Love is so short, forgetting is... I forget
Notes on Taylor Swift's epigraph
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I know everyone is talking about Taylor Swift and I did mean to write about her but then I got sidetracked by “Love is so short, forgetting is so long,” the epigraph to her 14-plus minute video of her song (a 2021 10-plus minute re-do of her 2012 five-plus minute version ) “All Too Well.”
“Love is so short, forgetting is so long” comes from “Tonight I Can Write The Saddest Lines” written by Pablo Neruda in 1924. “So true,” I said to myself as I read the words, kind of sincerely ( because it’s true enough!) and kind of as a joke (because obviously!) and then I googled Pablo Neruda, because all I know about him is that he’s a poet who gets quoted a lot about love.
I discovered that Neruda is considered by many to be highly overrated (I thought I mind find this!) and also that he raped his housekeeper when he was a diplomat in Sri Lanka. (Apologies to all for whom this is common knowledge, it wasn’t for me, likely not for Swift either.) I thought about how a man who raped someone was not only capable of feeling the pain of heartache but capable of writing words that would lead him to be appointed a kind of sage on this matter.
What I want to say is the fact that Neruda was possibly choking down tears and unable to eat when he wrote the words “Love is so short, forgetting is so long” but he also raped his housekeeper made me think about how sentiment and cruelty so often go hand in hand.
For example, we are often told not to forget the fallen heroes of September 11. The infinitely bigger number of people who died in Afghanistan and Iraq after this event are spoken of rather less, with drier eyes, or not at all. What else? Nonprofits are excessively, emotionally praised for helping people in need, but (and if you work at a non-profit please do not think I am individually calling you a bad person) their function seems to actually be to barely mitigate the horrors of capitalism so that a. it appears as if whatever problem they are working on (homelessness, literacy, hunger) is being solved and b. This problem becomes the responsibility of individuals and donors rather than the structure that created the problem in the first place. (This sort of statement makes people upset but the sheer number of housing non-profits in cities/communities with thousands or even millions of empty second homes, wow, yet, how many people are fighting against this and how many people are working tirelessly to help homeless people to get work so that they can have jobs and… still be homeless.) Finally, and I hate to bring up two poets in one piece, but I think of Amber Tamblyn’s daughter being born. She got a congratulatory letter from Hillary Clinton and posted it on Instagram, “crying.” She called Hillary Clinton ``grandmother to us all.”
I’m not crying, you’re crying. Hillary Clinton is not my grandmother, and I don’t think anyone in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, Haiti or Honduras (and the list could go on) thinks she’s their grandmother either.
On PBS news last week some guy, encouraged by the admiring anchor, spoke about his recent book on how Henry Kissinger was a great negotiator. For ten minutes, mostly uninterrupted, with nary a footnote, he spoke reverently about the man behind the deaths of millions in Cambodia, Bangladesh, and Argentina, One could remark on this, one could not. Is there a point? Would pointing this out make you anything more than a nag to people who don’t care, or any more than a broken record to the people who do care? I know one thing — in 99.9 of situations saying “Henry Kissinger was actually a really smart guy” would be seen as normal conversation and “Henry Kissinger was a war criminal,” would be considered disruptive, rude, immature, maybe even — arrogant? Those of you who have “professional” jobs, imagine you’re at a work gathering and a woman senior to you says “Oh I felt so sad for my daughters when Hillary Clinton lost, I just cried,” you would at the very least be expected to nod and say “Oh, wow.” If you said '“You know, Hillary Clinton wrote a book called “Hard Choices” that is about deciding whether or not to kill people,” this would potentially be very bad for you.
If you are the sort of person who wants to say things like, and sometimes does say things like “You know, Hillary Clinton wrote a book called “Hard Choices” that is about deciding whether or not to kill people,” you probably hear the following phrase a lot: “I totally agree with you. But I just don’t think it’s possible for the world to be the way you want it to be.” I don’t believe that people who say this actually do totally agree with me, because even if they don’t like Henry Kissinger, and many of them probably don’t, a segment where a biographer calmly praises him on television is just background noise to them. If someone says to them “My daughters and I all cried when Hillary Clinton lost,” they might also get tears in their eyes, or they would very automatically relate.
You either feel like you might throw up when you discover that Clinton wrote a book called “Hard Choices” or you don’t.
What does this have to do with Pablo Neruda’s poem? Well, Pablo Neruda is remembered for writing love poetry. I’m not going to say that no one knows that he raped his maid but he will be remembered for writing love poems. (He was also a Communist, not the best P.R. for those of us who call ourselves the same, but then again, no one really remembers that either.) He will be remembered for saying things that everyone can agree with, and that is probably the end of that story.
I probably should say something about Taylor Swift, because this all started with her video. How about this: I have never thought that much about what Jake Gyllenhaal is like in real life, and if I had, I would not have pictured that, but if the character in that video is indeed a representation of him, I believe it.