Herding Cats: a gloss as a quintilla

The poets speak of love, and some
in tangled words seem lost and mired;
for each one that is awestruck dumb
or struggles when the words won’t come,
a dozen more seem uninspired,

and speak of passion secondhand
as if its pull they could resist
while calmly, at their whim’s command,
the muses at their elbow stand,
soft fingers guiding pen and wrist.

It does not work that way all.
To write of love, it must be past;
transcription of its plaintive call
in real-time, as the storm in squall
persists, and the clouds of its vast

expanse encompass every hour
spent dreaming, in long nights awake,
is beyond our feeble power;
better to describe a flower
in that brief span its life makes,

relying not on former blooms,
but in that moment, seeing clear.
The dry words dug from memory’s rooms
cannot suffice; they but entomb
its beauty in a gauze of sheer

invention, and show not the rose.
And so it is with love that lives;
To name it while its blossom shows
is to disrupt the stream that flows.
Thus dammed, just rivulets survive.

Yet those small trickles poets use
to describe, entire, the ocean;
and in their vanity, refuse
to wonder if the words they choose
outlining their heart’s devotion

Can possibly, in truth, report
all that is love. The wisest few
admit their failings, and resort
to politics and other sports;
that, rather than painting the dew.

16 APR 2004

Love looks not with the eyes, but
with the mind,
And therefore is winged Cupid
painted blind.
— William Shakespeare (1564-1616), A Midsummer Nights Dream (1595-6)

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