Recently, Barry let me know that he was travelling, and I wondered if he would be anywhere near me, so that we could meet in person for the first time. And he was going to be, on a particular date! We high-fived electronically, and I assured him that I could probably be there.
Then I noticed the date. Lioness’ and my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary. (Yes, she and I have been married for twenty-five years, since long before the legal advent of marriage equality. The State did even less due diligence than the doctor who delivered me, and made the rash assumption that since we looked more-or-less like adults of different genders, we must have heterosexual external genitalia, and who needs to know more than THAT?! Foolish State. Our genitalia may or may not have been heterosexual at the time, but it’s too late to check NOW, isn’t it?! We’ll never tell. The World Must Never Know.)
So, I did a thing which has helped our marriage thrive and grow for 25 years: I went to my wife, explained my scheduling conundrum, and asked how she would feel about it if, on the morning of our twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, I drove down to meet my friend, Barry. I told her frankly (and I told her true) that if she said, “No,” it was completely all right, and I would tell Barry that we would have to await the next opportunity.
She said, “Yes.”
So I e-mailed Barry that I could be there.
On the appointed day, I drove an hour or so and visited Barry in an Undisclosed Location, where his handlers were keeping him safe from the raving hordes of groupies and paparazzi which follow him everywhere. When I reached the perimeter, I told Security who I was, and they stopped pointing the big guns at me, scanned my retina, and lifted the velvet rope so that I could proceed.
You know, even after hearing it described for so many years on Alas, I had NO IDEA how wealthy cartoonists are! Just feeding the entourage must cost a fortune! To say nothing of how much Jell-O it took to fill that pool!
After I had partaken, in a modest and chaste fashion, of the bacchanalian delights surrounding me, I informed Barry sadly that I had to leave. He very kindly threw on a bathrobe and showed me out. On the way, I explained that it was my twenty-fifth wedding anniversary, and he stopped short and stared, and said, “Were you married at sixteen?” (Ah, Barry, you smooth-talker; alas for my vanity, he was caught betwixt flatteries and feared going lower without offering offense.) No, I assured him, not sixteen, but not many years higher. He wished me a happy anniversary and congratulations and directed the perimeter detail to salute me on the way out. (That Barry. He thinks of everything.)
Then I drove home to my True Love. (Note that I have bent the truth slightly in my account thus far. I confess to a modest embellishment in one or two details. However, starting at the sentence before this parenthetical aside, this is all simply and flatly true, which serves to show how lucky I am. So, if modest embellishments or even prevarication would alarm you, I warn you that this account contains several, but if you’ve gotten this far, you’re past them now.)1
Upon my arrival, we celebrated our marriage calisthenically. In the languor which followed, we chatted aimlessly about this and that, and I thanked her for enabling me to meet my friend Barry in person, and remarked, as I am sometimes wont to do, on how much more fortunate were we than those possessed merely of “dull sublunary lovers’ love, (whose soul is sense) [and whose love] cannot admit absence, because it doth remove those things which elemented it.”
And she smiled.
It cannot come as a surprise to regular readers at Alas that I love beautiful use of language, and married accordingly. We have shared elegant and piercing poetry and prose since we courted. The first poem she gave to me was one she had been carrying with her until she found the person who fit it.
Tell me not, Sweet, I am unkind
That from the nunnery
Of thy chaste breast and quiet mind,
To war and arms I fly.
True, a new mistress now I chase,
The first foe in the field;
And with a stronger faith embrace
A sword, a horse, a shield.
Yet this inconstancy is such
As you too shall adore;
I could not love thee, Dear, so much,
Loved I not Honour more.
–Lovelace, To Lucasta, on Going to the Wars
Not only did Lovelace speak for both of us on matters of love and honor, but against all probability, she had found a spouse who could use a sword, and did ride horseback competitively. Often, on nights when we neither of us wanted me to strap on a ballistic vest and put a patrol car in Drive, I would say to her as I went out the door, “I could not love thee, Dear, so much, loved I not Honour more.” And she would smile and we would touch hands and hear our wedding bands tick past each other as our hands parted.
There were other poems, over the years. Lioness is older than I, and dark where I am fair. She does not understand it, but I have told her many times that her eyes are nothing like the sun:
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress when she walks treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
–Bill Shakespeare, Sonnet 130
Indeed, her eyes are lovely, dark and deep,2 but twinkling betimes, as sunlight flashes from a deep pool on a partly-cloudy summer afternoon. She loves the summer sun, as I love the mossy groves of the deep forest, Entwife to my Ent, but without the estrangement.
Lo! Young we are and yet have stood
like planted hearts in the great Sun
of Love so long (as two fair trees
in woodland or in open dale
stand utterly entwined and breathe
the airs and suck the very light
together) that we have become
as one, deep rooted in the soil
of Life and tangled in the sweet growth.
–J.R.R. Tolkien, written for his wife, Edith
It’s a lovely poem, but it’s not my favorite of his, not even on the topic of love. That title belongs to this one, the last stanza of Beren’s Song, which also showcased how Tolkien dealt with what is sometimes called The Problem of Evil.
Though all to ruin fell the world,
and were dissolved and backward hurled
unmade into the old abyss,
yet were its making good, for this—
the dusk, the dawn, the earth, the sea—
that Lúthien for a time should be.
After Lioness smiled, on the afternoon of our anniversary, she told me that I had no idea how truly our thoughts ran together, and she invited me to go into the kitchen, where she had set an anniversary gift on the table. I found a small box. Opening it, I found two tiny books, each perhaps a fraction larger than an inch square, bound in black leather. And in the books, in her handwriting, I found written all of the poems I have quoted above… and also the one I had referenced in my languorous remarking:
As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No:
So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.
Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears,
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.
Dull sublunary lovers’ love
(Whose soul is sense) cannot admit
Absence, because it doth remove
Those things which elemented it.
But we by a love so much refined,
That our selves know not what it is,
Inter-assured of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips, and hands to miss.
Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to airy thinness beat.
If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fixed foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if the other do.
And though it in the center sit,
Yet when the other far doth roam,
It leans and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.
Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.
–John Donne, A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
I know of no tune for that poem, but it reminds me of a song which I sometimes sing to Lioness. It’s written in the voice of someone who has just died and gone “out beyond the iron gate”.3 It took me a long time to sing it properly, because I would always start to weep at the second-to-last verse. Earlier in our marriage, I said something thoughtless and stupid, and came to realize it later. Sometime after that, after I had made it clear that I understood and regretted what an idiot I had been, she was able to forgive me. That crisis proved to be the foundation for a greater happiness in our marriage than we had yet known. This song puts me in mind of that near-disaster, and the second-to-last verse describes a joyous outcome far beyond hope for this helpless agnostic. (One’s reach should exceed one’s grasp, or what’s a heaven for?4)
There you were, right by my side,
Reaching down to lift me high.
I held on with all my might,
Held on to a world made right.
Out beyond the iron gate,
Out there where you said you’d wait.
–Richard Shindell, Out Beyond the Iron Gate
I love you, Lioness, for as much as I am able and as long as I am permitted. And may our firmness ever keep our circles just.