If you are alone this Valentine’s Day, I am writing this for you.
Whether you ignore the day, share the occasion with friends or spend the holiday alone, you should know that romance does not belong to the paired, the settled, or even those flush with new love. It is not encumbered with hearts cut from paper, chocolates or rose petals.
It is not trademarked by Hallmark.
Can love be bought and sold? Is it exchangeable for a diamond pendant or a candlelit dinner?
And is a heart that hopes less tender? Is a heart that has lost less true?
I’m not cynical and I’m not trying to be maudlin, just real. Because when I look at the true masters of romance – the poets – I can’t help noticing that the stuff they write is too deep for Valentine’s Day.
Here are some of my favorite bits of poetry on romance – and none of it would work on a greeting card.
Love leaves. William Butler Yeats wrote of this in a heartbreaking poem called “When you are Old,” calling on his long lost love to remember at life’s end, “the one man who loved the pilgrim soul in you.”
…murmur, a little sadly, how love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of star.
Love strays. Mary Carolyn Davies wrote “A Man’s Woman” about her plans to don difficulty to keep her man constant:
…I was swift to do for him in every sort of way,
Thinking of his comfort, forgetting self each day,
I was loyal, faithful, devoted, kind and true
That is why I bored him – if women only knew!
I shall be capricious, I shall have a whim,
And neither earth, nor sea nor sky shall rob me then of him.
Love weakens. Is there anything that makes a person feel more vulnerable than opening herself to love? Percy Shelley feared the weakening power of love, and wrote of it in “The Flight of Love:”
…O Love! Who bewailest
The frailty of all things here,
Why choose you the frailest
For your cradle, your home and your bier?
Its passions will rock thee
As the storms rock the ravens on high;
…Leave thee naked to laughter,
When leaves fall and cold winds come.
Love forgets. In her poem, “Memory,” Helen Hoyt wrote about the end of love:
I can remember our sorrow, I can remember our laughter;
I know that surely we kissed and cried and ate together;
…But I cannot remember our love,
I cannot remember our love.
Love dies. And, of course, here we must turn to Edgar Allen Poe, who wrote the heartbreaking “To One in Paradise” for one not lost to inconstancy, but to death:
Thou wast all that to me, love,
For which my soul did pine:
A green isle in the sea, love,
A fountain and a shrine…
Ah, dream too bright to last!
Ah, starry Hope, that did arise
But to be overcast!
…And all my days are trances,
And all my nightly dreams
Are where thy dark eye glances,
And where thy footstep gleams—
In what ethereal dances,
By what eternal streams.
But, before you resign yourself to a quart of Cherry Garcia and a box of tissues, don’t forget—
Love hopes. Ralph Waldo Emerson reminds us in “Give All to Love,” that when love does come our way, we must embrace it!
Give all to love;
Obey thy heart;
… ‘Tis a brave master;
Let it have scope:
Follow it utterly,
Hope beyond hope…