The 7th in this collection of long distance love poems is another poem which can be interpreted on different levels.
If You Were Coming in the Fall
If you were coming in the fall,
I’d brush the summer by
With half a smile and half a spurn,
As housewives do a fly.
If I could see you in a year,
I’d wind the months in balls,
And put them each in separate drawers,
Until their time befalls.
If only centuries delayed,
I’d count them on my hand,
Subtracting till my fingers dropped
Into Van Diemen’s land.
If certain, when this life was out,
That yours and mine should be,
I’d toss it yonder like a rind,
And taste eternity.
But now, all ignorant of the length
Of time’s uncertain wing,
It goads me, like the goblin bee,
That will not state its sting.
At first sight it seems like the poet is so full of longing and love for their absent partner that they don’t care how long the separation will be, as long as the eventual reunion is cast-iron, rock-solid guaranteed.
But this is one of those long distance love poems about doubt, uncertainty, and the gradual erosion of the solid foundations of love precisely because of time apart.
The poem’s first 4 verses begin with “If”, but it’s not the positive ”If” of Rudyard Kipling’s famous poem. And as with each verse the time-frame gets more improbable – from the length of a summer, to eternity. With all these ‘Ifs’ we just know that there is a massive ‘But…’ on its way. Sure enough in the last verse it arrives with a punch. And it’s not just ‘But’, it’s ‘But now’ – in reality, in the present, no hypotheses, no wonderings about the future, just the hard-edged actual situation.
The separation and the lack of a definite date for a meeting with their lover is now acting as a goad – i.e. it is prodding and pushing the poet to do something, but they don’t know what the nature of the motivation to act is – the sting is not declared.
Maybe the poet is coming to the realisation that this is the end of the relationship.
Certainly the imagery of the poem is not that of love, longing, and the certainty of togetherness.
We have annoying flies, balls of wool (sexy?!?), fingers dropping, rind, goad, goblin and sting. Not the language of romance!
Taken as a whole then, the poem is not one of the most romantic of long distance love poems, but some of the sentiments when taken out of context are powerful statements of the power of love to overcome time and distance.