Eloisa to Abelard  

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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
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Kunstformen der Natur (1904) by Ernst Haeckel
Letters of Heloise and Abelard

Eloisa to Abelard (1717) is a poem by Alexander Pope (1688–1744). It is an Ovidian heroic epistle inspired by the 12th-century story of Héloïse's illicit love for, and secret marriage to, her teacher Pierre Abélard, perhaps the most popular teacher and philosopher in Paris, and the brutal vengeance her family exacts when they castrate him, not realizing that the lovers had married.

After the assault, and even though they have a child, Abélard enters a monastery and bids Eloisa do the same. She is tortured by the separation, and by her unwilling vow of silence — arguably a symbolic castration — a vow she takes with her eyes fixed on Abélard instead of on the cross (line 116).

Years later, she reads Abélard's Historia Calamitatum (History of my Misfortunes), originally a letter of consolation sent to a friend, and her passion for him reawakens. This leads to the exchange of four letters between them, in which they explore the nature of human and divine love in an effort to make sense of their personal tragedy, their recognizably incompatible male and female perspectives making the dialogue painful for both.

Lines 207–210 were spoken in the movie Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, which borrowed line 209 as its title:

How happy is the blameless vestal's lot!
The world forgetting, by the world forgot.
Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind!
Each pray'r accepted, and each wish resign'd ...

In Pope's poem, Eloisa is in anguish over the powerful, almost orgasmic, sexual feelings she still has for Abélard, especially in her dreams, and by the realization that, now a eunuch — something he regards as a mercy that freed him from the "contagion of carnal impurity" — he could not return her feelings even if he wanted to. And so she begs, not for forgiveness, but for forgetfulness.

No, fly me, fly me, far as pole from pole;
Rise Alps between us! and whole oceans roll!
Ah, come not, write not, think not once of me,
Nor share one pang of all I felt for thee.

The line "Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind" is echoed by Byron in "Eternal Spirit of the chainless Mind", the opening line of his The Prisoner of Chillon.

Eloisa in deshabille (“Eloisa in undress) is a satirical imitation of Pope’s masterpiece by Richard Porson (1759-1808).




Unless indicated otherwise, the text in this article is either based on Wikipedia article "Eloisa to Abelard" or another language Wikipedia page thereof used under the terms of the GNU Free Documentation License; or on research by Jahsonic and friends. See Art and Popular Culture's copyright notice.

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