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“Lust Hard by Hate”


By Anne Barbeau Gardiner | March 2014
Anne Barbeau Gardiner, a Contributing Editor of the NOR, is Professor Emerita of English at John Jay College of the City University of New York. She has published on Dryden, Milton, and Swift, as well as on Catholics of the seventeenth century.

At the start of Paradise Lost, John Milton introduces Satan’s chief ministers in Hell, giving them the names by which they will be known later in biblical times. Among these devils he lists Chemos or Peor, whose “lustful orgies” in ancient Israel will take place next to “the grove / Of Moloch homicide, lust hard by hate.”

In the phrase lust hard by hate, Milton suggests that it is fitting for lust to have its altar next to the place where children are to be sacrificed to the “grim idol” Moloch. Indeed, lust and hate are generally found side by side. Lust produces hatred not only of the children conceived but also of the objects of transient desire. Abortion, the very triumph of hate, will never cease to be a specious “right” until lust is recognized once again for what it truly is — a form of hatred, not love.

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950), a bisexual feminist, is famous for having written poems of lust. In this sense, she personifies the twentieth century, an era unprecedented since the fall of the Roman Empire for the open lustfulness of women. In “Sonnet 41,” published in 1931 when she was almost forty, Millay reveals the deep interconnection between lust and hate. In the first five lines of her imaginary address to a man with whom she has “hooked up” (to use today’s parlance), she intimates that her attraction to him is strictly generic and on the animal level. It has nothing to do with his particularity as a person. She feels “urged” to sleep with him only because of certain “needs” typical of her “kind.” It is his bodily nearness and nothing else that draws her:

I, being born a woman and distressed
By all the needs and notions of my kind,
Am urged by your propinquity to find
Your person fair, and feel a certain zest
To bear your body’s weight
upon my breast…

There is no hint in these lines that she has any personal liking for him. They are virtual strangers, and their ephemeral intimacy is going to be laced with hate.

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