Traverse City Record-Eagle

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February 2, 2014

On Poetry: The month of crazy love

There are lots of legends about why February has been traditionally, in both Roman and Christian traditions, the month to celebrate romance. It does seem, when you’re buried in snow, that it’s a good time to turn inward, to stare into your lover’s eyes, and, well, the greatest percentage of babies are conceived in high winter.

Both love and this interminable confinement of snow can make us a little crazy, as in this poem by Kenneth Koch. It echoes Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s “How Do I Love Thee?” But her arguments are entirely sane. “Let me count the ways,” she says. You can follow her logic. But how can a person keep a clear head when he’s desperately in love. He may become unhinged!

The murder becomes “laid a red roof in her heart.” And where did “we are not / Inside a bottle, thank goodness!” come from?

We live a thousand years to have this kind of love! We’re as likely to find it as that sheriff is to find the walnut. If we find it, we go after it like a kid goat goes after its mother. We get crazy as shirttails blowing in the wind. We are in a dream world where we bicycle across Africa in search of our love.

She apparently isn’t as crazy as he is. She’s trustworthy as a sidewalk. When he thinks of that, his images calm down. The ship and the sunlight.

So interesting, the last few lines! He loves her best before he’s even awake. His unconscious apparently does a better job of loving her than his unhinged awake self. In the morning, the sun takes him in, while he’s still asleep, receives him “in the questions which you always pose.”

I don’t know quite what to make of that last line. Maybe it’s like this: he’s in his dream-world, accepting everything, he’s so much in love. She, on the other hand, asks questions. She might ask, “Where is all this going?” “Are you going to settle down and be a reliable mate?” Who knows? As the sun rises and he must wake, he has to wake, at least a little, from his fantasies. When there are questions to answer, it’s not possible to be so goofy.

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