Emily launches yet another broadside in her campaign to prove her love. This confrontation is heating up. And she leaps from the cliff of heresy . . again.
# 456, c. 1862
So well that I can live without —
I love thee — then How well is that?
As well as Jesus?
Prove it me
That He — loved Men —
As I — love thee —
This sounds like another attempt to convince. Someone is not buying Emily’s particular brand of flummery. So she crafts this trenchant argument to her lover. I parse it this way: Emily loves so well that she can accept her lover’s absence without allowing her feelings to curdle into hatred. And yet . . . and yet . . . the poet can’t help one last parting shot. She wants to make sure this erstwhile, unconvinced lover knows that her love is better, greater even than Jesus’ love for all of mankind. Emily, the superior lover, declares that her love is not some cool, distant abstraction that one reads in an old book and must take on faith. Jesus and his story-tellers, offered a love diffused into metaphor over the entire human species. Emily has something a great deal more local and concrete in mind.
Emily’s heresy is to suggest that hers is the greater love because it is more difficult. She implies that it’s relatively easy for Jesus to love us. He’s dead anyway. And safely tucked up in Heaven with God the Father, where everything works out just fine. She’s impatient with this sanctified love. Too safe. Too neat a dodge to displace that desire for love onto a dead guy. How much more complex and interesting and demanding of the self to evolve in spirit while still cloaked in this soft, decaying, glove of skin—to cultivate a love here on earth. Emily throws this challenge to her lover: “I dare you to love now, while we live as mortal beings with all our sweat and mess and looming death. Try that before you give up on me.”
If you had asked me last week where lay the answer to all my prayers, I would have said the West Bank. (Because that’s where I found what I need for my Mardi Gras costume.) Turns out that is not entirely true. Today Geoff and I embark on an expedition to New Orleans East because that is where you find junk yards with the remains of old Toyotas that can be mined for treasure, obscure car parts that would be costly if purchased directly from the dealer. So we go east in search of our heart’s desire. Typical me, I was rooting about in the wrong quarter of the compass for my heart’s desire. I need a new map, too.