Ora sono ubriaco d'universo. (Ungaretti)

Category: love (page 1 of 5)

Emily Rosko, “Aubade”

Aubade (from Poetry)
Emily Rosko

There’s loneliness and there’s this—
an unfrequented song, a startling voice
across years. A shifting position, hymn
from the hard bench, sharp something in
there, glass-glinted. If the movement
of trees in the weather front were enough.
If the notes were off-pitch but piercing
(which they are) as birdcall across
the stirring hour. In the woods,
a rustling of creatures we have no
idea of. Outcrops of limestone, wet leaves
lush and deadly. There’s a time for killing,
some tell us, in the corner
of the who-knows-whereabouts. Everywhere,
the roadside lilies in thick morning
dew open orange and in numbers, one
after the other. Sun so strange it’s as
though our looking, for a time, is first.


There’s loneliness, and then there’s being together, whatever that is. An aubade is a love song, sung in the morning. This one seems to concern the essence of being together. It is “unfrequented,” as everyday life is an occupation all its own. It possesses a “startling voice,” one which hearkens to an initial romance and the reality expectations meet.

Rosko’s imagery unpacks what startles, the darkness and beauty of a life together. What drew me to write on this poem was its ability to speak of what is nearly unspeakable so gently. To illustrate: we start with the wedding at the church, the porch in front of the house (“hymn from the hard bench”). In both cases, there’s a slight discomfort, a tune throughout, a beautiful but sharp spark. We glance trees moving to that tune, too, but what do they communicate? There are notes, but they feel alien. If they were piercing enough, they might stir us instinctually.

None of these ideas suggest we are dealing with a broken relationship where no one understands the other and anger resides in every look or syllable. What’s discomforting and wondrous is that the tune isn’t known. You don’t know everything about your partner, you don’t know how things will turn out. No less than Dickinson sees that as amazing. Lest I wax romantic about this, I should note some couples have seen their love turn to hate. Some people are toxic and can whittle away at anyone’s sanity. Being together can be an awful, cruel trap.

Again, Rosko’s musing hints at this, how ugliness does not constitute an insignificant part of love. Those closest to us do drive us crazy. Just dig a bit more into that fragmented, haunting, sharp melody the woods whistle. What’s in there?

In the woods,
a rustling of creatures we have no
idea of. Outcrops of limestone, wet leaves
lush and deadly. There’s a time for killing,
some tell us, in the corner
of the who-knows-whereabouts.

In the woods, we find home again – the homes of creatures to whom we’ve been blind. It is easy to slip out there, in here. Everything we’ve built a life around is deadly. And maybe we’ve even killed and don’t want to remember it.

Again, I don’t think the poem is talking about a couple inspiring Memento 2. But it is true some people are in years of therapy because of people they love who love them. Our lives together center around elaborate rituals whose importance we’re not even aware of. Sometimes, the fight over the dishes is just silly. Sometimes, it harbors the anger of one who feels they’re doing everything and are being exploited. It is easy to slip. It is easy to do things one should regret.

Yet, in large part, we don’t do those things, even though we are in a position to hurt worst those we love most. Some of our most egregious and unforgivable wrongs do find forgiveness, if only for utility’s sake. This is a love poem, and it manages to end appropriately, if ambiguously. We moved from the porch to the woods, now I imagine we’re circling back to the path. All along it, these lovely orange lilies, bunched together. A strange sun above, looking at us, that together we look back and marvel at.

Robert Creeley, “The Language”

The Language (from Poetry)
Robert Creeley

Locate I
love you
where in

teeth and
eyes, bite
it but

take care not
to hurt, you
want so

much so
little. Words
say everything.

love you


then what
is emptiness
for. To

fill, fill.
I heard words
and words full

of holes
aching. Speech
is a mouth.


I love you, from nowhere. We’re trying to locate it, bite it, watch out for ourselves (“take care”). Maybe it is coming from a beloved who loves us back. We’ll eventually find the nose, between “teeth and eyes,” what’s central to a face. And maybe something more sensual will ensue (“bite”), and the paradox of our desire, “so much so little,” will remain an abstract problem for a short while.

However, I love you, strictly speaking, came from nowhere. While Creeley captures the tense giddiness of loving and being loved, he’s not doing it to celebrate that which can celebrate itself well enough. What about those of us who, alone, are trying to love? We unfortunate souls start by finding our nose. (1) The smell of another means they exist for us in some concrete way, not possessed but not entirely distant from us. Our longing is our nutrition, and yet too much longing is no love at all. Real love respects, as “you want so much so little.” There’s no insistence, no power game, no craziness. Just hope and a lot of self-doubt.

“Words say everything” – that’s just it, that’s the problem. We consider love beyond mere syllables. Two who love each other don’t need words. They have everything. Speech and action couldn’t be further apart. One is merely imaginary, the other seems to be the reality of the situation. One can almost feel this question underlying the first half of the poem: does love only exist when two people share it?

In beginning the second half, I love you again comes from nowhere. This second time confronts the doubt, the emptiness. Somehow, I know I’m in love. I know I can enjoy it, be hurt, be patient, let go. Greater virtue may be exercised in the service of loneliness than for another person. Love, in truth, is potential: “then what is emptiness for. To fill, fill.” It is an emptiness, the same thing causing doubt and fear in those who do love and are loved back. It is a language, shared by those who are loved and those longing alike. Through it, I can hear things – sometimes, things coming only from myself – and I understand the needs conveyed. Only with those needs in mind do I have a mouth. Love gives the capacity to voice love, and strange as it sounds to say, to actually love.


1. “Somewhere in teeth and eyes” – one can say there is no nose being sought. Rather, “I love you” emerged directly from somewhere in the teeth, somewhere in the eyes. But what more does one hope to find within teeth and eyes? “Somewhere in teeth and eyes” can speak to the combination that is a face.

Paul Celan, “With a fieldmouse voice”

With a fieldmouse voice (from Guernica)
Paul Celan (translation Ian Fairley)

With a fieldmouse voice
you squeak up,
a sharp
you bite through my vest into flesh,
a cloth,
you slip over my mouth,
even as my talk
would weigh you, shadow,


Perhaps unfairly, I thought of this as a study for George Szirtes’ “Polyphonic,” which I hope to write on later. In that poem, a shadow lodges in a man’s mouth while he speaks, and an argument commences between him and the shadow.

The action of Celan’s poem bears similarity. The speaker addresses a shadow which has come over him. And the shadow is not unrelated to the speaker’s own voice.

Here, the shadow is also aggressive, moving onto the speaker. It seems to start from outside him, almost imperceptible (“fieldmouse voice”). Then all of a sudden it grips, bites, tears into flesh. But the tearing into flesh feels accidental, as the speaker’s clothing, his vest, looks like the target. The shadow ultimately forms a cloth over him and slips over his mouth.

My impression of the shadow: it’s one of Eros’ arrows. Getting bitten by a squeaky mouse that doesn’t really know what it wants to chew is a lot like love. Not love of the “omg I think I’m crushing on that hottie at the bar” sort. This is real romance, where the faintest sound latches on and doesn’t let go. It hits suddenly out of the everyday. To resist is pain; whether any pleasure exists apart from pain is a good question. You’d argue, if this is love of a more real sort, that the speaker would at least allude to how necessary or choiceworthy it is. I do think that allusion presents itself.

Talk weighs the shadow covering the mouth down. To speak is to break the spell in a way, as the shadow will move less quickly over him. But to speak is also to keep the shadow with oneself, to make it more earthly, to make it more real. What’s funny is how this process exists for the people we truly love and who truly love us. Most of what we call love seems to be some sort of game bearing a resemblance to this. On a larger level, this is most unexpected.

Fifth Reflection: Sappho, “I confess / I love that which caresses me”

I confess / I love that which caresses me
Sappho (tr. Mary Barnard)

I confess

I love that
which caresses
me. I believe

Love has his
share in the
Sun’s brilliance
and virtue.


There’s that love which “hard to get” works so well at manipulating. It’s a pious, noble, virtuous love, where objects are kept at a distance and we are reproached for approaching. You don’t become a god by forcibly taking over a temple. Nor do you become a hero by stealing Batman’s costume. And, most of all, you don’t become beloved by forcing your attentions on someone. In each case, what we worship, admire, or adore changes us through the distance it sets. Gods make us reverent and obedient. Heroes embolden us in our everyday lives. And would-be lovers become different things to win the beloved.

I tend to think the heart of Plato is understanding that this noble sort of love is a special case of something more fundamental, namely eros. We should love that which caresses us, not just stays away from us. And that caressing should produce good things for us, just as the Sun does. (Obviously, I am not talking about creepers or stalkers being lovers here.) Its brilliance allows us to see and enjoy the day. And its virtue – is this excellence? or something else? – may be its steadfastness. No changes necessary to it, whereas a beloved must change in some way to accept a lover.

Which brings up this question. Why is this a confession? Why does the speaker believe that Love has only a share in the Sun? We feel guilty in having a love that is good for us and to us; we don’t see the whole of love in being loved well. We want to feel like we’ve learned to love or discovered love. Not the worst feeling, but maybe not always the best.

Finding Someone, 2/26/14

I keep telling a friend to find someone who loves him for who he is, what he stands for. One who will see the good he does for others as well as his actually enjoying life, and not take either virtue for granted.

And I keep wondering if I’m setting the bar too high.

Sappho, “I asked myself, / What, Sappho, can…”

[I asked myself, / What, Sappho, can…] (from Poetry)
Sappho (tr. Mary Barnard)

I asked myself

What, Sappho, can
you give one who
has everything,
like Aphrodite?


Everything: being beautiful, being loved, being in command of love.

It is very strange we feel this way. We do recognize loving as longing, as being incomplete. Of course we want fulfillment, of course there will be pain. It seems we know love as fragmented even as we contemplate its wholeness. We side with the wholeness to a ridiculous degree. It’s understandable this way: the very longing that recognizes itself as longing goes gaga in the face of a satisfaction which will terminate it.

Still, this part of a poem emphasizes how strange all this is. On the one hand, Sappho wants to give to someone who has everything. She wants to honor a wholeness she longs for and maybe get something back. And that brings up yet another strangeness, which is why one would ever think someone who has in terms of love can make another loved.

Why does Aprhodite require any honor? And why would you ever think such honor would get you anything? Sappho looked into herself and found that she wanted to try to give. How does self-reflection lead to pleading?

At least this fragment of a poem has a certain wholeness to it. The question Sappho asks herself is absurd and necessary. That much, at least, is felt.

Yeah, this whole pick-up-artist/seduction thing really just has to disappear fast

1. So all of you are now aware that a redditor who asked for 2 grand to publish a book on dating and relationships got $16,000 on Kickstarter (h/t Ricky McAlister). What is this book like? What kind of advice is he giving? Oh, you know, the sort of thing that can’t be called dog shit because it would do a disservice to whatever utility dog shit might have. The quote below is from advice he’s been giving on Reddit; one would hope this does not find its way into a book of any sort:

Pull out your cock and put her hand on it. Remember, she is letting you do this because you have established yourself as a LEADER. Don’t ask for permission, GRAB HER HAND, and put it right on your dick.

This awful quote is a bit out of context, but not really. It is true that Mr. Hoinsky defends himself by arguing that he has established this advice concerns two people who know each other and desire each other. (I’m not at all clear why having sex should be a problem requiring the action described above if this is the case, but there is much I do not understand). It is also true he talks about staying positive and giving to others without expecting anything in return. That discussion is terribly convoluted and worth a closer look. He says one shouldn’t expect anything in return but just keep giving, as the world will reward one for that behavior:

When you’re talking to anyone, really think about whether or not you are giving a net positive or net negative contribution to their life. Don’t worry about what you stand to get in return. If you go through life contributing more value than you take, the world will start to reward you for it. People are drawn to value givers and their attitudes are contagious.

The fundamental problem of just and virtuous behavior is that there is no clear reward. Many become tyrants or criminals because they feel the need to get what is good for them immediately instead of suffering for nothing. One has to wonder what could possess someone to make them think a few nice words about giving back and eventually getting something for it would be persuasive. It’s that utter stupidity which makes the “seduction community” dangerous. They’re ignorantly and crudely creating a rape culture, and it looks like they’re doing it by trying to make social interaction far too practical.

2. At least, that’s my theory. I can’t really fathom what would get someone to think behavior like the “Physical Push/Pull” is acceptable (h/t Paul Shillinger). It is described as “where you substitute actual physical pushes and pulls for emotional push/pulls, OR combine them with emotional push/pulls for maximum effect.” It results in garbage like this:

I re-open a girl by walking up, grabbing her, caveman-ing her against the wall & kissing her. Then I cast her aside and get a drink at the bar. The entire time she is staring like “OMG who is this guy?” (in a good way).

I come back to her with my drink. “Come on, let’s go.”

Apparently, this occurred in a club where more physical things do happen, and the poster claims the result of all this was positive for him. I just can’t get over how brainless, crude and disrespectful it is. How do you explain to the “caveman” (I think that term works in the absence of formal charges) that it really doesn’t matter if the girl is staring at him in a good way? That this is just wrong, that there are limits to how people treat each other in even the most intense environments?

3. Yeah, I said limits. You don’t see any sense of limit from a post like this, which talks about how to make some physical contact during beer pong while describing the drama of trying to “get” three different women. One can argue that all of this junk is happening because we’re a society that thinks way too much about sex. I’ll grant that, to a degree. What’s really scary about all the pick-up artist talk are the overtones of power and control. These guys are creeps and (perhaps) half the time don’t even realize it because the focus is feeling better about their lives. Selfish/selfless doesn’t begin to describe what a mess their moral compass is. The pick-up artist mentality has nothing to do with actually getting someone worthwhile. It has everything to do with feeling like you can get anyone; getting someone is just one possible end. There’s a huge difference between the former and the latter, obviously. Building confidence on the ability to get anyone is ridiculous and involves manipulation, if not cruelty. It does seem like looking to get anyone might make one more open to genuinely beautiful, moral people, but hahahaha we’re talking about wannabe pick-up artists here. They use the term “hot babe” with regularity. Getting someone worthwhile involves far more than attraction and not being a creep. It means building trust, and that’s a word I hesitate to use in this discussion since the topic of this post is so, so low. I will not disgrace the word “trust” by speaking further of it at the moment.

This is ultimately a post about what not to do. What not to do: promote a culture where “no” is blurring with “yes” in the minds of some idiots. The consistent emphasis on making physical contact seems to lead to that point. Not to get into the business of giving relationship advice, but I suspect this is a pretty useful corrective: not everyone can get the person they think they want. If that’s taken to heart, then there’s probably a lot less that needs to be said about approaching women and lot more to be said about everything else in life.


The sun beats down upon the ground and every step in the thick air feels forced. These days there are many musings. Sometimes a stray cloud looks out of place against a steeled blue.

Was thinking of that warmth she had, displayed in otherwise routine moments. How she brightened when others talked, encouraging them to say more and be received. How she talked to me like I wasn’t a stranger. Suffice to say I wasn’t mature enough to see what was in front of me.

There are a few others like her I’ve known. One was gone before I could even blink, another is in a delicate situation, yet another has obligations which take precedence over any time I could spend with her. I’ve been beating myself up recently over not appreciating her enough when I was younger. Wondering if I’m doing enough for them, for others.

I somehow suspect I’m not doing enough to keep up with everyone, that I’m taking a certain kind of loveliness for granted. What made her stand out, I believe now, was how the world seemed familial to her. Not a possession, not a place she had to prove herself, but an opportunity to show appreciation to others for simply being there.

Again, that’s just an impression. I’m purposely waxing romantic to understand why I’ve been feeling guilty the last week or so. Independent of any exaggeration on my part – I will say that if you meet the people I’m describing, you’ll be as impressed if not more so – I think the reason for the guilt is the following. Not that I’m not paying attention to those who have her gift, as I certainly have been. More that the world seems so selfish, that there is pressure to be ever more selfish, and it is just incredible to see some who look like they’re focused on another good entirely.

Dan Crane, “Magazine Ready, Except the Marriage”

Dan Crane, “Magazine Ready, Except the Marriage”

The author shares a painful chapter in his life. He married a girl he met while competing in air guitar. She was considerably younger than him. He confesses they weren’t very “adult” about things, but at one point they bought a house that required major renovation. He ended up working a considerable amount on the house. The marriage fell apart because the responsibility of home ownership weighed on her; a house entails things that remind of other commitments and ways of living. The author finished work on the house, making major design decisions that made it his home, and ends his reflection with this: “I never pictured myself living alone at 41, but then again, I also never imagined I would have the vision or the ability to transform a fixer-upper into a home, handling almost all of the decision-making on my own. I was a divorced homeowner. An adult.”

There are a number of things to wonder about in this article. Not just on the narrow level, say, of what people who compete in air guitar are like or what it means to marry someone much younger. Those details aren’t really my concern and I don’t want them to be a concern. Mr. Crane shared his experience and I want to leave his own story alone as much as possible. And then there’s too large a level to wonder about. One could talk about how everyone wants celebrity, how this creates childish goals, how things like “faithfulness” become less important than not being bored. It’s too large a level because it doesn’t get at the root of what’s actually being discussed. We see a failure where there was actually a couple trying.

The key experience related is all too personal, but involves some of the larger level. A house means lots of decisions with consequences one has to live with. The competitive world of air guitar and being in lots of bands, for the author, not so much. To fix the house to make it liveable, to do so in a marriage for two as well as under the pain of a recent divorce for one, is the experience of life itself without any other trappings. I think the author gets at this in his conclusion – “I was a divorced homeowner” – but I’m not sure the full import is always clear in the piece.

To be blunt: as crazy as air guitar and age differences can be, they are not the constraint on growing up. Nor is buying a home and working on it an invitation to become an adult. Lord knows there are plenty of people throwing babyish tantrums and acting like perpetual 5 year olds who obsess over their houses. And even thinking a house a responsibility, a duty isn’t necessarily mature. That can actually just be fear and another form of childishness.

I don’t know if this is right, but it’s what strikes me right now from reading Mr. Crane’s piece. Something about maturity is about recognizing what you’re doing and what you’re avoiding. To live well, to provide for yourself and others, you need a number of goods but also need to be able to close some options. One can’t take care of everyone, for example – thus, the concept of a household. Part of closing some options and getting a number of goods is having something one can take pride in, use for fun, and gain materially from. What was unexpected regarding home ownership might have been confronted in something far more ridiculous and silly, with “responsible” choices still being avoided.

After all, some people get paid a lot of money to play silly games and we still cheer them on, invested in their story. Decisions are secondary to wanting to be somebody. I suspect the problem with trying for things like celebrity is that we feel fame and fortune is a panacea where we don’t have to think. Each step where we try for more of both can be a drug we see the same as accomplishment. We don’t really bother to build ourselves or others. Not home ownership but the mundaneness of home ownership may be crucial in a world where people would rather be on Maury fighting over paternity than reading picture books in the library.

On the pain of not being wanted

Dear Madeline:

It is easy to say there are those who only want to be loved and have an imprudent and insatiable appetite. I remember one time in classical literature one of the worst tyrants working to establish his glory to be that much more attractive to a beloved.

There’s a pain from not being wanted we may be sorely tempted to dismiss as failure to feed our ego. We want to get rid of this pain by saying it drives those who cannot live without being showered with love and attention. We’re not them; our culture’s emphasis on popularity has only made us think we should be like them; stop wanting to belong and we’ll find our happiness.

Yeah, right.

I don’t think the solution is as simple as love versus pride, or even love versus pride with both being problematic. There is no ideal way to feel rejected. Recently I was treated like dirt by 4 women. I wasn’t remotely interested in any of them, but they seemed to think I was growing a second head or something. Each of them was going through a tough time; that they treated me badly was understandable, if not excusable. And yet I couldn’t shake the sting.

It took me a little while to remember that 1) I know how to deal with people and 2) I know what I want out of life. It took me a little while to remember that only part of being better at being social is having a thicker skin (i.e. dealing with the million and one trolls I’ve dealt with online). The other part is developing a sensitivity to others. That sensitivity won’t engage if the other people reject me right off the bat. But the 4 women with whom I had dealt knew quite a bit about me. The very skill of working with others better contains the trap that one has to get hurt in certain situations. One has to establish something at stake, be vulnerable in some way, in order to get something more out of social interactions.

It is true that some in love will obsess incessantly about persuading someone to love them. They’ll think that because they’re hanging on every detail, creating a vision of a couple, their beloved will see a detail, then their vision or construct, their something at stake, their vulnerability, and love accordingly. That peculiar kind of insanity, where one in thinking the beloved will see as one sees is actually making the beloved another version of himself, is not particular to romantic love. There’s a part of it that’s necessary for friendship. You have to hope someone wants to see as you see, at least for a moment.

From my experience, people nowadays are terrible at making friends. I have story after story where the ability to tell the difference between “people I hang out with” and “people I trust and admire” is nonexistent. What you’re hoping for, in love and friendship, is a little bit of imitation. Not just of you, but what you stand for, what you think is lovely or best. Our emphasis on survival, getting by or getting stuff annihilates the possibility of taking that risk.

So kudos to you, Madeline. You do take that sort of risk. You definitely do stand for something. A ton of people want to befriend you, but even better is how many compliments you give out, how many people you’re excited to meet. As long as you’re excited about others, you’ll be a bit vulnerable, but it is a weakness from a strength. I daresay it is a blessed thing, divine not only in the goods you receive that complement your character. The greatest curses seem to arise when we won’t see what’s right in front of us, when what we’ve taken for granted is gone.


Older posts

© 2015 Rethink.

Theme by Anders NorenUp ↑