October 14, 2011KR OnlinePoetrySpecial Collections

The Garden of Proserpine

Th’ expence of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action and, till action, lust
Until my last lost taper’s end be spent
My sick taper does begin to wink
And, O, many-toned, immortal Aphrodite,
Lend me thy girdle.
You can spare it for an hour or so
Until Zeus has got back his erection.

Here where all trouble seems
Dead winds’ and spent waves’ riot
In doubtful dreams of dreams.
The moon is sinking, and the Pleiades,
Mid Night; and time runs on she said.
I lie alone. I am aweary, aweary,
I would that I were dead.
Be my partner and you’ll never regret it.
Gods and poets ought to stick together;
They make a strong combination.
So just make him love me again,
You good old triple goddess of tight corners.
And leave me to deal with gloomy Dis.

Death never seems a particularly informative topic for poets
Though that doesn’t stop them dilating at length upon it.
But then they would dilate on anything.
Love, on the other hand, however trite, is always interesting
At least to those in its clutches
And usually also to their readers.
For, even if the readers be not in its clutches
They think they would like to be
Because they think it is a pleasant experience.
I, however, know better.
And so do Sappho, Shakespeare, Swinburne, Tennyson and Eliot.
Not to mention the Greek dramatists:
Sophocles, Euripedes, Aeschylos, and Eliot.
We all know better.

Love is hellish.
Which is why Aphrodite is also Persephone,
Queen of love and death.
Love kills people and the police can’t do anything to stop it.
Love will:
                   ravage your beauty
                   disrupt your career
                   break up your friendships
                   squander your energy
                   spend every last drop of your self-possession
Even supposing you had such qualities to start with.
The god knows why we bother with it.
It is because it bothers with us.
It won’t leave us alone for a minute.
For without us it wouldn’t exist.
And that is the secret of all human preoccupation
(As others have said before me)
Love, death, time, beauty, the whole bag of tricks.
All our own work including, of course, the gods.
And we let them ride us like the fools we are.
Of all follies that is the penultimate:
To let our own inventions destroy us,
The ultimate folly, of course, is not to let them destroy us.
To pretend a stoic indifference, mask merely of stupidity.
To become ascetic, superior to the pure pleasures of the senses,
Arrogant and imbecile senecans, unconscious
Of what is going on even in their own bodies
Old whatsisname stuck up on his pillar,
A laughing stock, the ultimate in insensitivity.

The only thing, contrarily, to do with the problem of love— 
As with all other problems— 
Is to try to solve it.
You won’t succeed but you won’t make a fool of yourself, trying
Or, at least, not so much of a fool as those who refuse to try.
So here we go for another trip and hold onto your seat-belt,

I loved you and you loved me
And then we made a mess.
We still loved each other but
We loved each other less.

I got a job, I wrote a book,
I turned again to play.
However I found out by then
That you had gone away.

My dignity dictated
A restrained farewell.
But I love you so much
Dignity can go to hell.

I went to hell with dignity,
For by then, we were three.
And whatever I feel about you,
I certainly hate she.

The god knows what will be the end
And he will never tell.
For I love you and you love me
Although we are in hell.

And what death has to do with it
Is always simply this:
If it isn’t your arms I’m heading for
It’s the arms of gloomy Dis.

Veronica Forrest-Thomson
Veronica Forrest-Thomson was the author of three poetry collections and the influential critical work Poetic Artifice: A Theory of Twentieth-Century Poetry.