Wanted: a poem celebrating life-long monogamy

“For a man to be a poet he must be in love, or miserable.”  – Lord Byron

I defy you, dear reader, to find one poem by a major poet — one poem — that celebrates lifelong monogamy. Hallmark anniversary cards do not count. Why is there such a yawning void when it comes poems addressing this subject? Perhaps because poets understand the transitory nature of love more fully than most. Poets celebrate love, not love’s longevity. Poetry will help you woo your woman, but after that… good luck.

Please understand, I support marriage, as I support modern civilization. That doesn’t mean it isn’t problematical for a whole host of reasons. And I’m not a complete cynic. When I see old couples dancing, it makes me believe. Couples can love each other, with mutual respect, with rewarding emotional initimacy and affection, for many years. But love — passion and giddiness — you’re not going to retain. The best you can hope for is a warm glow that flares up now and again on rare occasions — and that’s if you’re compatible and properly devoted.

But enough of what I think. Let’s hear what Lord Byron has to say on the topic. He slept with quite a number of married women, so he knows what he’s talking about. I give you two stanzas from Canto III, from his best work, Don Juan:

V.

‘Tis melancholy, and a fearful sign
Of human frailty, folly, also crime,
That Love and Marriage rarely can combine,
Although they both are born in the same clime;
Marriage from Love, like vinegar from wine —
A sad, sour, sober beverage — by Time
Is sharpened from its high celestial flavour
Down to a very homely household savour.

VIII.

There’s doubtless something in domestic doings
Which forms, in fact, true Love’s antithesis;
Romances paint at full length people’s wooings,
But only give a bust of marriages;
For no one cares for matrimonial cooings,
There’s nothing wrong in a connubial kiss:
Think you, if Laura had been Petrarch’s wife,
He would have written sonnets all his life?

connubial = of or relating to the married state : conjugal <connubial relations>

Coming soon… who is Petrarch?

Tuscan poet and literary figure Petrarch

Tuscan poet and literary figure Petrarch (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

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In Praise of Eloquence

samuel daniel

Samuel Daniel’s The Civile Warres (1595–1609), a history of the Wars of the Roses, influenced Shakespeare’s Richard II and Henry IV, at least according to the Encyclopaedia Brittanica.

Despite intervening centuries, old poems can be easy to read. This one is over 400 years old, and yet once you remove the veil of archaic spellings, its meaning is clear. I came across Samuel Daniel, a contemporary of Shakespeare’s, in an introductory book on poetry.

Here are some lines from Musophilus: Containing a General Defence of Learning (The image on the left is from another work):

Power above powers! O Heavenly Eloquence!
That with the strong rein of commanding words
Dost manage, guide, and master the eminence
Of men’s affections, more than all their swords!
Shall we not offer to thy excellence,
The richest treasure that our wit affords?

Thou that canst do much more with one poor pen,
Than all the powers of princes can effect;
And draw, divert, dispose, and fashion men,
Better than force or rigour can direct!
Should we this ornament of glory then,
As the unmaterial fruits of shades, neglect?

I sometimes wonder about the relevance of eloquence in today’s world, dominated as it is by memes and viral videos. The power of images — to the detriment of words — has ascended in our society, said media theorist Neil Postman, and I agree.

Eloquence needs to be reinstated. Let us reintroduce its presence in our lives. Let us seek it out, so that we, too, can attain the loftiest heights of expression.

Thou that canst do much more with one poor pen,
Than all the powers of princes can effect ;
And draw, divert, dispose, and fashion men,
Better than force or rigour can direct !