there is -not once but twice, with a person only being ‘saved’ from a complete descent into vacuous vanity by loving another.
With all that said, where does that leave those of us who do not have a significant other? Who knows. So much for the commonly paraphrased idea “You can’t love anyone else until you love yourself first”, when loving yourself doesn’t make you attractive in the slightest. It appears that, even with the advent of self-help and positive affirmation, a quick Google of the term ‘self-love’ shows it to have an ugly head bound up with excessive pride, conceit and narcissism. Though a little bit of pampering doesn’t go amiss, perhaps the poets have the right idea. Besides, who can afford to love themselves too much right now, in the wake of cuts and Christmas debts? Any ‘me time’ at the moment will stretch to one or two minor fripperies, a comfy spot and a good book or several. I don’t think either Coleridge or Shakespeare could complain about that kind of self-love.
Sin of self-love possesseth all mine eye
And all my soul and all my every part;
And for this sin there is no remedy,
It is so grounded inward in my heart.
Methinks no face so gracious is as mine,
No shape so true, no truth of such account;
And for myself mine own worth do define,
As I all other in all worths surmount.
But when my glass shows me myself indeed,
Beated and chopp’d with tann’d antiquity,
Mine own self-love quite contrary I read;
Self so self-loving were iniquity.
Tis thee, myself, that for myself I praise,
Painting my age with beauty of thy days.
William Shakespeare (1564-1616)