Modern Love - George Meredith When reading [author:Michael Dirda's] [book:Classics for Pleasure], I came across his essay on [author:George Meredith], a 19th century English writer. I probably would have read and enjoyed the essay and then moved on but for the fact that Dirda dwelt on Meredith's 50-sonnet cycle of poems that detailed the break up of his first marriage. A subject quite unusual for Victorian England. In fact, a subject most unusual for any period before our modern era of the tell-all memoir.

Being a divorce' myself and titillated by the brief excerpts Dirda reproduced, I surfed over to the Gutenberg Project site and downloaded a copy of Modern Love.

And glad I am that I did. Dirda is right to celebrate the poet's honesty and insight into the birth, life and death of Love. While I'm going to have to read the cycle again (and again) to fully appreciate it, several sonnets immediately touched me:

IV. ...Oh, wisdom never comes when it is gold, / And the great price we pay for it full worth: / We have it only when we are half earth. / Little avails that coinage to the old!

VIII. ...Where came the cleft between us? Whose the fault? / My tears are on thee, that have rarely dropped as balm for any bitter wound of mine: / My breast will open for thee at a sign! / But, no: we are two reed pipes, coarsely stopped: / The God once filled them with his mellow breath; / And they were music till he flung them down, / Used! Used! Hear now the discord-loving clown / Puff his gross spirit in them, worse than death!...

XV. ...Her own handwriting to me when no curb / Was left on Passion's tongue. She trembles through, / A woman's tremble - the whole instrument: - / I show another letter lately sent. / The words are very like: the name is new.

XLIII. ...I see no sin: / The wrong is mixed. In tragic life, God wot, / No villain need be! Passions spin the plot: / We are betrayed by what is false within.

XLVIII. Our inmost hearts had opened, each to each. / We drank the pure daylight of honest speech. / Alas! that was the fatal draught, I fear....


and

L. ...Then each applied to each that fatal knife, / Deep questioning, which probes to endless dole. / Ah, what a dusty answer gets the soul / When hot for certainties in this our life!....

And there are other sonnets that touched me, too. Like XXXIV, where the spouses skirt around the issue of their estrangement; or XVI, where Meredith, in an unguarded moment, says "Ah, yes! / Love dies," and only later realizes that this is when the "red chasm" began to grow.

I'm sufficiently impressed by this author to search out more of his work (though I fear I'll have to wait until the To-Read shelf becomes a bit less crowded).