Thursday, September 15, 2011

This Year's Reading - The Invention of Love (Tom Stoppard)

I have been tentatively treading into drama, even modern drama, this year. It's a field I'm unfamiliar with and don't fully understand. I tend toward the descriptive and lyric and often (in real and literary life) find myself perplexed by human relationships and dialogue. But the work and afición of two friends - Powell Burke and Heather Hammond - have piqued my interest.

During college, my roommate and I read and worked to memorize A.E. Housman's 'A Shropshire Lad.' It remains a book close to my heart and has exerted a profound influence on my writing. Housman, a reclusive Latinist, who sublimated a hopeless love for Moses Jackson into two beautiful books of poetry, is the subject of Tom Stoppard's biopic play The Invention of Love. The play is set in Hades where a recently-deceased Housman stands on the banks of Styx and stops to remember his life before sailing on across the river, beyond memory.

I read it a few months ago but two parts have been coming back to me lately. The first is a conversation in Hades between Housman and Oscar Wilde. Wilde tells Housman that "Before Plato could describe love, the loved one had to be invented. We would never love anybody if we could see past our invention." The second is Housman misquoting Sophocles' only surviving line from the lost play The Love of Achilles: "Love, said Sophocles, is like the ice held in the hand by children. A piece of ice held fast in the fist." The real quote is more specific: "When ice appears out of doors, and boys seize it up while it is solid, at first they experience new pleasures. But in the end their pride will not agree to let it go, but their acquisition is not good for them if it stays in their hands. In the same way an identical desire drives lovers to act and not to act."

I leave the work of interpretation up to you, dear reader, and also the work of judging the truth and weight of these lines. As for drama, I have been considering translating a play or parts of a play. I have felt for some time that for the sake of my art and my life, my next poetic must be relational. Send suggestions.

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