A Poem by Jack Gilbert
Gilbert's 1962 volume, Views of Jeopardy, won the 1962 Yale Younger Poets Prize. He is also the author of the collections Monolithos and Refusing Heaven (Alfred A. Knopf, 2005). It is unfortunate that the prize-winning Yale collection and Monolithos have been allowed to slip from print. How sad that we do not have greater access to poems like this one.
THE GREAT FIRES
Love is apart from all things.
Desire and excitement are nothing beside it.
It is not the body that finds love.
What leads us there is the body.
What is not love provokes it.
What is not love quenches it.
Love lays hold of everything we know.
The passions which are called love
also change everything to a newness
at first. Passion is clearly the path
but does not bring us to love.
It opens the castle of our spirit
so that we might find the love which is
a mystery hidden there.
Love is one of the many great fires.
Passion is a fire made of many woods,
each of which gives off its own special odor
so that we can know the many kinds
that are not love. Passion is the paper
and twigs that kindle the flames
but cannot sustain them. Desire perishes
because it tries to be love.
Love is eaten away by the appetite.
Love does not last, but it is different
from the passions that do not last.
Love lasts by not lasting.
Isaiah said each man walks in his own fire
for his sins. Love allows us to walk
in the sweet music of our particular heart.