Charles Simic, “In the Street”

In the Street
Charles Simic

Beauty, dark goddess,

We met and parted
As though we parted not.

Like two stopped watches
In a dusty store window,

One golden morning of time.

Comment:

Weird, this maturity thing. Adolescent desire and all the desperate, stupid thought accompanying should fall away, no? Yet it doesn’t seem to work like that. I don’t know that there’s any consistent, recognizable marker of a mature love, despite the fact such love obviously exists.

Instead, a peculiar sort of reflection attends some. A few of us especially cling to our inexperienced, pathetic, idealistic selves. Maybe we don’t, or can’t, know any better: the want to feel completely justified is all-too-powerful. Or maybe we want to know the spell we’re under, and how exactly it works. I already regret the last two sentences, which make it sound like there’s a good and bad way to feel. It’s more like there’s pain, and thus an inescapable self-questioning and curiosity.

With “Beauty, dark goddess,” an impersonal power is acknowledged as supreme and addressed. Our passerby may be too cynical for love; he may see the possessor of beauty as also too cynical. Either way, I take this to be a symptom of the sort of reflection introduced above. Our cool-customer narrator has probably learned to deal with pain to a degree. But what exactly has he learned? How significant is it?

“We met and parted / As though we parted not:” because beauty has been abstracted from an actual person, this is easy to observe and declare. Beauty must stay in the eye of the beholder, as it would cease to exist otherwise. The lover, the beholder, is the source of beauty. Which leads to a strange consequence: the inspiration stands distinct from the source. In fact, it moves away. Beauty removes itself, and in so doing, gives birth to beauty.

Where does this leave one? Just smitten in the street? There is not much more to do but smile. Maybe the big difference between a younger and older self is a sense of self-worth, one which doesn’t depend on a “dark goddess,” but recognizes moments for what they are:

Like two stopped watches
In a dusty store window,

One golden morning of time.

We came into being as dust and will return. We are in moments. Our narrator creates her beauty; his utility makes him distinct, parallel, separate. Still, it’s a game to be an admirer, to glance and move on. To be admired rises from some sense of standards or expectations. The only true reconciliation between the two is in the sunlight, bathing a most artificial scene with warmth.