Law, Like Love
The biggest open secret in the landmark trial over same-sex marriage [just] heard in San Francisco is that the federal judge who [decided] the case, Chief U.S. District Judge Vaughn Walker, is himself gay.The title of this post comes from a poem (below) by W. H. Auden. At first glance, the poem seems obscure, but in its first seven stanzas the poet lays out seven cases of what we might understand 'law' or 'the Law' to be. Gardeners might say that the sun and the seasons, the regular and eternal orbits of our planet and its sun, govern us. That is what law is. Auden then goes through the other suggestions: law is what old, experienced people say; law is what we feel, young people might argue; it's what the priest says, what the judge lays down; what scholars draw out of their line-by-line studies; what angry crowds say; what we, I, me, say is, in our heart of hearts...
I've always liked those lines: Law is only crimes / Punished by places and by times, as if to say, accurately enough, that without crime, there might be no law. Or indeed, that humans arbitrarily decide what is a crime at any given time and place in history and punish people for it -- such as executing people for being gay, locking them up, subjecting them to torture, destroying their minds with electric shock therapy, rendering them outcasts, terminating their jobs, treating them with contempt. This list I have written from worst to least, but all of these are punishments for being gay in many countries around the world.
Anyway, here is the poem. I have quoted it before on my blog and there are some more of my thoughts (oh, no need to cheer!) at the bottom.
Law, say the gardeners, is the sun,There are different forms of love, from brotherly love to the love between lovers, etcetera. Really, love, as Auden is getting at in his poem, is a form of respect. And so is law. Law is not the opposite of love, but it is "like love," something that humans find it is utterly impossible to exist without. Writing this poem in 1940, as the Second World War started, Auden had just lived through a decade in which he'd witnessed humans break all the laws, and shatter all that seemed to remain of love. But law and love are to humans as wetness is to water: intrinsic.
Law is the one
All gardeners obey
To-morrow, yesterday, to-day.
Law is the wisdom of the old,
The impotent grandfathers feebly scold;
The grandchildren put out a treble tongue,
Law is the senses of the young.
Law, says the priest with a priestly look,
Expounding to an unpriestly people,
Law is the words in my priestly book,
Law is my pulpit and my steeple.
Law, says the judge as he looks down his nose,
Speaking clearly and most severely,
Law is as I've told you before,
Law is as you know I suppose,
Law is but let me explain it once more,
Law is The Law.
Yet law-abiding scholars write:
Law is neither wrong nor right,
Law is only crimes
Punished by places and by times,
Law is the clothes men wear
Law is Good morning and Good night.
Others say, Law is our Fate;
Others say, Law is our State;
Others say, others say
Law is no more,
Law has gone away.
And always the loud angry crowd,
Very angry and very loud,
Law is We,
And always the soft idiot softly Me.
If we, dear, know we know no more
Than they about the Law,
If I no more than you
Know what we should and should not do
Except that all agree
Gladly or miserably
That the Law is
And that all know this
If therefore thinking it absurd
To identify Law with some other word,
Unlike so many men
I cannot say Law is again,
No more than they can we suppress
The universal wish to guess
Or slip out of our own position
Into an unconcerned condition.
Although I can at least confine
Your vanity and mine
To stating timidly
A timid similarity,
We shall boast anyway:
Like love I say.
Like love we don't know where or why,
Like love we can't compel or fly,
Like love we often weep,
Like love we seldom keep.