There seems to be a shadow of desire, a shadow of the beloved, hovering over every successful love poem. The final loss and disappearance of that beloved leads to a poetry of abandonment and disconsolation. (Philip Larkin's late, dejected lyrics of lovelessness come to mind.) When the beloved visits the poem, we get a poetry of joyous presence.
Here is the French surrealist poet Paul Eluard's blissful, songlike poem "L'amoureuse" in Samuel Beckett's splendid translation. The poem first appeared in Eluard's book Dying of Not Dying (1924).
Lady Love She is standing on my lids
And her hair is in my hair
She has the colour of my eye
She has the body of my hand
In my shade she is engulfed
As a stone against the sky
She will never close her eyes
And she does not let me sleep
And her dreams in the bright day
Make the suns evaporate
And me laugh cry and laugh
Speak when I have nothing to say
Eluard's poem exemplifies the radiant presence that seems to flood the fulfilled love poem. That flooding is a possession so overwhelming that it must occasion a crucial change in the speaker. Such transformation cries out to be voiced, and it motivates the poem in the direction of pure song. I can't help but notice the progression in Eluard's lyric from love is ("She is standing on my lids") to love has ("She has the colour of my eye") to love does ("And she does not let me sleep") to love makes ("And her dreams in the bright day/ Make the suns evaporate"). The obliteration of the daylight world completely undoes the speaker and occasions a stunning joy, a giddy breakdown: "And me laugh cry and laugh/ Speak when I have nothing to say." I delight in the last line -- "Speak when I have nothing to say" -- which shows an interior restraint giving way. The speaker is so deliciously amazed and awestruck by what has happened to him that he breaks into involuntary speech. He bursts into song. And song is praise.
I find an equally majestic spirit of praise in the Israeli poet Yehuda Amichai's sexy love poem "We Did It." Amichai takes biblical imagery and applies it imaginatively to erotic love, which poets have done, somewhat scandalously, since "The Song of Songs." The incantatory rhythm also gives the poem a ritual sense of the sacred. Its texture is both ancient and new. Amichai's lyric has a brooding social underside ("But they didn't want to know about us/ They'd already seen our sort") and takes a stark turn at the end.
We Did It We did it in front of the mirror
And in the light. We did it in darkness,
In water, and in the high grass.
We did it in honor of man
And in honor of beast and in honor of God.
But they didn't want to know about us,
They'd already seen our sort.
We did it with imagination and colors,
With confusion of reddish hair and brown
And with difficult gladdening
Exercises. We did it
Like wheels and holy creatures
And with chariot-feats of prophets.
We did it six wings
And six legs
But the heavens
Were hard above us
Like the earth of the summer beneath. ("Lady Love" first appeared in "Samuel Beckett, Collected Poems in English and French," John Calder Ltd, London. Copyright © Samuel Beckett 1977. "We Did It" appears in "Yehuda Amichai, Selected Poems," translated by Assia Gutmann and Harold Schimmel with the collaboration of Ted Hughes, Penguin Books, copyright © Yehuda Amichai, 1968, 1971. Translations copyright © Celia Chaikin, 1968, 1971; © Harold Schimmel, 1971.)