All Apologies

Women always do this: their hearts get broken 
once and they build a shrine in its chambers.

All sights for sore eyes blinked a denial,
the contours of other men untasted

on their arid tongues. Grief makes a desert 
where silence echoes on a pristine plain

About the poem

This poem appeared on the Dear Damsels site in September 2018 as part of their focus on the theme of courage. 

The poem is one of a sequence inspired by Book IV of Virgil’s Aeneid. The story of Aeneas and Dido’s ultimately love affair both tender and emotionally complex. This poem is written in the voice of Anna, Dido’s sister, who advises her to take a chance on love. The title is a deliberate reference to the Nirvana song of the same name, which has some resonance with the Dido and Aeneas story and and recognises the final outcome of the love story which inspired the poem even whilst making a case for taking a risk on love.

Dido had many reasons to be uncertain about whether to act on her feelings. She had to leave her homeland after her brother murdered her husband in a bid for power. She arrives in Carthage heartbroken and determined to rebuild in a new country with those of her people who remained loyal. Falling in love was not in her plan, and her reticence is both understandable in the context of the myth and very human. 

I felt that there was something very relatable about someone who feared intimacy after being hurt. I also thought there was something admirable in Anna’s role helping to build her sister’s confidence. It reminded me of all the times my own friends have picked me up with their words after disappointments in love and in life.

Ultimately, Dido’s fears were not unfounded and the love affair couldn’t last. I don’t think this takes anything away from Anna’s argument. Whether or not we or a friend gives voice to it, everyone who takes a chance on love after being hurt or disappointed in some way is well aware of the risk and that there are no guarantees. That’s one of the reasons I’m so delighted that this is featuring on the site when the theme is courage, because there is great bravery than risking your heart and there is, for me, no great inspiration to be had from the unwavering support of the people closest to you.