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Tuesday, August 19, 2014

Idea 61: Since there's no help, come let us kiss and part - Michael Drayton

Since there's no help, come let us kiss and part.
Nay, I have done, you get no more of me;
And I am glad, yea glad with all my heart,
That thus so cleanly I myself can free.
Shake hands for ever, cancel all our vows,
And when we meet at any time again,
Be it not seen in either of our brows
That we one jot of former love retain.
Now at the last gasp of Love's latest breath,
When, his pulse failing, Passion speechless lies;
When Faith is kneeling by his bed of death,
And Innocence is closing up his eyes-
Now, if thou wouldst, when all have given him over,
From death to life thou might'st him yet recover!












The goodbye kiss.  It's a painful event, but in some ways, a relief.  Drayton captures both those feelings, and others besides, in this sonnet.  The relief of closing out something obviously painful, the struggle to let Love die, the vain hope that love can be resurrected at the last moment, the mental justifications (no, really, I'm glad we broke up!), all of it is here.

In the first eight lines or so, Drayton appears to be quite relieved to be ending this relationship.  Basically, he says, "Since there's nothing we can do to stop this breakup, let's kiss, make an end of it, and not see one another.  I'm glad to be free.  We can shake hands, be done, and when we meet again, it'll be like we have no love left for one another, no hint of it at all."  That sounds great, honestly.  But does it ever really happen that way?  "I am glad, yea, glad with all my heart that thus so cleanly I myself can free."  Maybe it's my modern eyes, but it seems like Drayton is trying awfully hard to convince himself that he is happy about this breakup, a position supported by the last six lines.

"Be it not seen in either of our brows that we one jot of former love retain."  Wouldn't that be great?  Even if outwardly we give no appearance of having once loved to our former lover, can we ever really convince ourselves of it?  Can you un-know that person to the point where you can no longer see what's behind their eyes?  To me, it seems more passive than that.  A fleeting thought, a passing, "Maybe I loved her/him once."  Drayton treats it more like a secret pact between the two lovers though, sealed with a goodbye kiss and handshake that cleanly breaks their vows.

The last six lines are at odds with the first eight.  The first eight are the mind's rationalization of the breakup.  It reads like Drayton trying to convince himself.  The last six, though?  That's the desperate hope that somehow, love, with "his pulse failing" can be recovered.  At the very last moment, when "Passion speechless lies; When faith is kneeling by his bead of death, and Innocence is closing up his eye" when everyone has "given him over" (given Love up for dead), "from death to life thou might'st him yet recover!"  Maybe that last moment, that goodbye kiss, could somehow reignite that spark that has guttered out, but I doubt it.  Drayton doubts it too, he told us as much, hoped as much, in the first eight lines.  And yet, he hopes, desperately, that some miracle might save love, because despite all our rationalizations, the parting is almost too painful to bear.

That combination of self-rationalization, the almost fierce "you get no more of me" declaration of independence with the wild hope that somehow love might be restored contain the nature of the goodbye kiss.  We want to be whole, and independent, and not know what it feels like to see a mutual pain reflected back on the face of an ex-lover.  We want to be able to shake hands, part amiably, and leave it at that.  Maybe we can, maybe we can't.  I can't give any answer there.  But Drayton is right, we all have that hope, somehow.  We just can't help it.

4 comments:

  1. I googeld this poem and found here. Reading the article, I happend to see your profile just right next to poem, and I was like.. WHAT?! So, you are a teacher in Korea. As a student in Korea, I am so glad to find this blog! Well, just wanted to tell you about this nice but kind of weird feeling(in a good way). Anyways, this article was a great help, and good luck to your life in Korea.. if you are still here. =)

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  2. You know, the most wonderful thing about post-modernism is that I can take from this poem whatever I can get. How about we forget Eros and read this as a poem about a parent believing he/she has finally come to terms with the necessity to cast off the, for example, hopelessly flawed, addicted child. Eventually you rationalize your ability to let it go, but at the last gasp you just can't . It's a bond that can never be broken.

    ReplyDelete
  3. You know, the most wonderful thing about post-modernism is that I can take from this poem whatever I can get. How about we forget Eros and read this as a poem about a parent believing he/she has finally come to terms with the necessity to cast off the, for example, hopelessly flawed, addicted child. Eventually you rationalize your ability to let it go, but at the last gasp you just can't . It's a bond that can never be broken.

    ReplyDelete