Words of love from writers and poets in all their nuance
Words and images by Peter Bruun
I adore this poem. I cannot say I fully understand it – is it referring to love following a loved one’s death, or a second love once the lifespan of the previous love ran its course, or intentionally ambiguous? Regardless, I adore it. In my drawing, I have tried to contrast a sense of old and new; a pairing of two natural energies, or beings, or growths. I intentionally imply plant-like growth (the patterned and folded-upon-itself green forms shaped as a round fullness; the freshly sprouting yellow-green shoot, piercing in its energy). I intentionally sought to present a pairing that seems contradictory… seems clashing… seems like incompatible forms together, but actually (and surprisingly) go beautifully together. Pairs that logic says ought to disunite, but do not, offering instead their own strange and mysterious harmony: it is so, and ought to be so: “for the new love is faithfulness to the old.”
I love making drawing to love poems – poems that so colorfully evoke imagery in their achieving such expression of nuance in feeling. For this poem by A.E. Houseman, I was particularly struck by the closing line: “and went with half my life about my ways.” Anyone who has experienced the crushing farewell to a love… the grief and unrequited sensation that comes with such a wrenching removal… those words are so apt: we feel left with no more than half a life… half ourselves. In my drawing, I have tried to convey that through suggesting roots or veins – one half, plush and pulsing in red, the other half withering tatters of black, dry and brittle. Like half a beating heart, or lungs with one side inflated by air and the other not. This is a picture of our souls upon the loss of our love. And as such, it is both despairing and hopeful: we are going about with half our life, but indeed: that is a portion of life alive, a glass half full.
I try in this drawing to illustrate directly of what Rita Dove writes: “just a thick clutch of muscle, lopsided, mute.” I also have tried to do so with elegance of line, rhythm of form, and pathos in expression. I have sought to meet the poet at that place where the ordinary transcends its ordinariness and becomes something large, lovely, and mysterious. I have tried to draw what love looks like, as Dove tries to write what love looks like. This drawing is done in ink – many of the drawings have ink, some only watercolor, most a mixture of both watercolor and ink. Most have white gesso or gouache, which I use as an eraser to re-work certain passages. In this drawing, I have happily omitted erasures, which feels right: the drawing ends up having a blunt directness like the language Dove wields. It asks to be taken just as it is – no second guesses, no re-workings – just what it is. Take it, as one takes the one you love – unconditionally.
This is one of those drawings. That is, while working on it, it went in a wildly different direction that I had thought it might, and at a certain point I had no idea what I was doing, but just went with it. The result? A drawing visually different from just about any other, and one I at first somewhat detested, but ultimately have grown to like. Quite a bit. Perhaps its appeal for me is the way my unfolding relationship to it in someways echoes the spirit of the love poem that inspires it: we seek beauty all around us, feel bereft at its being ungraspable, and in doing so… in thinking we are left empty-handed… overlook what we have – the all in all its tangible self – right there, right before us: this awkward thing we love, so much richer in its giving than our neglect might suggest. This is a love poem of amends and gratitude, and in the sharp and present eccentricity of the black-inked form, in its eclipse of the anemic rose we chase, we come to appreciate the beauty in the love we have here and now: “true at my side.”