Tuesday, 14 February 2017

Happy Valentines Day, 1915 - Margaret Anderson on life, love and art

This poem, if you can call it a poem, was written by Margaret Anderson, the editor of the Little Review, and published there in October 1915. It was a little before her 29th birthday, and a year or so before she had her first great romance, with co-editor Jane Heap. When Jane and Margaret fell in love in 1916, they lived together in Chicago as a relatively openly lesbian couple, at a time when such things just weren't done.

The poem is longish, but I think its really lovely, largely because you can really feel Anderson writing it - the speed with which words are rushed onto paper, the overflowing overlapping confusing ideas that feel like love. It's the kind of poem I tried to write when I was 19 and failed - maybe I'll have more luck when I hit 29. 

Margaret Anderson, photographed by Georgette Leblanc.


BUT you don't know Life," they are always saying.
I wonder what it is they mean?

They mean humanity and the urge of it:
In the beginning and in the end the soul's longing to be known, to know itself, and to know others;
And that means, in the beginning and in the end, the quest for love;
Is the ideal of love and the finding of it;
And the magic of it and the drain of disillusionment;
And the luxury of sorrow and the voluptuousness of suffering;
And the vacuum that is beyond death;
And the conviction that ideals are better than reality;
And the decision to live for "art";
And the pull to new love...
And the discovery that love is enslavement;
And the breaking from it;
And the courage to contain life;
And the emancipation from something;
And the complacency of first freedom;
And the emptiness of it;
And the pull to new love...
And the discovery that rapture is not relived;
And the conviction that passion is not love;
And the dedication to "the spiritual";
And the pull to new love...
And the deepest agony, which is unrequited love;
And the realization of people;
And the discovery that the world is wrong;
And the glory of rebellion;
And the emancipation for something;
And the pull to new love...
And the birth of cynicism;
And the conviction that rebellion is futile;
And the discovery of one's self;
And the dedication to one's self;
And the discovery that one's self is not big enough;
And the pull to new love...
And the knowledge that love includes passion;
And the sense of rich growing;
And the hope of sharing growth;
And the longing to be known;
And the relinquishing of that longing;
And the discovery that perfection does not last;
And the sufficiency of self-direction;
And the completeness of freedom;
And the longing to know the human soul;
And the pull to new love...
And the relinquishing of that longing;
And the discovery of the peace that is in nature;
And the realization of the unimportance of man;
And the knowledge that only great moments are attainable;
And the hatred of consummations;
And the realization of truths too late to act upon them;
And the acceptance of substitutes;
And the pull to new love...

And every human being knows these things.


"But you don't know life itself," I am always saying.
I wonder what it is I mean.

I think it is something wonderful like color and sound, and something mystical like fragrance and flowers.
And something incredible like air and wind,
And something of grey magic like rain;
It is faded deserts and the unceasing sea;
It is the moving stars;
It is the orange sun stepping through blue curtains of sky,
And the rose sun dropping through black trees;
It is a green storm running across greenness,
And gold rose petals spilled by the moon on dark water;
It is snow and mist and clouds of color,
It is tree gardens and painted bird;
It is leaves of autumn and grasses of spring;
It is flower forests and the petals of stars;
It is morning - yellow mornings, green mornings, red mornings, gold mornings, silver mornings, sun mornings, mist mornings, mornings of dew;
It is night - white nights, green nights, grey nights, purple nights, blue nights, moon nights, rain nights, nights that burn;
It is waking in the first of the morning,
It is the deep adventure of sleep;
It is lights on rivers and lights on pavements;
It is boulevards bordered with flowers of stone;
It is poetry and Japanese prints and the actor on a stage;
It is music;
It is dreams that could not happen;
It is emotion for the sake of emotion;
It is life for the sake of living;
It is silence;
It is the unknowable;
It is eternity;
It is death.

And only artists know these things.

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