To Speak of Woe

Weight of love

To Speak of Woe That Is In Marriage

by Robert Lowell

The hot night makes us keep our bedroom windows open.
Our magnolia blossoms. Life begins to happen.
My hopped up husband drops his home disputes,
and hits the streets to cruise for prostitutes,
free-lancing out along the razor’s edge.
This screwball might kill his wife, then take the pledge.
Oh the monotonous meanness of his lust…
It’s the injustice… he is so unjust’
whiskey-blind, swaggering home at five.
My only thought is how to keep alive.
What makes him tick? Each night now I tie
ten dollars and his car key to my thigh…
Gored by the climacteric of his want,
he stalls above me like an elephant.’


Don’t ever accuse Robert Lowell of not having a sense of humor.  What are we to make of this sonnet?  In my opinion Lowell intentionally uses the sonnet structure to poke a little fun at the romantics by describing what may be the most selfless act of love by a female protagonist in all of poetry, the willingness to accept her lovers demons, however vile and debasing they may be.

What makes each of us tick? A question that sorely tests every relationship. I don’t believe in true love, as truth and love have little business reuniting in one ignominious lie. I do believe lasting love comes in part from the acceptance of injustice. Rare is the relationship borne of equals.  Most of us live a life with a partner where, for sometimes long periods, one member or the other pulls a greater share of the weight to make it succeed. One person is more committed, one person is more invested and that fact is worn like a yoke around both partners necks. Maybe it is through that sacrifice of accepting the injustice of love, that love abides.


 

Astrophil and Stella 47

by Sir Phillip Sydney

What, have I thus betrayed my liberty?
Can those black beams such burning marks engrave
In my free side? or am I born a slave,
Whose neck becomes such yoke of tyranny?
Or want I sense to feel my misery?
Or sprite, disdain of such disdain to have?
Who for long faith, though daily help I crave,
May get no alms but scorn of beggary.
Virtue, awake! Beauty but beauty is;
I may, I must, I can, I will, I do
Leave following that which it is gain to miss.
Let her go. Soft, but here she comes. Go to,
Unkind, I love you not! O me, that eye
Doth make my heart give to my tongue the lie!

To Make Anything of Anything

jarrell
Randall Jarrell (1914 – 1965)

Randall Jarrell

by Robert Lowell (1917 – 1977)

The dream went like a rake of sliced bamboo,
slats of dust distracted by a downdraw;
I woke and knew I held a cigarette;
I looked, there was none, could have been none;
I slept off years before I woke again,
palming the floor, shaking the sheets. I saw
nothing was burning. I awoke, I saw
I was holding two lighted cigarettes. . . .
They come this path, old friends, old buffs of death.
Tonight it’s Randall, his spark still fire though humble,
his gnawed wrist cradled like Kitten. “What kept you so long,
racing the cooling grindstone of your ambition?
You didn’t write, you rewrote…. But tell me,
Cal, why did we live? Why do we die?”

 


 

Aging

by Randall Jarrell

I wake, but before I know it it is done,
The day, I sleep. . . . And of days like these the years,
A life are made.  I nod, consenting to my life,
-But who can live in these quick-passing hours?
I need to find again, to make a life,
A child’s Sunday afternoon, the Pleasure Drive,
Where everything went by but time – the Study Hour
Spent at a desk with folded hands, in waiting.
In those I could make.  Did I not make in them
Myself? the Grown One whose time shortens,
Breath quickens, heart beats faster, till at last
It catches, skips?  Yet those hours that seemed, were endless
Were still not long enough to have remade
My childish heart: the heart that must have, always,
To make anything of anything, not time,
Not time but –
    .  but alas! eternity.

 

 

Our Wheels No Longer Move

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We Can Do Better Than This America!

Inauguration Day: January 1953

by Robert Lowell (1917 – 1977)

The snow had buried Stuyvesant.
The subways drummed the vaults. I heard
the El’s green girders charge on Third,
Manhattan’s truss of adamant,
that groaned in ermine, slummed on want….
Cyclonic zero of the word,
God of our armies, who interred
Cold Harbor’s blue immortals, Grant!
Horseman, your sword is in the groove!

Ice, ice. Our wheels no longer move.
Look, the fixed stars, all just alike
as lack-land atoms, split apart,
and the Republic summons Ike,
the mausoleum in her heart.


History has a way of repeating itself.   The urban, intellectual liberal democrat candidate for President, Stevenson, lost to the war hawk demagogue conservative, Eisenhower in the 1952 Presidential election.   Lowell marked Eisenhower’s 1953 inauguration with this sonnet, a satirical sharp-tongued intelligent critique of the icy death of American values while the negativity of McCarthyism held sway over our country in the midst of the Korean war.  All of this sounds familiar.  But we need not be stuck in our current icy path.   Its time to move forward with a simple reminder of our better selves:

“We hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable Rights, that among these are Life, Liberty and the pursuit of Happiness.”