Philip Larkin understood that romantic love never satisfies.
This poem of his, Love Songs In Age, has a resigned sadness that Larkin-watchers will slip into like a comfy old cardigan.
She kept her songs, they kept so little space,
The covers pleased her:
One bleached from lying in a sunny place,
One marked in circles by a vase of water,
One mended, when a tidy fit had seized her,
And coloured, by her daughter –
So they had waited, till, in widowhood
She found them, looking for something else, and stood
Relearning how each frank submissive chord
Had ushered in
Word after sprawling hyphenated word,
And the unfailing sense of being young
Spread out like a spring-woken tree, wherein
That hidden freshness sung,
That certainty of time laid up in store
As when she played them first. But, even more,
The glare of that much-mentioned brilliance, love,
Broke out, to show
Its bright incipience sailing above,
Still promising to solve, and satisfy,
And set unchangeably in order. So
To pile them back, to cry,
Was hard, without lamely admitting how
It had not done so then, and could not now.
But does romantic love, in itself, really promise to “solve, and satisfy”?
Love, like everything else in the world, has built-in obsolescence. It is meant to make us seek an everlasting counterpart. We are not meant to be bewitched by a shadow. We are meant to look up and see what, or who, is casting it.