By accident, listening to old Fleetwood Mac. The song I most react to is ‘Sara’, a trance-like song that draws you into a place of melodic beauty and an unexpected heartbreak that you cannot defend against. The beauty of the soul brings with it, unforeseen and unwanted, the breaking of the heart..
It is a strange song, whose parts are more than they seem, and the ultimate coherence more than the sum of parts.
It is about a failed relationship, but then a bitter twist of fate that befalls the new relationship in which so much hope is placed. We all do this: when the long-standing relationship drowns in troubles, we yearn, as the song says, to solace that wound by ‘drowning in the sea of love.’ The woman has left her long lasting relationship, battered and stifled, frustrated and blocked, to start again with a man she loves, a man with whom she can surrender to the sea of love. But there is a more savage blow awaiting her. For the new lover, so welcome after the pain of the old failed love, betrays her, choosing to go off with her best friend. She loses both her male lover and her closest female friend. The first wound is followed by a second, more ultimate. The first cut is not the deepest. The second cut goes deepest of all..
You can read these events as the literal backdrop of the song, but they do not get close to explaining its power. Something more fundamental, and primal, is at work underneath.
The lines that open the song, as its haunting melody begins to unfold, state the deeper truth poetically, and for us all.
“..Wait a minute baby, stay with me a while, said you’d give me life, but you never told me about the fire.”
This is it– you said you’d give me life, the soul, but you never told me this life would bring with it the fire. Life is the soul, in its unitary fullness, its melting fullness, and when its abundant water flows and wells up, we can drown in it, and call that ‘love.’ But the fire comes and ends the life of the soul. We do not want to call that love, but sense maybe it is..
This opening contrast between love as the promise of life, but unexpectedly bringing fire, is like a prophecy, a foreboding, that sets the scene for the rest of the song.
‘Drowning in the sea of love where we all love to drown’ is true as a description of soul to soul union, and it encompasses all the quasi mystical meshings and onenesses of babyhood and childhood and through to early youth. The mother and baby drown in the sea of love, primordially, but many other enmeshings follow, with certain people, with nature, with imaginal figures, with moments out of time, all bringing the well-springs of the soul to life. Falling in love in early twenties, or late teens, is the climax of all these soul mergings, summing them up, yet going farther with the God Eros who is visiting the soul. Psychologists have all but ignored the falling in love of early adulthood, when we are still children, even babes in arms, yet in our youthfulness are moving out into a deeper sea in which to drown.
And we are like the singer in this song= we say to the God of Eros who has come and gone, you promised you’d give me life, but you never told me about the fire. Eros goes, and the Daemonic comes. The heart cannot drown in the sea of love; it wants to, because this is its first poem, but the fire ends that innocent soul life, and by doing this, also breaks the heart. The heart is scorched by fire.
There is another more mature love, but as the poems of youth are a gift, this poem of fire has to be searched, worked for, died for, if it is to come again. It seems impossible. The fire is dangerous, ruthless, implacable; it will give us a different sea of love, a sea of fire, but we will not drown impersonally in it, rather we will have to stand in it, as a person.
And as I write this, I see an old Gaelic warrior, standing on the strand by the sea, as the massed killers move in, and he is motionless, but his sword is drawn.
In maturity, in the sea of fire, we stand as a person, and give the heart.
But it is hard to let youth go. It hurts. Its tears are strange, full of sorrow, yet comforting as well.
The fire burns everything away.
Still, it is hard to let go. The promise was real. He did say he would give our soul life, and he did; what he didn’t promise was the fire that would inevitably accompany it, the fire that consumes even the second, most romantic chance of love.
As my oldest friend’s most moving song puts it, ‘it is the fire next time.’
For wounded lovers, this is hard to bear, but the only solace.