The Unloving Dead

Dylan Thomas by Jessica Dismorr

Dylan Thomas by Jessica Dismorr

I’m on an indefinite break from love in all of its forms…if such a thing is possible. After such a humiliating and rejecting experience called the pursuit of love, I decided with the last shred of operable brain power I had left that I needed to take off, recharge, really consider who I was and what I wanted. Of course, the problem is in the details.

Some days ago, I was sitting, all wrapped up in shawl against the damp November coolness in my apartment, with my old cat sitting on my feet. Like a true modern woman, I split my attention between watching Marilyn Monroe and Clark Gable in “The Misfits” and reading a tough philosophical book on the nature of human relationships (The Art of Loving by Erich Fromm). As I read, a thought occurred to me that had haunted me for the last few months of my emotional retreat, “Why can’t I just stay like this? I’m comfortable. I really don’t need anyone in my life. I don’t need love from anyone. I’m just fine loving myself.”

I could not find a powerful refutation to my claim. I knew—I know, theoretically, that human beings need love from others, like they need to breathe, to eat, to drink, yet, I could not feel it. No amount of reasoning could talk me out of it. The answer, then, lied not in the brain, but in the hidden, dark, suppressed subconscious where emotions lie and cry. I had to dig down and discover what I really felt, what I really wanted. And then try to determine why an isolated life appealed to me so strongly just then.

Back in my Dylan Thomas days (yes, I tried to muddle through his collected poems; then, I had to take a break…speaking of indefinite breaks…), I read a wonderful poem by him called “They Are the Only Dead Who Did Not Love.” I advise you to find it and read it, because it validates the happily loved/loving and gently reproves those who choose to live their lives without love. The poem struck me because I was struggling even then with the pull between caving into myself and taking the risk to reach out to people and connect.

This Dylan Thomas poem is not as murky and enigmatic as most of them. He begins the poem by noting the dead who did not love during their lifetimes, using blunt, visually visceral language to explain what we all should think of them. They are “lipless and tongueless,” utterly ineffective in relationships, maybe even life. Yet, one can get the idea that we shouldn’t despise or hate them. They are “staring at others,” indicating a passive, uninvolved attitude, though they are deeply interested in what they don’t participate in. He calls them “poor unlovers.” He pities them.

Does it make you sort of pity an ex who claimed they were uninterested in being close and loving, and you could just tell that it was all they thought about all the time and they were just so frightened of intimacy that it couldn’t even come up into conscious thought without killing them? Well, it makes me…

Who am I to judge, though? Remember my isolation pact? Sometimes I remind myself that I have never had a close, intimate relationship with anyone (not even my parents), so I have no idea of what it looks like. It’s so easy to give up because I have no idea of the value of real, everyday love.

As if answering my ignorance, Dylan Thomas compares the attitude of those who try to be ‘complete’ by shunning love against the strength and ease of those who do love. He claims it is impossible to live without human warmth. He’s right, you know, but there are some that will fight to the last to refute that.

Not me, anymore, because, well, the poem continues that even the unloving dead have had people who tried to love them (out of the kindness of their hearts), but these unloving ones were unresponsive or they didn’t see it (he calls it love “unreturned” and “unreturnable”), so they missed out on “a certain godliness” that did encompass some “woe” but also “divinity”. And there’s the point…

An unloving person may think that he’s protecting himself from pain, hurt, loss, rejection, abandonment, “woe”, but he’s actually missing out on something that transcends himself, leaps over the negativity of human existence, and makes life worth living. When looked at like that, an unloving person is pitiable indeed. He dies without having ever lived.

Remembering and rereading this poem relit something in me, a positive spirit that had hope of human love between people. Not saying that this holy quest, this divine adventure will be easy. Images come into my mind of many stories where heroes embarked on their destined journeys which were fraught with frights from without, doubts from within, and a plethora of heroic qualities gained. They had to fight, but somehow they attained the rewards of their quest.

May that happen to us all.

What about you? Has a certain stressful event in your life conjured up a long lost poem that helped you find yourself again?

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