You’ve probably heard the relevant statistics: nearly half of all marriages end in divorce. Or young people aren’t marrying or having children as much (or as early) as they once did. Society is about to collapse, blah blah blah. We’ve all heard the doomsday naysaying. Marriage is a difficult vow to uphold. The institution is under pressure from all sides. But sometimes it’s important to focus on the pain we feel at the end of one journey — which we can use to recognize that it can just as easily be viewed as the beginning of another.
How often do couples claim to have had an amicable divorce? They happen. But even when couples split up agreeably, it can still be an emotional roller coaster — especially after years of togetherness have been invested. The following poems explore divorce in all its forms, from the good to the bad.
“The Break Away” was written by Anne Sexton. And she’s not one to cut corners when describing the harsh realities of a life apart:
Your daisies have come
on the day of my divorce.
They arrive like round yellow fish,
sucking with love at the coral of our love.
Yet they wait,
in their short time,
like little utero half-borns,
half killed, thin and bone soft.
They breathe the air that stands
for twenty-five illicit days,
the sun crawling inside the sheets,
the moon spinning like a tornado
in the washbowl,
and we orchestrated them both,
calling ourselves TWO CAMP DIRECTORS.
There was a song, our song on your cassette,
that played over and over
and baptised the prodigals.
It spoke the unspeakable,
as the rain will on an attic roof,
letting the animal join its soul
as we kneeled before a miracle–
forgetting its knife.
Pablo Neruda’s popular poem “If You Forget Me” explores what it might be like to lose someone you love — even when you know you’re better off without them:
I want you to know
You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.
And then there are the poets who explore what it means to make and break a vow at a time when vows were taken, well, more seriously than those made today. John Dryden shows us how to walk this path in “Why Should a Foolish Marriage Vow:”
Why should a foolish marriage vow,
Which long ago was made,
Oblige us to each other now
When passion is decay’d?
We loved, and we loved, as long as we could,
Till our love was loved out in us both:
But our marriage is dead, when the pleasure is fled:
‘Twas pleasure first made it an oath.
If I have pleasures for a friend,
And farther love in store,
What wrong has he whose joys did end,
And who could give no more?
‘Tis a madness that he should be jealous of me,
Or that I should bar him of another:
For all we can gain is to give ourselves pain,
When neither can hinder the other.