Late Fragment, by Raymond Carver
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.
Published posthumously, 1989. This poem to me is like a broken bird’s wing cast in amber. A double dissolution, frozen in time: at once a snapshot of the poet’s mind as it died and of poetic lines as they decay. We might imagine this poem as an interview:
Q: And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?
A: I did.
Q: And what did you want?
A: To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved on the earth.
Somehow, this simple back-and-forth has snapped, leaving words hanging where they shouldn’t be, bones out of place. Our broken wing, by some miracle, is stuck in time, pressed into paper.
There is no emphasis on what or you in the sentence “And did you get what you wanted from this life, even so?” If anything, the natural break is after get, or before wanted. Placing the break between what and you forces an unnatural extension of breath in the first line, and a consequent forced exhale at the start of the second. Fragments: a broken breath for your broken bone.
Repeat the repeated phrase: to ___ myself beloved. To ___ / myself / beloved. Do you pronounce the last e or skip over it? Bee-luv-id or bee-luvd? The latter keeps the rhythm of “to ___” and “myself,” two syllables each. The former breaks the rhythm again, like raw spaghetti.
Our fragile wing of a poem is not so frozen after all. A poem is infinitely created; first when it is written, and then again each time it is read aloud. Your breath is a rifling of air into the amber chamber.
This idea echoes what I hear in Carver’s verse. At the end of his life, it is not the love of a divine being he wanted. In this life, he wanted an earthbound love to warm his mortal coil. This is achieved actively and on one’s own terms. What he wants is derived from others but is entirely within him. To call myself beloved, to feel myself beloved.
In this poem, the simplicity of love as an end is deceptive. Love is not something that happens. It is something sought and molded and upheld and constantly smithed anew. It is, if you will permit me the painful simile, quite like a poem infinitely created. How’s that for a breath of fresh air?