Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no; it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.
The constancy expressed – ‘Love’s not Time’s fool …’ – is often thought of as a perfect summary of a successful long term relationship. It’s not about the initial passion, about the looks that fade. ‘…though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come…’ It’s something greater, something that demands constancy and cannot be measured. However what a deeper analysis suggests is that love, true love, can see its way past hurdles that might break a shallower union. This sonnet comes in a cluster that include some that seek to excuse unfaithfulness to his beloved. Is Shakespeare actually saying that straying with marriage shouldn’t damage it if the marriage is strong enough? That love is so eternal that nothing can shake it? ‘Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds’. I have read that this was written by a man to a man so dealt with a forbidden love (at that time), a subversive situation which might increase the nature of confusion that comes through here.
All that said, of course, many people read this out at their Wedding and accept the superficial explanation that it is all about the lasting nature of true love.
But if we disparage Shakespeare for, perhaps, misleading us, what about this from Cristina Rossetti?
I wish I could remember that first day,
First hour, first moment of your meeting me,
If bright or dim the season, it might be
Summer or winter for aught I can say;
So unrecorded did it slip away,
So blind was I to see and to foresee,
So dull to mark the budding of my tree
That would not blossom yet for many a May.
If only I could recollect it, such
A day of days! I let it come and go
As traceless as a thaw of bygone snow;
It seem’d to mean so little, meant so much;
If only now I could recall that touch,
First touch of hand in hand–Did one but know!
This is the second verse of Monna Innomanata: A sonnet of sonnets. I find this more touching. The desperate hunt for recollection of the first moment you see your true love. It’s lost in the mists of time; we want to invest the moment with Universe-quaking powers yet it is almost certainly mundane, a nothing meeting that meant little because we knew not the future. This to me seems to be a recognition that true love, long lasting love is as slow to build as it is to break. It’s not about the forgiving of later duplicities but rather the understanding that the deepest roots are often the slowest to grow.
I took marriage, and love, as the theme because today the Textiliste and I are having a party. Indeed so are the Lawyer and the Vet. In the last couple of months the Vet has reached 21, the Lawyer crested 24 and the Textiliste and me 30 years of marriage. A seventy-fifth anniversary seemed appropriate. And while I love the Vet and the Lawyer to bits, it is to the Textiliste that I owe so much. She is a support and a guide, an unraveller of life’s confusions, a soother of fractious nerves, a calmer of the splenetic and dyspeptic and, most important of all, the best audience to my jokes and tolerator of my repetitive anecdotes that has yet been assembled. She laughs and makes me laugh – it’s the glue and, if you haven’t had a laugh with your loved one today, go and find a quiet corner and tell each other a stupid joke.
Amongst other things we do together, we dance. She sometimes struggles to remember the steps while I always struggle to come in on the beat. Together though we’re unbeatable (yeah, right!) I put together a sonnet about this. It doesn’t do justice to what I feel but it was penned from deep within.
The hand that guides
Your consoling hand sits light on my sleeve,
A Macavity tap to release me on four;
We set sail, in step, gliding with ease
Past blind spots and money pots strewn on the floor.
I fumble to catch that elusive toe-tap
Which, if I could, would allow me my head.
You remind me, by way of a quick finger snap,
Of the dangers where taking that path might lead.
I continually try to do it my way,
To give into weakness, to make me a fool
But you know how to guide; I cannot stray
And we remain linked; two parts of one whole.
May it always be thus as we gib and we tack;
You looking forward, my hand at your back.