This week’s theme leaves me spoilt for choice – is there any subject that has inspired more poems, novels, lyrics or plays than love?
I did consider writing about Plato’s Symposium in which a group of ancient Athenians discuss love, with Socrates expounding on what became known as Platonic love. The symposium attendees are all male but, interestingly, Plato makes Socrates credit a female oracle, Diotima for instructing him in the nature of love (which she does in an amusingly patronising way https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Diotima_of_Mantinea )
The Symposium is also where Aristophanes explains love as a result at the gods punishing the previously two headed and eight limbed humans by dividing us into two – and condemning us to forever search for our missing “split-apart.”
But you don’t want philosophy (The Symposium is here if you do: http://faculty.sgc.edu/rkelley/SYMPOSIUM.pdf) You want poetry. Go on, admit it.
There are far too many love poems for me to even attempt a summation, so I am going to pluck one, more or less at random. I came across this one by Emily Bronte, which has the advantage of being seasonal with the championing of holly over rose wreaths as symbols of the more enduring virtues of friendship as compared to the more fugitive transports of romantic love.
I must confess that I am not a huge fan of the Bronte sisters. This may be prejudice based on Charlotte’s disdain for Jane Austen – I freely confess to being card carrying Janeite – but also both Charlotte and Emily seem to me a bit over-blown and melodramatic with lashings of the gothic that Austen parodied so well in Northanger Abbey. Perhaps because of this, although I knew that Emily had a considerable reputation as a poet, I had not read any of her poetry before.
But I really liked this poem. It has a touch of Victorian morality but it doesn’t slip into sentimentality or censoriousness and I think it is reminiscent of Christina Rossetti (at her simplest and clearest).
Ironically, Jane Austen also wrote something called Love and Friendship. It is a juvenile story (with little relationship to the recent film which is based on another of Austen’s early works, Lady Susan).
Austen’s Love and Friendship was written before she learned to curb her wicked sense of humour and craft credible stories. It concerns two young women who hurtle around the country from Wales to Scotland reacting to various Gothic catastrophes and ridiculous coincidences by either “running mad” or fainting. Eventually Sophia swoons to her death, prompting her ,on her deathbed, to offer the sage advice:
“Beware of fainting-fits… Though at the time they may be refreshing and agreeable, yet believe me they will in the end, if too often repeated and at improper seasons, prove destructive to your Constitution… My fate will teach you this… I die a Martyr to my greif for the loss of Augustus… One fatal swoon has cost me my Life… Beware of swoons, Dear Laura… A frenzy fit is not one quarter so pernicious; it is an exercise to the Body and if not too violent, is, I dare say, conducive to Health in its consequences — Run mad as often as you chuse; but do not faint –-” https://pemberley.com/janeinfo/lovfrnd3.html
You can see why the Bronte sisters weren’t big fans!
Love and Friendship
BY EMILY BRONTË
Love is like the wild rose-briar,
Friendship like the holly-tree—
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?
The wild rose-briar is sweet in spring,
Its summer blossoms scent the air;
Yet wait till winter comes again
And who will call the wild-briar fair?
Then scorn the silly rose-wreath now
And deck thee with the holly’s sheen,
That when December blights thy brow
He still may leave thy garland green.
Prompts: Such a broad topic gives plenty of scope but remember, with Emily Bronte that it doesn’t have to be about romantic love, it might be about family, friends, a love of a place or community or even your abiding love of fish and chips… um, it’s been a long time since I have had good, chip shop fish and chips.