Thursday, March 04, 2010

So soft the dart

If love's a sweet passion, why does it torment?
If a bitter, oh! tell me, whence comes my content?
Since I suffer with pleasure, why should I complain,
Or grieve at my fate, when I know 'tis in vain?
Yet so pleasing the pain is, so soft the dart,
That at once it both wounds me and tickles my heart.
A song from Henry Purcell's 1892 opera The Fairy Queen, a musical retelling of Shakespeare's A Midsummer Night's Dream. The song is part of the "Fairy Mask" with which Titania entertains Bottom, who is wearing the donkey's head. According to the program notes that came with my Purcell Quartet CD, the song "became by far the most popular song in the play, was endlessly reprinted and imitated, and was used to great effect by John Gay in The Beggar's Opera." All of which suggests a certain universal resonance of the theme.

Closer to home I think of Lou Rawls' Love Is A Hurtin' Thing:
For every little kiss there's a little teardrop
For every single thrill there's another heartache
There are some things we don't expect science to explain, and romantic love is surely one of them. A hundred billion neurons in the human brain, with an average of 1,000 dendrites each. A hundred trillion tendrils reaching out and touching like lovers' fingertips, each synapse exquisitely controlled by the cells themselves, strengthening or weakening the electrochemical contact in response to internal and external stimuli -- a touch, a blush, a sigh, a pout -- building webs of interlinked cells that are a sweet passion or a bitter, wounding and tickling. Who can map that intricate circuitry? Who can follow that braided Amazon of pleasure and hurt to its source? Lou Rawls again:
When love brings so much joy why must it bring such pain
Guess it's a mystery that nobody can explain