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Poem of the week: The Measure by Jon Silkin

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This complex investigation into the significance of love is a fascinating example of 20th-century metaphysical poetry

We all cry for love;
But what if we get it? To hold
In sex, and affection,
The adored human creature
Making of both a unit
In love, and procreate
Which is the end of love,
Drops one small image into
A widening universe.
Man’s love disintegrates
In the space void of him;
And gradually he comes
To know that he is small.
What is man’s love? To hold
Into despair the loving creature,
And propagate an image
Is the utmost. Beyond his tides
The chronic invalids
Of broken universes
Wait in derision on man.
Yet he was formed to love.
Earth cries, sun cries,
With the stark, hapless Gods
Phenomenal of matter
In space, to this end.
But when man reaches this
And grows into himself,
He dwindles to his size.
His spaces melt into him
He occupies no area.
Love then is the space of destruction,
And but for the harmonies
Of despair, he is nothing.
Weep, then, to be a stone
Or a cold animal
In servitude to something
Other than consciousness
Which love brings; since that shape
Or measure, in awareness
Through love of what we are,
Is that measure of space death is.

Jon Silkin gestures towards the metaphysical poets in this early poem, first published in 1961. The title might make you think of mechanical devices like the pulley, which, in the eponymous poem by George Herbert, becomes a figure for God’s compassionate relationship with mankind: then there’s the measuring of Sin and Love which occupies The Agony.

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