To a Long-Loved Love
We, who have seen the new moon grow old together,
Who have seen winter rime the fields and stones
As though it would claim earth and water forever,
We who have known the touch of flesh and the shape of bones
Know the old moon stretching its shadows across a whitened field
More beautiful than spring with all its spate of blooms;
In the moonless, lampless dark now of this bed
My body knows each line and curve of yours;
My fingers know the shape of limb and head:
As pure as mathematics ecstasy endures.
I can count the craters on the moon
With telescopes to make them clear.
With delicate instruments I can measure
The secrets of barometric pressure.
And therefore I find it inexpressibly queer
That with my own soul I am out of tune,
And that I have not stumbled on the art
Of forecasting the weather of the heart.
In the poem above, she compares her lover to the moon, constant yet ever changing. Even when the moon is gone, her love endures. Yet the transition from burning passion to cold science is sharp. Ecstasy becomes mathematics. If I can study the moon, and count its craters, then why is my soul out of tune? Why can’t my heart be as knowable as the phases of the moon? Why does love have to hurt so much?
It is a common theme of her poetry that with great love comes great pain. “To learn to love is to be stripped of all love, until you are wholly without love,” she writes in The Birth of Love. A rotten bargain, but one we cannot escape. “Because until you have gone naked and afraid into this cold dark place where all love is taken from you, you will not know that you are wholly within love.”
Madeleine’s husband of 20 years, Hugh Franklin, died of cancer when she was 68. She wrote a series of sonnets, expressing her intense pain upon his death.
Your place is empty, empty in the night
When I reach out with hand or foot to touch
Your living flesh, the warmth that offers such
An affirmation, oh, it is not right.
The bed is empty, made for two, not one.
But oh! That my dear love were in my bed
And my life flesh to your live flesh still wed.
God! The world is so big, our tiny lives so small,
How can we believe that our little love matters?
…And yet this one death’s impact is so great
The breathing of the universe must wait
Upon the ceasing of this single heart.
Dear love, if what I feel now is not true,
God never was, not God, not I, not you.
You hurt me, so I turned away and wept.
Did I hurt you, and were you slapping back?
It hurt. But we curled up like spoons and slept
And of our salty tears we kept no track.
… And oh, my dark, our love is more by far
Because our hurts have made us who we are.
While our grief rages, even the universe itself stops its spinning. And if these feelings of love and pain are not real, then you, and I, and even God, would not exist. Powerful stuff. Next post we’ll explore her spiritual poetry.
By Kevin Korell. The complete versions of the poems listed here can be found at: www.parkwayucc.com/poems1.html