For some reason WordPress has published my series of posts ‘Love songs you wish you had written’ in a funny order – Billy Collins at #4 went up before #2 and #3. So, that having happened, I thought – sneak an extra one in. Readers are confused anyway!
I have so enjoyed choosing poetry for this theme and for St Valentine’s Day. There are many great love poems, and I have thoroughly enjoyed the series ‘Tell Me the Truth About Love’ introduced by Poet Laureate Carol Ann Duffy on Radio 4 this week. She has been looking at the tradition of love poetry – from first yearnings to final partings. If you haven’t been able to catch it – it is available on iPlayer and the short programmes are perfect to have on in the background as you sit doing something far less interesting on the PC. (I have been doing boring and very uncreative admin all week so far…)
Earlier this week I had a twitter conversation with someone who had read one of the previous posts. They asked for a poem that spoke of love only being for those ‘lucky enough to find it – *bitter*’ and ‘with a little bit of hope’. I checked through my poetical archive (well those poems I know and love and mark in anthologies – I am not that grand!) and came across a poem I adore and which I think suits that mood exactly. Valentine’s Day is not universally popular; it is over-commercialised and for some people – those not fully convinced that a single life is for them, or those for whom love is synonymous with pain, hurt and betrayal – it must be hard work. All those red and white cards covered with soppy verses in the shops must make them quite nauseous. Many of the gaudy ones have that effect on me – and I have someone in my life who I want to exchange the sentiments with.
Anyway, for everyone wondering where the right person is hiding, here is a poem in translation that I first read in the wonderful anthology ‘Being Alive’…
Love at First Sight
They’re both convinced
that a sudden passion joined them.
Such certainty is beautiful,
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.
Since they’d never met before, they’re sure
that there’d been nothing between them.
But what’s the word from the streets, staircases, hallways —
perhaps they’ve passed each other a million times?
I want to ask them
if they don’t remember —
a moment face to face
in some revolving door?
perhaps a “sorry” muttered in a crowd?
a curt “wrong number” caught in the receiver?
but I know the answer.
No, they don’t remember
They’d be amazed to hear
that Chance has been toying with them
now for years.
Not quite ready yet
to become their Destiny,
it pushed them close, drove them apart,
it barred their path,
stifling a laugh,
and then leaped aside.
There were signs and signals,
even if they couldn’t read them yet.
Perhaps three years ago
or just last Tuesday
a certain leaf fluttered
from one shoulder to another?
Something was dropped and then picked up.
Who knows, maybe the ball that vanished
into childhood’s thicket?
There were doorknobs and doorbells
where one touch had covered another
Suitcases checked and standing side by side.
One night, perhaps, the same dream,
grown hazy by morning.
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.
(View with a Grain of Sand, translated from the Polish by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh)
Wislawa Szymborska was a Polish poet, essayist and translator, She died, aged 89, a year ago this month and was the recipient of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature. Her poetry has inspired films and music – in her native Poland she was known as the ‘Mozart of Poetry’ and although her fame rests on a relatively small body of work, it is work that includes her experiences of Poland in wartime and Stalinism alongside the essential truths of everyday life. She has been compared to Samuel Beckett and Philip Larkin -but with the possibility of escape from the grim world they depicted. I couldn’t make such a comparison as I know too little about all three poets, but I certainly sense hope in this poem.
This is a poem full of possibilities, full of promise and the line ‘Every beginning/ is only a sequel, after all’ offers every unattached romantic the chance to dream that they have already set their suitcase down next to the person with whom they will share their future…