#3: The First Time Ever I saw Your Face

#3 The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face. Written by Ewan MacCall; (Stormcase Music, BMI.) Sung famously by Roberta Flack, as the theme song from the movie Play Misty For Me, and on the album The best of Roberta Flack (Atlantic Records, 1981).

This is the slowest song of all, even slower than a slow Leonard Cohen tune. The cadence may be recalled by splitting the lines, as I have done below. One can almost feel the earth slowly moving around. It is innocent in the sense that it is not self consciously connecting the experience of love to the experience of the divine. It is set in three parts, chronicling the experience of the first time the lover saw, then kissed, then consummated the love:

The first time

Ever I saw your face,

I thought the sun

Rose in your eyes,

And the moon and the stars

Were the kiss you gave

To the dark

And the endless skies

My love

And the first time

Ever I kissed your mouth

I felt the earth

Move in my hand

Like the trembling heart

Of a captive bird

That was three

At my command.

My love

And the first time

Ever I lay with you

I felt your heart

So close to mine

And I knew our joy

Would fill the Earth,

And (would) last

Till the end of time

My love

The first time

Ever I saw

Your face.

As Aristotle comments, love begins in sight. On first sight, the lover thought the rising sun was seen reflected in the in the eyes of the one seen, so bright was the light. It is the light of the sunrise, and the east that this light is like, as Rome says of the sight of Juliet: What light through yonder window breaks ?/ It is the East, and Juliet is the sun ! In an image that reminds of the Creator, it seemed in addition that the moon and the stars were the kiss given by the beloved to the dark and endless skies. The word or light of the Creator is as a kiss to the heavens at the creation. In what Juliet calls “love’s sweet idolatry,” The lover does not distinguish between the beloved and the divine, but then, the lover has never had direct experience of the divine except through the beauty seen in the beloved. The course of love may involve the separating out of these, but at love’s conception they are experienced together.

And then the first time the lover kissed the mouth of the beloved, the great earth was felt as if to move in his hand, there at his command like the heart of a bird held in ones hands. The lines are breathtaking beyond words. It may be that the lover participates in the relation of the Creator to the earth or the world, as if holding “the whole world in His hands.” And so, the joy of the consummation, in the first time he lay with her, the feeling of their hearts together, coincided with the knowledge that their joy would fill the earth, and last till the end of time. Their joy, this very joy of romantic human love, is a participation in the divine that fills the earthy, and sustains mankind until the end.

When it is said that “God is Love,” the meaning is of course different from the emotion of human romantic love, yet here the essence, if not the very stuff of the human love is shown to be the divine love. So eros and agape are shown related, under a yet higher and nameless, eternal and omnipresent Love.

Alfarabi comments: “Man can reach happiness only when the Active Intellect first gives the first intelligibles, which constitute the primary knowledge.” This happiness is known or perceived by the theoretical faculty, “when it makes use of the first principles and the primary knowledge given to him by the Active Intellect.”[3] This experience of the highest or divine part of us is reflected in the natural image that is the soul of love. Something then is revealed regarding “love at first sight.” And so, the first time the lover sees the beloved is then the nearest they have ever been to a direct experience of the divine. For, as Diotima teaches Socrates, only regarding the form of the beautiful is the intelligible is permitted visible form.

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