When I read DH Lawrence’s “Deeper than Love,” I was immediately taken back to my sophomore year of college, to my class on Latin American short stories, a class in which all of the reading, all of the writing, and all of the discussion was in Spanish. I thought of Gabriel Garcia-Marquez’s short story “Muerte Constante Mas Alla del Amor” and my struggle, in our discussion of it, to explain that we all carry around with us a belief, an illusion, that love can and will transcend death, but that this might be merely wishful thinking. It’s a hard story to discuss, as I remember, without words like “bromide” or “platitude” or “myth” or phrases like, “It’s possible that I’m just a cynical college student and that I’ll probably grow out of this arrogant cynicism in a few years.”
It seems to me that this is what Lawrence’s poem is doing: not discussing a great story with only limited (if technically proficient) Spanish, but asking us to look at what we believe about love, at what power, what strength we ascribe to love and why we insist on giving it those qualities. The poem, for what it’s worth, is not willing to cede the kind of ultimate power, ultimate authority to love than many poems are. “There are deeper things than love,” Lawrence writes. And then, while praising love as life, as like the flowers, as lovely, as like the living life on earth, he proceeds to demolish many of these cherished ideals of love.
You love? Great. You’re still alone.
Love grows like flowers? Great. Underneath is solitary rock.
Love is twoness? Great. But underneath that twoness, you’re still alone.
Underneath, the poem keeps insisting. Underneath. Consider what is underneath. And what is underneath is not worse than love, nor uglier than love, but different: a fiery primordial imperative, a primordial consciousness. Justice.
Clearly, love matters. Connection matters. I believe that. And I very well may believe that love, that a connection between people, can be stronger than death. I’ve certainly argued it before: if I am changed by another person, by the love of another person, and that person dies, am I not still changed? And, in that respect, isn’t love – what it creates, how it manifests itself – stronger than death? The truth, the beauty of the trinity lies not in its religious overtones, or its papal mystery, but in its recognition that any strong love between two individuals creates a third individual. Not a sentient being. Not a sentient spirit. It’s dependent upon the two, but independent of the two. It manifests itself in the world. It affects the world. It changes the world.
Why does that matter?
We know love affects us. We know love changes us. But that does not mean that we have to ascribe to it supernatural power, or that we have to construct myths around it.
We can live quite contentedly, quite complacently, with a surface-level understanding of the world. We can even live relatively contentedly (or at least complacently) only presenting the surface of ourselves to the world. But doing so involves a fundamental denial. You must deny that there is more to yourself. You must deny that you hold things back. You must deny that any part of you wishes to probe further, to ask more questions, to dare more amibiguity, to confront more mystery, or to live more honestly.
Let us confront the occasional myth. Not for the sake of demolishing it, but for the sake of pursuing a genuine, personal understanding. For the sake of taking a potentially rewarding risk: living beyond the surface of the world. Living beyond the surface of yourself.