Today’s contribution to “The Love Project” is a signature poem from one of my favorite books on romantic love, entitled A Severe Mercy by Sheldon Vanauken. The story of love discovered — simultaneously on both the human and divine levels — offers a remarkable image of married love at its best. At least, at its best at the beginning.
The cynic would observe that the reason they never experienced the “creeping separateness” was that their love did not last for long. And yet, they had laid a foundation that carried them not only through the early years of marriage, but through unthinkable grief and pain as well. Years later, I briefly corresponded with Professor Vanauken, and he told me that after Davy’s death he had gone to a great deal of trouble to find his wife’s daughter, whom she’d given up for adoption before he knew her. He wanted Davy’s daughter to know what an extraordinary woman her mother had been, and how much she had loved her. Indeed, who could help but love a woman capable of such a love as this?
This present glory, love, once-given grace,
The sum of blessing in a sure embrace,
Must not in creeping separateness decline
But be the centre of our whole design.
We know it’s love that keeps a love secure,
And only by love of love can love endure,
For self’s a killer, reckless of the cost,
And loves of lilactime unloved are lost.
We build our altar, then, to love and keep
The holy flame alight and never sleep:
This darling love shall deepen year by year,
And dearer shall we grow who are so dear.
The magic word is sharing: every stream
Of beauty, every faith and grief and dream;
Go hand in hand in gay companionship –
In sober death no sundering of the grip.
And into love all other loveliness
That we can tease from time we shall impress
Slows dawns and lilacs, traceries of the tress,
The spring and poems, stars and ancient seas.
This splendour is upon us, high and pure
As heaven: and we swear it shall endure:
Swear fortitude for pain and faith for tears
To hold our shining barrier down the years.
Today’s Love in Action: When was the last time you wrote your beloved a poem? Or reread one of his to you?
I don’t think I ever encountered anyone who was familiar with Van or his work (though I have given away my share of the book over the years). I am so glad to see you promoting “A Severe Mercy” for more to come to know Van and Davy and their wonderful love stories. So rich a source of both human and Divine love as you so perfectly named it. I haven’t reread it in a few years and thank you for spurring me to pick it up again.