Lost in the Labyrinth



‘Ask, ask and it will be given!’—I ask
For a last look into my loved one’s eyes
Before the blinds are drawn. That’s all I ask:
A last look, last kiss, before my love dies.

See me lost in time’s labyrinth who seek
My love again, my love lost in the maze
Of sunless alleys doomed and winter bleak—
Sick to death, Seigneur, of your dark ways.

Why don’t you get on with it, Lord Horror!
Why lift the blade and not strike? Go on, sir, do it!
Let the blade fall soon, today or tomorrow.

Oh, what a mess you’ve made of things!—you blew it!

Have done, have done!—produce Death from your pack.
Deal the card soon, sir, and get off my back!

2 thoughts to “Lost in the Labyrinth”

  1. Shades, albeit tragic and uncomprehending shades, of (again) Francis Thompson. This time his ‘Hound of Heaven’: The new Testament context (as in ‘ask and it will be given’); the desperate searching for something known in ones bones to be unattainable; the labyrinth of time and the mind; and the acknowledgement of He who sustains our mortality, as in the demand that He ‘get off my back’ and ‘Sick to death, Seigneur, of your dark ways’.

    But resolution of the poems are at opposite poles and it is anger, bitter corrosive, destructive anger, that differentiates them.

    Some analogous fragments from the much longer Thompson ode:
    I fled Him down the nights and down the days
    I fled Him down the arches of the years
    I fled Him down the labyrinthine ways of my own mind.
    And in the mist of tears I hid from Him,
    And under running laughter, up vista-ed hopes I sped
    And shot, precipitated a-down titanic glooms of chasmèd fears
    From those strong feet that followed, followed after.

    … for though I knew His love who followèd
    Yet was I sore a-dread lest, having Him, I must have nought beside.

    … naked I a-wait Thy love’s uplifted stroke
    My harness, piece by piece Thou hast hewn from me
    And smitten me to my knee; I am defenseless utterly
    I slept methinks and woke.

    … halts by me that footfall,
    Is my gloom after all shade of His hand outstretched caressingly?
    Ah! fondest blindest weakest, I am He whom thou seekest
    Though dravest love from the who dravest Me.
    From someone who lost his wife of 45 years some 3 years ago and would not hesitate to forfeit his own life for what this poem’s author asks. But who is also horrified by the despairing arrogance of the conclusions drawn from what he/she judges a denial of what is asked.

  2. @ Sabretache

    An extremely well-informed and perceptive analysis of LD’s poem. Yes, she has been greatly influenced as you point out, by Francis Thompson’s The Hound of Heaven. That was arguably Thompson’s masterpiece by which he is remembered today.

    These particular “De Profundis” type poems of LD’s however, mostly in sonnet form, owe more to another Catholic poet: Gerard Manley Hopkins. Especially his “terrible sonnets”. As you must know, few poems in the English language have reached such profound depths of despair and world sorrow as these sonnets of Hopkins.

    Like Francis Thompson, Hopkins cultivates an extremely idiosyncratic diction. Thompson is known for his archaisms, his use of quaint words, whereas Hopkins is known for his “sprung rhythm” and inversions. Here is one of Hopkins’ most memorable “terrible sonnets”:

    I WAKE and feel the fell of dark, not day.
    What hours, O what black hours we have spent
    This night! what sighs you, heart, saw; ways you went!
    And more must, in yet longer light’s delay.
    With witness I speak this. But where I say
    Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
    Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
    To dearest him that lives alas! away.

    I am gall, I am heartburn. God’s most deep decree
    Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
    Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
    Selfyest of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
    The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
    As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.

    This is hard to beat, but the next sonnet (in my opinion) is even more harrowing. According to LD, no poet in the English language has ever written poems of despair and spiritual desolation like this. They were not written for publication and were published only many years after the poet’s death.

    No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
    More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
    Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
    Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
    My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
    Woe, wórld-sorrow; on an áge-old anvil wince and sing —
    Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked ‘No ling-
    ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief.’

    O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
    Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
    May who ne’er hung there. Nor does long our small
    Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
    Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
    Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

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