Wednesday, 29 February 2012

Preach It, Stevie

My husband is a big Stevie Smith fan, and he introduced me to her work beyond the line everyone knows, which is "not waving, but drowning."

Her work is very quirky, with child-like rhythms and rhymes, but it also says things about love and faith with such clarity that I recognize the truth of them at once.

Take, for example, this amazing poem. Note the sudden shock halfway through with the counter to "gaze":

La Gretchen de Nos Jours (2)

O Queen of Heaven
Have pity on me,
My heart is bared
For you to see.

Forgive, forgive
The heart that lies
In anguish bared
Before your eyes.

Mother of God
Behold my heart,
Its sin and stain,
Its bitter smart;

In pity turn
Your pitying gaze
Upon my heart,
And its hopes raze

Quite to the ground
For there are yet
Some hopes that are
Too highly set.

O lop each hope
And lay it low,
And quench the fire
Of my heart's glow.

For still I hope
He may return,
And while I hope,
Still must I burn.

All with desire
That waits on hope
As doth the hangman
On the rope.

Hope and desire,
All unfulfilled,
Have more than rope
And hangman killed.

--Stevie Smith, Selected Poems, 1962

I think of these hopeless little hopes more as tiny weed flowers that spread throughout the garden of your heart unless you manage to weed them out at once. The longer you leave them to spread, the more it hurts to dig them up. But I don't say this of hope in general--just hopes about that particular man whom you hoped would call but hasn't.

And yes it hurts and when you pull the flowers out of your heart, a hole remains, but from out of the wound comes an energy that you can use for something, like writing a poem or painting a picture. One thing I have learned about heartbreak is that you can always use it for something.


Anonymous for this post said...

What about when you're the one doing the hope crushing?

I broke up with my boyfriend three nights ago because it just wasn't working for me.

He did nothing wrong, he was a great guy, and I really tried to make it work. I did love him a lot, but the relationship had stopped seeming right. I moved away recently, for a job, and while at home I was able to be confident that the relationship would survive it, that confidence waned very quickly once I was gone. I prolonged what was seeming more and more inevitable for as long as I could until my dissatisfaction just kind of became tacitly apparent, and I became careless, so we broke up.

I broke his heart. He had sincerely planned to marry me. And I made all kinds of promises I couldn't keep in the end. The whole thing, from beginning to end, is my fault, and I feel terrible. Selfish, awful, stupid, etc.

Crushing the hopes of someone you care about feels almost as bad as having your own hopes crushed.

Seraphic said...

That's very true. It is so true that for once I will allow a completely anonymous comment to stand. After all, I could have written it myself some years ago.

One consolation, I hope, is that you were Miss Wrong, and the odds are that he will eventually, perhaps in a few years, meet Miss Right and finally be grateful that you broke up with him.

It is always, always, ALWAYS better to break up before the wedding.

Seraphic said...

Just googled another heart I'm relatively sure I broke, and it is also married to someone else. Time heals [almost] all wounds.

Anonymous for this post said...

Thanks. Needed to hear that. As for my hopes, at this very moment, it's that he has the same good luck. He deserves it.

Seraphic said...

As far as I know, everyone whose heart I think I may have broken is flourishing.

And so am I, despite all the foolish promises of my youth that I broke. I seem to recall someone claiming that his mother told him that no-one would ever love me "that much" again. Well, she was WRONG.

So there is lots of hope for him and lots of hope for you, and although you are feeling horrible, at least you were brave enough to do what you had to do.

Anonymous for one post (2) said...

Anonymous - it it's any comfort, I am going through exactly the same thing. I actually moved to be closer to my boyfriend, and now after just 2 months of being in the same city (and while I still don't have a job), it feels like it is all falling apart because I am seriously questioning my feelings for him, and whether our relationship makes sense.

It might be easier if you think about the positive things in your life - your job which you like, your life in the other city which you like, your faith which will keep you strong - as well as all the positive things that WILL happen in the future to both you and to him.

I've been thinking a lot about the quote "I am the Way, the Truth and the Light" - you cannot feel happy and close to God if you feel you are not living the truth, something real. I think if you had hid your feelings they would have eventually blown up and caused even more damage.

There is a webpage (not spiritual, but rooted in reality) that you might find helpful to read. It has stories of women who ended relationships they felt just weren't right even though they should have been, and it turned out a lot better for them and their partners. Maybe it will help with some of the guilt, which I don't think you should be feeling.

My prayers for you.

Anonymous for this post (1) said...

Thank you, Anonymous 2. That was exactly it-- the relationship just didn't seem to make sense anymore. And I do have a lot of positive things in my life, and focusing on them really does help.

Seraphic, maybe you have before, but perhaps you could write about being the "bad guy." You know, breaking up with a man who is an all-around worthy person, but just not the guy for you, and hurting him a lot/saying a lot of the wrong things/making insensitive mistakes. Advice on how to handle being broken up with abounds. Being the breaker-upper is not so well covered.

Seraphic said...

Well, people tend not to be so sympathetic to the breaker-uppers, for the obvious reason that the broken-up-with tend to feel worse and because the breaker-uppers did say stuff they ought not to have said and did stuff they ought not to have done.

I still feel a bit badly about imprudent ways I behaved when I was younger, and maybe I should still feel a bit badly. Life is not about feeling as comfortable as possible, and remorse helps us refrain from being imprudent in the future.

But there is no reason to manufacture pain to assuage our guilt. There must be an element of relief in what you are feeling. You've done the hardest part. It's over. You're free. And you can't feel the guy's pain for him, no matter how badly you make yourself feel.

So don't wallow in guilt. Go to confession on Saturday and admit that you said and did stuff you ought not to have done, and you made a guy think you would marry him before you really were ready for marriage. Then do the penance the priest says and be free. A week of feeling like a rhymes-with-witch is enough.

Clare said...

Seraphic -- how?

This post makes sense, and is extremely relevant to my life right now. But how does one go about rooting up hope, especially one that is so firmly lodged, with roots that go years deep?

Wait for it, I guess? Pray that God will crush it? Castigate your own heart as a liar? None of these are working.

Seraphic said...

It depends on the hope. If the hope is about something you can do yourself or about something general, like being married one day (not next year, but one day), or beating cancer, then let it live and try not to dwell on it.

But if the hope is about Mr Wrong suddenly becoming Mr Right, or anything that specific and uncontrollable by you (because, really, ultimately all we can control is ourselves), then it should be uprooted.

If I were you, I'd keep bugging God about it half the time and try acceptance the other half the time. (Kind of how I deal with not having a baby, actually, although that is one of those general things that you can do at least something about.) Maybe there's a reason why God, despite your repeated requests that He remove it, is leaving it stuck in there. So you could say, "Please take it away, and if You don't want to take it away, at least allow me to figure out WHY you won't take it away!"

By the way, if the hope is that somebody else will stop drinking or drugging or beating you up or anything like that, I suggest putting some real distance between the drinker/drugger/beater.