Maybe people who saw the film “Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind” will know the story of Eloise and Abelard, whose love affair in the late middle ages was as tragic as it was passionate.
The title of the film comes from a poem by Alexander Pope, entitled “Eloise to Abelard”.
Eloise was an extremely clever young woman of 18 when she met Peter Abelard, who was 51. Abelard was a philosopher and priest and Eloise’s uncle had arranged for him to be her tutor. From the moment the two met they fell madly in love. They secretly got married and managed to keep their secret very well until Eloise got pregnant and her uncle found out. Furious at this, Eloise’s uncle had Abelard hunted down and castrated.
After this the two lovers were not allowed to meet again. Eloise was sent off to be a nun and Abelard, who had now lost his official position in the church, was forced to retire in a monastery. They exchanged letters for the rest of their lives, but never met again…
Their passion did not die out as a letter from Eloise to Abelard states, painfully: “Even during the celebration of the Mass, when our prayers should be purest, lewd visions of the pleasures we shared take such a hold upon my unhappy soul that my thoughts are on their wantonness instead of my prayers. Everything we did, and also the times and places, are stamped on my heart along with your image, so that I live through it all again with you.”
Due to the thinking of the time, Abelard came to see his fate as a well deserved punishment from God for having succumbed to sexual pleasure. How different things would have been if they were alive today!
In Alexander Pope’s poem, Eloise envies the women around her who became nuns by choice and not by force:
“How happy is the blameless vestal’s lot! The world forgetting, by the world forgot. Eternal sunshine of the spotless mind! Each pray’r accepted, and each wish resign’d; Labour and rest, that equal periods keep; “Obedient slumbers that can wake and weep;” Desires compos’d, affections ever ev’n, Tears that delight, and sighs that waft to Heav’n. Grace shines around her with serenest beams, And whisp’ring angels prompt her golden dreams. For her th’ unfading rose of Eden blooms, And wings of seraphs shed divine perfumes, For her the Spouse prepares the bridal ring, For her white virgins hymeneals sing, To sounds of heav’nly harps she dies away, And melts in visions of eternal day.”