The lines were written by T. S. Eliot in his apocalyptic poem, The Waste Land. Partly famous because they were written by Eliot, they are also famous because of who and what they allude to: the sexual fires that burned in the youthful Augustine. From adolescence to the age of 32, as he later detailed in the Confessions, Augustine was a frequent loser in the battle with lustful passions.

However, his struggles with sexuality actually began before his arrival at the decadent North African metropolis of Carthage. He later wrote that it was at the age of 16 that “the frenzy gripped me and I surrendered myself entirely to lust.”

Both his parents were aware that he was “floundering in the broiling sea of … fornication,” but each responded differently. His father, who seems to have also been entangled in extramarital affairs, was amused at his son’s budding sexual interests. The prospect of grand children—legitimate or otherwise—appealed to Patricius. Monica, on the other hand, was caught in a dilemma. She did not suggest marriage for quelling the sexual fires, because she feared that a hurried marriage would hinder her gifted son’s career opportunities. At the same time, she earnestly warned him about his lack of sexual restraint, saying, “above all [do] not seduce any man’s wife.”

As an 18-year-old student at Carthage, Augustine reveled in promiscuity. Sex had become an obsession for him. “From a perverted act of will,” he wrote, “desire had grown, and when desire is given satisfaction, habit is forged; and when habit passes unresisted, a compulsive urge sets in.”

After a year of promiscuity in that university city, Augustine settled down with a mistress. Although he never revealed her name, he remained with her for more than a decade. ...

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