Warning: It’s that time of year. You already know what this post is about.
Since there’s been love, and language of course, there have been words, infinite words, written about love. In fact, many would argue that love is one of, if not the, most pervasive topic in literature. A recent article by Daniel Jones details what he has noticed as the New York Times “Modern Love” columnist about “How We Write About Love.” Over the years, Jones has noted the differences and universals in writing about love across age, gender, sexual orientation, perspective, circumstance, distance, and of course, that fickle friend or nemesis to love, time. He admits, romantically enough:
“Writing about love can be similar to falling in love in that we must be as vulnerable on the page as we are in person when revealing ourselves to someone we hope will love us back. That means exposing our flaws and weaknesses and trusting we will be seen as more appealing, not less, for having done so.
Good writing about love features the same virtues that define a good relationship: honesty, generosity, open-mindedness, curiosity, humor and self-deprecation.”
Valentine’s Day is a day in particular people feel compelled to write about love – they might write a poem, send a letter, card, homemade Valentine, or in today’s direction, a thoughtful text, or email to some special someone.
I’ve compiled a (very) short timeline charting words about love – admitting it, declaring it, contemplating it, – from great writers, lyricists, and ordinary people.
The first recorded Valentine (in the English language) is a letter from Margery Brews to her fiancé John Paston in February. The Paston family were English aristocrats from Norfolk, and the collection of their letters are one of the largest of English correspondence that still exists. Margery’s letter opens:
Unto my right well-beloved Valentine John Paston, squire, be this bill delivered.
The original letter is pictured below and can be read in full here.
Among some of the most famous love letters in the world are those of English poet John Keats to his lover, Fanny Brawne. Their affair was one often from a distance, made trying and then tragic by Keat’s financial struggles and battle with tuburculosis, from which he died in 1821 at age 25. None of Fanny’s letters to Keats have ever been found, but his have been collected and immortalized. He refers to her as “My Dearest Girl,” and writes eloquently of the pain of their frequent separation, and the threat of his impending death. His most famous poem about their love is “Bright Star Would I Were Steadfast”:
Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art–
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors–
No–yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever–or else swoon to death.
As poignant as Keats words are, a recent poll conducted by the UK’s Daily Mail had him coming in third for “Greatest Love Letter.” Despite their openly tumultuous relationship, the winner was chosen by the Internet to be the late Johnny Cash’s letter to wife June Carter Cash on her 65th birthday which read: