The Description of the Violence of Love (from Nature’s Picture(s))

O, said a man,1 such love (as this was) sure
Doth never in a married pair endure.
But lovers crossed use not to end so well,
Which for to show, a tale I mean to tell.

There was a lady virtuous, young, and fair,
Unto her father only child and heir,
In her behaviour modest, sweet, and civil,
So innocent, knew only good from evil,
Yet in her carriage2 had a majestic grace,                               5
And affable and pleasant was her face.
Another gentleman (whose house did stand3
Hard by her father’s, and was rich in land),4
He5 had a son such6 beauty did adorn
As some might think of Venus7 he was born,                         10
His spirit noble, generous, and great,
By nature valiant, disposition8 sweet,
His wit ingenious, and his breeding such:
Arts, sciences, of pedantry no touch.9
This noble gentleman in love did fall                                      15
With this fair lady, who was pleased withal;
He courted her, his service did address:10
His love by words and letters did express.
Though she seemed coy, his love she did not slight,
But civil answers did in letters write.                                      20
At last so well acquainted they did grow,
As11 but one heart each other’s thoughts did know.
Meantime their parents did their loves descry,12
And sought all ways to break that unity,
Forbad13 each others company frequent,                               25
Did all they could love’s meetings to prevent.
But love regards not parents, nor their threats,
For love, the more ’tis barred, more strength begets.
Thus being crossed, by stealth they both did meet,
With14 privacy did make their love more sweet;                  30
Although their fears did oft affright their mind
Lest that their parents should their walks out find.15
Then16 in the kingdom did rebellion spring;
Most of the commons fought against their king,17
And all the gentry that then loyal were                                   35
Did to the standard of the king repair.
Amongst the rest this noble youth was one;
Love bade18 him stay, but honor spurred him on.
When he declared his mind, her heart it rent;19
Rivers of tears out of her eyes grief sent.                                40
And20 every tear like bullets pierced his breast,
Scattered his thoughts, and did his mind molest.
Silent long time they stood; at last spake he:
Why doth my love with tears so torture me?

Why do you blame my eyes, said she, to weep,                     45
Since they perceive you faith nor promise keep?
For did you love but half so true as I,
Rather than part, you’d21 choose to stay and die,
But you excuses make, and take delight,
Like cruel thieves, to rob and spoil by night.                         50
Now you have stole my heart, away you run,
And leave a silly22 virgin quite undone.

If I stay from the wars, what will men say?
They’ll say I make excuse to be away.
By this reproach, a coward I am thought,                               55
And my disgrace will make you seem in fault
To set your love upon a man so base,
Bring infamy to us and to our race.
To sacrifice my life for your content,
I would not spare; but (dear) in this consent,                        60
’Tis for your sake honor I strive to win,
That I some merit to your worth may bring.

If you will go, let me not stay behind,
But take such fortune with you as I find.
I’ll be your page, attend you in the field;23                             65
When you are weary I will hold your shield.

Dear love, that must not be, for women are
Of tender bodies, and minds full of fear.
Besides, my mind so full of care will be,
For fear a bullet should once light on thee,                            70
That I shall never fight, but strengthless grow,
Through feeble limbs be subject to my foe.
When thou art safe, my spirits high shall raise,
Striving to get a victory of praise.

With sad laments, these lovers they did part;24                    75
Absence as arrows sharp doth wound each heart.
She spends her time, to Heaven high25 doth pray
That gods would bless and safe conduct his way.

The whil’st he fights and Fortune’s favor had,
Fame brings his26 honor to his mistress sad.27                      80
All Cavaliers28 that in the army were,
There was not one could with this youth compare.
By love his spirits all were set on fire;
Love gave him courage, made his foes retire.

But O ambitious lovers, how they run                                     85
Without all29 guidance, like Apollo’s son,30
Run31 out of moderations line—so he
Into32 the thickest of the army flee
Singly alone, amongst the squadrons deep
Fighting, sent many one with Death to sleep.                          90
But numbers, with united strength, at last
This noble gallant man from horse did cast.
His body all so thick of wounds was33 set,
Safety, it seems, in fight he34 did forget—
But not his love,35 who in his mind still lies;                           95
He36 wished her there37 to close his dying eyes.38
Soul, said he, if thou wand’rest in the air,
Thy service to my mistress be thy care:
Attend her close, with her soul friendship make,
Then she perchance no other love may take.                         100
But if thou sink down to the shades below,
And (being a lover)39 to Elysium go,40
Perchance my mistress’s soul you there may meet,
So walk and talk in love’s discourses sweet.
But if thou art like to a light put out,                                        105
Thy motion’s ceased, then all’s forgot no doubt.
With that, a sigh which from his heart did rise
Did mount his soul up to the airy skies.

The whilst his mistress, being sad with care,
Knees worn, spirits spent,41 imploring gods with prayer,   110
A drowsy sleep did all her senses close,
But in her dreams Hermes42 her lover shows
With all his wounds, which made her loud to cry:
Help, help, you gods, said she, that dwell on high!
These fearful dreams her senses all did wake;                      115
In a cold sweat with fear each limb did shake.
Then came a messenger as pale as death,
With panting sides, swoll’n eyes, and shortened breath,
And by his looks his sadder tale did tell,
Which when she saw, straight in a swoon she fell.               120
At last her stifled spirits had recourse
Unto their usual place,43 but of less force.
Then lifting up her eyes, her tongue gave way,
And thus unto the gods did mourning say:

Why do we pray44 and offer to high heaven,                         125
Since what we ask is seldom to us given?45
If their decrees are fixed, what need we pray?
Nothing can alter fates, nor cross their way.
If they leave all to chance, who can apply?
For every chance is then a deity.                                              130
But if a power they keep to work at will,
It shows them cruel to torment us still.
When we are made, in pain we always live,
Sick bodies, or grieved46 minds to us they give;
With motions which run cross, composed we are,               135
Which makes our reason and our sense to jar;
When they are weary to torment us, must
We then return, and so dissolve to dust.
But if I have my fate in my own power,
I will not breathe, nor live another hour;                               140
Then with the gods I shall not be at strife,
If my decree can take away my life.
Then on her feeble47 legs she straight did stand,
And took a pistol charged48 in either hand.
Here, dear, said she, I give my heart to thee,                         145
And by my death divulged49 our loves shall be.
Then constant lovers mourners be; when dead
They’ll strew our graves—which is our marriage bed—50
Upon our hearse a weeping poplar51 set,
Whose moist’ning drops52 our death’s-dried53 cheeks may wet; 150
Two cypress garlands at our head shall stand,54
That were made up by some fair virgin’s hand,
And on our cold pale corpse such flowers strew,55
As56 hang their heads for grief, and57 downward grow;
Then shall they lay us deep in58 quiet grave,                         155
Wherein our bones long rest and peace may have.
Let not our friends a marble tomb erect59
Upon our graves, but myrtle trees there set;60
Those may in time a shady grove become,
Fit for sad lovers’ walks, whose thoughts are dumb,           160
For melancholy love seeks place obscure,
No noise nor company can it endure,61
And when to ground they cast a dull, sad eye,62
Perhaps they’ll think on us who therein lie.63
Thus though we’re dead, our memory remains,64                165
And, like a ghost,65 may walk in moving brains,66
And in each head Love’s67 altars for us build
To sacrifice some sighs or tears distilled.
Then to her heart the pistol set, and68 shot
A bullet in, and so69 her grief forgot.                                       170
Fame with her trumpet blew in every ear;
The sound of this great act spread everywhere.
Lovers from all parts came by the report
Unto her urn, as pilgrims did resort,
There offered praises of her constancy,                                  175
And vowed70 the like unto Love’s deity.

A woman said that tale expressed love well,
And showed71 that constancy in death did dwell;
Friendship, they say, a thing is so sublime72,
That Jove himself doth with himself so join,73                       180
Dividing himself into equal parts three,
Yet one pure mind, and perfect power agree:74
So loving friendships, having but one will,75
Their bodies two,76 one soul doth govern still,
And though they be always disjoinèd much,77                      185
Yet all their78 senses equally do touch,
For what doth strike the eye, or other part,79
Begets in all like pleasure, or like smart.80
So though in substance form divided be,
Yet soul and senses joined in one agree.81                              190

A man that to the lady placed was nigh
Said he would tell another tragedy.

  1. This poem is taken from Margaret Cavendish’s Natures Pictures, drawn by fancies pencil to the life (London, 1656), reprinted with textual changes as Natures Picture (London, 1671). The first part of Nature’s Pictures (a section entitled “Her Excellencies Tales in Verse” in 1656 and “Several Feigned Stories in Verse” in 1671) is made up of several verse stories, told by different storytellers, similar in structure to Geoffrey Chaucer’s Canterbury Tales. It follows a story that ends with two happy lovers getting married, and before the start of the poem itself a man announces he is going to depict a very different kind of ending to love, to counterbalance the happy tale just told.

    We chose this poem for the website as, being a narrative poem, it shows Cavendish writing in a different mode than she does in Poems and Fancies. It also ends with a long discussion of fame, a common topic for Cavendish and one which she thinks about both in the prefatory materials and Part IV of Poems and Fancies. That the lovers are parted because of a civil war (“Then in the kingdom did rebellion spring; / Most of the commons fought against their king …”) makes this love story surprisingly topical, written as it was as she was Cavendish and her husband were in exile in Antwerp. The very end verges on the metaphysical, with its discussion of the way that substance can be unified and multiple, one and many, at the same time (compare John Donne’s “The Ecstasy”).

    This poem was edited by Liza Blake and Farheen Khan in a modernized best text edition. We compared the EEBO versions of the 1656 and 1671 versions of the text, as well as several copies of the first edition that Cavendish corrected in her own hand, and made a best-text version of the poem. Textual notes show substantive variants across editions, and note any hand corrections; explanatory notes explain vocabulary and other references. Where the original printings indent lines to show changes in voice or topic, we add line breaks to create new stanzas.

  2. carriage] Garb 1671
  3. (whose house did stand] as neighbouring dwelt 1656
  4. father’s, and was rich in land),] Father’s House which there was built, 1656
  5. He] Who 1656
  6. such] whom 1671
  7. Venus is the Roman goddess of beauty and love, especially sensual love.
  8. disposition] dispositions 1656, 1671 (we emended this word for sense)
  9. Arts, sciences, of pedantry no touch.] That his Sci’nces did not Pedantry t’uch. 1671
  10. i.e., he wooed her and professed his love and devotion to her.
  11. As] That 1671
  12. i.e., discovered their love
  13. Forbad] Forbid 1656
  14. With] And 1671
  15. i.e., both were frequently worried that their parents would discover their methods for seeing one another
  16. Then] But 1656
  17. The lovers are separated by a Civil War consisting of an uprising of the commons against the King—a clear reference to the English Civil Wars that had exiled both Margaret Cavendish and her husband to the continent, from where she was writing when she initially composed this poem.
  18. bade] bid 1656
  19. i.e., hearing his intention to go to war tears her heart into pieces
  20. And] When 1656
  21. you’d] would 1656
  22. “silly” here means innocent, rather than frivolous
  23. She offers to accompany him and wait on him as a servant in the battlefield.
  24. they did part;] did depart; 1671
  25. Heaven high] Heaven-high 1671
  26. his] this 1671
  27. i.e., His beloved hears the news that he is doing well on the field and that luck is on his side.
  28. Cavaliers were those who fought on the side of King Charles I in the English Civil Wars; Margaret Cavendish’s husband was a Cavalier.
  29. all] a 1656
  30. Phaeton [Margaret Cavendish’s note]. Phaeton was the son of Apollo, god of the sun, who drives a chariot pulled by fiery horses across the sky every day. One day Phaeton asks his father to drive the chariot, but is not able to control them and is struck down by Zeus to prevent the combustion of the earth. (see the Encyclopedia Britannica:
  31. Run] Runs 1656
  32. Into] Did through 1671
  33. was] were 1656
  34. Safety, it seems, in fight he] It seem’d in Fight his safety 1656
  35. love,] Mistris, 1656
  36. He] And 1656
  37. there] now 1656
  38. dying eyes.] dying-Eyes. 1671
  39. And (being a lover)] As being a Lover, 1656
  40. “The concept of Elysium as the place where true love finds its reward is generally associated with Tibellus; however, the idea that Elysium is the eternal abode of devoted lovers, especially married couples, is found throughout ancient Greek and Roman literature” (Antoinette Brazouski, “Lovers in Elysium,” The Classical Bulletin 66.1 [1990]: 35).
  41. Knees worn, spirits spent,] Her Knees were worn, 1671
  42. Hermes] Hermen 1565; Fancy 1671. We have read 1656’s “Hermen” as a typo for Hermes, the messenger god. The second edition’s change to “Fancy” (her imagination shows her lover to her) changes the emphasis: it is less about the interference of the gods, and more about her own psychology.
  43. As she recovers from her swoon or faint, her bodily spirits (a thin fluid) that circulates throughout the body) return to their proper places.
  44. do we pray] pray we, 1656
  45. is seldom to us given?] we seldome have us given? 1656
  46. or grieved] Grieved 1671
  47. feeble] feebler 1656
  48. i.e., loaded and ready to fire
  49. i.e., revealed
  50. marriage bed—] Marriage-Bed: 1671
  51. weeping poplar] weeping-Poplar 1671
  52. moist’ning drops] Moysture-drops 1656
  53. death’s-dried] Death’s dry’d 1656
  54. Two cypress garlands at our head shall stand,] And at our Heads two Cypress Garlands stand, 1656
  55. strew,] strow, 1671
  56. As] Which 1656
  57. and] so 1656
  58. shall they lay us deep in] layes us in a deep and 1656
  59. not our friends a marble tomb erect] no Friends Marble-Tombs erect upon 1671
  60. Upon our graves, but myrtle trees there set;] Our Graves, but set young Mirtle-trees thereon: 1671
  61. can it endure,] it can endure: 1671
  62. a dull, sad eye,] their dull, sad eyes, 1656
  63. Perhaps they’ll think on us who therein lie.] Perchance may think on us that therein lyes. 1656
  64. memory remains,] Memories remain, 1656
  65. a ghost,] to Ghosts, 1656
  66. moving brains,] moving-Brains; 1671
  67. In one of the copies of this text given to the Antwerp Public Library (Hendrick Conscience Heritage Library, classmark C 1039:ex.1) the “s” in “Loves” is blotted, making “Love altars for us build[s]” and changing the line to say not that their memory constructs alters to Love, but that Love builds altars to their memory.
  68. and] she 1671
  69. and so] by which 1656
  70. vowed] vows 1656
  71. showed] shew’d, 1671
  72. a thing is so sublime,] is so divine, 1656
  73. That Jove himself doth with himself so join,] That with the Gods there’s nothing more Divine. 1671. “Jove” typically refers to Zeus or Jupiter, the king of the gods, though referring to Jove as being three in one (as the next lines do) also suggests that she may be thinking of the Trinity, and of Jove as the Christian God. Interestingly, the following couplet which refers to Jove being three in one are cut from the 1671 version.
  74. This line and the one before it do not appear in the second edition.
  75. So loving friendships, having but one will,] With wonder Lovers, having but one will, 1671
  76. Their bodies two,] Their two Bodies 1671
  77. And though they be always disjoinèd much,] Nor do their Bodyes sever much, 1656
  78. Yet all their ] Their 1656
  79. part,] parts, 1665
  80. Begets in all like pleasure, or like smart.] With Pain or Pleasure, like to each converts: 1656. The word “smart” here means “pain.”
  81. joined in one agree.] joyn, as one agree. 1656