IV. Thoreau

If it is the result of a pure Love, there can be nothing sensual in marriage. Chastity is something positive, not negative. It is the virtue of the married especially. All lusts or base pleasures must give place to loftier delights. They who meet as superior beings cannot perform the deeds of inferior ones. The deeds of Love are less questionable than any action of an individual can be, for, it being founded on the rarest mutual respect, the parties incessantly stimulate each other to a loftier and purer life, and the act in which they are associated must be pure and noble indeed, for innocence and purity can have no equal. In this relation we deal with one whom we respect more religiously even than we respect our better selves, and we shall necessarily conduct as in the presence of God. What presence can be more awful [i.e., awe-inspiring] to the lover than the presence of his beloved? […]

Can Love be in ought allied to dissipation? Let us love by refusing, not accepting, one another. Love and lust are far asunder. The one is good, the other bad. When the affectionate sympathise by their higher natures, there is Love; but there is danger that they will sympathise by their lower natures; and then there is lust. It is not necessary that this be deliberate, even conscious; but in the close contact of affection, there is danger that we may stain and pollute one another, for we cannot embrace but with an entire embrace.

We must love our friend so much that she shall be associated with our purest and holiest thoughts alone. When there is impurity we have ‘descended to meet,’ though we know it not. […]

There is to be attributed to sensuality the loss to language of how many pregnant symbols? Flowers which, by their infinite hues and fragrance, celebrate the marriage of the plants, are intended for a symbol of the open and unsuspected beauty of all True Marriage, when man’s flowering season arrives.

Virginity too is a budding flower, and by an impure marriage the virgin is deflowered. Whoever loves flowers loves virgins and chastity. Love and lust are as far asunder as a flower-garden is from a brothel. […]

A True Marriage will differ in no wise from illumination. In all perception of the Truth there is a Divine Ecstasy, an inexpressible delirium of joy […] The ultimate delights of a True Marriage are one with this.

No wonder that out of such a union, not as end, but as accompaniment, comes the undying race of man. The womb is a most fertile soil. Some have asked if the stock of man could not be improved, – if they could not be bred as cattle. Let Love be purified, and all the rest will follow. A pure Love is thus, indeed, the panacea for all the ills of the world.

The only excuse for reproduction is improvement. Nature abhors repetition. Beasts merely propagate their kind; but the offspring of noble men and women mill be superior to themselves, as their aspirations are. By their fruits ye shall know them?


Source: From ‘Chastity and Sexuality,’ by Henry David Thoreau, reprinted in M.K. Gandhi, ‘Self Restraint v. Self Indulgence,’ Ahmedabad: 1958, pp. 206–208.