TO SPEAK OF WOE THAT IS IN MARRIAGE
~ by Robert Lowell
“The hot night makes us keep our windows open.
Our magnolia blossoms. Life begins to happen.
My hopped-up husband drops his home disputes,
and hits the streets to cruise for prostitutes,
free-lancing out along the razor’s edge.
This screwball might kill his wife, then take the pledge.
Oh, the monotonous meanness of his lust…
It’s the injustice… he is so unjust–
whiskey-blind, swaggering home at five.
My only thought is how to keep alive.
What makes him tick? Each night now I tie
ten dollars and his car key to my thigh…
Gored by the climacteric of his want,
he stalls above me like an elephant.”
A wife reveals, in a despairing monologue, what a monster her husband has become in his dependence upon bennies and whiskey in the 1950s.
“Hopped-up” is an allusion to benzedrine abuse, I believe. A diet aid and an amphetamine, benzedrine was much abused in the mid-century as a sort of pepping-up treatment for depressed mood. It also enabled drinkers to drink more and for longer periods, thus creating a double-addiction.
One notices, after reading this a couple of times — my god, this is a sonnet! As unlikely a sonnet as has ever been written, a modernist one.
The quote in the title, “To speak of woe that is in marriage,” is from Geoffrey Chaucer’s “Wife Of Bath’s Tale.”