May's Love

Acrylic on board, 23 x 40 cm. 2022.

This painting is an abstract illustration or 'setting' of Elizabeth Barrett Browning's short poem 'May's Love' (text below). Like several others in the posthumously collected set of Last Poems, this poem is addressed to a woman, from the perspective of a male lover. In this case, the speaker complains that if his lover, May, loves everything, whether it is good or bad (a man or a fly), then her love is not worth very much at all. In that case, to be hated by May would be a mark of distinction, and paradoxically, that is what her lover, the poem's speaker, asks for. 

May would seem to be a personification of the month after which she is named. She has the attributes of a deity: she rises above the interests of mere humans. Like God the creator, and like the season of spring (the annual creator), she seems to sanction all the world's contents regardless of whether, from a human perspective, they deserve it or not. The poem is therefore a commentary, both playful and deeply melancholy, on the problem of being human in an inhuman world which is a mixture of beauty and ugliness. The 'sad, overwise' speaker is unable to ignore the jarring impression this mixture makes, and is therefore unwilling to share in the beneficence of a creative power that loves both good and bad, without, for that reason, being able to subdue his own love for that power.

My painting is a mixture of shapes and colours which, like a musical transformation of the poem into a song, evokes in me the same feelings as the poem, and represents my response to its themes. 

  

I

You love all, you say,
 Round, beneath, above me:
Find me then some way
 Better than to love me,
Me, too, dearest May!

II

O world-kissing eyes
 Which the blue heavens melt to;
I, sad, overwise,
 Loathe the sweet looks dealt to
All things—men and flies.

III

You love all, you say:
 Therefore, Dear, abate me
Just your love, I pray!
 Shut your eyes and hate me—
Only me —fair May!

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