does love (poetry) survive loss?

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i found “does love survive loss? (what will survive of us is love)” via michelle, whose blog is peony moon, and so it’s appropriate that i post with it a photo of the peonies a friend brought me last week. they are new to me, peonies. i had no idea they were so fragrant, so large or so thin and fragile. paper-like, as much as hornets’ nests are paper-like, and just as fascinating in their construction. i’m in awe of them. and in awe of the friend whose garden i did not know had peonies in it.

but back to the line “what will survive of us is love,” a line of poetry from larkin (confession: whom i haven’t read). the author of the slate article, ron rosenbaum, writes, “no offense to the beatles, but on first reading, larkin’s line sounds like ‘and in the end, the love you take/ is equal to the love you make,’ that saccharine reduction of love’s transcendence to algebra.” first of all, i’m totally willing to buy syrupy, gooey love songs from the beatles, but rosenbaum’s right: do i want to accept it from poetry?

i’m not the love poem girl. a man i dated recently, upon being introduced to my poems, asked, “do you have any where no one gets sawed in half?” in fact i do have one or two poems that qualify as affectionate and sweet, but my story is that they were moments of weakness, and i’m stickin’ to it. so! what to do with this line – “what will survive of us is love” – ? a moment of weakness for larkin, too?

in rosenbaum’s article, he presents the evidence that larkin may have hated that line (and auden agonized after writing a similar line, “we must love one another or die”). and he says larkin’s lines are better known for “their fierce and sorrowful, yet somehow self-effacing intensity.” that’s what i aspire to. that’s the poetry i’ve been trying to write (which means, of course, i should read some larkin). i abhor sentimentality in poetry – mine and everyone else’s.

but of course, you have to take my ideal about love into account: an imperfect and disjointed yet passionate and addictive thing that can laugh at its own expense. (wow, that’s messed up. i just made it up and would have to give it some more thought before fully committing – committing? no! — before fully signing off on it, but wow.) even if it’s not the definition i ultimately settle on, i do believe love (desire?) is something in which i will always be conflicted. but i can also man-up and say that “affection” has to be part of the final definition, as well, so maybe moments of weakness (softness?) are not out of the question.

my reputation is as a poet who writes “relationship poems.” i have to wonder, is that still where the energy lies for me? rosenbaum ends with this: “what happens to the love between two people when it’s over? seriously, where does it go, all that feeling, all those memories—do they dissolve into the air or do they survive somewhere, in some way—perhaps in a parallel universe?”

my quick answer amidst divorce is that love goes into the stories the boys inherit about their beginnings. but that’s a cop-out. the real answer to what happens to the love between two people is that it dies a slow and painful death, that any new affections that develop for new lovers cannot count on it being something that’s bottled up and waiting for its new interests (targets?). i think feeling disappears entirely, that a numbness takes over (even if it’s a comfortable numbness to sort-of quote pink floyd, so very different from the beatles) which forces new relationships to start not even from zero, but less-than-zero.

a happy thought for a friday night, right? please don’t despair. i brought you flowers.


  1. The flowers are very lovely!

    Love is too complicated to be summed up by this or that aspect of it, and anyone who thinks so is fooling themselves: I say, own those sappy poems as much as you own the sawed-in-half ones, and that your description of it is perfectly complex. Just as much as it’s your description, it might not be someone else’s, and it’s good that you know the kind of love poetry/song that resonates with you. Own that, too. Better to know who you are and what you’re made of than try to trim it into something you can deal with first.

    Not that I’m an expert or anything, but I don’t think love always dies a slow and painful death. Sometimes we set up a little museum in our heads, where the scrap that’s left of a relationship becomes an object of detached curiosity. (“We cared about each other once? Oh, how about that.”) But I also offer this little gem from Steve Martin in L.A. Story that I always think of when thinking about these things: “Why is it we’re never sure of the moment when love begins, but we always know when it ends?”

    That comment was much longer and more all-over-the-place than intended. Sry!

    1. love your comments, joseph!! my 30’s are ending in a few weeks. i bring it up b/c i spent my 30s questioning everything — maybe i can use my 40s to start owning things.

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