I wrote The Marriage after completing 5 “exhausting” poems to write: Gamos, New Year of the Trees, Inquest, Bereft, and Cor Caroli Regis Martyris , which were each puzzles that required a large amount of research and challenging construction. Those were the first 5 poems I wrote when I started writing again in late 2017.
This one was “for fun.” I didn’t pressure myself the same way I did on those earlier poems, which were packed with pretext and subtext.
Or something like that. 🙂
Also, when I was done writing those first 5 poems, I had many, many pages of ideas, phrases, and words that I hadn’t used, but loved. Many of those powerful ideas (to me) found their way here (and of course in poems that came after – and probably still in others yet to be).
I’m new at writing poetry (after a long hiatus) and am still finding my voice. That was especially true a year ago when I wrote this. That being said, here is some of what I love in this one, and some of what I was trying to say in this personal poem about marriage, generally, and my own marriage, specifically.
(Remember, it’s a pretty personal subject, but you’re reading the annotation, not just the poem. So I’ll share with you my thoughts. Where the poem itself might be a bit more universal, an annotation is pretty personal – I’ll often say “my,” “our,” “we” etc – that’s of course referring to my wife and I.)
“Modulus” is an absolute value. It is also where the number cycle loops around to restart in modular arithmetic. I love this idea for an eternal marriage, which is how we have approached our marriage, “met in promise.”
“Permanence of place” – there is an idea also discussed in Gamos about how we seek and discover common ground in marriage. That is referenced here.
“Breakwater broken, brining blood crested” – This line has sexual connotations, certainly, appropriate to the beginning of new marriage and the corresponding commencement of a profound, interpersonal, lifelong intimacy. Physically, there was breaking and bleeding as we entered into a sexual relationship that accompanied our giving ourselves to each other in marriage. Conceptually, our chastity/celibacy before marriage – the breakwater – is broken as we enter a new stage of our relationship and lie together in the blood of Eden. This new stage of our relationship is accompanied by complete fidelity to one another in marriage, as described in the next stanza.
This line also has religious connotations, significant to our marriage. The breakwater of sin and death are broken, the brining blood of Christ having crested all. The saving, salting, sealing, brining blood of Christ overcomes all obstacles, all barriers, life and death, sickness and health, richer and poorer, all. A marriage blessed by Christ and preserved by him is sealed in promise – the modulus met.
Additionally, as in Gamos, Christ is the bridegroom and we are (or the Church is, depending on the metaphor) the bride. Where we are the bride to Christ, we are “saved by fire” – as described in the last stanza. Though of course there are other meanings in that phrase as well.
“Falter flaxen cord” – 2 Nephi 26 has this description of the Adversary of our souls: “he leadeth them by the neck with a flaxen cord, until he bindeth them with his strong cords forever.” This echoes the language of Isaiah 5:18: “Woe unto them that draw iniquity with cords of vanity, and sin as it were with a cart rope.” Contrast this with ideas in Gamos to see how the flaxen cords fall away (or “falter flaxen cord”) as we work together in marriage (1 Corinthians 11:11): “Nevertheless neither is the man without the woman, neither the woman without the man, in the Lord.” In our marriage, that flaxen cord falters as we strive towards the ideal represented in Gamos.
This line also has a second, alternative personal meaning in wordplay. “Falter flaxen cord” sounds to me like “fall to her flaxen cord.” When I first met my wife, the first time I saw her, she had her nearly waist-length blond hair tied in a single, substantial braid. It was a beautiful “flaxen cord” to which I fell. See the annotation of the poem “orchard” to see an image (in portrait form) from early in our marriage demonstrating this specific flaxen cord.
“Undertow companion skin” – There are at least two ideas here – one again holds sexual connotations, with “Undertow” tying back to “breakwater broken” in the first stanza – and the ongoing pull back to each other in our “companion skin.” This was a powerful pull before marriage – felt compellingly in our chaste courtship, and is an ongoing pull together in our complete fidelity to each other after marriage now that the breakwater is broken. This fidelity is described next.
There is also wording here referring to Adam and Eve as described in the annotation for “Drupelet” from the poem New Year of the Trees. In that section, fascinating Biblical language from a modern translation ties this “companion skin” back through the blood of Eden described above to the companionship modeled by Adam and Eve. From that annotation:
I recently learned of one Bible translation (Transparent English Bible) directly calling Adam “soil-man,” which I thought was wonderful….
“Corresponding piece” – Another translation of the Bible (Young’s Literal Translation) refers to Eve as “counterpart.” Another refers to Eve as “authority corresponding to him” (International Standard Version). I learned of these connections through Lynn Wilson’s insightful book Christ’s Emancipation of Women in the New Testament. Here, Dr. Wilson provides the Transparent English Bible translation of Genesis 2:18-20:
“And YHVH ELOHIM said, ‘Not good – the soil-man being by himself, I will make for him a help, as his one before.’ And YHVH ELOHIM shaped from the soil every living thing of the field, and every flyer of the skies, and he made come toward the soil-man to see what he would call to it; and whatever the soil-man would call to it — each living life-breather–that was its name. And the soil-man called names to every animal, and to the flyer of the skies, and to every living thing of the field; and to Soil-Man he did not find a help, as his one before.”
Dr. Wilson notes in a footnote on page 125: “The translation note for ‘his one before,’ reads, ‘one facing him, before or opposite him, as his corresponding counterpart.'”
From “counterpart” and “authority corresponding” and “one before” and “corresponding counterpart,” I described Eve here in this stanza as Adam’s “Corresponding piece.” They are – in every sense of the phrase – equal partners, fully correspondent to one another. (“Neither is the man without the woman, nor the woman without the man, in the Lord” – 1 Corinthians 11:11)
From those ideas of “counterparts” and “corresponding” – I used the word “companion.” Each married couple reenacting the relationship of Adam and Eve.
“Fidelity to bind and bring faith and kindred, flesh and flesh, where worlds without end begin” – This line summarizes marriage to me, and its central purpose, and its foundation, and its joys, and its destiny. Fidelity to bind. Fidelity to bring faith and kindred. Fidelity to bring flesh and flesh, fidelity to bring worlds without end (Ephesians 3:21). If you believe as I do that the central purpose of life is to form stable family units that last through this life and beyond death, then this line says it all.
The word “fidelity” has a wonderful etymology, tying to faith and faithfulness, loyalty, trust, fealty….
Fidelity: “Etymology: 15th century, from Middle French fidélité, from Latin fidēlitās, from fidēlis (“faithful”), from fidēs (“faith, loyalty”) (English faith), from Proto-Indo-European *bʰidʰ-, zero-grade of Proto-Indo-European *bʰeydʰ- (“to command, to persuade, to trust”) (English bide). Doublet of fealty.” wiktionary
“Fasten folded piercing pull mosaic membrane – bone and soul” – There are a few ideas here:
“Fasten,” as a bride – as Isaiah 49:28: “and bind them on thee, as a bride doeth.” “Fasten” can also be wordplay sounding like ‘to make something quicker,’ which ties to quickening, or enlivening.
“Folded,” as sheep that safely graze – as Isaiah 40:11 “He shall feed his flock like a shepherd: he shall gather the lambs with his arm, and carry them in his bosom, and shall gently lead those that are with young.”
“Piercing,” as a religious reference to Christ – who gave himself for the Church (Ephesians 5:25) and who is the foundation of our marriage (1 Corinthians 3:11-16 – note the saving by fire in Corinthians) and who is himself the Bridegroom (Revelations 19:5-9) – and also “piercing” as a sexual reference to new marriage and our new “bride-bed,” particularly when paired with “membrane” in this stanza.
“Piercing pull” is a reference to attraction to one another.
“Mosaic membrane” is a wonderful phrase, referring usually to the composition of a cell membrane, that vital, composite, mix of proteins and molecules that together maintain homeostasis for the cell. Two people could form a mosaic as their lives come together to be one, “bone and soul.” People are mosaics, too, individually – but the complexity increases as they bring their lives together.
“awake, awash ere ebbing tide” – There is a linguistic tie back here to the “breakwater” and “undertow” earlier in the poem. Among other possible meanings, this line has at least this simple meaning – a la Steve Winwood: “When you see a chance, you take it.” My wife and I met in 1995 – we fell in love quickly, and it shocked us both. But we rode that wave – that risen tide – to the wedding altar and beyond – until this day, 23 years later, more in love than ever. But could the moment have passed and could we have missed it? Gratefully, we didn’t – we were brave enough to do something that seemed scary and wonderful at the time: we got married to someone we had only met months before. “Awake, awash ere ebbing tide.”
This line also references a concept in Fractal of the local standard of rest. Though there is a universal/cosmologic outrushing of everything fleeing everything, a universal tide that pushes all boats out to sea, and all seas to the stars, and all stars apart, as Fractal notes: “when we’re close enough, a contraction in time, a tide in the blood, a pull.” We created our own community when we came together, and “we rescue one another from the flood.” Again – see Fractal to feel more of what I am saying with this line. “Ere ebbing tide.”
“Saved by fire, burning bride.” – There are multiple meanings here.
First, “Saved by fire” is a phrase noted above that stems from 1 Corinthians 3:11-16:
11 For other foundation can no man lay than that is laid, which is Jesus Christ.
12 Now if any man build upon this foundation gold, silver, precious stones, wood, hay, stubble;
13 Every man’s work shall be made manifest: for the day shall declare it, because it shall be revealed by fire; and the fire shall try every man’s work of what sort it is.
14 If any man’s work abide which he hath built thereupon, he shall receive a reward.
15 If any man’s work shall be burned, he shall suffer loss: but he himself shall be saved; yet so as by fire.
Here we find that anything that is to endure must be built upon Christ, which we have tried to do in our marriage.
Second, an additional meaning is also of course the sexual or romantic sense of “fire” and “burning.”
Last, an important meaning is also pretty personal (as I guess all of this is) – and ties also to 1 Corinthians 3:11-16. Heidi and I experienced a house fire together in early 2011 (gratefully, we and our five children got out safely). We were truly saved by/in/through fire.
“Saved by fire, burning bride.”
Concluding note: As included in Gamos, here is the before and after (the “after” being about a year ago as of this writing):
I love my family – I’m so thankful Heidi and I were “awake, awash ere ebbing tide.” What a blessing it has been and yet will be, this “modulus … met in promise,” this “breakwater broken,” this “fidelity to bind and bring:” The Marriage.