Love Song: I and Thou

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Love is not a Fairy Tale

Alan Dugan’s poem entitled “Love Song: I and Thou” is not a stereotypical love poem. On the surface, this appears to be a poem about a man building a house and all the trials that accompany such an undertaking. In actuality, the author is using the building of a home as a metaphor for building a marriage and making a marriage strong.

The poem is told from the narrator’s perspective. It begins with the narrator building a house, but nothing was aligned, as it should be. The wood even began to rot and maggots infest his hard work. He claimed that unlike Christ, he is no carpenter, but went on to build his dream home with only his needs in mind. At times, he hammered his own thumb and cursed while he worked; but in the end, he celebrated his own hard work with his favorite whiskey. For a short time, the house was strong and all that it should have been, but then it “screamed,” settled and was anything but what he had envisioned his dream house to be. It needed a lot of work and tender loving care. The narrator could not understand what went so wrong when he had planned every detail so carefully, but vows to live in it until the day he dies. In the end, he compares himself to Christ on the cross. He acknowledges that he cannot crucify himself alone, he needs help…a wife.

Love Song: I And Thou

Nothing is plumb, level or square:
the studs are bowed, the joists
are shaky by nature, no piece fits
any other piece without a gap
or pinch, and bent nails
dance all over the surfacing
like maggots. By Christ
I am no carpenter. I built
the roof for myself, the walls
for myself, the floors
for myself, and got
hung up in it myself. I
danced with a purple thumb
at this house-warming, drunk
with my prime whiskey: rage.
Oh I spat rage’s nails
into the frame-up of my work:
it held. It settled plumb,
level, solid, square and true
for that great moment. Then
it screamed and went on through,
skewing as wrong the other way.
God damned it. This is hell,
But I planned it, I sawed it,
I nailed it, and I
Will live in it until it kills me.
I can nail my left palm
To the left-hand crosspiece but
I can’t do everything myself.
I need a hand to nail the right,
A help, a love, a you, a wife.
--Alan Dugan

This poem is an honest depiction of life and the hard work it takes to build a relationship successfully. The recognition that any relationship is not easy and takes a lot of hard work is not often as plain as it should be. In lines one and two, “Nothing is plumb, level or square: / the studs are bowed…” the author states that nothing is as it should be. The ideal of marriage is that of “happily ever after,” but the reality is quite the contrary. Everyone grows up reading the fairy tales and being told how wonderful life is when the right person comes along, but few are ever told how much work it takes to keep a marriage happy. It is not often stressed that a fairy tale is simply a fairy tale, that life has difficulties and it is up to each individual to fight for happiness.

The imagery of maggots in line seven is interesting. Maggots can be used in medicine as they devour necrotic tissue, exposing the healthy tissue. If used within the context of a marriage, the maggots could symbolically be eating away the dead parts, revealing all that is good in the relationship. The maggots might also be symbolic of a dead marriage as maggots only eat dead things. Lines eight through twelve show that the narrator only thought of himself and what he needed out of the marriage. He built the whole marriage upon his own needs and could not see past his egotism. In lines twenty through twenty-five, everything starts to fall apart. I see the wife as becoming resentful of her husband’s constant demands, so she begins to rebel. The marriage begins to dissolve. The...
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