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Tuesday, 23 June 2015



Lust is most commonly associated with sexual desire,  but of course we may lust after all sorts of things other than people’s bodies.    Some people would say that misers lust after money.  We hear sometimes of ‘blood lust’, lust for power.

Lust us usually represented as irrational and difficult to resist, something that overtakes a person often in spite of themselves.  But often not, of course.  

In many cultures sexual lust is regarded as a sin.   I suppose that is because it threatens social organisation, and in particular marriage.   A strange phenomenon with Christianity (and perhaps other creeds) is how little is said in the gospels about lust, and much is said about it by priests and moralists.

Many of the great love stories have been about adultery, which although it may be based on love tends to have an element of lust in it.  We don't talk much about lust in marriage.  Lust seems to thrive on being forbidden.

Traditional European ideas about love -  romantic love – separated love (agape) from lust.   The lover worshiped his lady from afar and had no ambition for anything physical.   Though, of course, his ‘worship’ was always very ambiguous.   There’s always been an uncertainty about how lust relates to love and both to marriage.  The modern way is to lump them all together as a ‘package’ and hope for the best.

The problem with writing about lust is to find the right imagery beyond burning fires and so on.  Ted Hughes in his translation of Ovid does well.

        And there she was – the Arcadian beauty, Callisto.
        He stared.  Lust bristled up his thighs
        And poured into the roots of his teeth

The Elizabethans tended to treat being 'in love' with mental illness.  You got pale, lost your appetite and so on.

Writing about lust does NOT necessarily require explicit reference to sexual acts, desired or achieved. Lust after all is not the same as satisfaction.   It’s a state of lacking.   Or perhaps shame and regret when looked back on.    Thomas Hardy has lust (rather than love) in 
mind in his poem The Ruined Maid.  Lust is in the background here, and of course, treated humorously, digging at one kind of hipocrisy.  Lust, in others, allows Amelia to get money 
to dress herself expensively, which, in turn,  creates more lust in those who notice her.   Most pictures representing lust show women whether lusting or being lusted after.  That goes back 
to Eve in the Garden who corrupted the human race - as the story has it.  Yet, lust is 
sometimes represented  - though not these days - as a young boy, Eros.  He makes people
fall in love with each other randomly by shooting his arrow into their hearts.  In this story 
lust is seen as a matter of chance, and as something from which there is no defence.  

The Ruined Maid (1902)

"O 'Melia, my dear, this does everything crown!
Who could have supposed I should meet you in Town?
And whence such fair garments, such prosperi-ty?"-
"O didn't you know I'd been ruined?" said she.

-"You left us in tatters, without shoes or socks,
Tired of digging potatoes, and spudding up docks;
And now you've gay bracelets and bright feathers three!"-
"Yes: that's how we dress when we're ruined," said she.

-"At home in the barton you said 'thee' and 'thou,'
And 'thik oon' and 'theäs oon' and 't'other'; but now
Your talking quite fits 'ee for high compan-ny!"-
"Some polish is gained with one's ruin," said she.

-"Your hands were like paws then, you face blue and bleak
But now I'm bewitched by your delicate cheek,
And your little gloves fit as on any la-dy!"-
"We never do work when we're ruined," said she.

-"You used to call home-life a hag-ridden dream,
And you'd sigh, and you'd sock; but at present you seem
To know not of megrims or melancho-ly!"-
"True. One's pretty lively when ruined," said she.

-"I wish I had feathers, a fine sweeping gown,
And a delicate face, and could strut about Town"-
"My dear - raw country girl, such as you be,
Cannot quite expect that. You ain't ruined," said she. 

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