September 26, 2012
I’ve just returned from a trip to London and Sicily with my partner Samantha. It was our first trip overseas together, although we have both traveled extensively and each has lived in Europe at different times in our lives.
While traveling, we shared with each other memories of our past lives on and visits to the continent; some happy, some not so happy.
We couldn’t help wondering what our lives would have been like had we met earlier, say, in our 20s.
Of course, this is folly, we can never reclaim those years – neither would we want to lose the gifts that were given to us by those years, especially our children from previous marriages. We were also very different people then and, perhaps, we weren’t ready for each other.
This line of thinking, however, brought to mind Adrienne Rich’s wonderful “21 Love Poems,” especially poem number three, which is about falling in love at middle age.
As the poet and critic Claire Keyes has written, “When one is middle-aged, falling in love contains a quality of excitement and joy unavailable to the young.”
It is, in many ways, a quality driven by temporal finiteness. Again, Keyes notes, ”No longer young, the lovers must make up for time lost when they were not loving each other. They must not waste time because they do not possess the luxury of unspent decades. Yet this is not a lover’s complaint, but a paean to love at forty-five, a reciprocated love that gives birth to the image of the beloved’s eyes, which are “everlasting.”
Here is poem number three from Adrienne Rich’s “21 Love Poems”:
Since we’re not young, weeks have to do time
for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp
in time tells me we’re not young.
Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty,
my limbs streaming with a purer joy?
Did I lean from any window over the city
listening for the future
as I listened here with nerves tuned for your ring?
And you, you move toward me with the same tempo.
Your eyes are everlasting, the green spark
of the blue-eyed grass of early summer,
the green-blue wild cress washed by the spring.
At twenty, yes: we thought we’d live forever.
At forty-five, I want to know even our limits.
I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow,
and somehow, each of us will help the other live,
and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.
–Adrienne Rich, from “21 Love Poems”