Skip to main content

At the Edge of Love's Doom

John Constable. Harwich Lighthouse, ca.1820 


Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
     If this be error and upon me proved,
     I never writ, nor no man ever loved.


Shakespeare, we can surmise, will never stake his words on something so fickle or flimsy or a mere fancy.

We have to believe the artist's own convictions and reasons as to why he creates, even if we do not understand these reasons or even if we end up disbelieving his conclusions. Verily, you can only speak because you possess certainties. Though these gems are usually hidden from us, barricaded by the fortress of the heart and guarded with arrows of words out to confuse, they are there, sown deftly into the very fabric of an artist's life, an invisible thread which when understood leaves him naked. You think you understand the writer through his words, and so you think you know what he also knows by interpreting what he says. But, and this we know already, what we say will always be like pieces of straw compared to the immortal towers that armor what we do not. What is essential is the secret creators harbor and never their works or words. It is easy to act and to speak, anyone can do that. But to know--never. Words go and people forget, but our  secrets we share only with gods.


The eternal secret is that things remain while things go. You believe that everything changes, that we are in an endless march to an eternity. But within change something must remain: otherwise these changes will not be perceived or known (formasubstantia, ego, spirit, will). The cadence and rhythm of time must be constant so that one can march to it and in it. It is no accident that our very hearts resemble clocks, beating.

There is a fixed point in the world which is unmoved, around it everything swirls, dancing. Imagine a world of pure motion! To wit, one can only have emotions, resembling the waves of the sea, because beneath the tides of our lives lies a bedrock able to withstand them and feel them. I can only feel joy and hate because there is an I which no more enjoys the privilege of perception than its privilege to perceive such perceptions. It is said that our very bodies completely change in its composition every seven years, that even your bones are "brand new," whatever that may mean, every so often--making you the remains of very dead men today and the descendant of a star tomorrow. This is plausible, though it is a matter of great indifference to me. What I know, what I feel, is that I abide, I remain,even without my wanting to. But it is also this very identity that gives me enough reason and dignity to go on living.


What can a love that does not change possibly mean? I only feel and experience the ruptures and flat lines of emotions, their great peaks and equally great falls, their blows, trauma, and moments of peace. If experience alone is to be the standard by which love can be measured or ranked, doubtless love changes and cannot but not change. It is not a weakness on my part, as if I invented what I feel or I can escape its wrenching grip, but it is the very law of emotions: that they rise and fall, give pleasure and hate, form and swell and then succumb to the depths, amorphous, delicate, like the wind or a ghost, arbitrary, a game of chance--an unpredictable wave. "No emotion, any more than a wave, can long retain its own individual form" (Henry Ward Beecher).

If emotions had a logic, it would be a logic-less logic. And thus neither stability nor accountability can be found in and required from such love: I love some times, I love not at other times, I may or may not love, which really means I do not know how to love.

Whence the wandering men who look for love, who some times do find it, at other times, when "lucky," they say, are found by it. A thrilling gamble, a lovely accident, a lonely play.

Amidst the inconstancy of emotions and the restlessness of a heart, enveloped by the play of passions and hostage to everyday life's drama, how is a love supposed to firm, constant and aspire to be an ever-fixed mark? 

Quite naturally, we think that our ability to make a decision, or to uphold a commitment, is what enables us to regulate and maintain a love that can easily be swayed or given up. I am obliged to love when I say I love, and such an obligation, in requiring me to perform a duty, at the same time requires me to be constant--willy-nilly

It is easily said, and all-too-often, that a love which is not based on a commitment is a love which is young, fickle, or a love that is not yet love. That the essence of love, as it were, could be found nowhere else than in a rock-like promise or an oak-like vow. This is plausible. But the obvious danger in such a love is that it, in being performed out of duty and not out of desire, can become like any other obligation I keep (as an employee, a citizen, etc.). No less troubling is if love, in its wish to be firm, cements itself to words that were long ago spoken, and which may no longer mean anything now. Even the highest obligation is eclipsed by the dimmest desire to love. (And one cannot be obligated to desire, for desire is precisely the desire to will what is not asked of me because it does not belong to me). Happiness never did grow in the arid deserts of duty. It is still in the eternal springs of desire where love, and its child, joy, are to be found.    


Love's  darkest demon, time tempts two lovers to grow apart, to distance themselves from one another, to separate them: today you are locked in an ever-tight embrace, tomorrow the arms loosen (tension, strength, or weakness) and the eyes open (distraction, lack of concentration, they can never remain closed)--the next moment you've lost one another. Yes, love is beholden to time and its unforgiving march, its indifferent silence. A decision, however "forever," however "always," is easy to be undermined; the passing of days chips away at love's foundations, exposing their weakness or strength, revealing a love's roots or reasons. Verily, it is not that love itself vanishes between two unsuccessful lovers, as if love was there to begin with, stayed for a while, and then departed for some reason or another, never to return once more. Love still stays, and it always does--but it can be weakened by time, thinned and eaten away by it, exhausted by it, until it's just "gone."

We know this very well: A man wakes up one morning to the strange, alien face of his lover: He no longer knows who she is, what he saw in that face, what he was doing with her all along. As if everything has suddenly become a memory, she a ghost. You figure next that the curtains have long ago been drawn, and you were acting out the scenes you have known by heart alone in a stage equally empty as the seats before it. Or that sudden rupture in the very heart of love, one that first opens and then closes it, like a heart attack from nowhere or an inevitable stroke: your declining health, which you knew of and could feel but never gotten around to have it looked, is like your undiagnosed weakening love. What was so full of passion, life, and many a tomorrow has now reached its unforeseen end in desire's demise. So you recite the lines like a childhood prayer you no longer mean, you feign passion and put on half nervous smiles, hoping that death will come before an admission is required, one that says I no longer love you, please let me go. But that would be cruel, wouldn't it? Many an old relationship is a dead relationship. There is no point in denying this. Good thing man is the animal which knows how to pretend.

But if time takes or steals away time from two lovers, then, to be sure, it can also bestow and grant them more time. Time's cuts, so cruel, so clean, may unite, too, as they may divide. To be sure, what was once broken into a thousand pieces may never be the same one piece again; but it is this very fragmentation which makes possible any endeavor to rebuild, redefine, reinstall something, once again. Once more, that love is lost makes possible that it be found; that it departed, that it again arrive; that it died, that it resurrect. More importantly, it is only in the danger of its end that love is awakened from its slumber in order to defend itself or finally give itself up. The result of the decision--to fight back or retreat, to love more or no longer--is a matter of great indifference to me. What matters is the fact and act of deciding, and not its contents.

Time opens up the space where things can be seen as they are. It grants a clearing where decisions can be, must be, made. And this is where a love which claims eternity can live up to that high name. That I must roll with the punches, ride out the peaks and refrains of emotions, that I constantly dance to the music that I at times no longer hear; that I decide at every moment my love is challenged--this, again, is what affords my love any dignity, what grants it any possible worth, what makes possible that what I feel be named a love.

Otherwise, if I only choose which songs I wish to dance to, if I only ride the waves which I fancy, how could that be love? If love could ever be constant, it would have to be forever defending itself from its failure--love is this resolve, not one from duty or obligation, but one from an insistent, stubborn desire, an infinite decision. All the rest, those who do not let the wind blow dust in their eyes, who wait for storms to cease and the waters to recede before they happily skip through love's strait gates, they are the dilettantes, the gamblers, the half-hearted risk-takers: they give up everything without risking anything, and in not losing anything they win nothing. That I bear my heavy love across tempests, taunting the gods above or summoning all the demons in hell, and with eyes closed dance at the edge of love's doom--only this may perhaps grant me the name of a lover and no other.

John Williams Waterhouse. Miranda--The Tempest. 1916. 



Popular posts from this blog

The Fields of Amorsolo

The first National Artist in Philippine history, referred to warmly as the “Grand Old Man of Philippine Art,” Fernando Amorsolo (1892–1972) still stands today as a looming figure in Philippine art responsible for being one of the artists who helped define what we up to now visually imagine as essentially Filipino. The images of rural life, of golden fields below clear blue, blue skies; the smiles of farmers which diminish their weariness as they plant, harvest, and winnow rice;most especially the iconic figure of the Filipina maiden working in the fields—the beloved dalagang bukid--; these, I believe, even after generations of Filipino painters since Amorsolo, have remained in our hearts and memory. Amorsolo did what great masters do for their country: bestow upon it its own icons, represent its native beauty, that is, to give its people and lands an identity and a face. There are, however, as many intentions for art as there are works of art. And these intentions will always remain in…

Without Why (The Rose) II

Lifetime is a child at play; moving pieces in a game.
Kingship belongs to the child.

Heraclitus, Fragment 52

The child at play never asks itself why it plays. The child just plays; and if it could, it will play as long as possible, it will play throughout its life. See its delight and witness its smile.

If it would never go hungry or if the sun would never set it too will never leave its playmates and playthings. Time flies at play because it stops or suspends time. Time -- as we grownups only know too well -- is the culprit for order, schedules and priorities; yet for the child, there is no time, there is only bottomless play. It is we who impose that this or that should be done at this or that time. We stop the absurd and supposedly endless play ("He does nothing but play") because we insist that discipline, order and priorities be instilled in the child at an early age ("He needs to learn other things beside playing"). So that the child will become like us one da…

A Love Sooner than Later

BROWN PENNY William Butler YeatsI whispered, 'I am too young,' And then, 'I am old enough'; Wherefore I threw a penny To find out if I might love. 'Go and love, go and love, young man, If the lady be young and fair.' Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny, I am looped in the loops of her hair. O love is the crooked thing, There is nobody wise enough To find out all that is in it, For he would be thinking of love Till the stars had run away And the shadows eaten the moon. Ah, penny, brown penny, brown penny, One cannot begin it too soon.

One cannot begin to love too soon--conversely, one should not love too late or in life's demise. That waiting for the "right time," or the "right person" to love, what are these but the cries or sighs of an unready, even tired, heart? One becomes ready only when one begins to understand love slowly (or again), and one understands love progressively when one, simply, performs the act of love. Love, like mos…