I’m still on the subject of “myth” and how poets use it to point their point across. Some use myth as a fitting analogy for their subject. How like Icarus did Bernie Madoff reach high up for the sun and how quickly did he singe his wings and fall. Even conmen can have hubris. Many of the myths chosen are the Classical myths from ancient Greece and Rome, they seem to capture the unique insanities of the human heart.
Sometimes myth is subverted as in “The Second Coming” where the coming of Christ is a terrible thing instead of a wonderful one. It can be a powerful way to make a statement, because a myth is not simply an old story, it’s a story that speaks to who we are, it resonates with us at a primal level – it speaks of our heart, our true identity underneath all modern invention, convention and contemporary cool. It speaks to the warm, soft, wild animal that we really are.
And sometimes myth just speaks about what we feel is going on in our own hearts. In this poem, the myth of Cupid and Venus betrays the poet’s feelings about love. The fact that Cupid was uncontrollable and Venus often completely irrational says a lot about what he has observed about love. He finds it difficult to deal with the overwhelming and irrational feelings that love inspires and how he feels controlled by it and not the other way around. He uses words like “overcome” and “overblown”. He uses the image of a leaf falling from a tree to describe how crazy and helpless he feels falling in love. “From bank to bank, from wood to wood I run/Overcome with my feeble fantasy….Like a leaf that falls from a tree.” (I have used the modern English version of these lines to quote the poem.)
It feels as if, for this poet, the myth is alive; it’s more than allegory. He is being guided by the god. Perhaps it helps to think that it is the god’s fault for his irrationality just as a person would trip over a rock and blame the rock for the fall. How real was the goddess to the poet? That I will never know, but in this version of myth in poetry love and Venus (and Cupid) are synonymous, one stands directly for the other.
This poem was written in the late sixteenth century and in Middle English, therefore will require a bit of translation. Language is tricky that way, it evolves just as we do.
Cupid and Venus
by Mark Alexander Boyd
Fra bank to bank, fra wood to wood I rin,
ourhailit with my feeble fantasie,
Like til a leaf that fallis from a tree
Or til a reed ourblawn with the win.
Twa gods guides me: the ane of them is blin,
Yea, and a bairn brocht up in vanitie,
The next a wif ingenrit of the sea,
And lichter nor a dauphin with her fin.
Unhappy is the man for evermair
That tills the sand and sawis in the air;
But twice unhappier is he, I lairn,
That feidis in his hairt a mad desire
And follows on a woman thro the fire,
Led by a blind and teachit by a bairn.
Here is my translation. I was uncertain about the words “twa” and “teachit”, the rest I had found translations for. This was as close as I was able to get to a Modern English translation:
From bank to bank, from wood to wood I run,
Overcome with my feeble fantasy,
Like to a leaf that falls from a tree
Or to a reed overblown with the wind.
Two gods guide me: the one of them is blind,
Yea, and a child brought up in vanity,
The next a wife engendered of the sea,
And lighter than a dolphin with her fin.
Unhappy is the man for evermore
That tills the sand and sows the air;
But twice unhappier is he, I learn,
That feeds in his heart a mad desire
And follows on a woman through the fire,
Lead by a blind and taught by a child.