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.
You might have a different way of reading that line. There’s not always one way to hear a poem. As long as we don’t go off into our own fantasy instead of hearing the words of the poem as they’re written, we can make of it what we wish.
Fleda Brown of Traverse City is professor emerita, University of Delaware, and past poet laureate of Delaware. For more of her work, and to see her website, go to www.fledabrown.com.
I love you as a sheriff searches for a walnut
That will solve a murder case unsolved for years
Because the murderer left it in the snow beside a window
Through which he saw her head, connecting with
Her shoulders by a neck, and laid a red
Roof in her heart. For this we live a thousand years;
For this we love, and we live because we love, we are not
Inside a bottle, thank goodness! I love you as a
Kid searches for a goat; I am crazier than shirttails
In the wind, when you’re near, a wind that blows from
The big blue sea, so shiny so deep and so unlike us;
I think I am bicycling across an Africa of green and white fields
Always, to be near you, even in my heart
When I’m awake, which swims, and also I believe that you
Are trustworthy as the sidewalk which leads me to
The place where I again think of you, a new
Harmony of thoughts! I love you as the sunlight leads the prow
Of a ship which sails
From Hartford to Miami, and I love you
Best at dawn, when even before I am awake the sun
Receives me in the questions which you always pose.
--- Kenneth Koch (from The Collected Poems of Kenneth Koch, Alfred A. Knopf, Inc.)