Friday, November 30, 2018

Poetry Friday: Marriage

I always hesitate to write about my marriage, because in my experience, people who write about marriage are generally doing so to advise other people how they should conduct their marriages. Please understand that I am not doing that. I have been married to my husband for nearly thirty years, and I am an expert on him and on us, which doesn't mean that I handle things well all or even most of the time, just that I am fully qualified to speak about my own marriage. I don't know about marriages in general, and I don't judge anybody else on their own situation. Sometimes things don't work out, in quiet ways or huge, dramatic ways. Some marriages need to end, when people are being abused and mistreated.

(I don't want to be a "smug married," as in Bridget Jones' memorable phrase. This time of year, I'm too busy being smug about our warm tropical weather.)

Having said all that, I think marriage is a great thing. People come and go constantly, but a spouse who will stick around until death parts you is a blessing beyond words. I am more grateful for my husband than I can say. He knows me, the good, the bad, and the ugly, and he keeps loving me, year after year after year. Any relationship that lasts as long as ours has will naturally have ups and downs, and the traditional marriage vows' references to better, worse, richer, poorer, sickness, and health were written in full awareness of that. My husband and I can irritate each other very effectively, and since we are both far from perfect, our home is not always filled with harmony. But life is hard, sometimes brutally so, and it's wonderful to have someone you can count on to be there through it. I do not take that for granted.

I didn't know what I was doing when I picked out a husband. I met him when I was 18 and we married when I was 21. What did I know? Precious little. Somehow I managed to get a great guy, who loves me and our children better every year. What have we done right? I couldn't really tell you. He cooks great meals, and that sure helps. He makes me laugh and he doesn't worry the way I do, and he helps me to get things in perspective. And he stays. Everyone else leaves, but he doesn't. 

Today I have a poem by, of all people, Margaret Atwood, about marriage. The author of The Handmaid's Tale wouldn't be likely to sugarcoat any topic, least of all marriage, and she doesn't. I think she has it right; we have to hold on tightly to the people around us in order to survive at all, let alone thrive.

After that I have a poem of my own, written nearly four years ago in a fit of frustration with the way people write about marriage. Everyone has advice, mostly filled with doom and gloom. And I am pretty convinced things are going to go wrong at any moment anyway, so I buy into the negativity way too often. I suddenly realized that I had probably been married longer than most of the people writing those articles I was seeing online, and maybe I knew just as much as they did, which is to say, not all that much. But for sure I knew more about my husband and my marriage than they did.

by Margaret Atwood

Marriage is not
a house or even a tent

it is before that, and colder:

the edge of the forest, the edge
of the desert
                    the unpainted stairs
at the back where we squat
outside, eating popcorn

the edge of the receding glacier

where painfully and with wonder
at having survived even
this far

we are learning to make fire

You can read this poem and others by Atwood here.

Staying Afloat

Ten Things You Are Doing Wrong That Will Wreck Your Marriage
Ten Things You Are Doing Wrong That Will Ruin Your Children
Ten Things You are Doing Wrong That Will Destroy Your Life

Why do I click on these links,
As though unable to do anything else,
Drawn in by the flashing lighthouses of their headlines,
Eager to learn what I need to change, how I am falling short,
How I could, in an unguarded moment, ruin everything?
How my little boat could wind up shattered on the rocks?

Just once I’d like to see an article about what I’m doing right:

Like that time I steered by the shoal of dolphins
And we all stopped and watched as they played
And we were all happy.

And when we dangled our feet in the ocean and told stories as the sun set.

Or how we made it between Scylla and Charybdis
With only minor bruises
And because I held you tight, we didn’t even have to tie you to the mast
When we sailed past those sirens.

I don’t want to hear any more about what I might possibly be doing wrong
As our boat bobs gently.
We know the calm between the storms is only temporary,
But in the meantime,
It’s a beautiful day
And there’s not a cloud or a pirate or a shipwreck in sight.

Ruth, from

Carol has the roundup today.


Carol said...

What a beautiful love letter to your husband! I hope he will read it- it feels like it could be an anniversary card or Christmas present poem. And I love your original poem. Such big, big truth! Why do we always concentrate on what we are doing wrong?

Linda B said...

Having been married for 48 years until my husband passed, I know a bit about marriage, too, & like you, I learned to hold on tight, and was happy that we learned to make fire, Ruth. You've brought back the thrills along with the chills of being with someone so long & while I miss him every day, I am grateful for those years. And somehow this part of your poem touched me mightily: "As our boat bobs gently." Thanks for a loving post. I bet your husband loves it, too!

Tabatha said...

I feel like our whole lives might be learning to make fire! Beautiful post, Ruth, and I love your poem and your little bobbing boat.

Jone said...

Beautiful. I loved the Atwood poem. Thanks for sharing.

SW said...

I love you more every day, and I love you blog, too!

Mary Lee said...

I love the contrast between what Atwood has to say about the ancient and primal nature of marriage, and your thoughts on the everyday necessity of keeping the boat afloat!