Modern Love

By this he knew she wept with waking eyes:
That, at his hand’s light quiver by her head,
The strange low sobs that shook their common bed
Were called into her with a sharp surprise,
And strangled mute, like little gaping snakes,
Dreadfully venomous to him. She lay
Stone-still, and the long darkness flowed away
With muffled pulses. Then, as midnight makes
Her giant heart of Memory and Tears
Drink the pale drug of silence, and so beat
Sleep’s heavy measure, they from head to feet
Were moveless, looking through their dead black years,
By vain regret scrawled over the blank wall.
Like sculptured effigies they might be seen
Upon their marriage-tomb, the sword between;
Each wishing for the sword that severs all.


What dark clouds shrouded George Meredith’s marriage when he wrote those lines in 1891. Fifty 16-line stanzas of a failed marriage. Like sculptured effigies they might be seen upon their marriage-tomb.

I know that marriage tomb, and the pale drug of silence–the disassociated wife who lay the sword between us. That was my marriage bed for three-fourths of my marriage.

This morning in my monthly call with a small leadership group one participant described his joyful, intentful marriage on New Year’s Eve to his partner of many years. When asked did he feel different afterwards, being married not just partnered, he answered yes, that marriage carries a sanctity of commitment and support and recognition well beyond the paper that certifies the occasion.

This commitment, a commitment to a way of being bigger than the independent lives of the married couple, was a commitment my wife rejected, both in principle and in practice. She said a commitment doesn’t last forever, a commitment is always conditional.

That’s not a commitment. That’s a failure of integrity, a moral failure.

I wanted to say to my phone call friend, I hope your commitment is truer than mine was; I hope your husband honors his commitment as a commitment standing in integrity and love. I hope you have better luck than I had, Only time will tell.

In our old shipwrecked days there was an hour
When, in the firelight steadily aglow,
Joined slackly, we beheld the red chasm grow
Among the clicking coals.

Yes the red chasm did grow, dug slowly at first, then with abrupt stabs, on that afternoon of February 9th, the Dreaded 9th of February, may the day live in infamy and dishonor.

I will strike it from my calendar, or wear a black armband to honor death, the death of love, the death of marriage, the death of one kind of future. She–she whose name is forever blotted by legal censure–failed to recognize the irony of that day, its funereal mournfulness, its darkness, its sadness.

When I left to walk the cold dark seaside for hours and hours, contemplating the end in water, she had the courtesy to call and ask was I coming home.  I had no home.

Is my soul beggared? Something more than earth
I cry for still: I cannot be at peace
In having Love upon a mortal lease.
I cannot take the woman at her worth!

She could not be taken at her worth.

No one should take her at her worth.

Ever again.

Thus piteously Love closed what he begat:
The union of this ever-diverse pair!
These two were rapid falcons in a snare,
Condemned to do the flitting of the bat.
Lovers beneath the singing sky of May,
They wandered once; clear as the dew on flowers:
But they fed not on the advancing hours:
Their hearts held cravings for the buried day.
Then each applied to each that fatal knife,
Deep questioning, which probes to endless dole.
Ah, what a dusty answer gets the soul
When hot for certainties in this our life! –
In tragic hints here see what evermore
Moves dark as yonder midnight ocean’s force,
Thundering like ramping hosts of warrior horse,
To throw that faint thin fine upon the shore!

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