A many-splendored thing
I have been – perhaps unsurprisingly, considering the time of year – been thinking about love and poetry recently. In some ways, considering the general question: When did we decide that poetry worked so well for expressions of love? Is it because we feel prose is somehow unequal to the task? That “I love you” works better, means more if it is rhymed and metrical?
(It’s possible that it does. “I love my partner,” I love my cat,” and “I love chocolate” all rely on the same word. We know we mean them differently, but still. Sometimes I wish there was an obviously stronger, different, more specific word, or gradations of words for gradations of the emotion. Possibly that’s what poetry is – something that is less locked in to one specific word, more reliant on emotion and metaphor, that allows us to hear “nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands” as a statement of romantic love.)
Poetry is a space large enough to hold all different kinds of love, and so I wanted to share a few favorite poems that are about love, even if not necessarily romantic love.
“Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden. Not a romantic poem, but, for me, such a powerful expression of love. Love that’s expressed through doing, not saying, and in the small things, the every day. The first time I read it, the final two lines brought tears to my eyes, a lump to my throat.
“Pangur Bán” (anonymous, trans. Seamus Heaney). Also not a romantic poem, but one of appreciation for a colleague’s skill. Included because I do love my cats, and this is my favorite poem about a cat. Thanks to Heaney’s hangover for the translation.
“Sonnet 29” by William Shakespeare. Okay, this one is to do with romantic love. It is my favorite of Shakespeare’s sonnets, and two poetic things that I love are Shakespeare and sonnets. But it’s this one specifically because I love, so much, the idea that simply thinking of your beloved can do so much to change the course of your thoughts, the way you see things. Plus, it’s just gorgeous. Read it out loud and you’ll hear the loveliness.
Obviously, there are others. Even limiting it to love poetry that I personally love (there’s that word again), I could probably fill close to a year’s worth of these essays just with those. Maybe there’s so much love poetry not just for its effect on the reader but because of the effect of love on the writer – that it makes us reach for more than just simple prose words to express what we feel. Or maybe it’s that, even said simply, love is its own sort of poem.
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