I have no claim on you.

Love poetry is a difficult thing. When written badly–insincerely, hyperbolically, immaturely, flower gardeny–it can truly, well, suck. But there are few things more wonderful (to me, anyways), then when the poet somehow gets it–whatever that ever so intangible “it” is–and captures it perfectly on the page.

The love poem I’m posting today, one of my favorites, is written by Robert Bly, who hails from Minnesota (and was named the state’s first poet laureate in 2008). I had a chance to see Bly read last year when he was a visiting professor at Stanford. I’ve never seen anyone read quite like he did…one hand always suspended in the air, swooping and curling into flourishes for his words. He’d often stop to comment mid-poem or find himself at the end of a piece only to begin reading it once more, announcing that we needed to hear it again. I wasn’t sure what to make of this character at first, but in retrospect, I really appreciated his strange style and its artistic insistance that we, as an audience, as readers, slow down and truly listen.

The poem I’m posting does not introduce itself as a piece about love. It’s title refers to a charming little bird (look it up) and I think it’s the comparison between the bird and the subject of the poem, whoever it is, that brings the poem together. I’m not often the biggest fan of “nature poetry,” so to speak, but Bly has a certain way of using natural metaphors to make one see both sides of the comparison/analogy, in this case, the human subject and the bird, in a new light.

For me, “Indigo Bunting,” works as a strong love poem because it is not about possession but about freedom. “I have no claim on you,” he admits. And this sentence, one of my favorites in all the poetry I’ve read: “I love a firmness in you that disdains the trivial and regains the difficult.” Beautiful.

“Indigo Bunting”–Robert Bly

I go to the door often.
Night and summer. Crickets
lift their cries.
I know you are out.
You are driving
late through the summer night.

I do not know what will happen.
I have no claim on you.
I am one star
you have as guide; others
love you, the night
so dark over the Azores.

You have been working outdoors,
gone all week. I feel you
in this lamp lit
so late. As I reach for it
I feel myself
driving through the night.

I love a firmness in you
that disdains the trivial
and regains the difficult.
You become part then
of the firmness of night,
the granite holding up walls.

There were women in Egypt who
supported with their firmness the stars
as they revolved,
hardly aware
of the passage from night
to day and back to night.

I love you where you go
through the night, not swerving,
clear as the indigo
bunting in her flight,
passing over two
thousand miles of ocean.


2 thoughts on “I have no claim on you.

  1. When I consider the sleeping form of my brother, who happens to be the most innocent, the most obedient, and the most lovable nine-year-old child I know, I am struck by the realization that one day in the not so distant future I will have to let “him” go. I must prepare myself for the possibility; the day will come when he steps into the middle-school halls of adolescence, of pimples and girls, insecurity and rebellion. Where will his cuteness be then?

    When we make the pledge to love someone eternally we do not pledge – we cannot pledge – to love their present self eternally. We pledge to love THEM eternally, regardless of whichever personalities they may happen to assume in the future. We cannot lay claim to their futurities; the highest kind of love sacrifices its own selfish control over the kind of person the beloved will be.

    Wait, why am I talking again? The poem says all this better than I possibly could. Perhaps I am writing just to let Natalie know that I am reading. Perhaps Natalie is reading this and smiling. Tenderly.

  2. Hi, I just wanted to say that this is one of my favorite poems, too and no matter how many times I read it, I still can’t fully figure it out. Maybe that’s why I enjoy it.
    I was glad to know that you also liked the lines “I love a firmness in you that disdains the trivial and regains the difficult.” I don’t know why. I just love those lines.
    Thank you for your insight on this poem. It is greatly appreciated.

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