The Dialectics of Love

By Thomas McGrath 1916–1990 Thomas McGrath

Under barley leaf and clover,
Lying cold, the faithless lover
Learns at last an amity
Which allows conformity.
Rocks and tree roots cabin him?
They will teach him discipline.
The rich and heavy turf above,
Closer press than any lover.
Virginal mortality
Closer than himself shall lie,
And all the weathers of his body bear
The frozen rigor of the winding year.


Between brother Dexter and cousin Sinister
Frontiers are open toward the human winter,
And civil war in every sector
Murders, fidelity’s frail perspective;
In the lover’s counties, the hunting heart
Is haggard wherever desires start—
In his own nets is that bright hawk taken,
A willing captive, the old ties broken.
And fearful lovers all complain
The strict modality of change;
Feeling in all their ordered parts
The rebel soviets rising up,
They cry, “I am not; be not false”—
When each day finds them someone else:
Whom every hour creates anew—
He must seem false who would be true.


What love the year shows to the spring
By autumn grows another thing.
And yet each season has its part
In the weathers of that impersonal heart:
The summer bourgeois revolution
Offers morality’s pale solution—
Over the public eye and lip
The seal of personal ownership;
Prepares the realm for civil war
When right hand and left divided are
And the split heart cannot love the more
Public virgin or private whore.
Our of these warring opposites
Arises the needed synthesis:
At nodal points the personal love
Changes, if it is pure enough,
From single idol in man or woman
To equal love for all that’s human.
And even in death the faithful lover
Under barley leaf or clover
His mating body still must share
With the transience of the winding year.

Thomas McGrath, “The Dialectics of Love” from The Movie at the End of the World: Collected Poems, published by Swallow Press/Ohio University Press. Copyright © 1972 by Thomas McGrath. Reprinted by permission of Copper Canyon Press.

Source: The Movie at the End of the World: Collected Poems (Swallow Press, 1972)

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Poet Thomas McGrath 1916–1990

Subjects Relationships, Love, Nature, Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, The Body, Realistic & Complicated

 Thomas  McGrath


For some fifty years, the late Thomas McGrath produced a prolific array of titles, encompassing poetry, novels, books for children, and several documentary film scripts, including uncredited work on the eloquent and exhilarating Smithsonian film about the history of flight, To Fly. But McGrath is primarily a poet, and although "important contemporary poets . . . proclaim him as a major voice in American poetry in the last three . . .

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SUBJECT Relationships, Love, Nature, Winter, Spring, Summer, Fall, The Body, Realistic & Complicated

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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