In our column Poetry Rx, readers write in with a specific emotion, and our resident poets—Sarah Kay, Kaveh Akbar, and Claire Schwartz—take turns prescribing the perfect poems to match. This week, Claire Schwartz is on the line.
Is there a word for the feeling when you know the wise thing to do, but you, always a fool, do the opposite? I wish I knew the word—I would have said it when this boy slept a night by my side. I would have said it when I first lost him, and then six months later, he came back for me. I would have said it, even if only a whisper, when I fell for him all over again, even harder than before. And now I would repeat it to myself, like a benediction, as I face the possibility of him drifting away.
That is the feeling for which I need a poem. The feeling when you know that he’s going to leave, and you’re remembering how hard it was to lose him the first time, and this time you’re in deeper, and you know you should cut it off now to reduce the heartache a little, but you foolishly continue to hope. The feeling every lover has, before sadness makes them wise.
A Hopeful Fool
Dear Hopeful Fool,
I love your letter. What you’re seeking—a word for a feeling you know but have no language for—gets exactly at one reason I hold poems close: not necessarily to choose differently but to experience differently. For you, Mary Szybist’s “The Troubadours Etc.”:
Just for this evening, let’s not mock them.
Not their curtsies or cross-garters
or ever-recurring pepper trees in their gardens
At least they had ideas about love.
I think one word for what you describe is the one you use: hope. But hope’s wisdom buckles when the vision it was pinned to dissipates. So here is a sturdier word: faith. Faith’s intelligence is not bound to the outcome of any single situation; faith is something surer that you build when you choose the not-knowing. Faith marks an interior constitution, a way of being that says more about the self than it says about any external event. “At least they had ideas about love.” Read More