Lines to Love: The Romance of Poetry

 
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As Valentine’s Day is only two days off, I thought this would be wonderful time to share with you some of my all time favorite lines from poems and poets I love. Many of the poets I gravitate to express love, whether from an ethereal, sublime, mystical, or sensual perspective. 

Poetry is a staple in my reading arsenal. I'll tell you why. Several years ago, I read a blog post by the author Deanna Raybourn that really stuck with me. It was Things I know that Work for Me… and it was chock full of Raybourn’s advice to burgeoning authors on how to perfect their technique. One of the first suggestions resounded within me like the gong in Spontini’s La Vestale’s Act II finale. 

If you want to be a better writer of prose, read poetry. Poets are my gods. As I’ve remarked before, they say in ten words what I say in ten thousand.

Perhaps this spoke so strongly to me because I have long believed that poets convey all the grandeur of the human experience with the truest economy of words. Given that I can prattle on unedited, I find a steady infusion of poetry helps to curb my natural predilections in my own prose. (Although, with a 287,000 word manuscript to edit, apparently, they haven’t curbed me enough. I’m making progress, though. The novel was originally 400K+.) 

I even recall pilfering from a few of them from time to time when the occasional Valentine’s Day card needed that little extra oomph. So, if your Valentine’s note needs just a little more spice or sentiment or romance, I offer you these. (If you must pilfer, then pilfer from some of the best, no?)

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What better place to start than with Keats? While I could point to his poetry for copious examples of romance, I find his letters hold more poetic jewels. 

Though the romance between John Keats and his paramour Fanny Brawne only lasted two years, ending with the untimely death of Keats at the age of twenty-five, the letters and poems exchanged between the two remain and stand as living testament to an incandescent love for the ages. Keats had poked fun at the notion of love, but one fateful evening in 1818, he met and fell helplessly in love with Fanny.

This letter, penned on the morning of 3 July 1819, conveys how inept he felt in attempting to record his feelings: 

For myself I know not how to express my devotion to so fair a form: I want a brighter word than bright, a fairer word that fair. I almost wish we were butterflies and liv’d but three summer days- three such days with you I could fill with more delight than fifty common years could ever contain.

Seven days later, he wrote this line to Fanny. I believe it’s something any of us who have loved can relate to:

and here I must confess, that (since I am on the subject) I love you the more in that I believe you have liked me for my own sake and for nothing else.
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Another love story that I am partial to is that between Elizabeth Barrett Browning and Robert Browning. At the tender age of fifteen, Elizabeth suffered an accident that injured her spine. Relegated to her rooms by her father in a bid to protect her, she spent the next decade of her life, absorbing knowledge like a sponge and composing essays and poetry for publication. Her heavy handed father found her foray into publication one of those things he was forced to tolerate; he believed that she should have focused more on preparing for the next world as she wasn’t expected to live long. However, in 1845, a letter arrived from Robert Browning with the words I love your verses with all my heart, Miss Barrett written therein. Correspondence quickly ensued, and within a year, the woman who had resigned herself to spinsterhood as an invalid experienced a rebirth and eloped with Mr. Browning. Four years later, Elizabeth published her famous Sonnets from the Portuguese, fifty love poems that chronicled the metamorphosis of love. You may be familiar with her 43rd sonnet: How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…

My particular favorite (and that’s really hard to say as I enjoy all of them) is the seventh sonnet, especially the beginning lines:

The face of all the world is changed, I think,
Since first I heard the footsteps of they soul
Move still, oh, still, beside me, as they stole
Betwixt me and the dreadful outer brink
Of obvious death, where I, who thought to sink,
was caught up into love, and taught the whole
Of life in a new rhythm.
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The next piece of poetry is from the Greek poetess Sappho. Very little of her poetry has survived; what has is in fragments, and unless there is an archeological miracle, we’re unlikely to read any of her full poems. Yet, what remains is filled with passion, a passion that anyone who has loved or dreams of loving can seize upon. This is my favorite:

Without warning
As a whirlwind
swoops on an oak
Love shakes my heart
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I will end with the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. I know very little of this man’s life, as I’m always in too much of a hurry to get to his poetry to read the introductions and prefaces of his books. However, whether his poems were all written to one woman or to many, they are overflowing with tenderness, ardor, and great passion. (And when it comes to metaphor, I would seriously LOVE to take a page out of his book.)

In his collection 100 Love Sonnets, there are several choice pieces from which to chose. I like Sonnet XI:  

I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.

Then there’s this line from Sonnet XVI:

So I pass across your burning form, kissing
you— compact and planetary. my dove, my globe.

Then there’s the next sonnet, XVII:

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love.

And sonnett LXXIII:

Then love knew it was called love. 
And when I lifted my eyes to your name, 
suddenly your heart showed me my way.

It is very difficult for me to curb my enthusiasm where Pablo is concerned, so I’ll stop here. Don’t you love the way in which he expresses yearning and desire?

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And, speaking of desire, I give you one final poem, a short four lines by Samuel Taylor Coleridge that tenderly tell how love, a spiritual connection between two souls, is expressed physically through desire. 

Where true Love burns Desire is Love’s pure flame;
It is the reflex of our earthly frame,
That takes it meaning from the nobler part, 
And but translates the language of the heart.

May you all, this coming Valentine's Day, feel deeply loved and treasured. Happy Valentine's Day!

Are there any poems that capture the grandeur of love for you? Please share your favorites.