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Love and Sex

by Zettel 

Posted: 31 December 2016
Word Count: 222
Summary: *Wittgenstein was asked: does God will the Good because it is Good; or is it Good because God wills it? He said the second was preferable because it prevents further analysis or argument. (Also Socrates' Euthyphro dilemma)

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Love and Sex
I think I understand love
better than I know sex
Instinct taught me how to give
I had to learn to take
If in truth God there be
then lost and lonely He
did Man and Woman make
that they might willingly
return in love the gift of life
He then must take
to set his spirit free
Taking is the hardest form of love
rooted in humility
passion's pride unseats the humble soul
desire demands its selfish way
and when imposed not shared
the trust of loving sex is lost
to shame doubt and uncertainty
each then rides the waves alone again
lost in self once more 
never finding solid ground
never reaching shore
Love incurs no debt
there is no balance here
the fallacy of worship 
the blasphemy of fear
God wills the Good 
because it is Good
not because he wills it
Love freely gives up power
a willing sacrifice 
not to a self-important singer
but to the beauty of her song
Just as god gave up his power
in love then so must we
free of will to dominate
or to submit to force 
trust alone is absolute
with body mind and spirit too
united indivisibly
transcending time and self
a moment of eternity
Man and Woman in humanity
form a deeper momentary trinity

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Comments by other Members

James Graham at 21:04 on 04 January 2017  Report this post
Zettel, I’m not ignoring your new poem. I keep re-reading and coming back to it, trying to get your meaning clear, in stanzas 2 and 3 especially which I find difficult. The thought which first struck me, on the very first reading, was your idea of a ‘lost and lonely’ God who had to learn not only to give but to ‘take/ to set his spirit free’. A God who is not free unless he gets something in return from the intelligent beings he created: it’s an idea I’ve never come across before.
The poem doesn’t embrace the rest of the creation myth, but with the foregoing in mind I wonder why God punishes his man and woman – especially the woman - so severely for eating from the tree of knowledge? I.e. for becoming complete human beings? Is he afraid that by the exercise of independent thought and judgement they might reject him? In stanza 4 you write ‘God gave up his power/ in love’ – well, eventually maybe, but not within the Genesis story.
The last stanza seems to expand on the first, and resolve it. Your lines about being free of the ‘will to dominate/ or to submit to force’ are telling, and your closing lines are outstanding:
Man and Woman in humanity
form a deeper momentary trinity
This strikes me as an example of the best poetry: a thought which could be unpicked and ‘explained’ in a prose paraphrase, but could not be better expressed than in these two lines. A thought too which has a very harmonious ring of truth about it.
Having said that, some prose explanation of your intended meaning in the middle stanzas would help me see the wood for the trees.

Zettel at 02:55 on 05 January 2017  Report this post
James – thanks for your comments.  There is as much puzzlement and uncertainty within this poem as there is certainty.  I suppose I frequently gravitate towards what one might call ‘poems of ideas’ because of my philosophical background.  I am never quite sure whether they work as a poem is not an argument; nor an analysis. While clarity is a paradigm quality of philosophy; poetry achieves its expressive power by different linguistic means; evocation, allusiveness; evocation, open-endedness. I have for a long time now been deeply interested in the way that the meaning of words and language functions differently according to the way they are being used; their context as it is often put. But it is much more than that: it is a central tenet of Wittgensteinian philosophy that there is no such thing as the meaning of a word or words; only possible meanings. In particular cases we must look to the action, context, relationship, custom, practice involved in this or that case.  These different ways of using words he called ‘language games’; and the cultural and social context in which they take place he called a ‘form of life’. For the words in a language game within a form of life to be understood, then they must be shared.  
The other insight Wittgenstein shared with us was that not everything that looks like a meaningful question or statement is one: Philosophers and Philosophy he felt, had for centuries been seeking to find the wrong kind of ‘answers’ to perhaps the right kinds of questions. This is especially true of questions like “does God exist?”; “how did the world come into existence?” etc etc. One can see perhaps some value in his concepts of different language games and different forms of life if we imagine the above questions asked first by a religious believer; and then by a practising scientist. The nature of the question in each case is directly related to what would count, not so much as an answer, but just an intelligible, meaningful response. And we can easily see that there is no third, common, higher level of definitive meaning to which the different answers of the different questioners can be referred for resolution. We must as we say ‘agree to differ’: and that active disagreement, as Bertrand Russell once observed, indicates an deeper level of agreement.
If this were not complicated enough, we of course do all share, without much daily contention, the vast area of commonly accepted words of ‘ordinary language’.  The one thing W taught us about ‘Ordinary Language’ is that it is in fact anything but ‘ordinary’. It is the stuff of our poems, books, plays, newspapers, relationships, culture….life.
I’m not sure if that will help in understanding this poem but let me just list some of the thoughts that underlie the sentiments, questioning, puzzlement, anger etc etc within the poem:
  • Like Charles Schultz, creator of the Peanuts Cartoons, Charlie Brown and Snoopy et al (Schultz was once an evangelist until he served in the war): I cannot understand an omnipotent, omniscient being who wants to be worshipped.
  • I cannot understand any being who would rather be obeyed than loved.
  • I cannot understand how love can be generated through fear.
  • The idea of a being that is Omnipotent, Omniscient and supposedly ‘all loving’ becomes utterly contradictory and eventually repugnant in the face of the suffering that appears to be part of the Human condition. (This metaphysical paradox never more eloquently posed than in The Brothers Karamazov – where the tears of a single child outweigh any ‘eternal plan’ etc).
  • Most of the ideas associated with ‘God’ in scriptures  and books seem to be macho-centric, and only too evocative of the worst qualities we can and do find in human beings; especially sadly and profoundly, in men. I want to reverse the saying that “Man was made in God’s image” into “God seems to be made by Man (literally) in his own image”.
  • All religions seems to have deeply unhealthy attitudes to sex and sexuality; so when I want to try to say something about ‘love’ I want it to embrace wholeheartedly the deepest, most intimate physical expression of love between human beings. With no mental reservation about ‘higher’ forms of love.  I want to think of love as indivisible and embracing body, mind and spirit.  Which is why Martin Scorcese’s  notorious film The Last Temptation of Christ widely vilified, was valuable in imagining Jesus as being susceptible to physical desire. As this force influences most of humanity most of the time and lies at the core of our art and culture; it is hard to imagine how he could understand what it is to be human without experiencing it.
  • The doctrines of ‘original sin’ and a ‘just war’ seem to me to be simply blasphemous within the meaning of those terms as used in the various Religions that embrace them. War may in extremis sometimes be necessary – but never just.
  • The capacity for Love in all its forms and richness seems to me to be the paradigmatic Human quality – beyond faith, belief, certainly beyond obedience and fear.  I’m not a brave man nor I hope a coward; just a man who would aspire to the one and try to avoid the other – with no guarantees either way.
  • The nearest I get to a ‘faith’ I suppose is expressed in the idea in Existentialism – that in the final analysis, even in the face of suffering and death we can always choose – not what happens to us, necessity rules the world – but how we respond to it, however impossible that sometimes seems.   But I’m not at all sure I’m strong enough to live up to that way of seeing life.
  • I don’t have any quarrel with ‘God’ whatever that means. I have no idea whether He/he exists. But like my fellow Thetfordian Thomas Paine, I have a profound problem and sometimes quarrel, with organised religions; some more than others.
  • It seems to me that if every human being on the planet in the past and now, believed, beyond a doubt, that this life is the only life; that there is no heaven or hell or future reward; then truly would life as we know it, this life, be what religious people call sacred – indeed along with love – the only true absolutes I could ever, wholeheartedly accept.

As ever: far too much about a small poem. It just makes sense to me; that if I were an omnipotent, omniscient being who had brought the whole of this magnificent, beautiful world of creation into being: I would long to share it with someone who might perhaps, freely love me: never out of fear or obedience. If that offends religious believers- I don’t care: if that offends ‘God’ well he certainly has more than enough hammers to crack this puny little ‘nut’.

Cliff Hanger at 21:31 on 05 January 2017  Report this post
Hi Zettel,

You've given a very comprehensive breakdown of your thinking here and you are obviously very knowledgable about Wittgenstein. The part of the poem that I find most effective is this

Love freely gives up power
a willing sacrifice
not to an important singer
but to the beauty of her song

In all the complexity of your discourse this is the part I can relate to and feels most human.


Zettel at 00:19 on 06 January 2017  Report this post
Thanks Jane.

For all my verbiage - it is your  response to it as a poem that really matters; and I'm glad that there is something in it  that you can relate to. Thanks for reading and taking the trouble to respond.


James Graham at 20:15 on 07 January 2017  Report this post
Zettel, your contribution is by no means ‘verbiage’ – much more, as Jane says, a ‘comprehensive breakdown of your thinking’. It has taken me in all directions, especially your bulleted list of theses (like Luther’s, or Marx’s Theses on Feuerbach*).
Just one of my responses to them: ‘Original sin’? Don’t get me started! My children and grandchildren – and yours – were not born carrying this thing like an inherited disease. The idea is repellent. God is all-loving, all-forgiving, yet paradoxically visits ‘the iniquity of the fathers on the children, on the third and the fourth generations’ (Exodus, Numbers, etc. etc.) The notion feeds into the ahistorical Jewish crowd who call for Christ’s crucifixion: ‘His blood be on us, and on our children’; and I believe some of that poison trickles down all the way to Germany in the 1930s.
Your poem takes time but is worth it. In the second stanza your central thought is (if I’m right) that if love, in its physical expression in sex, is ‘imposed not shared’ it leaves us adrift in uncertainty. That seems to me to be true; at least it’s often true.
You also write about the language of poetry, which works through ‘evocation, allusiveness, open-endedness’. The last four lines of this stanza exemplify this, as they are figurative. The lost soul on the waves ‘never reaching shore’ isn’t perhaps an original metaphor, but it works well in the context. Personal isolation, anomie, helplessness, are conveyed by means of a sea-picture.
I need to pay more attention to the third stanza before commenting on it, but I will certainly do so.
*In which, as I’m sure you know, he reminds us that philosophers only interpret the world. If that’s some sort of limitation, it’s a pretty broad one.

Zettel at 00:39 on 10 January 2017  Report this post
Thanks James

It's just a bit embarrassing to see how long my response was. I post poems simply to share them. I guess like every other unpublished writer or poet, one is inevitably seeking an echo, a response, a sign of recognition - perhaps at heart, validation. With a poem of 'ideas' rather than perception, emotion or sensation, if it is to avoid the pitfall of didacticism, necessarily tends to be a bit more 'dense' (sometimes in a good sense; sometimes in the other!). I try to make my poems as simple in form as possible because I am constantly struggling against being too literal. While it is often true of very good prose; it is I think always true of poetry, that one is trying to leave 'space' for the reader's thought, or feeling etc to extend the expressive from of what they find and recognise in the poem.

Anyway the comments I get from Poetry group members and especially your good self, is unfailingly empathic and therefore encouraging.  I have also improved many poems thanks to your insights: for which I am always grateful.



James Graham at 20:11 on 10 January 2017  Report this post
In the third stanza, these lines demand some thought:
Love incurs no debt
there is no balance here
the fallacy of worship
the blasphemy of fear
Are you referring here to what evangelical Christians call ‘a personal relationship’ with God, and in the poem as a whole are you making an analogy between this relationship and that of two human beings? If so, you’re saying ‘there is no balance’, i.e. there should be no ‘credit balance’ on God’s side whereby he takes more than he gives; nor should there be a ‘credit balance’ between two human beings. Love should be shared equally.
Worship is a fallacy because it implies giving more than is received. That fear of God is a blasphemy seems obvious to me. If we’re talking about the Old Testament God, I would say he was created in the image not so much of Man as of particular men: ancient kings who were capricious and tyrannical, who demanded obedience and harshly punished dissent.
I’d be interested to know if this analysis comes close to your own thoughts on the poem. It certainly satisfies me as a very succinct and accessible exposition of a complex idea.
You could omit the direct reference to Wittgenstein, i.e. the line ‘Wittgenstein was wrong’. The footnote explains why you mention him and why you think he is wrong in this instance, but I don’t think you need either the line or the footnote because these lines on their own convey the idea:
God wills the Good
not just God wills
To be even more sure that you are clearly articulating the idea, you could incorporate part of your footnote into the verse: ‘does God will the Good because it is Good; or is it Good because God wills it?’ In verse form:
What God wills is already Good
does not become Good
because we say God wills it
What God wills is already Good
what we judge to be Good
may not be God’s will
As always, these are attempts of mine; I’m sure you can come up with something better.
If you retain ‘Wittgenstein was wrong’, poetry readers who don’t know his work – there must be some – will be puzzled. And footnotes to a poem are not such a good idea, especially if what you want to say can be adequately expressed within the poem.
As for the rest of this stanza, you’ll be relieved to know I have no criticisms. Jane’s comment above says it all.

Zettel at 15:11 on 13 January 2017  Report this post

You're right about the Wittgenstein. Duly removed. I think the idea is clear enough without further embellishment. Hope so.

'Love incurs no debt' - my underlying thought here is deeply held; there is a natural tendency for us to think of fairness and balance in relationships of many kinds,and this must in in many ways be right. However, and the thought derives directly from the idea above that thehardest thing to do is to take without being humilated or demeaned; and for this the giving must be done in the right spirit, where the giver preserves the dignity and self-respect of the recipient. Therefore for me,the most striking, extraordinary thing about real love, of all kinds, is that it must be as freely taken as it it given. This is not a question of balance or repayment but of acceptence that the world of things is not balanced - but our choices can bring a sense of balance to it but those choices do not imply that the relative contribution in any given case must be equal.

I suppose the best image for me  is of a see-saw two people, one on each side they can remain 'in balance' only by moving in relationship to one another. With trust they don not have to be the same weight and stuck exactly the same distance form one another: they can be of different sixe and weight and as long as they move in the right relationship to the other then all kinds of different forms of balance can be maintained.

In general: it is not I think love thatmakes the world go round - it is desire. Love it seems ot me is what civilises desire, transcends if you will the individual.



Zettel at 01:58 on 14 January 2017  Report this post
As the typos indicate, I had to rush the above. I think one can read through them though.

As for where God is in all this - I have no idea. We seem to have a paradox that human love can appeat to be more moral than God's; precisely because we have none of the guarantees, certainties an all-powerful, all-knowing being must have by definition.

That starts getting hopelessly tangled which raises my philosophical hackles with avengeance.  For all the dreadful stuff in the bible it is striking I think that just as Wittgenstein offered no theories or metaphysics in Philosophy; Jesus offerered no doctrines; only parables and example.  For all else it has always seemed to me that the most impressive and thought-provoking 7 words in the bible are "My God why hast thou forsaken me?"

On a day when unpeakable Republican politicians crow with pride and triumph at reversing the first ever humane effort to offer health care to 20 million of their fellow Americans previously unable to afford it (Obamacare) - none of the above seems remotely important.  That most of these men and women who shame themselves and their country call themselves 'Christian' is a blasphemy as absurd as awarding KIssinger the Nobel Peace Prize. And once the racist 'brickie' who takes over the Presidency next week starts building his wall of hate, I think I'll hide away and listen to Tom Lehrer records in the name of sanity.

Happy New Year.



Cliff Hanger at 09:20 on 14 January 2017  Report this post
I love Tom Lehrer.


James Graham at 19:59 on 15 January 2017  Report this post
Stanza 3 is perfectly clear now. Any reader would have to give it some thought, but the meaning is there. Perhaps as a result the whole poem seems clearer. It often happens that a poem falls into place after several readings, and I can say that I understand this poem better because I’ve read it a number of times; but much of the greater transparency is also due to your revisions.

There are some interesting ideas in your latest comments, especially your ‘paradox that human love can appear to be more moral than God's’ – but interesting as your prose commentary is, the poem is a more telling expression of your ideas.

You end with a stimulating piece of invective against Trump and his fellow reactionaries. I agree with everything you say. In the time of George W. Bush, an ordinary New Yorker interviewed in the street said, ‘This is the worst president in our history’. Well, maybe he was – until now.


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