Monday, February 6, 2012

"Love Hath A Name Of Death"

Christina Rossetti's melancholy can be oddly seductive.  Take the following untitled poem by her:  it is far from cheerful, and its message -- "everything passes and vanishes" (to borrow from William Allingham, Rossetti's fellow Victorian poet) -- could be seen as hackneyed.  (To the same extent that truth is hackneyed, I suppose.)  But, ah, the first line!

          Osmund Caine, "Wedding at Twickenham Parish Church" (1944)

Love hath a name of Death:
He gives a breath
And takes away.
Lo we beneath his sway
Grow like a flower;
To bloom an hour,
To droop a day,
And fade away.

Christina Rossetti, The Complete Poems (Penguin 2001).  The poem first appeared in Rossetti's short story "Commonplace," which was published in 1870.

"Love hath a name of Death" is the sort of line that can only be destroyed by "explication" or "exegesis."  Some might say that this sort of assertion is the lazy way out.  I think not.  Nevertheless, I readily confess to being simple-minded.  Hence, my commentary on the line begins and ends with this:  "It leaves me speechless."  (Which is a variation on my other highest form of "literary" praise:  "It takes my breath away.")  So, there you have it:  "Love hath a name of Death."

                      Osmund Caine, "The Washing at No. 25, Kingston"


Chris Matarazzo said...

"To bloom an hour/To droop a day/And fade away..." I'm with you, Stephen. This is good stuff. Life as a fading flower is nothing new, of course, but there is a jaunt and a good pop-song efficiency to those lines that I love.

Stephen Pentz said...

As always, thank you for the thoughts, Chris. I see what you mean -- and the sing-songiness (if that's a word!) of the lines is set off by the starkness and impact of the first line. You have perhaps identified what I was trying to say about Rossetti's melancholy being somehow seductive: there is often, as you say, "a jaunt" and a music to her moodiness.

Thanks again.

Fred said...

"He gives a breath
And takes away."

Biblical echo here also.
"The good Lord giveth
and He taketh away."

Shelley said...

As a writer, that flower/hour rhyme immediately evoked for me the classic Robert Frost poem. You know the one I mean. Also short. Also a classic.

Stephen Pentz said...

Nice connection, Fred, especially since the devout Rossetti would definitely have been aware of the echo. I appreciate your pointing it out -- it hadn't occurred to me. And, of course, thank you for taking the time to drop by.

Stephen Pentz said...

Shelley: ah, yes, "Nothing Gold Can Stay." It had completely eluded me. And the poems complement each other quite well, don't they?

Thank you for pointing out the connection, and for visiting again.

Eamonn said...

A wonderful poem. Thank you Stephen. So too a lovely pairing of images - a marriage, and the washing line! Ha! Here, an association of mine, brought to my attention by a work colleague many years ago when working in a London HIV unit:

Deaths of flowers

I would if I could chose
Live and die outwardly as a tulip does,
Not like this iris, turning in, in-coiling
Its complex strange taut inflorescence, willing
Itself a bud again - though all achieved
Is no more than a clenched sadness
The tears of gum not flowing.

I would chose the tulip’s reckless way of going
Whose petals answer light, altering by fractions,
From closed to wide, from one through many perfections,
Till, wrecked, flamboyant, strayed beyond recall,
Like flakes of fire they piecemeal fall.


All good wishes


PS. There's a lot to be said for 'simple mindedness'!

Stephen Pentz said...

Eamonn: thank you very much for visiting again, and for the lovely poem by E. J. Scovell -- I hadn't seen it before. I have been coming across her poems in anthologies for years, and I always tell myself that I need to read more of her. Your sharing of this poem will definitely prompt me to finally follow through on that resolution. Thank you very much!

As for 'simple mindedness': you and I are in complete agreement.

Thanks again.