11 Sep On love and poetry.
Learning to love someone is like poetry.
I don’t mean that it is beautiful and full of romantic imagery.
I mean that it is hard.
Poetry is hard.
When I was 17 I went on a school trip to a day of talks about literature in the Bridgewater Hall in Manchester. There were many speakers. They talked about their favourite texts, or about their own work.
Some of it was very boring.
But two of the talks have stayed with me, and I remember them all these (nearly 20) years later.
Germaine Greer talked about her favourite Shakespearean sonnet and Simon Armitage unpicked his poem, Kid.
I happened to have a collection of Simon Armitage’s poetry containing this poem on my shelf at home. I had read it a number of times and, although I enjoyed the use of language and the humour, I didn’t really understand what this poem was about, what it pointed to, what it revealed. As Simon Armitage read and re-read the lines of his poem, hearing it in his voice, with his intonation and emphasis, it started to become clearer. As he talked, the nuance and subtext revealed themselves. I understood.
Without introduction and from memory, Germaine Greer began by reciting her chosen sonnet. She then went on describe how the sonnet had revealed itself to her over the course of her life. She first learnt the sonnet as a teenager, not really understanding the words or phrasing. Later in life those same combinations of words came back to her, to reassure and comfort her. As she lived with the words, they became part of her story, she understood them and, on occasion, they guided her. The words became part of her. They dwelt together.
This is why I have been thinking that learning to love someone is like poetry.
I mean, I really like poetry. It is good. It is nourishing.
But only after I get past the bit where I haven’t got a clue what it is saying.
Loving someone can be very difficult. Sometimes it can feel as though there is great distance between you.
There is a language barrier.
The romance you found in the initial reading of each others’ poems which was beguiling, exotic even, is now frustrating. The words create a gulf you have to navigate. The unfamiliar sounds and images feel as unknowable as hieroglyphics. They are scratched into the walls of your life, but are hard to comprehend.
The blank verse of your love a riddle of metaphor and imagery.
There is no quick solution, no easy translation.
I am not a puzzle to be solved, or a question to be answered. Neither are you.
To feel loved we must be heard, and known, and accepted.
We must take time.
The only way to fully fathom the poetry of the one you love is to sit with their words.
To sit with their words, hoping, waiting with expectation, until they start to become clear.
One day a phrase will come into focus, it will ring true and resonate in a way you had never understood before. Something will be revealed.
You keep going. You repeat and memorise their poetry. You allow their words to be on your lips.
Gradually their language will seep into your skin, their phrases will start to run in your veins.
Over time the verses and stories of the one you love will start to take up residence in your heart.
And slowly, gradually, as you learn the rhythm and metre and rhyme of their language, as you hear them and know them and choose to accept them, you will also know how to love them and be loved by them.
This is a metaphor, and life is grittier than that, this I know.
But sometimes I need to remind myself that my lover is also a poem. He is not just physical and emotional and intellectual and psychological, but he is also soul.
And his soul is a poem that will continually reveal itself, its hidden depths and surprising twists, if I am listening.