Love in poet May Sarton's poem AIDS
Many people take love for granted, assured that it will overcome any hardship or obstacle in their lives. However, the author has learned that the contraction of a fatal and contagious disease is a major obstacle, showing that love has its limitations and lovers often love conditionally.
When loved ones turn their backs, either in fear or disgust, little hope remains for those sick and dying to find love and acceptance before their death. In May Sarton's poem "AIDS" she uses imagery, syntax, and repetition to describes love that transcends disease and inevitable death, and human compassion which offers hope in ultimate despair.
A lot of time and effort must be spent in order to care for and comfort the suffering, and to stand by them in their time of need. Such sacrifices involve meeting "a new dimension/ Of love, a more demanding range/ Where despair and hope must intertwine" (lines 2-3).
Lovers must accept the finality of the disease and find peace and comfort in each other; blame surrounding the origins of the disease no longer matters, "Intention/ Here can neither move nor change/The raw truth" (lines 4-6). This truth jumps out at the reader as a blatant statement amid poetic verse, "Death is on the line" (line 6), intended both to shock the reader and leave no room for doubt as to its meaning and the fate that awaits those with AIDS. This line also invokes an image of a hangman's noose or "line" of "intertwining" rope.
The imminence of this fate and threat of contamination push people apart, fear causing lovers to turn their backs on those with AIDS when they need love the most. Death "comes to separate and estrange/ Lover from lover in some reckless design." (lines 6-8). It is fear that defeats love, fear that is all powerful, "Fear. Fear. Fear. Fear" (line 10), repeated again and again for emphasis of its importance.
Fear drives love away, and those with AIDS despair as they suffer and face their deaths alone. In the poem, the word "lonely" is repeated to make a deep impression, "Our world has never been more stark/ Or more in peril. It is very lonely now in the dark/ Lonely and sterile" (lines 11-14).
Hope still exists, however, in a few people whose love and devotion conquer all fear and who realize that, although sick, AIDS infected individuals are still human and should be shown compassion:
And yet in the simple turn of a head Mercy lives. I heard it when someone said
‘I must go now to a dying friend.
Every night at nine I tuck him into bed,
And give him a shot of morphine' (lines16-19).
These kind individuals make a great difference in the life of AIDS sufferers, helping them through their pain, anger, and isolation, after others abandoned them. They themselves find a new and stronger sense of purpose in their own lives by making a difference in the lives of those with AIDS.
They experience "a new discipline/ [They] had not imagined before, and a new grace" (lines 21-22). The word "grace" invokes a spiritual and emotional response, suggesting that these people achieve a greater level of spiritual well-being by helping those in need. Grace can also be taken in biblical context, and refers to the grace of God which is unconditional love, signifying that the care given to the AIDS suffers is also unconditional.
These people stand by AIDS sufferers throughout their pain, enduring the test of devotion by providing daily support and comfort. The repetition of the phrase "every day" stresses just how devoted these individuals are: "Every day now we meet face to face. / Every day now devotion is the test" (lines 23-24).
The lasting kindness and compassion, shown by caring individuals when others abandoned them in revulsion and fear, cause those with AIDS to treasure the new relationships they share with the people who remain by their side, "Through the long hours, the hard, caring nights/ We are forging a new union" (lines 25-26), and perhaps restore faith in a higher power: "We are blest" (line 26). Hands closed in anger of abandonment open to hold the hands of people offering comfort and support, "closed hands open to each other" (line 27), and lives closed to the future "open to strange tenderness" (line 28).
Loving and comforting the sick requires great strength, compassion and commitment, but true love can endure and overcome all obstacles, even the irrevocability of death.
People have the capacity to provide unconditional love and compassion in difficult situations: "We are learning the hard way how to mother. /Who says it is easy? But we have the power" (lines 29-30), and those who use this power give hope to those slowly dying from disease, restoring their faith in human kindness.
The sick experience newfound love before they die, "It is the time of change, the saving hour" (line 32). Fear no longer drives comfort and love away, but love dominates and brings people together:
The word is not fear, the word we live,
But an old word suddenly made new,
As we learn it again, as we bring it alive: