The Sorrow of Love
The quarrel of the sparrows in the eaves,
The full round moon and the star-laden sky,
And the loud song of the ever-singing leaves,
Had hid away earth’s old and weary cry.
And then you came with those red mournful lips,
And with you came the whole of the world’s tears,
And all the sorrows of her labouring ships,
And all the burden of her myriad years.
And now the sparrows warring in the eaves,
The curd-pale moon, the white stars in the sky,
And the loud chaunting of the unquiet leaves
Are shaken with earth’s old and weary cry.
Published on Jul 14, 2009
The poem is about the agony of unrequited love. The word “love” means at least two things. Women, in particular, distinguish between loving and being in love. There is love, the feeling that one has for another person, and then there is love, the relationship one has with another person. When I was about twenty I read an essay by Alfred Adler called “Marriage as a Task”. The title says almost everything you need to know. Most marital disharmony would be resolved if the parties undertook marriage as a task which needed continuous effort instead of a prize they had won. We create the model of the ideal marriage and the ideal partner from romantic notions, experience of other people’s marriages and our previous relationships which ended. This ideal partner and ideal marriage are totally selfish constructs because we made them entirely from our own fantasies and expectations. That leads to us assigning another person a role in our lives, which inevitably leads to discord when they fail to play that role to our satisfaction.
It is wrong to believe we are entitled to an ideal partner. It is wrong to have an idealistic expectation of marriage. Such marriages are misconceived and, if the parties do not modify their ideas and develop a tolerance for imperfection, they fail. We are not entitled to an ideal partner because we ourselves are not ideal. We might succeed in forming a working relationship if we relegate our selfish demands and learn to accept our partner as they are. People do not change their essential nature quickly and attempts to change them bring no benefits.
People will change over time and it depends on our own efforts whether they change for better or worse. We will change too: what seemed to be annoying at first can with familiarity become charming. We can learn to love their faults, their imperfections. There is an Arabic proverb, “If love isn’t increasing, then it is decreasing.” It is not easy to achieve a happy marriage, it takes time and continuous effort. The best partner is one who brings out the best in us.
Your marriage is in trouble if you always have the same argument which is never resolved, or if the thrust of arguments is towards ending the relationship instead of removing impediments to harmony and progress. Argument which doesn’t resolve issues is a waste of energy. Learning to argue productively is an essential art of marriage. There will always be some respects in which our partner will fail to requite us but in others they will be more rewarding than we ever could have imagined. Happiness is merely a habit and so is misery. We can choose harmony or we can choose conflict. There is an old Arabic saying, “Marriage is like a place besieged. Those without want to get in. Those within want to get out.” That’s a cynical view but all too often it’s true. The following words from Adler’s essay stuck in my mind, although I cannot find the quotation anywhere on the web, so what I remember is not verbatim, I’m paraphrasing… “Monogamy is the highest sexual goal of mankind. It is the union of a man and a woman for their mutual benefit, in which there is sexual delegation of labour and responsibilities, each working on the other’s behalf and for the other’s good. Marriage is a gestalt: more than the sum of what the partners could achieve as separate individuals. In marriage the partners can find a happiness that transcends all other human relationships.” There can be no doubt that the instincts to marry and have children are encoded in our genetic make-up just like all other motivations. What brings the parties together is love, the emotion, but when they are together in happy marriage what they achieve is love, the relationship. In a happy union the strong and uncomfortable yearnings of love fade away and are replaced by something better, more supportive to the spirit, which mitigates that feeling of spiritual isolation we all have. Sexual union is the closest we get to being one with another, actually in electrical contact with their nervous system.
When we fall in love it is the desire to enter into a loving relationship. If love is frustrated then we can cling to it, and use it as an energy source to drive other efforts, as Yeats clung to his love for Maud Gonne. He made a career of his unrequited love and out of it came some of the most beautiful love poetry ever written. The painting of Yeats is by his father John Butler Yeats in 1900. The photograph is of course Maud Gonne. You would have thought that her habit of wearing dead birds on her head might have tipped him off.