Friday, May 28, 2010

Love In The Open Hand

A few months ago, when I mentioned this sonnet (see "Kiss Me," March 1, 2010) I knew that it deserved another, longer look. Millay is undoubtedly one of the the most-mentioned writers in my literary discussions, and always one of my top choices for desert island reading. I know you're supposed to say The Bible or Shakespeare, but I think I'd be more inclined to pack the sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

Sonnet XI
Not in a silver casket cool with pearls
Or rich with red corundum or with blue,
Locked, and the key withheld, as other girls
Have given their loves, I give my love to you;
Not in a lovers'-knot, not in a ring
Worked in such fashion, and the legend plain—
Semper fidelis, where a secret spring
Kennels a drop of mischief for the brain:

"Down in
the meadow
where the
cowslips grow"

by Kate Greenaway
(1846 - 1901)
English children's
book illustrator

Love in the open hand, no thing but that,
Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt,
As one should bring you cowslips in a hat
Swung from the hand, or apples in her skirt,
I bring you, calling out as children do:
"Look what I have!—And these are all for you."
~from the sonnet sequence Fatal Interview

What I admire about "Sonnet XI" is its innocence and optimism. It's a poem to read when you fear that what you have to offer, the things that you hold out are not being accepted, not even when you say, "these are all for you." And what are those things? Not diamond rings so much as thoughts, ideas, values, dreams, favorite poems, past experiences, rice in a jar, cowslips in a hat -- all the things that add to up to your own particular way of being in the world. How sad, the thought of offering honest companionship and getting the message, "Oh, no, you should be a different way than what you are."

This sonnet says that you deserve someone who offers you "Love in the open hand / nothing but that." However lovely the gifts and delightful the tokens, they should always be offered freely out of tenderness and a desire for your company -- just the way you are -- never as a way to control or "improve." And better yet, when you offer your affection and your deepest hopes and dreams, "ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt," they should be accepted freely -- not scrutinized or analyzed or held against the light or laughed at or brushed aside or put on hold.

Take care of your heart.

For more poems on this theme see today's post
my fortnightly literary blog
of connection and coincidence

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