It is a year ago today that this blog went live. Coincidentally, April 2nd was also the date of my parents’ marriage; and the date of my baptism; and the date when close friends of my parents were married, one of whom has died since this time last year. So with these occasions in mind, I thought I’d post a poem, and a few thoughts about love, life and poetry, as a commemoration.
Asking me “What is your favourite poem?” would be about as useful (and productive) as asking me “What is your favourite piece of music?” There are different favourites for different times, moods and needs. One poem that has stood me in very good stead over many years, however, and one that I keep coming back to, is Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116. I first realised what a consolation it can be when my first “serious” boyfriend ended our relationship after several years. The poem made me realise that there will always be a corner in my heart for someone I have truly loved, however the relationship ended, however that person feels about me now, whether or not the person is still alive and whether or not he or she loved me at all.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O, no, it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
Similarly, I have come to realise that when you are loved by someone, it has a lasting effect on the person you are, whether or not the love itself continues and whether or not the relationship lasts. As J.K Rowling had Albus Dumbledore say, in Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone: “to have been loved so deeply, even though the person who loved us is gone, will give us some protection for ever.”
Perceptively, too, Rowling writes in Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows of someone who has “that indefinable air of having been well cared for, even adored”.
It is important to realise that we cannot hang on to – or preserve – moments of joy in life. The nature of life is that it and we change constantly. We have to “live in the moment” and try to appreciate it for what it is. We shall remember it, we hope, and the memory will bring joy. Perhaps there will be further moments of joy to come. But we cannot preserve that moment so that we are constantly experiencing it. The poet Keats wrote several wonderful poems in which he tried to identify and describe the human experience of beauty. One attempt saw him describe a scene of two young lovers as they were portrayed on the side of an ancient vase (in Ode on a Grecian Urn): “Fair youth, beneath the trees, thou canst not leave/ Thy song nor ever can those trees be bare;/ Bold lover, never, never canst thou kiss/ Though winning near the goal, yet do not grieve;/ She cannot fade, though thou hast not thy bliss,/ For ever wilt thou love, and she be fair.” Later he describes their love as “For ever warm, and still to be enjoy’d” and the lovers (and their love) as “for ever young”.
That’s one way of preserving beauty and beautiful moments – but it’s not life. Keats came to realise that an essential element of that which we perceive as beauty, or as a beautiful experience, is transience – that is, it is passing, it doesn’t last. That is the nature of life, and of human enjoyment of it. It is a valuable lesson to learn, and one that helps us to appreciate the good things in life – which will have a lasting effect on us – while recognising that we cannot make them permanent.