“Vision” – by Peter Hammill (On “poetic love” with Soren Kierkegaard & C. S. Lewis)

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A simply beautiful and amazing song (video & lyrics are posted below) by Peter Hammill, from an earlier time, way back in 1971. I do not wish to diminish the song (which should become more clear as I proceed) but if we were to analyze what is the factual basis in reality for such love what would that basis be? It would be found to be a moving example of what Soren Kierkegaard called “poetic love.” Soren Kierkegaard has compared “poetic love” to true “Christian love,” the latter which he held to be based in the reality of the triune God who “is love,” and has thereby found poetic love to be lacking. According to Kierkegaard “poetic love” is lacking in at least four ways:

  1. the poet idolizes the inclinations
  2. the poet really explains nothing, for he explains love and friendship – in riddles
  3. love is the result of “good fortune” and not the result of any “ethical task”
  4. poetic love is “another form of self-love” (Works of Love, pp. 63- 65

I believe that if analyzed as to its basis in reality, what Kierkegaard said about poetic love, would characterize this song “Vision” by Peter Hammill. (At this point, for the sake of brevity, I cannot provide Kierkegaard’s arguments for these but I believe they are sound.)

Is “poetic love” then an evil or a good? It depends on whether it is idolized as the supreme love and/or placed higher than the love we should have for God and his will of loving our neighbor. Any idolotry is a great evil because it is the mistake of worshiping created things rather than the creator of them. But we need to beware lest our attempts to overcome  such idolatry make us love even less. Therefore in our feeble attempts to rise above “poetic love” to a true “Christian love” we need keep in mind the warning of C. S. Lewis regarding our heeding the command of Jesus to “hate” others if our love of them would prevent us from following God, to not “mistake the decays of nature for the increase of grace.”

“It is dangerous to press upon a man the duty of getting beyond earthly love when his real difficulty lies in getting so far. And it is no doubt easy enough to love the fellow creature less and to imagine that this is happening because we are learning to love God more, when the real reason may be quite different. We may be only ‘mistaking the decays of nature for the increase of Grace’. Many people do not find it really difficult to hate their wives or mothers. Mr. Mauriac, in a fine scene, pictures the other disciples stunned and bewildered by this strange command, but not Judas. He laps it up easily.” (C. S. Lewis, “The Four Loves” p. 118)

Therefore, having presented this brief “analysis” of poetic love that seems to be evident in Peter Hammill’s beautiful song, I believe that we may appreciate it all the more if we realize that it is merely/mainly an expression of “poetic love.” That it falls short of what could be called “perfect love” does not diminish it. C. S. Lewis again helps in this regard:

“It is probably impossible to love any human being simply ‘too much.’ We may love him to much in proportion to our love for God; but it is the smallness of our love for God, not the greatness of our love for the man, that constitutes the inordinacy.”

Therefore, knowing that the natural loves are intrinsically a good and not an evil, I hope you enjoy this beautiful song of “poetic love” by Peter Hammill. Of course, it is possible that the song itself is moving toward the love commanded by Jesus when he said “thou shall love” with “covenant love,” although there is no specific indication in the lyrics of love swearing “by something higher than itself” that Kierkegaard thought was needed for transcending mere poetic love (Works of Love, p. 45). So the question is what does this poet (Peter Hammill) believe can make this permanence of love, expressed in the following words, a reality?

Let me live in your life,
for you make it all seem to matter.
Let me die in your arms,
so the vision may never shatter.
The seasons roll on;
my love stays strong.

I  believe that it is extremely difficult, for us who often (hopefully) experience poetic love, to for the very reason of the power of that experience, cognitively understand the nature of poetic love. Likewise, how can we understand the God given thirst for transcendent eternal love that we also “experience” yet perhaps not even on the level of conscious thought since it is intrinsically a deeper level of our existence?

Hopefully this post may at least serve as a catalyst that will cause us to wonder at, and seek a deeper understanding of, the powerful “loves” in which we “live and move and have our being.” I for one, find some level of understanding from Jesus and the Bible, and some who have found a level of understanding such as Soren Kierkegaard and C. S. Lewis. It is also interesting that Kierkegaard and Lewis were poets, and then they became prophets. And Jesus of Nazareth was love incarnate.

Vision by Peter Hammill

I have a vision of you, locked inside my head;
it creeps upon my mind, and warms me in my bed.
A vision shimering, shifting
moving in false firelight;
a vision of a vision,
protecting me from fear at night,
as the seasons roll on, and my love stays strong.

I don’t know where you end, and where it is that I begin.
I simply open my mind and the memories flood on in.
I remember waking up with your arms around me;
I remember losing myself
and finding that you’d found me,
as the seasons rolled on, and my love stayed strong.

Be my child, be my lover,
swallow me up in your fire-glow.
Take my tongue, take my torment,
take my hand and don’t let go.
Let me live in your life,
for you make it all seem to matter.
Let me die in your arms,
so the vision may never shatter.
The seasons roll on;
my love stays strong.

Original Content © Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity, 2013. Excerpts, links, and reblogging may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Bryan M. Christman and Manifest Propensity with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.

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3 thoughts on ““Vision” – by Peter Hammill (On “poetic love” with Soren Kierkegaard & C. S. Lewis)

  1. Bryan says:

    An observation that I thought of after writing the post:

    The struggle regarding “inordinate” love in human interrelationships that can usurp human love toward God is actually present in Genesis, the book of beginnings, when Adam followed his wife, Eve, rather than God, when Eve’s and God’s desires were contrary. I mention this to show that the command of Jesus to love God preeminently above all others is not an obscure or isolated and esoteric doctrine, but part and parcel of the overall message of the entire Bible.

    This also sheds much light on the perennial problem of trusting God in relation to our relationships. Adam should have trusted that God loved Eve, and knew what was best for Eve, rather than to follow what Eve mistakenly thought was right. This need for trust becomes perhaps most acute when loved ones suffer, and we think we are faced with the choice to trust or not trust that God loves and knows what is best for our loved ones. Job’s wife, seeing the suffering of her husband (and knowing her own since they both lost all their children), told Job to “curse God and die.” (Job 2:9) The underlying belief is that our plans for our loved ones are better than God’s, so therefore rather than accepting their suffering under God’s providence, we mistrust, accuse, and abandon God “for the sake of our loved ones.” I am fairly sure that this is a common human occurrence, and that for that reason Jesus explicitly commanded that we need to “hate” our loved ones if our “love” for them leads us to knowingly or unknowingly “follow them” into the cursed life away from God, rather than to follow God.

    The problem is that we have no way of knowing the ultimate results of the “unloving” things that God has allowed in the lives of our loved ones. Also, God deals with each of us individually, and the ultimate irony may be that our suffering loved ones may very well have “passed the test” while in the meantime we could fail it “on their account” because we think we loved them more than God did/does.

    These were just some thoughts on the pervasive context of “temptation” in which our lives, sufferings, and trials take place. Remember that the story of Adam & Eve is also the story of the beginning of human temptation. Our loves and relationships are undoubtedly the greatest source of our “troubles” in faith in God, but this fact has been plainly set forth in God’s revelation to us from the beginning. It reminds me of something else Jesus said, “If it were not so, I would have told you.”

    I do not make light of the extreme difficulties of the “temptations” we all are prone to face, especially given the fact that it is natural for us to receive more meaning from our human relationships than from God. As Peter Hammill sang:

    Let me live in your life,
    for you make it all seem to matter.
    Let me die in your arms,
    so the vision may never shatter.

    But if our vision, the life in which we live, and the arms in which we die were God’s, then everything that happens to us and our loved ones could “matter” infinitely more than it could if everything only mattered to us. Then we may have a vision that “may never shatter.”

  2. Brian MacArevey says:

    Bryan,

    Terrific post!

    I especially enjoyed the C.S Lewis quotes. The error which he draws our attention to is a very common one; much more common than the opposing error of loving people more than God. Of course, most of my church experience has been in conservative circles, but perhaps the “liberal” end of the Christian spectrum is more prone to the latter?

    Because of the fact that I have witnessed (and committed) the former error much more frequently, I tend to get nervous when the latter is emphasized as the “greater evil”. In my opinion (and that of 1 John) any claim of loving God is rendered null and void if we are not loving our neighbor. Thus neither is a “greater evil”, being that neither can exist on its own.

    Nevertheless, it is also probably dangerous to entirely equate one with the other, lest we fail to allow what we presume to be a love of God and what we presume to be a love of neighbor to be in critical conversation with one another. In other words, we might think that we are loving God by hating our neighbor, when in reality we are deceived with regard to what it means to love God; and vice versa.

    Anyways, just my two cents….

    Love the post.

  3. Bryan says:

    Thanks for the comment and your valid point of the difficulty of separating these loves. I suppose that 1 John and the Gospel texts present a sort of balance that must be held together and that “hate” only means hate in comparison to our love for God that should be determinative of all our actions. I had this in mind in my own comment I posted above, namely that if Adam had properly “hated” Eve he would actually have fulfilled loving her by following God resulting in his and her own good. Lewis mentions when Jesus said to Peter “get thee behind me Satan” as an example of Jesus own practice of “hating” someone, but Lewis does not imply that Jesus did not still love Peter at the same time, nor desire anything but good toward Peter.

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