Roger Housden on What Happens When Roses Fade

For all the challenges it may bring, the romance of love is one of the deepest and most integral experiences of being human. Surely, then, it is worth even the pain that may come with its ending. After all, a broken heart allows us to feel more deeply the heart of others and their sufferings, and to take our place more humanly in this world in which everything, but everything, falls away at last, and not least ourselves. Success in love is determined not by the length of time two people stay together, but by the generosity, the caring, and the tenderness they have shared, in parting as well as in staying.

In his poem it may not always be so, and i say, e.e.cummings gives us an example of heart-rending generosity.

it may not always be so; and i say

that if your lips, which i have loved, should touch

another’s, and your dear strong fingers clutch

his heart, as mine in time not far away…..

if this should be, i say if this should be-

you of my heart, send me a little word;

that i may go unto him, and take his hands,

saying, Accept all happiness from me.

How rare it must be to bow so gracefully to the very person our beloved is turning toward, even as our beloved turns away from us. These lines show something of the human being’s capacity to truly love; our ability to accept the way life moves and has its own intelligence; to bow deeply to the reality that, in fact, we are never in control of the way things go.

In loving what is mortal, we know that the object of our love will pass away. Even so, we love utterly, without reserve. And to let go when it is time to let go, as Cummings does in his poem, is perhaps the final, most absolute mark of that love. The poem ends with a heartrending cry of loss:

Then shall i turn my face, and hear one bird

sing terribly afar in the lost lands.

For letting go of his beloved in the way he does, freeing her to follow her life’s deepest affections, does not mean to deny the feelings he has toward her, but on the contrary, to raise them to their subtlest and finest station.

The greatest gift of love is the gesture of open arms – let come what comes – not because you don’t care, or because  you hope to steel yourself against pain, but because you care so much that you are helpless to do anything else. You bow to what wants to happen, whatever it is. And as in these last two lines, you accept the cost, the inevitable blow to the heart. Better in this life, after all, for the heart to be broken – to take on the rich, the tender vulnerability of being human – than not.


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