Near-Death Romances


Brad Leithauser remembers the poetry of Robert Graves, whose feelings on love fueled much of his verse:

Graves was also an ex-soldier, and he documented his catastrophic experiences in the First World War in his celebrated memoir, “Goodbye to All That.” At the Battle of the Somme, where a shell fragment pierced his lung, he was officially reported dead. This was an experience that would be frequently repeated—or that he would repeat—in that other war, the one between men and women. In every romance, the time would come when he’d be abandoned or—much the same thing—the enchantment would fade, and he would undergo another near-death experience. His last decades are a little painful to contemplate.

One of Graves’ poems, “Symptoms of Love”, is below:

Love is universal migraine,
A bright stain on the vision
Blotting out reason.

Symptoms of true love
Are leanness, jealousy,
Laggard dawns;

Are omens and nightmares –
Listening for a knock,
Waiting for a sign:

For a touch of her fingers
In a darkened room,
For a searching look.

Take courage, lover!
Could you endure such pain
At any hand but hers?

(Photo by Chip Harlan)