Monday Poem: “Unfinished Love Theorem” by Kate Camp

This week I was torn between Unfinished Love Theorem and another poem, both of them about love and relationships; Unfinished won out because it was the more upbeat of the two, and because I have always been fascinated with poems that connect love to oceans and ships. According to my mother’s amateur dream interpretation, water is always representative of powerful emotion. Perhaps that’s why I enjoy the connection so much I once wrote a poem along similar lines.

Unfinished Love Theorem by Kate Camp

Like light
it can travel in waves
or lines
depending on the circumstances.

When I first noticed it, it was travelling in waves
and I could just see its sail pop hopefully up
on the horizon now and then
as it was keeling, or gibing,
or doing whatever brave ocean craft do
when the water is a little lumpy.

I admired its buoyancy, its neat fittings,
the way everything a person could need
was stowed in its purpose-built compartments.
I liked the way it was rigged, and aligned
with particular stars and magnetisms.

Now I’m in amongst it, I find it is travelling in lines,
the underground veins of a railway, hidden,
signposted, never drawn to scale on maps.
It is moving all sorts of things about,
taking good folk to their work, taking them out
and home to their rumpled bedrooms.

I admire its secret progress, how it can speed
or lull you on its beating window,
how it spills you out up silver
stairs and it’s unexpected sun, or night lights
shining, seeming so bright, so very surprising.

(courtesy of this site)

On the surface, the poem seems deceptively simple. The poet is telling us how she experiences love, and comparing it first to waves, then to lines. What hooked me was the story she tells in doing so, hidden slightly behind the intriguing similes and metaphors. At first, love is full of ups and downs, uncertainties, tempests. She still admires it, because it is optimistic and buoyant, facing down all obstacles (it reminds me in a way of Shakespeare’s, “that looks on tempests and is never shaken”). Then it settles in, and becomes steady (“an ever-fix’d mark”), a straight line, yet still surprising. It’s an interesting take on the whole thing, if you ask me, and an encouragingly optimistic one.

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