“And Were You Loved?”

And were you loved?

“And were you loved?”
“And did you love in return?”

I believe those are quotations from a poem by Raymond Carver, but I cannot find a copy. The words are simple, unspectacular but have that emotional “catch” that grabs at the gullet. The catch can expand like a bottomless canyon, but for me today the catch is quick to come: my mother’s death. It’s been a while.  It’s been 8 years.  It’s been since this morning; it happened yesterday; it happened decades ago.  She loved me–sometimes in a strangely childish way. Sometimes I felt that I was the mother; sometimes I felt that I was holding (metaphorically) a child who had returned from a day at school where she was laughed at or bullied. I had to comfort her. Comforting a mother or a child leads to that kind of deep emotional catch. The unexpected bump that trips you and suddenly you descend into cascades of emotion.

Yes, each person was loved. Each person had a mother, who felt and hoped and wished for something when the babe quickened. Each person was loved, even–perhaps especially–terrorists, murderers. All had someone who loved him or her.

And now…where has that love gone, that powerful force that pushes babies out of the womb and pushes people into the air? The perversion of love to the idea that, as Yeats put it, “the worst are full of passionate intensity.”

Musée des Beaux Arts
by WH Auden

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters; how well, they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a window or just walking dully along;
How, when the aged are reverently, passionately waiting
For the miraculous birth, there always must be
Children who did not specially want it to happen, skating
On a pond at the edge of the wood:
They never forgot
That even the dreadful martyrdom must run its course
Anyhow in a corner, some untidy spot
Where the dogs go on with their doggy life and the torturer’s horse
Scratches its innocent behind on a tree.
In Breughel’s Icarus, for instance: how everything turns away
Quite leisurely from the disaster; the ploughman may
Have heard the splash, the forsaken cry,
But for him it was not an important failure; the sun shone
As it had to on the white legs disappearing into the green
Water; and the expensive delicate ship that must have seen
Something amazing, a boy falling out of the sky,
had somewhere to get to and sailed calmly on.
1940

Copyright © 1976 by Edward Mendelson, William Meredith and Monroe K. Spears,

Executors of the Estate of W. H. Auden.”

I turn to poetry, as I do more frequently as I age–for almost all occasions, including the most mundane (the poetry of shopping, the poetry of driving…it’s all there). And yet….

“The Death of a Soldier”

by Wallace Stevens

Life contracts and death is expected,
As in a season of autumn.
The soldier falls.

He does not become a three-days personage,
Imposing his separation,
Calling for pomp.

Death is absolute and without memorial,
As in a season of autumn,
When the wind stops,

When the wind stops and, over the heavens,
The clouds go, nevertheless,
In their direction.

All are soldiers, every one of us, soldiering on through life, never knowing when the expected death will come. We don’t usually think of it much when we get up and go to work; life does not seem too perilous on a simply grey January morning, yet to soldier on is, I think, to be willing to live without immediate answers. To risk each day knowing that loss can come from anyplace—from a hospital bed, down from the sky, from an intransigent worm within. To try to live without contemplating that risk, to go on going on, signing leases, paying earthly mortgages, preparing for an indefinate future that is finate indeed….

And yes, they were all loved, everyone of them.

 ‘And were you loved?’

Author: Gubbinal

Bookish, tea-drinking cat-lady who loves great poetry

4 thoughts on ““And Were You Loved?””

  1. Many poetry bloggers I know do read a great deal of work by other poets; it’s our daily bread. If any of them are like me, though, they follow an idiosyncratic, eclectic route through the richness of choices, current and traditional. I choose to read, and re-read, and re-re-read not only the poets who move me, (and can bear re-reading!) but also those who have something to teach me about vocation and craft. There is, of course, the vast academic canon to accept or reject and the happy discovery of a good new poet, as well as the plethora of junk on the internet. Awards, titles, claims to popular fame are quite irrelevant in choosing whom to follow and with whom to spend time. It’s not a matter of how many poets I read, but how well worthy they are of my careful attention. I don’t see the various traditional forms as “levels” of difficulty or accomplishment, (a true haiku can be more difficult to write than a villanelle sometimes) nor do I consider any part of reading or writing poetry an acquisitive exercise or a competitive sport. So I hope you will understand, dear Gubbinal, if I don’t join you in this enterprise. For you it will be what you, as a lover and reader of poetry, always do brilliantly anyway…so it should be a piece of cake! 🙂

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    1. Thank you, dear Cynthia! I am not a poet and do not have your spectacular wit and talent, but I am a very happy reader. I try to follow anything that might lead me to good poetry—the discovery of a good poem is my sustenance, my psychotherapy, my consolation and my way of seeing beyond my own blinkered eyes. You are the only poet I follow on the internet, but I have found good poetry in journals such as “Poetry”, “The Kenyon Review,” and “The New Yorker” and in the traditional canon. I have included some poems in this blog recently because they struck me in some way that I wanted to remember. They are poems written by poets I want to return to. I am a re-reader and have started this blog as a sort of aide-memoire for myself as I slouch.

      So although I am not a writer, as a reader I guess that it’s easier to come up with a villanelle that is memorable than a haiku. I live in a world where a few people are hide-bound by the canon and not interested in contemporary poetry OR where people think that reading a poem is a feat of Olympiian endurance not to be undertaken at any cost. There are people who adore Henry James but are afeard of a simple sonnet written entirely in declarative sentences! I seek out poetry where I can find it and usually must dismiss it. I am a quintessential middle-brow reader who is also captivated by the Odes of Keats or by your work and sometimes amused by comic and satiric verse.

      But the chances of me finding your poetry were not great and yet it was your book of poems that sustained my best friend last year and ameliorated the insult of chemotherapy. So I search where I can and pluck the flowers from the weeds and if there’s a bright shiny weed that I love, that’s a fine outcome too.

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  2. Those of us who believe that the creative act for a poet must be—like an electric circuit—incomplete without the co-creative act of a reader, rejoice whenever true appreciative reading of a poem occurs.

    It seems as if it will always be haphazard in happening and quite misunderstood by those who would make it much less or much more than it is.

    I can’t tell you the years and years it has taken me to finally slip out from under the wet blanket of academe and the insistence that poetry be obtuse and “difficult”, or that it must be Sylvia Plathian, or Lacanian or some other ism-ian that tells young and aspiring poets however subrosafully what they must do and how they must think and write to find success…. always about unwritten rules. Though I dearly felt the urge to writet, I gave it up for 50 years because of this.

    Middlebrow becomes perforce the only honest route. We do the best we know, given the givens. We keep open to the new, the old, the impermanent. But we don’t fake it….it’s too important to fake it. Good poetry is not fake, self-indulgent, or politically correct. The best of it is true and wise…even musical…even reverent towards the beauty of the native tongue… even lighthearted and funny and witty and angry….even quite comprehensible!!

    I’m loving your blog….and will continue to read, even if I don’t always comment.

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  3. Raymond Carver; Late Fragment
    And did you get what
    you wanted from this life,
    even so?
    I did.
    And what did you want?
    To call myself beloved,
    to feel myself
    beloved on the earth.

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