The Physics of Melting in Early Modern Love Poetry

Andrea Brady
Melting is a familiar trope in early modern erotic poetry, where it can signify the desire to transform the beloved from icy chastity through the warmth of the lover's passion. However, this Petrarchan convention can be defamiliarised by thinking about the experiences of freezing and melting in this period. Examining melting in the discourses of early modern meteorology, medicine, proverb, scientific experiments, and preservative technologies, as well as weather of the Little Ice Age and the
more » ... Ice Age and the exploration of frozen hinterlands, this essay shows that our understanding of seeming constants-whether they be the physical properties of water or the passions of love-can be modulated through attention to the specific histories of cognition and of embodiment. Countless Renaissance poems represent love as a condition of antithesis between the coldness of the beloved and the fiery desire of the lover. In many lyric poems of the sixteenth and seventeenth centuries, a speaker consumed by burning love praises and chastises the beloved for her snowy skin, icy chastity, pitiless coldness and freezing looks. The icily monumental beloved rejects the vivifying heat of the lover; her coldness also isolates her from life. The beloved is an embodied paradox, inspiring a state of heat in which she does not share: as Petrarch puts it, from her 'beautiful, clear, shining, living ice comes the flame that kindles and melts me'. 1 To