Many years ago, when I suffered from my own break up, I bought a book about poems and love. I wanted to know the answer to my question: What is love really?
Could the answer be found in poems?
We shall see.
Lovers have long used poetry as an expression of their feelings when spoken words fall short. Through the ages, some of this poetry has stood the test of time as great works of art. Often words capture things that would be lost to the world if it had not been captured on a page.
There are several works of art that have stood the test of time and become classics.
“She Walks In Beauty”
By Lord Byron
She walks in beauty like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meets in her aspect and her eyes;
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, so eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent.
Written in 1815 By Lord Byron, this poem refers to his cousin, whom he met at a party in the home of Lady Stillwell’s. The cousin is Ms. Wilmont, and while the meaning of the dark is often debated in this poem, it is easily explained.
When he first laid eyes on her, Ms. Wilmont was wearing black mourning clothes. This is the dark that he refers to, and the bright features refer to her beauty. He not only talks about her physical beauty, but with the mention of a “mind aat peace with all below” that she is a serene and peaceful person. He is reputed to have gone back to his room and written this poem over a drink of brandy.
When reading the poem, you must first understand characteristics of an “enjambed” line. Read through smoothly until you get to the punctuation marks in order for it to make sense. This poem employs this method, and it is much more meaningful if you read it through how it was written.
Lord Byron lived a tumultuous life. Plagued with a wild lifestyle, and a stigma of a lame foot from birth, he was a known carouser and womanizer. He was reputed to have affairs with many women, and while much of his poetry is dark, this poem stands out as a piece of admiration for a woman he found clean and pure beauty in – a perfect example for the interaction of poems and love.
“How Do I Love Thee?”
by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
This poem, written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning in 1845 to her future husband, Robert Browning.
The intensity of this love developed after a series of tragic events had sent the young Elizabeth into despair. Out of her despair, she had secluded herself to her room, and poetry resulted. Eventually her works became published, and Robert Browning contacted her because she mentioned his works as inspiration. Elizabeth’s father did not approve of the relationship, so this secret love affair was kept sealed until they eloped in 1846.
The inspiration for this poem, one of her most famous, comes from a combination of her Christian beliefs, which did not always make her popular, as well as her love for Robert. This simple poem, which states “How do I love thee” and then lists the reasons, shows the depth of her love. The Christian belief system is evident with her connection to loving him even after death, if God choose. This simple poem expresses every aspect of her love sentiments perfectly; she loves him with everything – including the smiles and tears of her life. That is what has kept this poem relevant for all this time.
by John Clare
I ne’er was struck before that hour
With love so sudden and so sweet.
Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
And stole my heart away complete.
My face turned pale, a deadly pale.
My legs refused to walk away,
And when she looked what could I ail
My life and all seemed turned to clay.
And then my blood rushed to my face
And took my eyesight quite away.
The trees and bushes round the place
Seemed midnight at noonday.
I could not see a single thing,
Words from my eyes did start.
They spoke as chords do from the string,
And blood burnt round my heart.
Are flowers the winter’s choice
Is love’s bed always snow
She seemed to hear my silent voice
Not love appeals to know.
I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling place
And can return no more.
John Clare wrote this poem about his first love, Mary Joyce.
He was not wealthy, as her family she was, so this romance went unrequited. Although he eventually married another woman in 1820, he never gave up the love for Mary Joyce. While married, he experienced some success as a poet, but once the success diminished, he became distraught. Eventually he was committed to an asylum, where he began to fantasize that he was married to both women simultaneously. He left the asylum and walked 100 miles hoping to reunite with her. He also imagined that they had children together.
Finding that his Mary Joyce was not there caused such distress for John Clare that he ended up confined to an asylum for the rest of his life. In spite of confinement, some of his best poetry was written during those early years of confinement. In all, Clare wrote about 3500 poems, with about 400 being published. Mary was such a source of inspiration that John Clare actually gave up his sanity out of his love for her.
Love poetry has long been part of the courting process. The emotions that stem from this mystery collaboration of poems and love create both beautiful and painful word pictures of the emotions that result… either from the love fulfilled, or the love rebuffed.
What love really is?
I’ve learned that the answer to that question cannot be found in the outside world of books or movies, but rather in the inside world of your own heart.