This evening, I’ve been reflecting on the last two lines of the poem “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden. The character in the poem is an adult looking back at the cold winter mornings of youth, recognizing the lack of gratitude shown towards the family patriarch in what the author calls a house of “chronic angers.” The poem concludes with the lines:
“What did I know, what did I know of Love’s austere and lonely offices?”
The line “Love’s austere and lonely offices” is so pathetically true. Love is simple in nature yet there is a tendency to make it something glamorous, something beyond its scope. Something it cannot and should not be. At times, love is austere; it is stern and unadorned. It is silent, hidden behind the scenes.
A friend edits the ending of every fairy tales she reads to her children, adding; “and they worked really hard on their marriage, and lived happily ever after.” She is opening their imaginations to the story between the pages. The real life story of the silent heroes we call mom and dad.
For a child, love’s lonely office includes not understanding why “no” and “not now” mean “I love you.”
For a married couple love’s “lonely offices” are they places they stand without regard to personal pleasure. Because of love, friends and extended family never come first. Because of love, time and resources are sacrificed for things that hold little interest. Because of love, both will fret over whether or not they have done the right thing.
It is love that allows them to disagree passionately without fear that an opinion held too strongly will break them apart. It is love that allows conflict and love that keeps all other opportunities for romantic interest out of sight and out of mind.
Love’s eye is not blind. It is selective. It weighs truth in the balance and understands that no collection of flaws and quirks are superior to the man, woman, or child they have chosen.
Certainly “love’s austere and lonely offices” are not the only offices held in marriage, but they are the sacrificial offices required to keep the flame of love’s temple alive.