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Countless Silken Ties

In his beautiful meditation on marriage (page 12), Jeff Mirus speaks of “the circumscribed space of married love” which “open(s) out to the infinite.” This affecting image immediately put me in mind of
William Wordsworth’s sonnet “Nuns fret not at their convent’s narrow room” which says “In truth the prison, unto which we doom / Ourselves, no prison is.” Wordsworth’s own non-prison in this case is the 14-line sonnet, a highly structured poem whose many rules can seem to stifle. Creativity needs freedom, right? How can the poet realize his full potential if he obeys a bunch of arbitrary rules? But Wordsworth—father of romantic poetry that he is—replies that the restrictions are a “solace” from “the weight of too much liberty.”

Poets write a lot about circumscribed spaces and limitations because they work in such small spaces. They aren’t just talking about poetry, of course, but of the human condition. And for the most part, they celebrate the constraints rather than lament them. Robert Frost’s “The Silken Tent,” for example, is an extended simile about a woman. She is like a tent of silken fabric, which, light and shapeless, could be tossed about in the wind, but is held firm by a a tall cedar pole that supports the middle, pointing heavenward, giving stability and height. The tent is:

. . . loosely bound
By countless silken ties of love and thought
To everything on earth the compass round,
And only by one’s going slightly taut
In the capriciousness of summer air
Is of the slightest bondage made aware.

When I read Dr. Mirus’s description of the fruitfulness of marriage, this image came to mind. A tent, after all, houses and protects, as does a marriage. It is a place for feasting, nurture, sleep. It must be flexible yet firm to withstand the changing winds. It is held up by its firmly pointing heavenward, and as the years go by, it generates “countless silken ties of love and thought.”


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