Saturday, January 10, 2009

The More Loving One

My mother, a first-grade teacher, was killed in a flash flood nearly 14 years ago.

In the weeks and months following her death, it fell to me to sort through many of her belongings, deciding what needed to be thrown away, what needed to be kept, what needed to be given to friends and family members.

As I sorted through the things she left behind, I set aside some to keep, many of which found their way into boxes and haven't seen the light of day in years — literally.

Today, as I was sorting through some of my boxes, I came across a poem that my mother kept on her desk in her office at home. I must confess that I don't know much about it. My mother and I never discussed it — or the author, W.H. Auden.

I don't know why it spoke to her — nor do I know why it spoke to me to the extent that I decided to keep it.

What little I do know about Auden is that he is considered one of the great poets of the 20th century. He was born in 1907 and died in 1973. He grew up in England. I recall reading some of his poems in college, notably "Funeral Blues" (if you saw the movie "Four Weddings and a Funeral," you might recall hearing it recited — it opens with a memorable line, "Stop all the clocks") and "September 1, 1939," which was written about the outbreak of World War II.

Auden also was a homosexual — something which neither I nor my mother had in common with him.

But it makes my re-discovery of this poem seem particularly relevant right now. An old friend of mine, who is gay, sent me an e-mail this week telling me that she and her partner had split up after 21 years together. Understandably, she's been having a hard time with this development.

The poem is titled "The More Loving One." I hope my friend reads it and it gives her some comfort.

Looking up at the stars, I know quite well
That, for all they care, I can go to hell,
But on earth indifference is the least
We have to dread from man or beast.

How should we like it were stars to burn
With a passion for us we could not return?
If equal affection cannot be,
Let the more loving one be me.

Admirer as I think I am
Of stars that do not give a damn,
I cannot, now I see them, say
I missed one terribly all day.

Were all stars to disappear or die,
I should learn to look at an empty sky,
And feel its total darkness sublime,
Though this might take me a little time.