The Anxiety of Losing Love

In Michael Field’s Underneath the Bough, there seems to be a recurring pattern of switching back and forth between an emphasis on love or an emphasis on death.  Specifically at the beginning of book five on page 80, Michael Field quite directly switches back and forth either one line after another or by having the mentions broken up by a few lines.  The speaker seems to be lying on her deathbed in the first stanza, then imagines two lovers together, and then returns to the present as the speaker and her companion await a dreadful fate.  In the first stanza, Field states “A woman is lying in her shroud/ To whom a lover has never vowed”.  Here, the death of this woman highlights the absence of romantic love in her life.  Death seems to extinguish any potential for love.  When the second stanza mentions the two lovers, it describes them embracing as “the winter daylight died”.  In the last stanza, Michael Field states, “Then we forgot the lovers; for the room/ Was filling with a doom”, which again brings together this union of love and death.  The speaker and her companion cannot acknowledge love, for themselves or others, as death is upon them.  Love only exists in the silent expression of holding hands.

This brief poem of book five highlights a recurring pattern across all the books in Underneath the Bough.  Field makes direct connection to love and death all throughout.  As the speaker grapples with their existence between these two harsh outcomes, the collection offers perhaps the idea that death often allows people to realize that authentic love is present.  Across books, another brief example of this pattern is at the end of book three in the poem titled “Daybreak”.  Field writes, “And yet choose to wake in death? / Eros, while my Love has breath / I will breathe beside her” (55).  The speaker will express their love until ultimately death consumes one or both of them.  In this collection, as I have tracked through these two brief instances, any mention of love seems to be immediately followed by a mention of death.  It’s almost as if Michael Field’s acknowledgement of love, and the happiness and warmth it provides, simultaneously identifies their anxieties about an impending death, often for only one half of the couple.      

2 thoughts on “The Anxiety of Losing Love”

  1. Grace, I also picked up on this pattern throughout Underneath the Bough. I think that that dichotomy of embracing love and feeling the need to almost reject it because of the fear of death is a concept present in so many different forms of literature but hardly ever written about. I think that different approaches would reveal completely different conclusions about this topic. For example, a psychoanalysis of these portions of Underneath the Bough might reveal something about the anxiety surrounding dependency!

  2. Grace,

    I really like how you pointed out the binaries of love and death. I want to connect this notion of love and death being necessary binaries to a place in Beloved. On page 12, the narrator makes a comment that “…rape seemed the solitary gift of life,” for Sethe. I theorize that Sethe has had such a hard life, a life that coincides with the notion of death, that she is unable to distinguish the evil of rape due to the absence of real love. Without the opposite of evil, Sethe is unable to distinguish rape as evil.

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