Thursday, March 1, 2012

Love However Brief

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

As I've said before, if I had to choose my favorite of all sonnet sequences, I would surely pick those by Edna St. Vincent Millay. In her sonnets, she typically 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?

These sonnets & more appear
on my recent post ~ Love Is Not All

On The Fortnightly Kitti Carriker:
A Fortnightly [every 14th & 28th] Literary Blog of
Connection & Coincidence; Custom & Ceremony

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