… who two years ago killed herself (I discuss a couple of her poems here,) wrote an end of the world poem. With the Mayan annihilation upon us, let us look at The World Had Fled. (The poem without commentary is here.)


The world had fled, with all its silly cares
and questionable aches, and in one swoon
we rose above its stupefying airs
like flying lovesick pigs up to the moon.
In that blue light where two lives equaled all,
our souls looked down upon a spinning ball.

[Very simple traditional end-rhymed iambic pentameter, describing that incredible moment at the beginning of passionate mutual love when the intensity, closeness, and fullness of your alliance makes everything else in the world — makes the world itself — disappear. The blissful energy released by your pairing propels you out of earth’s atmosphere, grants you immunity from untranscended life’s “cares” and “aches” and stupefactions. You are everything to one another; you have no need of anything else: “two lives equaled all.” For you the world has – gloriously – come to an end.]

The world returned, and this was a surprise
I raged against like someone on a rack,
telling the sun, tears clouding my stunned eyes,
give us our splendid isolation back.
I craved third rails, a shot of something strong
when I found out it doesn’t last for long.

[The poem’s three stanzas narrate a tripartite tale of transcendence, immanence, and a final successful merging of these two states. Here, in the second stanza, the poet registers her despair at the passing of that early amorous stage in which, entirely caught up in one another, the lovers are truly out of this world, over this world. She wants their “splendid isolation back,” and is willing to kill herself (kill both of them? in a kind of liebestod?) to get it back.]

The world came back and stayed, pain never ended,
but when the aches and cares begged for a hand,
grew softer in the light we’d made and tended,
I finally began to understand
love’s widening third stage, and of the three
this was the most outstanding ecstasy.

[Sounds a little like John Donne, doesn’t it? The vaguely obsolescent language; the beautiful resolution at the end; the astute, controlled rhyme and meter; the concision and confidence of the voice…

So, transcendent passion “doesn’t last for long.” But if the love persists, something better, something world-embracing and world-surviving, supercedes it. Love’s third stage – after world-destroying narcissism and world-resurgent despair – is the best stage, because earthly love softens earthly life.

It is “widening” as well, lacking the immobility of stages one and two, where you’re suspended in equally untenable heavens and hells. Untenable because ultimately you’re going to have to fall back down to earth, since its claims are too powerful; or, having ragefully fallen down, you’re going to have to do yourself in with a “shot of something strong.” In earthly love there’s not merely survival; there’s room for growth, a moral widening out into mutual compassion, not just mutual bliss.

Her use of the word “outstanding” at the end is outstanding, because throughout the poem she’s imagined these passionate stages as propulsions, as pressings out from (or into) the earth. And here, finally, is the best out-standing, the most excellent self-projection: A self-projection which is self-less, which involves a standing outside oneself and one’s soulmate in order to lighten and soften the world for oneself and for others.

The “most outstanding ecstasy” is in a sense redundant, the word ecstasy in fact coming from ek- “out,” and stasis “a stand.” The poem has, in its three stanzas, its three stages, explored three forms of “ecstasy” – losing yourself in the beloved; losing yourself in death; losing yourself (your aches and cares) in the light your own love sheds.]

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