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About this Poem 

"In the Middle Ages, the troubadour poets invented the concept of courtly love—a fantasy love, a noble passion, which was also extra-marital and thus inevitably thwarted, illicit, adulterous. One of the medieval terms for it was amour honestus (honest love). I’ve always wondered why this passionate ideal—masochistic, spiritual—travelled with such wildfire throughout Europe. My poem, a ghazal, takes up the subject." —Edward Hirsch

Amour Honestus

Edward Hirsch, 1950

The nights were long and cold and bittersweet,
And he made a song for the hell of it.

She stood by the window, a heavenly light
Who created havoc for the hell of it.

He used to fondle every skirt in sight,
Then he fell in love—that’s the hell of it.

Now there’s a courtyard with an abject knight
Yodeling his head off for the hell of it.

O poor me, my Lady, my hopeless plight!
She married a prince for the hell of it.

Honorable, unsatisfied, illicit—
Why bring it up? Just for the hell of it.

The fever spread from poet to poet
Who burned in the high-minded hell of it.

But the Untouchable had him by the throat,
And he stopped singing for the hell of it.

Love is a tower, a trance, a medieval pit.
When I lost you, I knew the hell of it.

Copyright © 2013 by Edward Hirsch. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 15, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Copyright © 2013 by Edward Hirsch. Used with permission of the author. This poem appeared in Poem-A-Day on October 15, 2013. Browse the Poem-A-Day archive.

Edward Hirsch

Edward Hirsch

Born in Chicago on January 20, 1950, Edward Hirsch is a poet and literary advocate. His second collection, Wild Gratitude (Knopf, 1986), received the National Book Critics Circle Award.

by this poet

poem
Lay these words into the dead man's grave
next to the almonds and black cherries---
tiny skulls and flowering blood-drops, eyes,
and Thou, O bitterness that pillows his head.

Lay these words on the dead man's eyelids
like eyebrights, like medieval trumpet flowers
that will flourish, this time, in the shade.
Let
poem

 

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poem
My father in the night shuffling from room to room
on an obscure mission through the hallway.

Help me, spirits, to penetrate his dream
and ease his restless passage.

Lay back the darkness for a salesman
who could charm everything but the shadows,

an immigrant who stands on the threshold
of a vast night