Wednesday, November 05, 2014

Samuel Pordage: Obscured by Clouds, 1661

Not the Pink Floyd album of 1972, but a line in Samuel Pordage’s lengthy poem of 1661, Mundorum explicatio:
blessed Paradise 
Obscur’d by clouds, is hid from mortal eyes.

Pordage’s father, John, evidently brought up his son as a follower of Jacob Boehme. Samuel somehow managed to straddle two worlds: his writings were enthusiastically royalist, and his plays successful on the Restoration stage. But his major poem, possibly written in collaboration with his very unorthodox father, expounds Behmenist doctrines. Boehme  had impeccable credentials as a guide towards the world of the spirit, for reasons Pordage enthusiastically explains:

One Jacob Behre, a very pious Man 
By prayer obtain’d an Angel Guardian. 
Which both himself, and’s Wife saw every Night 
About their Bed, like to a shining Light. 
Such is God’s Love, and such the Angels care, 
That we as children, they as Nurses are. 
I do believe that there are many now 
That by the guidance of their Angels go, 
Steer as they do direct; are guided by 
And have converse with their own Genii. 

 I like that intensifier, ‘I do believe’. His affirmation that amongst us are some adepts who are guided by their genii reminds me of the work I have been doing recently on early modern somnambulism – a sleepwalker, moving without concern along a roof-ridge, was a nice proof that guardian angels existed.

These fortunate folk may move unnoticed amongst us, but they are really inhabitants of paradise. Pordage addresses the old question as to where Paradise is, but he knows the answer:

Where’s Paradise? desirously you quaere. 
In what by-corner of the Earth it stands? 
Whether in Peru? or by Ganges sands? 
Whether it under the Antartic lyes? 
Or where the Riphean snowy Mountains rise? 
In what place lyes this blessed part, which is 
The Realm of Joyes, and the state of Blisse? 

His wordy, jog-trot verses serve him well. Many lines intervene before the revelation he has for us:

As Day dwels in the shadows of the Night, 
As darknesse doth involve the splendid Light, 
As the bright flame lyes hidden in the coal, 
So lurking lyes this holy place in all 
The Universe …

Paradise is an interior state. Though you will not perceive it, your neighbour may have it within, and so is in effect living there. This prompts a pleasing image of the early modern neighbourly glance over the fence,  that suspicion that your privileged neighbours are rolling around in joys denied to you:

    while you dwell in Babylonish state, 
In midst of Babel, and her wickednesse, 
Priding your self in all her whorish dresse, 
Your next near neighbour (in the world’s account) 
May dwel upon thrice sacred SION’S Mount, 
And in bless’d Paradise: for tho he may 
In Night seem, He in Night has found the Day. 
He plows, he sows, he reaps the Earth; so you 
The Gleab do plow, sow, reap, and husband too, 
But yet your aym, and end, and his infers 
He is God’s Stuart, you are Lucifer’s: 
From several principles you act, and he 
Is in the second, in the first you be; 
He dwells in EDEN, and JERUSALEM, 
But you in Aegypt, and in Babylon. 

Near at hand is far away: your neighbour is actually living in a place that’s far, far away from you, maybe beyond your attaining. Maybe Pordage was thinking of his enthusiast father.

Meanwhile, the world seethes with spiritual inhabitants (that you also can’t see), but like your next neighbour’s state of bliss, they are there:

Some love the River, some a stinking Pool. 
Some clear-spring’d Jordan; some Asphaltes foul; 
Some stinking Lakes, which as Maeotis love; 
Some likewise never from Avernus move. 
So some the lesser Rivers, some the Great 
Do chuse (some wander) for a constant seat. 
Some to the Earth belong, and these abound 
In numbers great, or on, or under ground. 
The subterran, within their hidden den, 
Hide treasures from, sometimes disclose, to Men: 
Sometimes such move the Treasures that they hide, 
Sometimes by these are Mines, to Men deny’d. 
Sometimes great treasures they disclose; anon 
To durt convert them, or thence steal ag’en. 
Others: which on the Earth do dwell, some Love 
The Rocks, and Caves, and some the shady Grove; 
Some Woods, & Trees: some stones, some fields, some Planes, 
Some Vales, some Hills, some Marshes, Meadows, Draines. 
Some in Icelandian He
cla love to lye, 
Others in Hechelberg to roare, and cry. 
Some one place, some another Love, but all 
Are frequent almost throughout all the Ball. 
Some love for to converse with men, but some 
More solitary rather’d have their Room. 

Though I collect references to mountains associated with witchcraft or spirits, the Hechelberg was new to me (the Heuchelberg in Baden-Württemberg, I deduce). Though Pordage’s point is not really about specific places, he makes spirits easier to believe in by asserting their ubiquity.
Nevertheless, working along the same lines that Walter Stevens deduced for demonologist/theologians, witchcraft is a useful guarantor that those various spirits really are there. Pordage makes an interesting reference to the witchcraft cases in Lancashire and Warboys (1593):

And what were those so oft appear’d unto 
Lancastrian, and Warbosian witches too? 
What spirit Job tormented! What was he 
Caus’d Sarah, Raguel’s Daughter’s misery,  
Forcing her Grooms by Hymen crown’d at noon, 
To passe the Ferry-boat of Charon soon? 
I should want time to write, and you to read 
Should I but mention every horrid deed 
Of evil Spirits, which in History 
Is noted: who shall doubt this verity? 

It’s interesting that the Lancashire witches are cited by way of affirming ‘verity’: the 1612 case, one assumes. That the 1633-4 case in Lancashire was discredited may have not reached Pordage.

All these spirits are apportioned out. We don’t have one of each, like Faustus, but one or the other, according to whether we live in Boehme’s mundus tenebrosus or mundus luminosus:

Each good Man has an Angel guardian,  
And evil Daemon has each evil Man 
For to attend upon him; one doth still 
Egg Man to Good, the other unto ill. 

The verb, ‘to egg’ in the quotation may not be as informal as it looks. It appears to be used quite often in serious religious contexts (to edge, to whet or incite to). Pordage, writing one suspects at speed, is often informal. God (or ‘Love’, as Pordage likes to call Him) is voluble, even chatty, far from Milton’s severity. The Creator isn’t a sublime idea in Pordage, whose easy-going style contributes to making Boehmist ideas familiar.

Pordage, after his account of the divided worlds, one closed off to most of us, logically enough falls into an account of how Adam lost his chance of living in the world of light.

This wily Serpent all his craft did use, 
His poison th’row this Earth for to diffuse
Which he no way effect could:  b’Adam’s lapse 
Only a way is made; He him entraps, 
Assaults his free-will, doth expose to view 
This World’s rare beauties when ‘twas formed new: 
Shews him the tree forbid, whose dangling fruit 
So pleasing, with a new made creature suit 
He well knew would: This was the only gate· 
By which he hop’d to overthrow him at. 
He knew be
forehand the sad consequence 
Of Adam’s fall:

Pordage approaches the major subject without any change of manner:
But Adam’s fatal lapse, from what, to what, 
In bri
ef my slender Muse shall now relate. 

Our writer was quite disarming in his admissions that he wasn’t really a very good poet. In the dedication to his studied attempt to sound like a Whiggish Dryden, Azaria and Hushai (1692) he confides:

nor am I altogether so doting, as to believe the Issues of my own Brain to exceed all others, and to be so very fond of them, (as most Authors, especially Poets, are) as to think them without fault, or be so blinded as not to see their blemishes, and that they are excelled by others; yet since Poems are like Children, it may be allowed me to be naturally inclined to have some good Opinion of my own, and not to believe this Poem altogether despicable or ridiculous.

Adam is created and placed in the Garden of Eden:

Adam thus made, perfect, and good, by God 
In Paradise is plac’d, a bless’d abode: 
Then was the golden age indeed, Earth gave 
Nor Weeds, nor Thorns, but cloath’d in liv’ry brave 
Had a perpetual spring; continual green 
In ev’ry place, on ev’ry tree was seen: 
No dainty Flower, which art makes now to flourish, 
But then the Earth did naturally nourish. 
A constant verdure it retain’d, and then 
With thousand flowers spotted was the green: 
Each tree at one time bore both fruit, and flower; 
Each herb to heal, but not to hurt had power. 
No sharpnesse in the fruit, no naughty smell, 
The worst fruit then, our best now, did excel: 

Adam is just a probationer in Paradise: God sets him a task of standard duration – can he resist temptation for forty days?

Feed not on the Tree of death, nor on 
The mortal  fruit, but feed thou still upon 
The  Tree of Life: Th’ one darknesse, th’ other death, 
But this doth true Aeternal Life,  bequeath, 
Thou seest now what thou ought’st to do; stand fast, 
But forty dayes will thy temptation last, 
In which time of thou fall’st not, thou shal’t be 
For ever cloath’d with Immortality: 
Be like the Angels, as thou art; possesse 
E’r-lasting Joys; Eternal Happinesse. 
If not, this Body shall another have 
Of the World's nature, subject to the grave, 
And what thou now possessest thou shalt lose, 
Go now or Death, or Life Eternal chuse. 

Set this very explicit challenge by God, Adam wants nothing to do with Satan, darkness and wrath. However, the beauty of the world entices him (in accordance with the devil’s plan to seduce him by that means, as in ‘He him entraps, / Assaults his free-will, doth expose to view / This World’s rare beauties when 'twas formed new’). This weakness of Adam’s precipitates the first part of his double Fall (for the poem uses that teaching, derived from Boehme):

ADAM’S now left alone in Paradise 
Unto the mortal Principle his eyes 
He turns: For he has no desire to prove 
The wrathful Kingdom; He’s quite out of Love 
With it; abhors it, turns his eyes away, 
And lets them on this lower Orb to stray. 
With it he’s capt
ivated, and his Lust, 
Puts after it; he it desires to tast. 

Readers of Paradise Lost, or indeed, readers of Genesis, will be struck by Adam’s Fall (part I) occurring before the creation of Eve. The consequences for Adam of this first lapse are extraordinary, and in line with Boehme’s teachings: Adam is now no longer a creature of light, no longer transparent, he can no longer fly, nor walk on the surface of water. He sees the reflection of this new, ‘gross body’, and also experiences pain:

Strange Metamorphosis! 
What was before diaphanous, and clear, 
Not now transparent;  muddy doth appear: 
What was like air, is now like Earth; what light 
Now’s heavy; and for an unbounded sight, 
Each object intervening hindereth: 
For an immortal, now a mortal breath 
He draws: His Body which before could fly 
Clog’d now is with a load of flesh, doth lie 
Fix’d to this Orb: his quicker pace now’s gone, 
He tries to fly but he can scarcely run: 
He tries the Waters, at the Rivers brinks, 
Pass as before he could not, now he sinks 
Unto the bottom: that same Element 
Small aid for to support his body lent. 
Adam’s amaz’d, and in the Chrystal Glass 
Of Waters, he beholds his limbs, and Face, 
He feels his hair, his nose, his teeth, his flesh, 
Then views, then feels, then views himself afresh. 
Then tries to use his nimble feet; the Reeds 
In running cut his naked legs, he bleeds; 
He feels the smart, he wonders more at this, 
And strangeth at his Metamorphosis. 
With this gross body

Pordage imagines how Adam would have been if he had stayed in the world of light: a spiritual image of God, not eating or (of course) excreting, though God’s foresight has provided him with the ability to do these things when he has to:

had he stood in Paradise 
His bless’d estate, had then been on this wise. 
God’s Image then he should have born for aye 
But not as now, obscur’d with clogs of clay; 
The heav’nly part should th’row the outward shine; 
Free as the air; his meat, and drink divine; 
Nor as we eat, should he have eaten then, 
Magically, yet with mouth, lips, and tongue, 
But not into the body, there’s no vent 
And nothing could turn into Excrement. 
No need should he have had of carnal food, 
The Beasts, nor Fowls could do him little good; 
But God forese’ing he’d lapse from this bless’d state. 
Did therefore them for’s future helps create. 

What is rather wonderful here is the Behmenist capacity to set aside all the vast commentary and doctrine that had accrued to Genesis. Adam has lost an ability to propagate magically. He was bodily unsexed, but had inwardly the potential to be double-sexed, and could have multiplied himself by some ‘celestial’ form of birthing (Pordage does not go into details):

Nor should he have continued alone, 
(Such members as we have now he had none 
To propagate) he magically, as 
The Sun’s bright beams the waters surface pass 
Doth, without pain, so should he have brought forth 
In Paradise. By a Celestial birth, 
He should in God’s bless’d Image more have got, 
Eternal all, none subject to Fate’s Lot. 
He should both Father be, and Mother then, 
For Male, and Female God created Man: 
Both Man, and Woman, Wife, and Virgin he 
Together was, in State of purity. 

Now stuck with his ‘gross body’, Adam cannot pull off this form of propagation, so God resourcefully reaches into Adam (in a spiritual sort of way) to make exterior his interior Venus-principle, and this is Eve:

God saw that he, in this new lapsed state; 
Had lost the power now to propagate; 
Deterred by that vail of flesh: so would 
He have continu’d still; nor ever could 
From’s loins an issue spring. God just and true, 
T’whom future things are present, all fore-knew, 
Therefore that VENUS, or that power he had 
In him, before to propagate, he clad 
In flesh like him; and of his life, and being 
Framed his EVE: both in all things agreeing. 
Man once was whole-man, but now broke alas! 
Is but the half of what at first 
he was: 
Such members then, as we have now they gat, 
Fit, (as the Beast does) for to propoaate. 
ADAM awakes, and views his new made EVE, 
He knows she’s part of’s self; doth to her cleave, 
And upon her his sole desire doth cast, 
With her he joys, in her he takes repast. 
In Paradise as yet they were, for sin 
Actually had yet not enter’d in …

No, indeed: Adam has lapsed from full transparency, fertile androgyny, and his early capacity for unpowered flight, and the devil tempted him to his desire for the beauty of the world that led to these losses. But we haven’t yet had original sin, but with Eve now in her exterior form, the Fall of Man can now reach its second and climactic phase. Once again, God does his best, and spells out the prohibition and the consequences of disregarding it at discursive length.

Pordage imagines, with that daffy charm that appears in his poem, that Eve has a pet snake, and the devil decides to possess that pet so as to lure Eve to the forbidden tree:

There was a Serpent whose fine speekled hide, 
And pretty features with rare colours dy’d, 
Had gain’d EVE’S Love, and who it may be had 
Entwin’d about her naked neck, and play’d 
With her white hands; or favour’d in her lap: 
This Sathan thought was best her to entrap. 
Into this Beast he goes, and still doth lie 
About the Tree forbid …

Eve’s longing eye 
Full oft salutes that fatal Tree; desire 
She doth to tast the fruit, approaching nigher 
The subtle Serpent frisking on the Tree 
She spies: The shadow cannot hurt, thinks she. 
Nearer she goes; thinking on God’s Command 
She fears for to proceed, then makes a stand, 
But still the more she thought she was forbid, 
The more she longs, the more desire she did. 
(The same we still retain, for even thus 
We most desire what is forbid to us) 
She steps a little forward; then retires 
Then moves again: tempted by her desires 
She doth the Tree approach. God’s stricter Law 
Affright’s her; she’s about for to withdraw: 
Sathan s
eeing her the place about to leave, 
Thus through the Serpent tempts our Grandame Eve. 

Pordage deploys the psychologically obvious argument about the weakness of prohibition: that it simply provokes desire for whatever the thing forbidden is. Eve is already weakened by desire to try the forbidden fruit. Pordage adds in parenthesis that we all owe this psychological trait to Eve, as Wycherley put in in the mouth of Marjorie Pinchwife to her husband, ‘When you forbade it, you made me as 'twere desire it’.

Satan sees Eve about to turn away from the tree, and rallies to save his almost lost bad cause. It is like reading Paradise Lost retold in the manner of Cautionary Verses. Satan as snake points out that he hasn’t been poisoned, that all his wit he owes to the fruit, that eating will make you equal with the gods, and that altogether the tree bears fruit that would do you immense good, which is being withheld from you by a set of lies. Mainly he focusses on the extraordinary beauty of the tree itself, with Pordage devoting many verses to Satan’s description of its beauty. The snake is made to sound like a particularly eloquent patter-merchant or marketplace spieler:

Look how the Apples blush, see how they stand, 
See how the boughs, bow down to kiss thine hand; 
All’s at thy choice: which on this fair-spread Tree. 
(Come tell me Eve!) most liked is by thee? 
See here’s a fine one, this? or this best likes 
Thee? do but look what many pretty strikes 
Of red, and yellow paint; here’s one that skips 
Unto thy mouth: here thine own Cherry lips 
Are answered; thy softer skin thou mayst 
Here find; but there’s a mellow one whose taste 
So  sweet - delicious that 'twil ravish quite 
Thy looser senses with extreme delight; 
Thou hast such choice thou know’st not which to choose: 
Come take this on my word, try what accrues 
By this: here take it, prethee ea
t, and try 
If thou a Goddess art not by, and by. 

So Eve succumbs, and in the usual way of non-Miltonic Creation and Fall poems, Adam follows with little fuss:

Tempted by these fine words, and that fair Fruit, 
Fear holds her Hands, desire prompts her to’t, 
At last she takes the sugar’d bait, doth eat, 
Finds it for th’ present very pleasing meat, 
Now on its pleasing hue her looks she cast, 
Then with her tongue the sweeter Liquor tast 
She doth: mean time her husband passing by 
The place she thus attempts. Look here what I 
Have got (said she) so fair an Apple, yet 
Thou never saw’st: 'tis passing pleasing meat, 
Melts in my mouth; I wonder’d much that we 
So strictly were forbid this pleasing Tree: 
As mortals here we shall not make abode, 
I shall a Goddesse be, and thou a God; 
We shall be wise as they: here eat thou this 
I first have prov’d: me thinks it pleasing is. 
Adam invited thus receives the fruit, 
And without long delay falls rashly to’t. 

The force of that fallacious fruit is soon felt. Pordage produces a splendidly inappropriate extended simile, in which Adam and Eve are compared, in detail, to a drunk who is stripped naked and left out in the woods by his hypocritically censorious boozing mates, and wakes up groggy and unable to work out how he got there:

Some drunken sot 
r’e charg’d with Wine or Beer, till h’ has forgot 
To use his reason, a strong drowsiness 
His fume-farc’d Brain, and weakened eyes possess; 
Whilst that he’s drench’d in Lethe, and sleepeth fast 
His fellows for a punishment do cast: 
Agreed; they thence him to a Wood do bear, 
Pull off his clothes, and naked leave him there 
Fast sleeping on the grass: When sleep, the Fume 
That did molest his drunken B
rain o’re come 
Had; he awakes, and his unclosing eyes 
Rubs with his hand; he is about to rise 
When that he feels himself a cold; he sees 
Before his eyes the Skies, and wavering Trees; 
Finds that he has no clothes; gets on his feet 
And ev’r
y object with amaz’d eyes doth greet; 
Amaz’d he stands, wonders how he came there, 
Looks still about, views round, and every where, 
For to resolve him none he spies; doth go 
Doubts wh’r he dreams, or is awak’d or no: 
Now on the ground, now to the skies are hurled 
His eyes: Like one dropt from another World 
He stands, and knows not what to say, or do: 
Just so do stand, and act these guilty two. 

It’s very expressive, hitting both feeling awful and discovering that you are naked at once, but somehow develops a life of its own. It’s in the manner of du Bartas to contemporise like this, but this wavers too close to a funny anecdote.

I will leave Pordage’s Adam and Eve groping around like hung-over drunks. My illustration is the frontispiece of the printed poem, which is, to speak properly of it, an extended disquisition expounding the Behmenist mysteries in the image.

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