After last week’s Valentine’s Day love poem offerings (which you can read here), I thought a look at the flip-side was in order. So let’s get a little Alanis Morissette for a moment, and look at how some of the masters have handled the uglier moments. Because we’ve all been there.
1) Afraid to make a move: T.S. Eliot, “The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock“
I first read this during my sophomore year of high school, when pretty much all thinking teenagers are in this paralyzed state. Here’s an excerpt:
And indeed there will be time
To wonder, “Do I dare?” and, “Do I dare?”
Time to turn back and descend the stair,
With a bald spot in the middle of my hair—
(They will say: “How his hair is growing thin!”)
My morning coat, my collar mounting firmly to the chin,
My necktie rich and modest, but asserted by a simple pin—
(They will say: “But how his arms and legs are thin!”)
Do I dare
Disturb the universe?
In a minute there is time
For decisions and revisions which a minute will reverse.
For I have known them all already, known them all:
Have known the evenings, mornings, afternoons,
I have measured out my life with coffee spoons;
I know the voices dying with a dying fall
Beneath the music from a farther room.
So how should I presume?
2) Mystified by love: Gavin Ewart, “Ella Mi Fu Rapita”
I love the last line of this poem, excerpted here:
And what can the lover do, when the time’s come,
when THE END goes up on the screen? …
Get friendly with men in bars, telling
how sweet she was, praising her statistics,
or admiring his own sexual ballistics?
No, that’s no good. Love lasts – or doesn’t last.
…Lovers must never crumple up like cissies
or break down or cry about their wrongs.
If girls are sugar, God holds the sugar tongs.
3) Unrequited love: Elizabeth Bishop, “Insomnia”
I love this excerpt, which describes the magical powers we’ve all longed for:
So wrap up care in a cobweb
and drop it down the well
into that world inverted
where left is always right,
where the shadows are really the body,
where we stay awake all night,
where the heavens are shallow as the sea
is now deep, and you love me.
4) Angry love: Margaret Atwood, “You fit into me”
This poem manages to capture all the intensity and anger of love gone wrong, in only four lines:
You fit into me
like a hook into an eye
a fish hook
an open eye
5) Jilted love: Louise Gluck, “Hesitate to Call”
(No commentary needed here.)
Lived to see you throwing
Me aside. That fought
Like netted fish inside me.
It lives in me.
You live in me. Malignant.
Love, you ever want me, don’t.