“I, for my wife, the sun uphold,” Robert Louis Stevenson wrote.
I, for my wife, the sun uphold,
Or, dozing, strike the seasons cold.
She, on her side, in fairy-wise
Deals in diviner mysteries,
By spells to make the fuel burn
And keep the parlour warm, to turn
Water to wine, and stones to bread,
By her unconquered hero-head.
A naked Adam, naked Eve,
Alone the primal bower we weave;
Sequestered in the seas of life,
A Crusoe couple, man and wife,
With all our good, with all our will,
Our unfrequented isle we fill;
And victor in day’s petty wars,
Each for the other lights the stars.
Come then, my Eve, and to and fro
Let us about our garden go.
Men are Heaven’s Piers, by Robert Louis Stevenson. That is marriage poetry.
I could also describe marriage like this. Laying in bed in the dark, listening to your pregnant wife breathe heavily, thinking about your job while you smell the night air from the window mingling with the faint remains of indigestion.
That is marriage prose.
Even more prosaically, I could take a page from my notebook where we calculated budget figures and adjustments to our debt repayment and savings plan. That is marriage prose too.
The poetry and the prose of marriage are different but not separate. The poetry emerges from the prose. The poetry gives the prose meaning. The poetry isn’t the prose but its inherent in it. Even that budget sheet would have a whiff of poetry if you looked at it as an artefact of a marriage.
Here’s another poem fragment, this time from Longfellow’s Hiawatha.
As unto the bow the cord is,
So unto the man is woman,
Though she bends him, she obeys him,
Though she draws him, yet she follows,
Useless each without the other!
We write a lot about the mystery of the sexes and their roles here. What we write, I think, bears the same relationship to ordinary daily manhood and womanhood as poetry bears to prose. We’re writing prose, but its prose about poetry. Same with the Proclamation on the Family, I’d argue.
Sex roles aren’t strict rules for living. They are banners for living. They are the old, sweet melodies and we are jazz musicians who sometimes play them straight and sometimes improvise variations on them.