Category Archives: lovelovelove

On Gifting, and Love: A Note

(This was originally posted 9/7/2007 at wotmania.com, which closed down at the end of August in 2009. [Most of the members can now be found at RAFO.] It has not been edited since that first posting. I’m putting it here because I want the copy out and visible. Narcissism and the internet: need I say more?)

I came across this poem today, for what must be the fifth time:

On Marraige

You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.

Love one another, but make not a bond of love:
Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls.
Fill each other’s cup but drink not from one cup.
Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf
Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone,
Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music.

Give your hearts, but not into each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other’s shadow.

~ Kahlil Gibran

My parents owned a copy of The Prophet. They still do. I read it when I was 10. There are no words, truly, to describe the experience of recognising but not comprehending beauty. It wafts around you, and perhaps through you. You cry and you are happy but you cannot for the life of you say why.

I read it again when I was 12. And this time it was worse, because sometimes I felt like it got it. It was like… doing a geometrical problem for which I had the key, only I didn’t understand the key, just held it in my unfeeling fingers.

I couldn’t tell you today whether I am romantic or not. Shall I put it like this: I do not believe that there is a soul-mate out there, waiting for me, but I do believe that I might meet someone, and together we might become each other’s soul-mates? Yes, I believe I shall indeed put it like that. But back when I was 12, I hadn’t formulated this theory. I didn’t really understand what I meant by the word “love” and why I shifted it around so much. I did know that someday some nice man/woman would charge up in a big black car, hand me a copy of The Prophet and ask me to marry him/her.

It wasn’t always a big shiny car. Sometimes she’d climb down a tree, and sit down beside me, and read the verse out loud, and I would listen to her. Sometimes he’d stop by me as I sat on a stone bench in my school playground, and he’d place the book in my hand, and I’d read to him. Sometimes we would alternate verse for verse. Sometimes we quoted them.

But that was the deal. I would have a someone. And I would know that someone because they gave me The Prophet.

have read the essaypoems since I was 12. They’re all over the internet, and sometimes I find them quoted or referenced in the books I read. I once read The Prophet from end to end online – right before I told someone I loved him, and he said he loved me back. (A month later he told me he couldn’t love anyone. But that’s not his fault, or Gibran’s fault, or mine.) And I couldn’t think what our future might be, I couldn’t figure out what adjustments we’d both have to make to each other, but one day I knew we would sit down in a small little pub playing very loud metal music, and I’d read The Prophet to him, and that would be me saying “I love you”, and him listening to me and knowing I was saying it.

And saying it back.

But, well, see, this man had not heard of Gibran – at least I do not know if he had. It’s not a question of his intelligence or readingness, you understand – I just was fairly sure he had not read Gibran because we’d never talked about poetry – not much, anyway. Perhaps we would have? (Does that matter?) And because he’d not read Gibran, he wouldn’t be able to buy The Prophet for me. Not unless I told him to, which is not the point of the fantasy.

And so I would have to buy it for him.

I made plans, you know. The buying of the copy. The giving. The speech – it was very long, and it was perfect; it was very short, and it was perfect; it wasn’t there at all, and it was perfect. And the reading. And the keeping. And.

Well. That one fell through, and I never even told him about Gibran. I was, and still am, a coward in these things. I want the people who love me to say that they love me, and to say it before I do so that it is not me that risks rejection but them. I want to not be the instigator of love because that way I am not the one who has made the demands. In my need to be ultra-perfect I can be ultra-passive. And when I fall short – as I cannot help, being simultaneously unstable and human – I try even harder to be the GooseGirl Princess. And if I am the Goosegirl hard enough, well enough, they shall give me The Prophet and that will prove that they love me.

I haven’t held and read a tangible copy of The Prophet since I was in my teens. I have never owned it. I have never received it as a gift. I may never receive it as a gift. Perfect romance exists, but it rarely plays to the storyteller in your head.

Unless, of course, your storyteller shifts her story. It’s the mark of a good storyteller, isn’t it? The the story is not so much unmarkable dross but instead the result of a caring, a commitment, a shaping – a sharing?

I don’t believe in the essentiality of a soulmate. I think I can live without one. I don’t think I can force the forging of that kind of bond. But maybe, maybe someday there will be one. And I would like to think that s/he and I will know it because one day I stretched out my hand and said, Do You Read Kahlil Gibran?

Yes or No, it won’t matter.

The Prophet

The Love That Dares Not Speak Its Name

My apologies, for I meander as only a rambler can meander.

I’ve been rereading some Sherlock Holmes over the past two or three days – specifically His Last Bow, The Casebook and The Hound of the Baskervilles. (I like the short stories better than the novels for instant gratification, but I must admit, the novels tend to be uniformly successful in staying with me, while only three-fourth of the stories seem to have done so.)

It’s been a long time since I read the books – my clearest memory of the detective and the doctor prior to my reread came from a half hour of a serial I watched on a crackly video back in Bangalore, over a year ago. Holmes was tall, aloof, supercilious, judgemental. Bloodless. Watson was pudgy, pompous, bumbling. Comic relief.

Rereading the books has reminded me of the Holmes and Watson in my head, and in the books. Watson is a fairly decent looking man, with experience of women on three continents – Holmes himself has remarked on Watson’s attractiveness. We do not call “bumbling” men whose first reaction to seeing their friend threatened by a large aggressive boxer is to gently but obviously pick up a poker. We do not see as clumsy men who are reckoned fleet of foot, who are called “men of action”. Who care for their friend’s safety when that friend will not – it is Watson who usually carries a firearm. He’s burgled for Holmes, followed Holmes and villains. He’s saved his friend’s life more than once. He weaned that friend off cocaine – and this before the drug was illegal, before “coke addict” was a dirty phrase. He is, in his way, quite observant – more in a romantic than factual sense, perhaps, but that is why he is the writer of the two, while Holmes, with the cruder ideas of art, can see past the totality of a painting to note a strong family resemblance and find the reason for a murder.

Through Watson’s eyes, Holmes is, yes, supercilious, frequently insulting, often aloof. But he is also funny, witty. The word “impish” is used often. The Holmes of the books is alternates between complete lethargic apathy and intense physical/intellectual stimulation and activity. Certainly Watson spends more time describing Holmes’ eyes, lips, expression, even placement of limbs than he ever did on his late and lovely Mary. Watson’s Holmes is carefully detailed: dry factual accounts are expanded into eloquent periods (with Watson explaining the liberty he is taking) where the emotions that Holmes cares not to express are revealed with the biographer’s fond and clear eye.

“To the casual observer, Holmes…” is a frequent line in the books. Watson is not a casual observer.

There can be no question at all that Watson cares for Holmes a great deal. As a physical and emotional being, Watson watches Holmes and tells us, his readers, what he feels for him. I’m not surprised Holmes doesn’t like the stories. Such fondness, placed so publicly, might be embarrassing for the man who cannot reciprocate emotion because his head, by his own account, has always ruled his heart. It is easy to decide that the insulting, sardonic man who, in the two short stories that he writes for himself notes that Watson is not as intelligent as he is but certainly is the better person to be writing for him, does not care for Watson at all. Holmes’ insults are funny, sharp, and for the sensitive soul potentially painful. But one must note that they are always targeted towards intellect, deductive processes – and Watson is not the only target. We can, perhaps with some lingering regret, put aside that as proof of “Watson loves Holmes in an unrequited fashion.“

Furthermore, Holmes does for Watson what he does for no other – he often leads Watson carefully through trivial detection processes, allowing Watson to grasp in time and with added information what he came to so easily himself. Holmes may have no heart, but he shares a great deal of his head with his biographer and friend. Wait for Watson to save Holme’s life, or to fall into danger himself – not all the protesting Holmes does to the contrary will convince you that that heart does not exist.

Holmes cannot write of himself without mentioning Watson. Holmes threatens murder if his friend is killed. For all that Watson cares so deeply for Holmes, it is Holmes who more often expresses emotional concern directly to Watson, rather than directing it to an outside audience because he is just too stuffy to say t out loud. For his last, ultimate and in some ways coolest adventure, Holmes calls his friend – who has a job to do for the government already and so is in no need of charity – to take his side simply for the pleasure of his company – there is no other function for Watson in “His Last Bow”. Holmes mentions meeting Watson on occasional weekends as though it were once a year…

These two men had a relationship that starts before their mutual involvement in detective work, and continues outside of that arena. There can be no disputing that this is a deep friendship, and it would not be wrong to say that that friendship is strong enough to be a loving one.

I’ve read some very intense and detailed arguments as to why it is likely that Holmes and Watson were lovers in the carnal-romantic sense, the two in this case overlapping. If you read fan-fiction – which I have done, sometimes, and still will, though it is not the most gratifying of activities – you will find an enormous amount of Holmes-Watson erotica.

It’s not a completely baffling phenomenon. Arthur Conan Doyle’s works are often intensely concerned with love, and the primary narrator of the Holmes stories is a very romantically minded practical young/middle-aged/(and possibly old) man. And there are those readers who look for emotional bonds, in the works that they read, and some of those readers will require that those bonds be romantic-sexual. And it is so, so easy to fill in the gaps that you think might exist, or to play around just a little bit, have some fun.

I’ve read arguments that there is a great deal of evidence in the canon to support such interpretations. (In a first person narrative set in a time when homosexuality is illegal, tiny hints acts as big signposts.) I’ve read intense and detailed arguments that explain in tedious length the platonic intensity of male friendship in a pre-second-wave feminist, pre-LGBT time. I’ve followed tedious arguments about Holme’s misogyny, bloody Irene Adler, Watson’s three or two wives. People condemn, support, froth at the brain passionately tearing the subject down to its heart. Sometimes they ignore it majestically.

I think they’re all missing the point.