Some thoughts on Wendy Cope’s poem “A Vow”.

I’ve been reading Wendy Cope’s “Anecdotal Evidence” and reflecting on how life seems when you have more of it to look back on than to look forward to.

In this collection, her poems look back over her life, summoning memories, weighing experiences and sometimes distilling wisdom.

The first poem of the collection is only two verses long but it was enough to make me buy the collection. It’s called “Evidence”. It starts with a quote from the “Daily Telegraph” in 2012 where a researcher claimed that “anecdotal evidence suggests that we respond positively to birdsong”. After a verse in which she gently pokes at this statement of the obvious she ends with:

What’s the use of poetry?
You ask. Well, here’s a start:
It’s anecdotal evidence
About the human heart.”

One piece of evidence that rang true for me was her poem “A Vow”. It’s about what she can and cannot promise to her husband. It’s not the kind of thing that is normally written by bright-eyed couples composing wedding vows but it makes sense to me.

Perhaps this is because when Wendy Cope married Lachlan Mackinnon, the couple had already been together for nineteen years. My wife and I had been together for twelve years before she agreed to marry me a little over thirty years ago.

Here’s what Wendy Cope’s poem says:

The whole poem works for me. It’s a love I recognise. The line that resonates most is, “I cannot promise that I will deserve you” I’m certain that’s a promise I couldn’t have kept over the decades but, “I love you and I want to make you happy.” is a statement I come back to even in the face of my own failure.

As I stand here with maybe another twenty years of marriage ahead of me and ask what i can vow, the only promise I can strive for, knowing myself as well as I do, is the one in the last line of the poem.

“I promise I will do my very best.”

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