What is perfect love

Poem 9 from J.V. Cunningham’s collection To What Strangers, What Welcome. I quote from the fantastically edited The Poems of J. V. Cunningham, with a great introduction and great notes, all done by Timothy Steele. Read this. Read this.


Innocent to innocent,
One asked, What is perfect love?
Not knowing it is not love,
Which is imperfect–some kind
Of love or other, some kind
Of interchange with wanting,
There when all else is wanting,
Something by which we make do.

So impaired, uninnocent,
If I love you–as I do–
To the very perfection
Of perfect imperfection,
It’s that I care more for you
Than for my feeling for you.

Unabsolute, unshaped

J.V. Cunningham: Coffee

When I awoke with cold
And looked for you, my dear,
ANd the dusk inward rolled,
Not light or dark, but drear,

Unabsolute, unshaped,
That no glass can oppose,
I fled not to escape
Myself, but to transpose.

I have so often fled
Wherever I could drink
Dark coffee and there read
More than a man would think

That I say I waste time
For contemplation’s sake:
In an unencumbered clime
Minute inductions wake,

Insight flows in my pen.
I know not fear nor haste.
Time is my own again.
I waste it for the waste.

This is the third time I posted a poem by J.V. Cunningham on this blog, and it bears repeating: Cunningham is one of last century’s best American poets, he’s severely underrated, and The Poems of J.V. Cunningham, edited by TImothy Steele, is highly, highly recommended.

Intimacy / is like hard liquor.

J.V. Cunningham: Interview With Doctor Drink

I have a fifth of therapy
In the house, and transference there.
Doctor, there’s not much wrong with me,
Only a sick rattlesnake somewhere

In the house, if it be there at all,
But the lithe mouth is coiled. The shapes
Of door and window move. I call.
What is it that pulls down the drapes?

Disheveled and exposed? Your rye
Twists in my throat: intimacy
Is like hard liquor. Who but I
Coil there and squat, and pay your fee?

This is the second poem from the sequence “Doctor Drink” (1950). It’s taken from the marvelously edited The Poems of J.V. Cunningham. It’s a slim book that contains all of Cunningham’s poems and they are all amazing. Cunningham is one of the best poets of his time, and yet not nearly well enough known.

Love like anger in the night

J. V. Cunningham: To My Wife

And does the heart grow old? You know
In the indiscriminate green
Of summer or in earliest snow
A landscape is another scene,

Inchoate and anonymous,
And every rock and bush and drift
As our affections alter us
Will alter with the season’s shift.

So love by love we come at last,
As through the exclusions of a rhyme,
Or the exactions of a past,
To the simplicity of time,

The antiquity of grace, where yet
We live in terror and delight
With love as quiet as regret
And love like anger in the night.

What to say about this incredible poet? You read the poem. It’s from The Poems of J.V. Cunningham, a great, great volume of poetry, edited by Timothy Steele. You should get it. You can buy it here or elsewhere.