Thursday, 8 December 2011

Keen to commit - Love Minus Zero/No Limit

We're getting ready to leave our new house and prospective garden in Italy. Both are still uninhabitable and more or less unuseable.  Winter is gathering strength, despite the fortunate, sunny, seemingly endless late autumn. - perfect weather for roofing; ten more days should see it done, they tell us.

They have already finished the garage which now just requires new doors and digging out the earth banks and scrub around it.  A huge orange campsis - the only strictly ornamental plant in the garden  - has had to be sacrificed.  Strangely, the garage looks better without it, especially with its new roof.

There is fresh snow on the mountains which curve round our town.  The quality of light today gives me the chance to brandish the word "pellucid"; our shadows are long, the air still, and frost lay over the hills till ten this morning.

I feel that strange sensation of new attachments growing, out of my legs and my brain, filaments and synapses connecting and tethering me here. We have to see this person and that, go here and there, busying about like real inhabitants.  It's all so happy as we pay our debts to pleasure and to ourselves. I hate to think what new debts we might be accumulating in the circle of hell reserved for the too lucky and the over-blessed.  We're fending off environmental guilt with photovoltaic panels and trains rather than planes, but I don't think that can possibly cover all the glories of our lives, at this point anyway.

My thinking today is about that wilful act of commitment to a particular place and garden.  If we have the chance to make such choices, we carefully weigh the odds, almost like rational beings.  Then we defang the negatives and close our eyes until only the pink light gets in.  That's what I'm up to at the moment - propaganda for my own consumption.

Whether it's love, babies, jobs, gardens or countries, the first rule of a sensible life is to be content with what you have personally chosen for yourself.  Fail at that and it is hard to recover your confidence.  Our geese must be swan to us at least.  Perhaps you think Dylan has little help to offer here.  Partly right, but he can show us how to settle our own choices most comfortably in the mind.  Try Love Minus Zero - No Limit.  You could even try it as a fraction; the minus zero over the no limit, as he intended for this supposed love song; suggesting, in my mind at least, a calculating and glacial infinity, not quite the protagonist at the mercy of the tender heat of his emotions.

I'm surprised to discover I only have the Budokan version of the song with me, but it strikes me as pretty good, clear as a bell and attentively, conscientiously sung, although the flute may add too much fairy gaiety. The poetic paradoxes are frequent and effective, the images potent and the melody successful.  Can you hear the restraint in my praise?

It's because I'm having to hold back years, literally years, of hearing this song and feeling breathless with rage at the absolute cheek of the man.  How dare he say that line: - "She knows too much to argue or to judge".  Of course I speak with forked tongue here, I know that the earth would have to spin off its axis before I could restrain myself in a similar fashion, but even so.  Surely all women feel compromised and at least irritated by it.  Surely it means, she knows enough to keep her mouth shut.  Ah no, I see it means she's reached some plane of calm wisdom where arguing and judging can only diminish.  And I know that can be true.  Bother.

It would be hard to gainsay the obvious attractions of a life-partner who will neither argue or judge.  The comfort and permission inherent in such characteristics!  We should none of us have to put up with arguing and judging, it's obvious. So I can run myself round a complete circle here.

Well I hope I've made that bit clear.  It only adds substance to what I wanted to convey - that the song is about a person who's describing his own choice to himself in a way that reassures him that he has chosen well. He's not really saying he loves her, he's saying she has the right characteristics.  Seeing her like that allows him to gloss over what else might be true of her.

It's as if I said my new garden was "natural" "wild"and "a blank canvas".  Reasssuring but not really true. It's got that inimitable view of the town, underground springs that make the ground slump and is in parts, very steep indeed.  There is no ease in the walking, it's hard work to get down to the woodland.  Boar come and plough about with their noses, quite close to the house.  I'd be fooling myself if I thought I couldn't get the garden wrong, it being so natural and forgiving and all.

Here's one way I've laid a tentative, nervous hand on the land, so early in the proceedings, whilst all is chaos as the building proceeds.  I've planted some species tulips, muscari, erythoniums and camassia here and there; just to see how they do.  We've scattered some bricks about on the top because we hope they'll discourage any passing boar snout.  But I suspect small bulbs will be favourite boar food.  There won't be any arguments anyway.  So that's another way of assuring myself of my commitment, imagining patches of bulbs in sping and trying to make them start. If they grow I will spread them thankfully, believing in my own perspicacity.

The work of the song in confirming the correct choice and commitment of the protagonist never stops.  The woman he believes he can love doesn't make promises, her faithfulness is beyond the foolishness of those who "carry roses".  She can't be bought with valentines, she knows strange riddles about failure and success, in a world of sour intellectualism and pointless chit-chat she holds the keys to wisdom.  This is to compare her with those he has not chosen and it is to her benefit.  It's like me looking at the gardens we didn't buy, and picking holes in them.  It's what we do to commit to the thing we want. We make comparisons that cast a better light.

At the end of the song, we get the coup de grace, his love is like some raven at his window with a broken wing.  Apart from being exquisitely ambiguous and revolutionary as a description of a loved one, this line tells you even more of what he's telling himself about why he's choosing her.  Her similarity to a raven makes her inexorable (Poe's raven is too) so he's not absolutely responsible for his choice, she has in some way required it.  Her broken wing; ah there we have it - she needs him, she is not whole.

Well my garden is only inexorable now because we've already bought it.  But I can fully identify with the needs I perceive the house and garden to have, they are visible wounds and will require all my energy and effort.  What else could improve a choice so well as a bit of reciprocation?  There's the beginning of a vision in my mind, of a happy garden, smiling in the sun, the possibility of easy strolls up and down along mown paths amongst trees in meadows and shrubs clothing the steeper banks.  A seat or two under the trees, some glades at the woodland edge, vines on a pergola near the house, loquats, quinces, pomegranates and elegantly thin tall hedgerows such as are common, but beautiful here.  All this will be the rewards for my commitment.  Let's hope my particular raven is a swan after all. Let's hope I'm only fooling myself as much as I must to settle in and attach myself.

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