But if thou choose love, wilt thou have this giftThe narrator thinks of the end of love before it even begins. He talks about Convents, Brotherhood, a Monastic Chapel, and abstinence. He claims that the cross rebukes us and makes us turn from earthly love, saying that any who have “put off love for Love’s sake” do the “greater thing.” Throughout the series, the narrator is trying to decide “If I should seek her or should stand aloof,” asking whether God desires marriages or celibacy. He asks, “Shall we reject…Fruition?” And seems to answer Yes when he states that if we chose to enjoy “corporal pleasaunce” we are fools! He desires her, but he also desires “Never to seek her eyes with mine, to touch / Never,” and thinks perhaps it is best if “The Lover will choose locusts & wild honey rather than Dead Sea fruit.” In his most extreme moments, he believes that love must be renounced if Christ is to enter. He believes that “love can be consummated and so grow old and die”—or it can be consecrated to perpetual virginity, which is its true telos. And in the end, the consummation of the love appears to be a commitment to perpetual virginity.
Fashioned in work of silver or of gold?--
Aureate, bought with toil and holy thrift,
With filling and with emptying horn and cruse?
Argent, with tears, sad hours, and frustrate hold?--
Or wilt thou enter empty-handed? Choose.
(from Sonnet XLV, "The two Offerings of Love")
“How shall he know, how shall his heart be sureThat even unto her his love endure?”—Sonnet XXXI
“I love her. O! what other word could keepIn many tongues one clear immutable sound,Having so many meanings? . . .
These know I, with one more, which is: 'To weep.'”—Sonnet XXXVIII
In sight of stretched hands and tormented browsHow should I dare to venture or to winLove? how draw word from silence to beginTremulous utterance of the bridal vows?Or, as the letter of the law allows,If so I dared, how keep them without sin,While through our goings out and comings inThat Sorrow fronts the doorway of our house?
It is the wont of lovers, who delightIn time of shadows and in secrecy,To linger under summer trees by night.But on our lips the words fail, and our eyesLook not to one another: a man diesIn dusk of noon upon a barren tree.