The Sorrow of True Love
The sorrow of true love is a great sorrow
And true love parting blackens a bright morrow:
Yet almost they equal joys, since their despair
Is but hope blinded by its tears, and clear
Above the storm the heavens wait to be seen.
But greater sorrow from less love has been
That can mistake lack of despair for hope
And knows not tempest and the perfect scope
Of summer, but a frozen drizzle perpetual
Of drops that from remorse and pity fall
And cannot ever shine in the sun or thaw,
Removed eternally from the sun’s law.
EDWARD THOMAS (1878–1917)
Okay so here we have another of these love poems and so far we have seen that they are usually about love that is unrequited, not the sort of love that is shared between two people. When you think about pop music over the last fifty years or so, and even before that, what is mostly the case is that the songs are love songs but they usually state how someone has fallen out of love with someone else. Love is always, or mostly, brought to life as a destructive force and the positive ones are usually left for church music, gospel tracks etc. So, the buying public are used to buying them and think nothing but negative things about the concept of love.
So now we get this one. The first line fits in with the theory of love poems generally being about broken love, fake relationships, love that is lost or not returned. What is it about humanity that we feed off this kind of emotion? Why cannot we celebrate the love that we have for things and for each other? The speaker in this poem says that “the sorrow of true love is a great sorrow” which in itself is a negative statement from the beginning of the poem. In essence, this is saying that love is painful. Love is something that makes you hurt. Love is unkind, which goes against everything that we know from sacred texts which suggest that love is kind, not self seeking etc. True love’s “parting blackens a bright morrow,” or makes everything that happens tomorrow worthless. Clearly this person has experienced the heartache that love can bring when it ends.
However, in the lines that follow there is a duality of expressions all about love. The speaker says that love and heartache are equal in their joys because their “their despair is but hope blinded by its tears.” No matter what we do or say, the speaker is saying that love is both good and bad, the yin and the yang of life, the one thing that keeps life going. “Clear above the storm the heavens wait to be seen,” proving that love and loving is like a storm here on earth. Love can be like a storm is an interesting image in the mind of the reader because storms are usually violent and destructive. If we think about how we name Hurricanes across the world, then we can begin to see what the poet is trying to say; love is indeed complex and hard to fathom, or understand.
Then, thinks the poet, there is a danger in mixing up sorrow “from less love” and that the “mistake” can be made to think that there is a possibility to see “lack of despair for hope” because of the fact that we fail to see love as it really is, a two edged sword that can be used to bless and abuse. The “tempest and the perfect scope of summer” is a powerful image, pitting one thing against another, as a simile would do, but in this instance, it is designed to show us the opposites that love brings to any relationship. As the poem continues, we see the images of “frozen drizzle” that is “perpetual” and of “drops that from remorse and pity: fall in ways that reflect the nature and complexity of love. These things “cannot ever shine in the sun or thaw” because if they do, then what is “removed eternally from the sun’s law” becomes something that loses its sense of being and purpose.
In essence, the poet is using imagery to compare love to certain things and is saying that in the end, love can bring joy and pain. It can bring peace and heartache, sometimes one minute after the other. Love can make a marriage and it can leave a marriage bereft and in need of help and assistance. Love can be a blessing and a curse. These dualities are important to consider when we think about love ourself. Do yourself a favour and make a chart that is two columns wide and a full page in length. Then put “LOVE IS” at the top of each column. For the left one, put all the positives you can. Love is kind etc. On the right column, add in words to describe love in the negative. When you have the page complete, you will begin to see just how complex love and relationships really are. That is what this poet is trying to evoke in us as readers, a sense that love can be both good and bad in our life.