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A Love Sooner than Later

William Butler Yeats

I 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 most other acts, also requires a certain techne, or technique, in the Greek sense that is an activity which is performed with skill or knowledge, and conversely, it is a skill or knowledge which is, and requires to be, performed. No knowledge, no activity worth the name; no activity, no knowledge worth knowing. 

For example, there is no point for an athlete to practice his skill and sport if he does not join a race or a competition. One readies one's love because one has to love "sooner or later." When it comes to love however, most of us read, imagine, and know about it, yet seldom "put it into play," or act it out--like an actor who has memorized all the lines that he will never deliver.

So I at times do not understand what we mean (doubtless, I've said it also before) when we say "I am not yet ready to love." What does that mean? What does the "not-yet" indicate. Setting aside the common interpretation we have, the "not-yet" means having to "rest" a heart, or letting it "heal," which,  one can see, are negative deductions. But from the negative we can draw a positive charge.

For example, the "not-yet" in "I am not yet ready to love" by definition assumes that the time to love once again is an event already foreseen now, already at hand, that is, paradoxically, already here. Like the darkened clouds signaling the coming of an imminent storm, or a messenger or herald announcing the arrival of a special guest, a love which is "not-yet"--precisely not here now--is paradoxically already here in the form of a coming, or arriving, which I already anticipate and expect, as if with certainty. "Not-yet-being-ready" then implies that its goal is to be ready "sooner or later," as we say. But the when does not matter here as the certainty of the foreseen event, because, as fore-seen, it is already seen, that is, already known. 

Yet the question to be asked is how do we already know, especially with a kind of certainty, that love is to come soon, later, or ever. A future love is much unlike a future death: death is the only possibility which will have to be actual, it is the only "not-yet" which is certain, that is, it is the only possibility you can actually foresee, envision, expect, anticipate, and at bottom all these mean that death is the only event you can prepare for. "A future love," there is strictly speaking no such thing, or at least, it does not have to be, that is, it is unnecessary. The world does not owe each one a lover. No one guarantees that one will find love once again

The argument that it is usually the case that most of us do in fact find someone to love "in time," or "down the road," as we say, does not weaken the possibility that we can "end up" not finding someone to love or to love us. Love is not a matter to be determined by statisticians or oddsmakers, as if love can be made an object of calculation or turned into a game. For one, I don't "care" whether this stranger of that fool finds a lover, or that everyone else eventually finds happiness. My own love concerns only me: love is a soliloquy, a war I wage alone, a solitary endeavor, a solar system unto itself. Like Atlas, I carry the whole responsibility of love on my own shoulders. Or like death, only I can undergo love. Again, like death, "Love makes you an individual" (Woolf).

What can be drawn from these rather crude, simplistic, and nowise hopeful descriptions? The premises do not matter as much as the conclusions which can be drawn from them. All that drama will find no meaning if we do not reach a decision, one which settles the whole matter. So if we are wont to say "I am not yet ready to love," or "I am not ready for a serious relationship," (what that means is a whole other comedy), and given that it is true (there is psychological, physiological pain, trauma, etc., all valid reasons, all too human), perhaps we can at least take it to mean something else, say, positively

We can reframe the statement to mean thus: "I am not yet ready to pursue or to want or to find love." There seems to be only a minor change in the statement, however there is an essential change in accent or tone in it. The statement now takes love to be a pursuit I must make, an aspiration; it even can indicate lust, desire, and a craving. 

A passivity can be hidden in the ambiguity in being "not yet ready to love." Such a disposition is usually imagined as a relaxed state, like being "open" to the possibility of love, or waiting for "the right person to come," a kind of tranquilized expectation without desire or gravity, just like walking around in the park and "playing the field." The reformed attitude for us now means that love is a decision, a search, a setting sail into open seas instead of "testing the waters," an exploration aimed not at viewing the scenery but aimed at discovering something totally new. Love seldom falls before our feet, and even if it does, one still has to pick it up. And one needs to want wanting. Even that is a decision I must make alone. I ultimately have no excuse for being passive when it comes to love.

Camus prescribed a life not of "quality" but of "quantity." Never mind his having mistresses, that is not the point. Quantity of love naturally does not have to mean having many lovers. It means quantity of experiences, may they be of quality or not. The many, in order to be many, naturally requires having more than a few. The intensity, depth, or durability, security, of a love, these are all nice and fine and necessary because we grow old and weaken and want peace, "stability." But to have only one kind of experience (I repeat, not lover), deep or intense or happy it may be, puts into shame a world which offers an infinite amount of possibilities. 

"The world is deep, deeper than day can comprehend" (Nietzsche). Having one and the same lover for years, this is no excuse for those who long for someone different, having mistresses, wanting divorce. Each one is "deep, deeper than day can comprehend." The depth of the world is hidden in a life; it is up to both lovers to explore those depths, experience each one. One can never comprehend another person completely. The paths you must take in order to find the true beloved are as numerous as the loops of her hair.

But to begin exploring the mysteries of each other, two lovers must necessarily decide to disclose one another. One decides to either hide or reveal oneself; and it is so much easier to hide. That decision requires time, and requires it forever. And perhaps wanting to disclose oneself to a possible lover is precisely what we are afraid to do or to rush; thus we take time to be ready. At bottom we experience being unready to love because we are afraid to trust another lover. Or entrust our selves to a new lover by disclosing who we are.

But do not worry. Whether you open yourself up to a possible lover now or later or in the future--these do not matter. No one really ever knows another. What a waste then to have introduced yourself later when you could have done so sooner.


I've been told these crushing words before: You should have known me sooner. Nothing paralyzes you more. Regret, remorse, guilt--these are all understandable because you know what you did and you should really be sorry for your cruelty or stupidity. You should have known then as now. You were just being stupid.

But missing your one true shot at happiness with full innocence, or without knowing, without choice really being possible at that time, that just breaks your heart. 

You have no one to blame, not even yourself. Or precisely, because you cannot blame anything, you start blaming the quiet stars for their conspiracy. A dumb friend tells you, "It wasn't meant to be."

Listen: But you still could have then, as you now see that you should have then. If it were really out of the realm of the possible, then you should not be feeling sick about not being able to pursue her then. For you to experience that gnawing question "what might have been" means, in the first place, that it could have been, that it was really possible. And what else could have stopped me from wanting her other than, well, me? It is so easy to try.

From the MET, New York.


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