Poetry Sunday: Love and Love Lost PoemsApril 22, 2012
Love shares a special relationship with poetry, both in love found and love lost. Perhaps it is the very nature of poetry that lends itself to the subject of love. Love is about emotions; poetry is about emotions too. They seem a natural fit. Poetry is the refuge for emotion and love moved in as a permanent resident.
Poems about love are also a great equalizer. They touch both men and women, adults and adolescents, extroverts and introverts, the silly-hearts and the serious, and even the macho and the meek. Love poems speak to one of our basic needs, the share the love we feel. As the character, John Keating, the main protagonist in Tom Schulman’s screenplay The Dead Poet’s Society put it when he calls on his students:
John Keating: Language was developed for one endeavor, and that is – Mr. Anderson? Come on, are you a man or an amoeba?
John Keating: Mr. Perry?
Neil: To communicate.
John Keating: No! To woo women!
At the very least, we must admit that communicating our love for others is one of our primary uses of language, and by extension, poetry.
When done right, a love poem keeps time with the heart; each foot becomes a heartbeat. Just as emotion builds within a poem as the heartbeats continue, so too emotions build within our souls as our heartbeats force us to express our love or seeming explode from its pressure. Poetry is a natural ally.
Love poems can be very basic. As children, we all learned:
Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you.
It does not get much simpler than that. As with most things with age, this little poem’s true origins are murky. The earliest allusion to the lines is probably Sir Edmond Spencer’s The Faerie Queene[i] with these two lines:
She bath’d with roses red, and violets blew,
And all the sweetest flowres, that in the forrest grew.[sic]
Regardless, the poem has become ubiquitous and even lampooned over the years. Even with its simplicity, it has the poetic quality that conveys a feeling of affection.
While love poems work to convey love in its positive aspects, there is love lost too. Its emotions and feeling are just as strong, if not stronger. Certainly, the rawness of them is well understood by anyone past the age of twelve.
The subject of lost love has many sources in poetry, not all are about rejection. The source can be a death, distance, or circumstance as well as rejection. For instance, Robert Burns’ poem A Red, Red, Ros[sic], has nothing to do with rejection:
O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I:
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun:
I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare thee well, my only Luve
And fare thee well, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.
Though Burns is credited as the poet, he claimed it is based on a song he heard a Scottish lass sing to her lover no longer with her. Rather than sorry for her loss, she sang of her willingness to do whatever it took to regain her love. It speaks to love’s ability to endure.
Separation often plays a strong role in love poems. Sometimes it is physical distance; sometimes situation creates the separation. In either case, the poet uses poetry to express the desire for it to be otherwise. In my sonnet Distance, I talk about how two souls are entwined regardless of the distance between them:
Care not my love, of this distance between
’tis like two hands on arms reaching full wide
though no greater space will ever be seen
I still hold you near, as if by my side
For connected we are, as parts to a whole
with emotions of love, a life blood shared
Distance does nothing to weaken the soul
keep that in mind at times you are scared
A touch on the hand is known body wide
though it’s only one hand at times involved
We are the same when our love is applied
love is our touch and distance’s problem solved
Together in life our hearts beat as one
two souls entwined, our life-course is run
It does not say if that distance is miles or some other obligation. It simply shows love can overcome. As sad as the distance is, the poem holds out hope.
Compare this to another my sonnet The Day I Found You, that celebrates finding love:
We sat upon a swing that day
and made the world our own
We talked with more than words could say
with seeds our thoughts had sown
For love began upon that swing
our souls became as one
For us the world had joys to bring
through this life that we’ve run
I look back now, that day I see
and know I found my soul
It’s from life’s dark you set me free
and with your love made whole
I love you for you, but really much more
you taught me to love, you opened love’s door
While both talk of love found, in the first, distance stands in its way. In the second, it speaks to the power of love and its ability to make us more than we are alone. It celebrates love and has even greater hope for the future.
Still, there is that nagging other side to love poems – love lost. As powerful as poems about finding love are, poems that speak to its loss have at least as much impact upon us. Perhaps it is our knowing just what it means to lose a love that gives them the punch. Perhaps it is our memory that makes us relate so well to them. They often speak directly to the soul, bypassing the conscious. I mean we hear them, for sure, but is a deeper feeling within the soul that is moved by them. Just as poems about love found speak to love’s joyful possibilities, poems of love lost show the depths love can drive us down. This is exactly the point of Heartbeats. It speaks to the raw emotion I felt the day I wrote it:
If all you wanted was my heartbeat,
you only had to ask.
Each beat, each pulse of it
is there only for you.
There is no need for deception,
though easy a mark am I.
I believe all you tell me, each lie,
I do not question them.
I cannot – I will not!
For I am lost in the promise of what might be,
what never was.
Take them all…
I have no further use for heartbeats.
Poetry is about expression. When expressing love lost, it tends to cut, not with derogatory and hateful words but more by showing vulnerability. Often, when hurt by love, it is within the gentlest spaces in our hearts. It makes us wish to callous them and never be hurt again, but gratefully, that is not how it works and we seem foolish enough to step back into love’s light again and again; again finding the need of joyful love poems.
In the end, perhaps Keating was right. We developed language not so much to communicate as to communicate out emotions. Perhaps this is exactly why love poems carry such strength within our souls.
[i]Spencer, Edmond. “The Faerie Queene.” Spencer, Edmond. The Faerie Queene. London: William Ponsonbie, 1596. Book Three, Canto 6, Stanza 6. Book.