D.H. Lawrence once wrote a poem on love he called, History. It reads like this:
The listless beauty of the hour
When snow first fell on the apple trees
And the wood-ash gathered in the fire
And we faced our first miseries.
Then the sweeping sunshine of noon
When the mountains like chariot cars
Were ranked to blue battle-and you, and I
Counted our scars.
And then in a strange, grey-hour
We lay mouth to mouth, with your face
Under mine like a star on the lake
And I covered the earth, and all space
The silent, drifting hours
Of morn after morn
And night drifting up to night
Yet no pathway worn
Your life, and mine, my love
Passing on and on, the hate
Fusing closer and closer with love
Til at length they mate.
At the beginning of every love, romantic or not, the dream for that love is connected to an ideal of purity, mutuality, and respect. Every real love begins with the idea that this time we’ll get it right, this time we won’t make the mistakes we’ve made all those other times, this time love will work its magic. And in the early stages of love, that ideal is spontaneously respected.
In the stage of attraction, flirtation, infatuation, and the rooting of love in the poetic imagination love generally enrobes itself, figuratively, in whiteness, in purity, in all that’s best inside us. Its put on a baptismal robe because it senses that here, finally, it will be initiated into life.
There is nothing as potentially life-giving and redeeming as falling in love. It re-colors the world completely. As the great novelist, Iris Murdoch once said: “The world can change in fifteen seconds, when you fall in love.”
But the world, as we know, can also turn indifferent, dark, and angry in fifteen seconds, or fifteen years. We don’t all die like Romeo and Juliet, still in the grip of that bliss-producing, soul-searing, divine fever we call “falling in love”, where death for love seems not too high a price to pay.
Time, familiarity, differences, congenital restlessness, old immaturities, wounded pride, a wandering eye, and simple human selfishness soon enough begin to dispel the magic. Where we once couldn’t get enough of each other, swallowed our own hurts and pride for the other, and would willing, like Romeo and Juliet, have died for each other, we now begin to count our scars, let the days drift, and no longer search for the path towards the other’s door. Hate begins to fuse with love, resentment with delight, and we reclaim our singleness.
What D.H. Lawrence so brilliantly describes in this poem is how gradually and imperceptibly love can lose its purity, it’s divine fever, and its divine intent, even in its most intimate expressions.
And what he is referring to is not that inevitable, and ultimately healthy, transformation where love, simply by its own innate structure pressures towards maturity and pushes us beyond romantic infatuation and illusion. All love eventually programs its own dark night of the soul and this is healthy. Nor is he referring to the valuable insight that hate is not the opposite of love.
What he is referring to is the disease that creeps into a relationship when, for whatever reason, familiarity begins to breed contempt and disrespect and the ideal that was part of the dream that originally triggered that love is violated. Milan Kundera once said that when the idea that a love was founded on dies, then the love dies too. He’s right.
Real love is always founded on the ideal of purity (of intention), mutuality, and respect. In our heart of hearts we do want what’s right, what’s best; we don’t want to stain what we love. And this implies things far beyond sex.
When we first say the words, “I love you,” and mean them, our hearts are connecting us to an ideal, a dream, a divine form, and a purity that draws energy from all that’s best inside us. But once we begin to compromise that ideal with any kind of disrespect whatsoever, then we begin the slide down that slippery slope that Lawrence describes here and no expression of intimacy, the sexual bed included, will the redeem the initial dream for that love. Our love will then begin imperceptibly to sleep with hate, until we can no longer tell the difference. Our relationship will contain as much resentment as it does delight and we will soon find ourselves strangers to each other.
When we are baptized a white dress is put on us to symbolize purity and words are spoken over us to remind us that this white garment is the outward sign of our inner dignity and that we are meant to bring that dignity unstained into eternal life.
What’s symbolized by our baptismal robes must be the poetic dream for every love. The challenge is always to bring the dignity of that love home, unstained.