American Culture

VerseDay: The poet in love

I’ve long been convinced of two truths regarding poetry:

1: The easiest thing in the world to write is a love poem.

2: The hardest thing in the world to write is a good love poem.

Accordingly, I admire the hell out of a writer who can produce a tribute to his/her eternal love without making me a little sick to the stomach.

I think the problem I’ve often encountered is that great poetry – great art of any sort, really – is driven by tension. Whether it’s political rage, the fear of loss, the pain of mourning, whatever, it seems that the muse is more intrigued by that which is wrong with the world than that which is right. And love – real love, anyway – is an expression of two people’s triumph over the dark tension propelling most great artists. Most of the great love poems I can think of aren’t really love poems purely – they’re often driven by negative conditions. The love is unrequited, a lover is marching off to war, things like that.

Just one man’s opinion, I suppose, and it’s possible I’ve never been more wrong about something in my life.

So today, VerseDay offers some love poetry. We leave it to the reader to decide whether it’s great or … less great.

We’ll start with my hero, of course.

The Rose in the Deeps of His Heart
– William Butler Yeats

All things uncomely and broken,
all things worn-out and old,
The cry of a child by the roadway,
the creak of a lumbering cart,

The heavy steps of the ploughman,
splashing the wintry mould,
Are wronging your image that blossoms
a rose in the deeps of my heart.

The wrong of unshapely things
is a wrong too great to be told;
I hunger to build them anew
and sit on a green knoll apart,

With the earth and the sky and the water,
remade, like a casket of gold
For my dreams of your image that blossoms
a rose in the deeps of my heart.

What collection of love poems would be complete without a few words from Shelley?

Love’s Philosophy
– Percy Bysshe Shelley

The fountains mingle with the river,
And the rivers with the ocean;
The winds of heaven mix forever,
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one another’s being mingle;–
Why not I with thine?

See! the mountains kiss high heaven,
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister flower would be forgiven,
If it disdained it’s brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth,
And the moonbeams kiss the sea;–
What are all these kissings worth,
If thou kiss not me?

Then there’s history’s greatest author of love poems.

O Mistress Mine
– William Shakespeare

O Mistress mine, where are you roaming?
O, stay and hear; your true love’s coming,
That can sing both high and low:
Trip no further, pretty sweeting;
Journeys end in lovers meeting,
Every wise man’s son doth know.

What is love? ‘Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies not plenty;
Then, come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.

I believe I first encountered this marvelous effort in a high school English class taught by S&R’s own Jim Booth:

A Valediction: Forbidden Mourning
– John Donne

As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say,
“Now his breath goes,” and some say, “No.”

So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.

Moving of th’ earth brings harms and fears;
Men reckon what it did, and meant;
But trepidation of the spheres,
Though greater far, is innocent.

Dull sublunary lovers’ love
—Whose soul is sense—cannot admit
Of absence, ’cause it doth remove
The thing which elemented it.

But we by a love so much refined,
That ourselves know not what it is,
Inter-assurèd of the mind,
Care less, eyes, lips and hands to miss.

Our two souls therefore, which are one,
Though I must go, endure not yet
A breach, but an expansion,
Like gold to aery thinness beat.

If they be two, they are two so
As stiff twin compasses are two;
Thy soul, the fix’d foot, makes no show
To move, but doth, if th’ other do.

And though it in the centre sit,
Yet, when the other far doth roam,
It leans, and hearkens after it,
And grows erect, as that comes home.

Such wilt thou be to me, who must,
Like th’ other foot, obliquely run;
Thy firmness makes my circle just,
And makes me end where I begun.

We’ll close with something by a writer who has no business being in the same post as these masters. But what the heck…

Gravity: Summer Solstice, 1992

Go tell it to the sea,
how he should let go
his moonstruck,

his shameless high tides –
climbing each day, each night
kissing at her cloudless

Perhaps he’d answer
that it’s all cyclical – hope
driving him up the beach and the brooding
low tides.

Even so, most of his time is chasing
fish into nets, lobbing
bodysurfers towards shore,

and coming to grips with a notion –

there is nothing new under the sun,
what goes up must come down.

Crabs have always scuttled among the rocks.
Sharks are still enforcing Darwinism.
And late this summer hurricanes will once again
rage up the Atlantic coast.

But only one moon, fair as pearl dust,
trails her sable skirts across the night
sky, and what is the ocean
besides his faith in gravity? –

dreaming the day wanderchild falls,
when fire makes peace with earth
and sky with restless sea.

As Valentine’s Day approaches, we hope your life is enlightened by love. Or even “twu wuv”

5 replies »

  1. I still like this one by Yeats…


    HAD I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
    Enwrought with golden and silver light,

    The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
    Of night and light and the half-light,
    I would spread the cloths under your feet:
    But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
    I have spread my dreams under your feet;
    Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

  2. and, of course, this…


    by: William Butler Yeats (1865-1939)

    BELOVED, gaze in thine own heart,
    The holy tree is growing there;
    From joy the holy branches start,
    And all the trembling flowers they bear.
    The changing colours of its fruit
    Have dowered the stars with merry light;
    The surety of its hidden root
    Has planted quiet in the night;
    The shaking of its leafy head
    Has given the waves their melody,
    And made my lips and music wed,
    Murmuring a wizard song for thee.
    There the Loves a circle go,
    The flaming circle of our days,
    Gyring, spiring to and fro
    In those great ignorant leafy ways;
    Remembering all that shaken hair
    And how the wingèd sandals dart,
    Thine eyes grow full of tender care:
    Beloved, gaze in thine own heart.

    Gaze no more in the bitter glass
    The demons, with their subtle guile,
    Lift up before us when they pass,
    Or only gaze a little while;
    For there a fatal image grows
    That the stormy night receives,
    Roots half hidden under snows,
    Broken boughs and blackened leaves.
    For all things turn to barrenness
    In the dim glass the demons hold,
    The glass of outer weariness,
    Made when God slept in times of old.
    There, through the broken branches, go
    The ravens of unresting thought;
    Flying, crying, to and fro,
    Cruel claw and hungry throat,
    Or else they stand and sniff the wind,
    And shake their ragged wings; alas!
    Thy tender eyes grow all unkind:
    Gaze no more in the bitter glass.

  3. Sad thing is, he never did marry the girl all these poems are for…despite asking many many times. 😦

  4. Here’s one by Margaret Atwood that always gets to me:

    Variations on the Word Sleep

    I would like to watch you sleeping,
    which may not happen.
    I would like to watch you,
    sleeping. I would like to sleep
    with you, to enter
    your sleep as its smooth dark wave
    slides over my head.

    and walk with you through that lucent
    wavering forest of blue-green leaves
    with its watery sun & three moons
    towards the cave where you must descend,
    towards your worst fear

    I would like to give you the silver
    branch, the small white flower, the one
    word that will protect you
    from the grief at the center
    of your dream, from the grief
    at the center. I would like to follow
    you up the long stairway
    again & become
    the boat that would row you back
    carefully, a flame
    in two cupped hands
    to where your body lies
    beside you, and you enter
    it as easily as breathing in

    I would like to be the air
    that inhabits you for a moment
    only. I would like to be that unnoticed
    & that necessary.