"One ought, every day at least, to hear a little song, read a good poem, see a fine picture
and, if possible, speak a few reasonable words. " ~Goethe

~ also, if possible, to dwell in "a house where all's accustomed, ceremonious." ~Yeats

Wednesday, February 29, 2012

Love Is Not All

AN ENCHANTED GARDEN
WHERE ALL'S ACCUSTOMED, CEREMONIOUS
APPLE BLOSSOMS ~ JOHN EVERETT MILLAIS
"WE . . . HAVE BECOME EXTRAORDINARY: WE ARE NOT SIMPLY EATING; WE ARE PAUSING IN THE MARCH TO PERFORM AN ACT TOGETHER; WE ARE IN LOVE AND THE MEAL OFFERED AND RECEIVED IS A SACRAMENT WHICH SAYS: I KNOW YOU WILL DIE; I AM SHARING FOOD WITH YOU;IT IS ALL I CAN DO, AND IT IS EVERYTHING."
~ ANDRE DUBUS ~

The Enchanted Garden *". . . a rose can only smell so achingly sweet
to those who know that someday they will die to that smell,
to it and to every other joy and sorrow." ~ Kathryn Harrison

My last post, "Love You Can't Imagine" ~ in celebration of Valentine's Day (click or scroll down) ~ drew to a close before I was able to incorporate all of the great selections that I was hoping to connect. So I have assembled today's post out of that remaindered material, including a couple of somber sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Millay, and a few sobering thoughts from Anne Lamott. As my father used to say when we had inadvertently left something behind -- a garment for dry cleaning, an overdue library book, a stack of newspapers on trash day -- "Well it's alright to save some over for seed." Over for seed. We weren't even farmers, but how I grew to love my dad's rustic way of saying, "I meant to do that!"

Another little intentional error ~ as in, "I meant to do that" ~ was saving this post, scheduled for the 28th, until today, Wednesday, February 29th! Since the opportunities for celebrating Leap Day are relatively rare and complicated, it would be a shame to let the chance pass by unobserved. Many of the customs and traditions of this every - four - yearly occasion are romantic in nature, providing a most fitting coda to Valentine's Day.

You might recall that, previously, I included Kathryn Harrison's observation, from her article "Connubial Abyss", that love must necessarily acknowledge the reality of death and loss: "Marriage is made, from the start, between two people who are willing to contemplate death together -- to have and to hold, until death do them part. Such contemplation is possible only for those who understand and embrace the boundaries of a life, both temporal and existential."

In her book Grace Eventually, Anne Lamott writes of her struggle to embrace these same boundaries, to come to grips with the sad inevitability "that every person you've loved will die -- many badly, and too young . . . the unbearable truth that all the people you love most will die, maybe in painful circumstances." Thinking of her son, she is filled with anguish but also acceptance: "I knew deep down that life can be a wretched business, and no one, not even Sam, gets out alive" (59, 162, 193).

A Tale from the Decameron ** painting here & above by English Pre-Raphaelite,
John William Waterhouse (1849 - 1917)

Like Harrison and Lamott, Edna St. Vincent Millay blends romance and cynicism. She knows what love is and what it isn't. "It is not meat nor drink," but it is enough to hold death at arm's length. It is the memory of sharing with another, a memory worth more to the poet than food or peace:

Love is not all: It is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain,
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
and rise and sink and rise and sink again.
Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
even as I speak, for lack of love alone.

It well may be that in a difficult hour,
pinned down by need and moaning for release
or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It may well be. I do not think I would.

~ from Fatal Interview

Detail from Primavera by Sandro Botticelli, 1445 - 1510

As in Botticelli's allegory of spring, Love is often painted blind. In the following sonnet, however, it is the lover deprived of love who travels blindly. Rather than a plump little blind - folded cupid, Love is described by Millay as "the eyes of day," "charity," "a lamp," a candle with a wick. The narrator testifies that she would never be the one to put out the eyes of Love or abandon him along the roadside. She is too well aware that human endeavor is dependent upon the light of love, that even "the torn ray / Of the least kind" is better than no love at all.

The poet is the champion of love, "however brief," however distressed, ill - timed, or "ill - trimmed." Without the light of love, it is the Poet, not Love, who is rendered blind, scuffling "in utter dark" tapping the way before her . . .

When did I ever deny, though this was fleeting,
That this was love? When did I ever, I say,
With iron thumb put out the eyes of day
In this cold world where charity lies bleating
Under a thorn, and none to give him greeting,
And all that lights endeavor on its way
Is the teased lamp of loving, the torn ray
Of the least kind, the most clandestine meeting?

As God's my judge, I do cry holy, holy,
Upon the name of love however brief,
For want of whose ill-trimmed, aspiring wick
More days than one I have gone forward slowly
In utter dark, scuffling the drifted leaf,
Tapping the road before me with a stick.

~ from Huntsman, What Quarry?

Cupid & Psycheby Antonio Canova, 1757 - 1822

"Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind."

~A Midsummer Night's Dream~
Act I, scene i

SEE YOU IN TWO WEEKS FOR MY
Next Fortnightly Post
Wednesday, March 14th {or thereabouts]

Between now and then, read
THE QUOTIDIAN KIT
my shorter, almost daily blog posts
www.dailykitticarriker.blogspot.com

Looking for a good book? Try
KITTI'S LIST
my running list of recent reading
www.kittislist.blogspot.com

1 comment:

  1. Kite, You're brilliant. I like the 'death do us part' reference. I'm in the middle of Soygal's "The Tibetan Book of Living and Dying" (not to be confused with the "Tibetan Book of the Dead.) It isn't necessary for me to dwell on death yet I know that I need to meditate on my death - big difference. The Dalai Lama once was quoted as saying, "Westerners live as if they will never die." This is totally out of context but death allows me to see how loving acts of kindness to others are so very important for me to keep in the front of my little brain -- in this real world. Since you know me, I can also say that cupid never did that for me. I preferred the image of St. Valentine in jail trying to do good. But who can ever deny Shakespeare!?

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