When the very last grief (from Poetry Jan. 2010)
Vera Pavlova (trans. Steven Seymour)
When the very last grief
deadens all our pain,
I will follow you there
on the very next train,
not because I lack strength
to ponder the end result,
but maybe you forgot to bring
pills, a necktie, razor blades…
Something about our most adolescent, romanticized notions of love seems to persist later in life. The tone of this poem suggests song titles like “I will follow you into the dark,” daring declarations that love will conquer all – maybe even death. Yet we know we get more realistic about love in certain ways as we get older. Can we identify how growing to love is a realism/idealism mix?
The poem suggests habituation has something to do with the problem. Grief numbs over time; we get used to the incidents. Trains run regularly and become a routine. Caring for someone is a routine. You get started and it is very difficult to break without going crazy.
Love as a habit seems grounded and realistic at first glance. But this might not be a poem about death. “The very last grief deadens all our pain:” maybe we are witnessing a mutual breakup. If isn’t about death, is the grieving exaggerated? Not quite: in this case, the habit simply has outlasted romantic love. Love of a deeper sort may not be at stake. Rather, the couple mutually recognizes the fear of being alone as underlying our all-too-human love. That may qualify as a death of sorts, but we have not actually done a close read of the poem.
Back to the beginning, holding that the poem is about death. Some impressions shouldn’t be discarded. “The very last grief:” not the cause of grief, but the grief itself. “Our:” the pain is mutual. Even if one does not exist, s/he can be imagined as they were in life, dependent on another. “The very next train:” reduction to habit results from the numbness. Again, love creates habits which last beyond it. “Strength to ponder the end result:” futility in reaching beyond is disastrous. This isn’t idealism, we realize now, nor is it habit. We anchored ourselves to someone who went elsewhere. This is the price of the very concept of companionship. The final lines: the absence of a partner’s mind and body requires the one left to be both. We hope for their individual health (pills), good formal dealings with others, if there are any (necktie), and even long they might experience some sort of closeness again (razor blades).