April 2018 draft one

Post from draft one April 2018.

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Love Poems

I once tried to define love with a friend of mine, and she gave me this poem by Maya Angelou (born 1928).

Love is that condition
in the human spirit
so profound
that it allows
one to survive
and, better than that,
to thrive
with passion,
compassion
and style.

What struck me in the poem is the word thrive. We use it most often to refer to plants or newborn babies. The poem reminds me of another by Angelou with the words, “Lying, thinking last night how to find my soul a home, where water is not thirsty and bread loaf is not stone, I came up with one thing and I don’t believe I’m wrong that nobody, but nobody can make it out here alone.”

In response to her poem, I found this one:

Nothing, not even the death of those we have loved, can separate us from the love we shared with them. For love is far stronger than death, and in the end the greatest gifts of love will be received again and again. For more than we can imagine, we have been changed by those who have loved us, altered in every dimension, so that, at the center of our souls, they now inhabit us and we inhabit them.

200px-elizabeth_barrett_browning_-_project_gutenberg_etext_167861The sonnet “How do I love thee, let me count the ways” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861) captures this same quality of love. It is one of the most famous love poems in existence, and it was written by an invalid. Browning contracted what was believed to be tuberculosis as a teenager and never fully recovered.

The poem is from a collection written for her husband Robert Browning (1812-1889) called Sonnets from the Portuguese, published in 1850. Elizabeth met Robert in 1845. Because of her delicate health and because of objections from her father, the marriage was carried out in secret.

Elizabeth was so frail she had trouble believing Robert really loved her, and her doubts are expressed in these sonnets, written during the first two years of their marriage. Portuguese was Robert’s pet name for her.

We hear despair and loneliness in these lines:

From Sonnet 20

Beloved, my Beloved, when I think
That thou wast in the world a year ago,
What time I sate alone here in the snow
And saw no footprint, heard the silence sink
No moment at thy voice … but, link by link,
Went counting all my chains

and from Sonnet 7

The face of all the world is changed, I think,
Since first I heard the footsteps of thy soul
Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole
Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink
Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink,
Was caught up into love, and taught the whole
Of life in a new rhythm.

How do I love thee is Sonnet 43 from the same collection. It is so widely quoted, the thoughtful, profound voice in the poem is often overlooked. Here is the poem in completion:

How do I love thee, let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth, breadth and height
my soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
for the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
I love thee freely as men strive for right,
I love thee purely as they turn from praise,
I love thee with a passion put to use
in my old griefs and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
with my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
smiles, tears of all my life and if God choose
I shall but love thee better after death.

My favorite line in the sonnet is I love you to the level of everyday’s most quiet need. How many quiet needs does an invalid have? Every time Elizabeth wanted something from the other side of the room, she had to ask Robert. She was continually in need of his help. Quiet needs, they aren’t spoken, they are just understood. They are something a couple knows about each other after they’ve spent years together.

About passion, she says, I love thee with a passion put to use in my old griefs and with my childhood’s faith. I never thought about grief and faith having passion until I read this poem. When we lose someone we love, we put the passion we feel for them into the grief of loss. A person of faith has a fire deep within that keeps the faith alive even when a situation seems hopeless.

The line I love thee purely as men turn from praise reminds me of something Thick Nhat Hahn said. When you are first in a relationship, everything is “flower fresh.” Two people in love remain the same two people as the relationship continues, but their attitudes toward each other change and the relationship loses its flower freshness.

To regain that purity, to allow that sense of them back in our lives, Thick Nhat Hahn believes we need to concentrate simply on breathing in and breathing out. Staying in the moment, going back to the breath, helps us remain in the moment with our partner and to remember the things we were so enamored with when we were first with them. The relationship regains some of the purity it had in the beginning, purity Browning compares with people in worship.

My favorite word in the poem is smiles. It is such a light word, almost hallmark card-ish. We don’t expect it in such a serious sonnet. It reminds us that there is something light about love, playful even. It’s not always heavy and brooding.

And where is feeling is in all this? It is “out of sight.” Love is about the ends of being and ideal grace. What does that mean? Perhaps she means the end of being on this earth. But I think she means that this kind of love is not disturbed by gain or loss. It endures everything. And is is met by a kind of grace from something outside us that helps it survive.

That sonnet reminds me of a passage on love from 1 Corinthians 13:4-13:

a1jendelythcelticartlogoLove is patient and kind and is not jealous.
Love does not brag and is not arrogant,
does not act unbecomingly;
it does not seek its own, is not provoked,
does not take into account a wrong suffered,
does not rejoice in unrighteousness,
but rejoices with the truth;
bears all things, believes all things,
hopes all things, endures all things.
Love never fails,
but if there are gifts of prophecy,
they will be done away;
if there are tongues, they will cease;
if there is knowledge, it will be done away.
For we know in part, and we prophesy in part;
but when the perfect comes, the partial will be done away.
When I was a child, I spoke as a child,
thought as a child, reasoned as a child,
but when I became a man, I put away childish things.
For now we see in a mirror dimly,
but then face to face;
now I know in part, but then I shall know fully
as I have been fully known.
But now abide faith, hope, love, these three;
but the greatest of these is love.

If Elizabeth Barrett’s Browning’s love is not for the faint of heart, neither is the love Paul describes in his letter to the Corinthians. It is even tougher and more well-muscled. Many lines in this passage are beautiful, and he could have begun with any number of them, but he leads with, “Love is patient and kind and is not jealous.”

There are three Greek words for love. Paul uses the Greek word here agape. That is the love that god feels for us. It is different than the love two partners feel for each other. That is eros. And the love one feels in friendship is phileo. Even though Paul is talking about a specific kind of love, it is the highest form of love in his mind.

Browning’s love is also patient and kind, but I imagine if another woman turned Robert’s head she would have been jealous. Romantic love can be a green-eyed monster. Paul says that real love won’t even let jealousy stand in its way. He backs this up in other lines, “It does not seek its own, is not provoked, does not take into account a wrong suffered, does not rejoice in unrighteousness but rejoices in the truth, bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things. Love never fails.”

I like the metaphor, “When I was a child, I spoke as a child, thought as a child, reasoned as a child, but when I became a man, I put away childish things.” Love is mature and well thought out, according to him. It has reasoned its way to this point. It has a wholeness to it any other love can’t compare to. He says “When the perfect comes, the partial will be done away…. For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face.” To be fully known by someone, to be understood in a way we’ve never been understood happens rarely.

Many people want love to be romantic. The most essential feature of a romantic relationship is the element of uncertainty. Every romantic comedy is based on that uncertainty, all the longing and indecision and hesitation in a new relationship. But nothing is more romantic than being truly known by someone and accepted anyway.

That same sentiment is echoed in Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare (1564-1616):

200px-shakespeare

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

If you’ve ever loved someone so much, you’re willing to risk everything you hold sacred to be with them, you know what it means to love someone “to the edge of doom.” Shakespeare’s point is, if you really love someone, fight for it. A divorce lawyer I know once said he saw many couples fight after the marriage for property and possessions and visitation rights. “Where was all that fight when they were still married,” he said. “Fight dirty, fight fair, but fight.”

That could be the title of Shakespeare’s poem. He begins with, “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.” In another sonnet by Browning I hear the same thinking:

Sonnet 22:

When our two souls stand up erect and strong,
Face to face, silent, drawing nigh and nigher,
Until the lengthening wings break into fire
At either curvéd point, — what bitter wrong
Can the earth do to us.

This idea is also in these lines by David Rivard in a poem called “Forehead.”

I love you
I know as much as anything
for your courage
so companionably invisible
as it is
that it passes mostly
as simple
good sense. I don’t mean you’re
practical at all—god forbid—
only persistent….
If you were to die
who would remove me
from those thoughts?

Jane Austen uses Shakespeare’s poem in her novel Sense and Sensibility. When Maryann discovers the dashing Willoughby has thrown her over for a rich woman, she recites this poem to herself in a very moving scene. She has the sense finally to realize what he felt for her was passion, not love.

200px-pablo_neruda

The 14-line sonnet is often used in love poems. I like both the Italian sonnet by Browning and the English sonnet by Shakespeare, but nobody can write a love poem like Chilean poet Pablo Neruda (1904-1973). I end this with what I believe is one of the most beautiful poems in existence. Unrequited love has not been the subject of poems in this essay. I have chosen poems where love is organized and well thought out and structured. We’ve seen this in sonnets, a poem form that develops through structure. But the truth is, falling in love turns most people’s lives into a mess.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

Write, for example, “The night is shattered
and the blue stars shiver in the distance.”

The night wind revolves in the sky and sings.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
I loved her, and sometimes she loved me too.

Through nights like this one I held her in my arms.
I kissed her again and again under the endless sky.

She loved me, sometimes I loved her too.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

What does it matter that my love could not keep her.
The night is shattered and she is not with me.

This is all. In the distance someone is singing. In the distance.
My soul is not satisfied that is has lost her.

My sight searches for her as though to go to her.
My heart looks for her, and she is not with me.

The same night whitening the same trees.
We, of the time, are no longer the same.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing.

Another’s. She will be another’s. Like my kisses before.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.

I no longer love her, that’s certain, but maybe I love her.
Love is so short, forgetting is so long.

Because through nights like this I held her in my arms
my soul is not satisfied that it has lost her.

Though this be the last pain that she makes me suffer
and these the last verses that I write for her.

In this poem, the stars are distant and cold. In every line we hear the same question, did she love me, does she still love me. The narrator is searching for answers and not finding any. What was once beautiful in the world is now dark and full of pain. We imagine the speaker looking at the stars or into the face of some saint as he speaks this. This is more prayer than poem.

Perception and reality have come into question. What does it matter what I do with the rest of my life if you aren’t with me, he seems to say. The world is untranslatable without you at my side. What do I have vision for if not to look in your face. If what I felt for you wasn’t real and what you expressed for me wasn’t real, what is. Neruda never says any of this directly, but we hear it.

We feel this poem rushing through both the narrator’s body and soul. We feel the pain bending over inside him. There are so many beautiful lines, it’s hard to single any out.

To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.

To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

He begins these lines with the infinitive phase to emphasize the speaker’s shock. He builds throughout the first 13 lines, and in the 14th line we have And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture. It gives this poem the feeling of a sonnet. He could have ended the poem there. He could have ended it in a number of places. Every line is a great line to end or begin a poem. So much emotion and drama is compressed in each one. Each line is as good as the poem is as a whole. He repeats the same idea many times in this poem, but that’s how a relationship feels when it ends. You go over and over it in your mind.

We hear helplessness in lines like My voice tried to find the wind to touch her hearing and in Love is so short, forgetting is so long. We feel this poem deeply because Neruda captures the purity of being in love and juxtaposes it with the rawness and emptiness of loss.

And there’s no pessimism. The windows of the church are still above us. He allows the church to remain. The holiness of the feeling remains intact. The narrator doesn’t betray what he feels by shouting or cursing. This love is passionate and pure in its devotion, and there’s no tentativeness about it, but it is never flattened by anger. All the cracks are here and all the pain is let it. That’s how we know how powerful this love is. If the speaker allows himself to open up to this much pain, how much more open must he have been to the beloved.

Posted in Uncategorized

Love Poem

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Posted in Poem of the day

Voice And Music

In Trutina

In Trutina

In trutina mentis dubia
fluctuant contraria
lascivus amor et pudicitia.
Sed eligo quod video,
collum iugo prebeo:
ad iugum tamen suave transeo.

In Balance

In the wavering balance of my feelings,
set against each other,
I am suspended
between love
and chastity,
but I choose
what is before me
and take upon myself the sweet yoke.

Carl Orff (1895-1982)

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Anyone can whistle,
That’s what they say-
Easy.
Anyone can whistle
Any old day-
Easy.
It’s all so simple:
Relax, let go, let fly.
So someone tell me why
Can’t I?
I can dance a tango,
I can read Greek-
Easy.
I can slay a dragon
Any old week-
Easy.
What’s hard is simple.
What’s natural comes hard.
Maybe you could show me
How to let go,
Lower my guard,
Learn to be free.
Maybe if you whistle,
Whistle for me.
………………..
Words and music by Stephen Sondheim (born 1930)
Posted in Music

Poem Of The Day

Old Hotels

I have a pair of opera glasses
gold rimmed in white ivory
that sit on a shelf in my bedroom
next to books I read as a child.
The glasses have a straight handle
long enough to fit in the hand of a delicate girl
who wears white gloves to the theater
to watch Rigoletto,
and has learned not to fidget.

Posted in My poetry, Poem Form, Poem of the day

Sonnet

Nothing was said about the “fit arguments for poetry,”
and I recovered enough to begin writing again.
I never felt fit enough to be living outdoors,
and to lose access to my home, (and belongings).
That never felt right to me — it created despair
in someone who had never lived outdoors before.
It seemed to me the city was at war,
and I was caught in the middle of it.
But perhaps, someone who lives outside
for the first time, through cancer recovery,
realizes a city’s wars for the first time too.
I consider all this on my walks,
and try not to be too surprised by it,
or the treatment of people I worked with.

Posted in My poetry, Poem Form, Poem of the day

Sonnet

Another reason why the “Casa Guidi Windows”
have received less appreciation than they deserve,
both at the time of their completion
and since, is that they stand rather apart
from all the other types of church
stained glass. They are hard to classify,
and to criticize. Their contemporary
character is cut from the imaginative
and historical subject that form them.
This is a treatment of a subject,
raised to a high level of genuine
enthusiasm. The dangerous experiments
of timing that characterized much
of the stained glass in the early stages is gone.

Posted in My poetry, Poem Form, Poem of the day