Saturday, February 05, 2005

In the Meantime

"In the spring a young man's fancy lightly turns to thoughts of baseball."
--Not quite Alfred, Lord Tennyson's "Locksley Hall"

While we anxiously look forward to pitchers and catchers reporting, something seems to be obstructing the vision of a certain segment of baseball fans. They can't see the sunflower seeds through, what's that, lace? They're pulled right past that favorite bar where the television is set at just the right angle. Some place sinister, insisting on reservations and definitely not serving nachos, is exerting an unspeakable gravity. They try to start their favorite "Let's go home team" chant, but a tepid, syrupy dribble of Hallmarkese is all that escapes their lips.

They're rounding third, heading for spring training and rotisserie drafts, but Valentine's Day is blocking the plate.

It is my custom to wax bitter and cynical about this little observance, and while my reasons for doing so are as strong as ever, I'm trying to be a little more generous about the whole thing. In this precariously renewed spirit, I'm listing ten quotes from some of my favorite love poems, with authors and titles removed in shameless imitation of my co-blogger's Friday diversion. The prize for correct identifications is the cozy glow of self-congratulation, and the knowledge that you're not the only person in the world who likes that bit from mystery poet four.

As is the case with Jay's lyrics-fest, a Google search would likely lift the veil on many of these. Let's stick to our wits, and the honor system, instead. One hint, and one caveat. The vast majority (not all) of these were written in the 20th century. (Bit of an upset, given my usual interests.) Finally, one of these quotes is not from a love poem, exactly, but rather from an extended meditation on love in a much longer poem. Within the narrower context, I thought it worth including. Happy hunting; I'll post identifications as intrepid readers provide them.

It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain 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 well may be. I do not think I would.

After eleven years I was composing
Love-letters again, broaching the word 'wife'
Like a stored cask, as if its slender vowel
Had mutated into the night earth and air

Of California. The beautiful, useless
Tang of eucalyptus spelt your absence.
The aftermath of a mouthful of wine
Was like inhaling you off a cold pillow.

Your glancing eye, your animal tongue,
Your hands that flew to mine and clung
Like birds on bough, with innocence
Masking those young experiments
Of flesh, persuaded me that nature
Formed us each other's god and creature.
Play out then, as it should be played,
The sweet illusion that has made
An eldorado of your hair
And our love an everywhere.

I was ill, lying on my bed of old papers,
when you came with white rabbits in your arms;
and the doves scattered upwards, flying to mothers,
and the snails sighed under their baggage of stones...

No voice as yet had made the air
Be music with your name; yet why
That asking look? that yearning sigh?
That sense of promise every where?
Beloved! flew your spirit by?

Oh then
I stood up in my gold skin
and I beat down the psalms
and I beat down the clothes
and you undid the bridle
and you undid the reins
and I undid the buttons,
the bones, the confusions,
the New England postcards,
the January ten o'clock night,
and we rose up like wheat,
acre after acre of gold,
and we harvested,
we harvested.

Half-close your eyelids, loosen your hair,
And dream about the great and their pride;
They have spoken against you everywhere,
But weigh this song with the great and their pride;
I made it out of a mouthful of air,
Their children's children will say they have lied.

Tell me why, if it was no more than this,
the unmuddled tumble, the renegade kiss,
today, rapt in a still life and unaware,
my paintbrush dropped like an amber hawk;
thinking I'd heard your footfall on the stair,
I listened, heartwise, for the knock.

Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay:
I'm martyr to a motion not my own;
What's freedom for? To know eternity.
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.
But who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(I measure time by how a body sways).

There it was, the valentine that Maya,
Kneeling on our threshold, drew to bless us:
Of white meal sprinkled then with rum and lit,
Heart once intricate as birdsong, it
Hardened on the spot. Much come-and-go
Has blackened, pared the scabby curlicue
Down to smatterings which, even so,
Promise to last this lifetime. That will do.


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