I don’t know how far people believe in the concept of dualism – for every good there is a corresponding bad, for every right a wrong, each soaring sky-high being inevitably matched by a sinking slump. Perhaps the various oppositions don’t have to be quite so extreme but, certainly, there seems to be a fair bit of sense in it. So in the interests of balance, following on from last week’s literary-flavoured love-fest and en-masse adoration, we will tip the scale to its other end and show the other side of the coin – where life is not a bed of roses (or any other type of flower/classic romantic cliché), partners don’t always fall in step with each other and even the most industrial strength iron locks can fall foul of fire, flood or, more fearful than any force of nature, the wrath of a wronged or rejected lover.
Around the same time of the grand opening of the Museum of Liverpool another altogether different exhibition was being prepared for public show in London, detailing one very specific and rather sensitive side of life. Spreading out from its base in Zagreb, Croatia, the Museum of Broken Relationships is travelling the world. Unfortunately its temporary home in Covent Garden closed a couple of weeks ago, but for the length of a brief affair (before it went awry) visitors could gape at a vast array of sentimental and strange artefacts, each a mark of connections once strong but now severed, each a symbol of love in its many forms, lost and lamented – from a torn up letter encased in smashed glass to a battered and broken garden gnome, an innocent caught in the crossfire of a lovers’ battleground. Though certainly intriguing, opening windows on such intensely personal parts of people’s lives – and in particular, exposing the wounds – threatens to be more than just a tad voyeuristic. However, all items are willingly donated – many are displayed anonymously to spare any intrusiveness – and according to its curators, the museum is not a place of pain, screamed words and splintered hearts but of cleansing and catharsis; a therapeutic purge of passion.
Few other forms showcase the end of love alongside its beginnings and being as well as literature does – indeed, many of the most classic poems are paeans to the more sour aspects of affairs of the heart, whether they be unrequited, unresolved or incompatible. Amongst the items in the Museum of Broken Relationships is a copy of Proust’s aptly titled Remembrance of Things Past, donated by a man who read it aloud to his former wife on a beach during their relationship (with grains of sand still found amongst the pages). Undoubtedly there are many other pieces of literature, on public display or kept privately in the heart, linked with love and its losses; infused with the memorable moments of each romantic encounter, happy or ultimately sad. However, love is not reserved only for the domain of relationships and it is often the case that something can be ‘broken’ before it ever had the chance to begin; frequently these are the instances which sting more than relationships shattered beyond all repair. It was the poet John Greenleaf Whittier who uttered the immortal words “For all sad words of tongue and pen, the saddest are those ‘It might have been’”. Thomas Hardy might wholeheartedly agree, although I would judge that Hardy’s words of pen are even sadder, though simultaneously beautiful and ones which could go some way to helping paper over the cracks of many a broken heart.
A Broken Appointment
You did not come,
And marching Time drew on, and wore me numb,—
Yet less for loss of your dear presence there
Than that I thus found lacking in your make
That high compassion which can overbear
Reluctance for pure lovingkindness’ sake
Grieved I, when, as the hope-hour stroked its sum,
You did not come.
You love not me,
And love alone can lend you loyalty;
–I know and knew it. But, unto the store
Of human deeds divine in all but name,
Was it not worth a little hour or more
To add yet this: Once you, a woman, came
To soothe a time-torn man; even though it be
You love not me?
Thomas Hardy (1840-1928)