Challenge 436 Response
“Love Letters Lost”
with Tom Wylie
In John Stocks’ “Love Letters Lost,” how might the poem suggest that it refers both to literal documents and to the people who wrote them?
“Love Letters Lost” by John Stocks evokes a multitude of feelings and seems almost existential e.g. simultaneously in the past, present, and the future.
The words and lines “only yesterday,” “embedded in the fibrous weave,” and “the page that fades to sallow” each contribute to feelings of return to frozen memories. Yet, too, the line “the narrative still burns” offers an immediacy of the realness of the feelings such letters draw to the surface, as of this moment. And the future appears with “in time the stench of the grave will pervade.”
The last two lines; “Old letters, like old dogs, Deserve a second spring,” I find a bit quizzical but not in a disturbing manner. Old dogs, especially those that have lived a good life through a person’s childhood to adulthood, do evoke warm memories that easily parallel feelings from old letters.
Thus, to your question as to how “Love Letters Lost” might suggest real documents as well as the person who wrote them: the poem offers readers several avenues of possibilities. For certain it can be the documents as well as the writers and readers of them.
And now why does this reader respond in this way? Well, John Stocks’ poem pulls me back — yes, way back — to a time and an age when I made a fateful decision and discarded two boxes of such letters. That mental moment of decision is with me still, and to this day I loathe, groan, and moan over the possibilities lost. John’s wonderful poem brought me back and placed in context some cherished memories.
Thank you, Tom, for the lively personal reaction to “Love Letters Lost.” It’s the kind of feedback that is good for the morale of both the poet and our readers!
The question “How might the poem suggest that it refers both to the literal documents and to the people who wrote them?” can be interpreted in a number of ways, as you’ve shown.
To my mind, the letters represent two things: the physical documents themselves and the bodies of their authors. Thus,
Stranded in a steel box.
In their quiet stillness,
can refer to documents in a kind of archive or to bodies buried in a cemetery. And the interpretation seems to be confirmed by:
In time the stench of the grave will pervade,
Will creep over the words that gave you soul,
That stretched your thoughts to heaven.
But “stretched your thoughts to heaven” shows to me that the center of the poem is not death but life, not the body but the soul. And the soul’s vigor makes a person’s life worth living:
Trapped, still pulsing with passion,
Racing with the vibrancy, your first love,
Pumping like blood, fired with urgency,
And the soul is what brings the documents themselves to life in a timelessness denoted by “papyrus” and “some ancient oak.”
I find puzzling the line “Such is your betrayal.” Does it mean “what you have betrayed” or “what has betrayed you”? But the ending:
Old letters, like old dogs,
Deserve a second spring.
resonates with utmost clarity. The letters are proof of life and love, which deserve remembrance, renewal and — in a writer’s or reader’s old age — rebirth.
“Love Letters Lost” is undoubtedly one of John Stocks’ finest poems, and Bewildering Stories is privileged to publish it.
Copyright © 2011 by Tom Wylie
and Bewildering Stories