3/23/17

mad comet


Someone once told me to memorize poetry during difficult life transitions. It's sound advice—give your mind something good to process as your heart slowly puts itself back together.

My heart is pretty busy right now.

I've loved WWI poetry since college, where a BYU professor introduced me to the genre and showed me the inherent beauty that comes with pain and despair. They go together so often, tragedy and joy, art and pain. It's a cliche when done badly and absolutely exquisite when done well. 

After college I learned that two of my favorite war poets fell in love while being treated for "shell shock" (PTSD) at Craiglockhart War Hospital. Siegfried Sassoon was the angry, sarcastic, anti-war poet known as "Mad Jack." (He had a habit of running into enemy trenches armed only with grenades and sheer force of will.) Wilfred Owen was younger, still very earnest, and hopelessly idealistic warrior. (He returned to battle voluntarily because he could not stand the idea of abandoning his friends to die without him.) Owen admired Sassoon to the point of hero worship and couldn't stop stuttering when they first met.  (#meetcute)

Eventually though, Owen became Sassoon's confidant, friend, and equal. Sassoon teased him for his love of Romantic poets, and Owen gently mocked Sassoon's use of humor to mask deeper emotions. They wrote poetry together, and  if you are ever in London, The Imperial War Museum has  a draft of Owen's most famous poem, "Anthem for Doomed Youth," with Sassoon's edits scribbled between the stanzas. It's perfect and sad and looks so fragile for something so important. 

The extent of their romantic relationship is contested, but their letters to each other and subsequent and poetry reveal a devotion that reaches far beyond the typical parameters of love and friendship. I've memorized poems by both of them—"Anthem" by Owen and "Memory" by Sassoon, but really, it's the phrases from their letters to and about each other that stay with me.

 A year before he was killed in battle, Owen wrote this to Sassoon:

"I love you, dispassionately, so much, so very much, dear Fellow, that the blasting little smile you wear on reading this can't hurt me in the least. 

You have fixed my Life – however short. You did not light me: I was always a mad comet; but you have fixed me. I spun round you a satellite for a month, but I shall swing out soon, a dark star in the orbit where you will blaze."

Sassoon didn't stop Owen from being exactly who he was— a mad comet with a light Sassoon eventually recognized as greater and more powerful than his own. But he "fixed"his life, gave meaning and purpose to the madness Owen felt before sending him back to the trenches, an eternal dark star killed in battle a week before armistice. Sassoon was devastated when Owen died, and he spent years honoring Owen's legacy by ensuring his poems were published. Years later, he still missed his friend:

“W’s death was an unhealed wound, and the ache of it has been with me ever since. I wanted him back—not his poems.”

There's something so deeply powerful there, and I can't do it justice. You fixed my lifeI wanted him back.

Owen and Sassoon bonded over the horror of war, their love of words and expression, and a deep need to do the "right" thing by their comrades. (Both were recognized for courage and valor in battle.) Their love was the fierce byproduct of experiences most people can't comprehend. Can love like that exist in today's first-world? Somehow I think two people sharing a mutual hatred for the Kardashians isn't going to forge the same emotional connection as telling your significant other about the time you spent trapped in a foxhole with a rotting corpse, or holding your dying friend until he dies after getting his face blown off. 


But I still believe there is something important about whatever they shared, the ability to love without the desire to control, a willingness to orbit around another person and a willingness to let someone swing out into space. Fixing, letting go, wanting back, loving without fear and aching with memory. Whatever it is, it's in my head all the time, and now that I know it exists, I don't think I can settle for anything else. 

3 comments:

Vapid Vixen said...

I honestly love this so much.

Tifferoo said...

❤️

Joanna said...

I love reading what you write. I now want to go to the imperial war museum. And also think about orbiting and letting be.