Friday, January 29, 2010
The Bitter Sweetness/Young Love Part 8
Yes, I'm sure this sonnet will last for the ages as one of the definitive expositions of love. Oh, yeah, right up there with Will's and Edna's.
In fact, after this episode of unrequited love, I made an effort to avoid using the word "love" in my poetry even in the sonnets I wrote for later girlfriends and my wife. "Love" is weak. Oh, It's a powerful concept, a powerful emotion, but it's a weak, weak word. Vague. Incapable of bearing the specificity of this individual, this moment, this rising tide of pulse and affection.
And I do not, by the way, find the distinctions between eros, amour, and agape all that useful. That taxonomy seemed like such a revelation when I first learned of it in my church's youth group. But now, mostly, it just seems to be a tool for repression and sublimation.
Gah! It's okay that you want to fuck her. Really. It is. You certainly don't have to act on that fact, nor, even express that desire to her. The usual social boundaries are perfectly necessary. They largely work at keeping people emotionally and physically safe. Learning to negotiate those boundaries does not have to be disaster (though, for almost all of us it will be at one point or another). That's okay: there is grace, healing and life goes on.
Agape is nice, in its tepid way. Compassion and service and working for justice are all worthy things. Go and do them. But agape is no substitute for good, healthy lust. For it is in lust that we are most engaged in life, in that marvelous, miraculous chain of creation and renewal.
However, I am a sucker for amour, and I'm not sure that it's entirely good for me. "To love, pure and chaste, from a far." Hell, I probably sang "The Impossible Dream" in the shower while this whole mess was going on. Thing about amour is that it can be entirely one-sided. You can carry it with you no matter what happens, no matter what the other person feels or wants. It's beautiful, but it can be a trap. It can be perfectly safe, in a way that would have appalled the troubadours who invented it. The idea of courtly love was meant to subvert the dominant social paradigm. It was meant to be dangerous and cross socially acceptable boundaries.
How can I describe the hurting, the bliss,
The lonely hours laying awake at night,
The confusion about what was amiss,
The despair that it would not work out right,
And the blinding rush of hope that maybe
– Just maybe, in spite of the odds – it would?
I'd probably describe it now as a perfectly normal part of learning to love that I should have confronted years earlier.
How can I tell of my having to see
You laughing and sorely wishing I could
Share even that small joy with you again?
After she rejected me, Jane tried to avoid me to the extent possible given that our rooms were two doors away from each other. But, inevitably, I'd encounter her, and her face would fall, and she'd bail. It got better, but remained awkward.
The good feelings and all those painful ones
Are both, I believe, part of love. And, Jane,
Love does not diminish once it’s begun.
And so, despite the pain, I still love you
And hope that someday you will love me too.
It was the fall of 1982 at Cal, and so I had the additionally surreal experience of getting to sit next to Jane after she rejected me at the Big Game which concluded with The Play. See, a last second triumph was possible! I'd just keep lateraling and refuse to be downed as I ran through the Stanford Band of her rejection.
And so I wrote these sonnets and bought a box of fancy gray Crane stationary, carefully typed up all seven of them on my electric typewriter and put them in a nice black report binder to give to her for Christmas! (Gray and black? How romantic.) Thank goodness I chickened out about giving them to her.
I did write three more poems about her that year, and so we are approaching the end of the story.