I’m going to set an unsustainable precedent and write about poetry again this week. Why? Because Valentine’s Day was on Monday, and while it’s not my favorite holiday, it reminds me that love sometimes swells in a heart to the point that it must burst in expression. Sometimes it bursts in a flood of chocolate or jewelry. Sometimes theater tickets, a hand-crafted gift, or a specially-prepared dinner with chocolate lava cake for dessert (ahem).
I’m good with all of that – but I’m really horrible at writing sentiments in cards. I mean train-wreck bad. If you’ve ever gotten a card from me, you know this. I’m stiff, bland, clichéd. My grammar is like a fifth grader's and my handwriting is worse. My thoughts seize up, my hand shakes – it’s very similar to the feeling I get when I try to speak Spanish out loud. I’m going to mess up! That’s what I’m thinking. I’m usually right.
Give me 90,000 words, I’ll show you love. I can work with 2,000 – just don’t ask me to rhyme. But 20 words or fewer? Written by hand? With no do-overs?
Maybe that’s why some of my favorite expressions of love are carefully-chosen words. Whether poetry or prose, words beautifully strung together are more lasting than life. Some of them are so well expressed; we collectively come to know them by heart without even trying.
Shakespeare famously compared his love to a Summer’s day while Emerson (I like to call him Ralph) commanded us to Give all to love! Poe was typically maudlin, professing his affection to a dead woman when he wrote Thou wast all that to me, Love! Burns, like Shakespeare, turned to nature, comparing his love to a red, red rose (but thanks to Jim Carrey and his recitation in THE MASK, I’ll never be able to appreciate this poem.) And I just can’t stop myself from mentioning Noyes’s infamous highwayman. What's more romantic, afterall, than clandestine meetings, murder, burglary and really great hair?
But it’s probably Elizabeth Barrett Browning whom we remember best – How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. It’s sad that our memories generally die with that first line. It’s really the very least interesting of the entire poem.
How Do I Love Thee?How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
If you haven’t ever taken the time to read poetry, I urge you to start. Pick up a collection of favorite poems/famous poems/poems that last forever and see what you think. You won't like them all (you won't read them all!), but there's a good chance at least one will touch you unexpectedly and remind you of something you knew but forgot. It might even make your heart burst a little.