Click on the pictures to see enlarged versions of the images.

Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Falling in Love

(Baby in Red Chair, circa 1810-1830,
unknown artist, possibly from Pennsylvania)

In the final analysis, as we come to the end of our poems about love this month of June, we see that love is all about what you choose to put at the center of your life.


Nothing is more practical than
finding God, that is, than
falling in love
in a quite absolute, final way.
What you are in love with,
what seizes your imagination,
will affect everything.
It will decide
what will get you out of bed
in the morning,
what you do with your evenings,
how you spend your weekends,
what you read, who you know,
what breaks your heart,
and what amazes you with
joy and gratitude.
Fall in love, stay in love,
and it will decide everything.

~ Attributed to Pedro Arrupe, S.J. (1907-1991), a Basque priest who served as a missionary in Japan from 1938 to 1965; he was living in the outskirts of the city when the bomb fell on Hiroshima, and led a team to take care of the sick and the dying

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

love is more thicker than forget

(Study for Woman in Blue by Fernand Léger,
1881–1955, French painter and sculptor)

Love can overwhelm us.

How can we make sense of it all?

love is more thicker than forget
more thinner than recall
more seldom than a wave is wet
more frequent than to fail

it is most mad and moonly
and less it shall unbe
than all the sea which only
is deeper than the sea

love is less always than to win
less never than alive
less bigger than the least begin
less littler than forgive

it is most sane and sunly
and more it cannot die
than all the sky which only
is higher than the sky

~ e. e. cummings (1894-1962), American poet, painter and essayist

Monday, June 28, 2010

At a Window

(The Angelus by Jean-François Millet, 1814–1875,
French painter)

“Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things,” wrote Paul of Tarsus (circa 3-66 A.D.) in his letter to the Christians in Corinth, Greece.


Give me hunger,
O you gods that sit and give
The world its orders.
Give me hunger, pain and want,
Shut me out with shame and failure
From your doors of gold and fame,
Give me your shabbiest, weariest hunger!

But leave me a little love,
A voice to speak to me in the day end,
A hand to touch me in the dark room
Breaking the long loneliness.
In the dusk of day-shapes
Blurring the sunset,
One little wandering, western star
Thrust out from the changing shores of shadow.
Let me go to the window,
Watch there the day-shapes of dusk
And wait and know the coming
Of a little love.

~ Carl Sandburg (1878-1967), American poet and writer and biographer of Lincoln

Sunday, June 27, 2010

By the Light of the Silvery Moon

(By the Light of the Silvery Moon,
cover of the sheet music, 1909)

Today’s verse is a popular ditty from a century ago. It was revived in 1953 as the title song of a Doris Day movie.

Click on the YouTube site of this Oldie but Goodie and you’ll hear, in the charming patter, what the language of love used to be. “To spoon” and "cuddling" refer to the flirtations and expressions of affection between young lovers. Other such old-fashioned terms include “canoodling” and “billing and cooing.” More recently, in contrast to the prevailing language of the Free Love days of the hippy trippy Sixties, Merle Haggard sang of an Oklahoma town “where even squares can have a ball,” where “we don’t make a party out of lovin’ / but we like holdin’ hands and pitchin’ woo.”


By the light of the silvery moon,
I want to spoon,
To my honey I'll croon
Love's tune.
Honey moon, keep a-shinin' in June.
Your silv'ry beams will bring love's dreams.
We'll be cuddlin' soon,
By the silvery moon.

Place: Park.
Scene: Dark.
Silv'ry moon is shining through the trees.
Cast: Two,
Me, you.
Sound of kisses floating on the breeze.
Act One: Begun.
Dialogue: "Where would you like to spoon?"
My cue: With you,
Underneath the silv'ry moon.

By the light of the silvery moon,
I want to spoon,
To my honey I'll croon
Love's tune.
Honey moon, keep a-shinin' in June.
Your silv'ry beams will bring love's dreams.
We'll be cuddlin' soon,
By the silvery moon.

Act: Two.
Scene: New.
Roses blooming all around the place.
Cast: Three.
You, me,
Preacher with a solemn looking face.
Choir sings, bell rings.
Preacher: "You are wed forever more."
Act Two: All through.
Ev'ry night the same encore.

By the light (not the dark but the light)
Of the silvery moon (not the sun but the moon),
I wanna to spoon (not croon, but spoon),
To my honey I'll croon love's tune.
Honey moon (honey moon, honey moon)
Keep a-shinin' in June.
Your silv'ry beams will bring love's dreams.
We'll be cuddlin' soon,
By the silvery moon (the silv'ry moon).

~ Ed Madden (1878-1962), American lyricist and, and Gus Edwards (1875-1949), American composer and vaudevillian

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Shore of Silence

(Sunrise, Norham Castle, J. M. W. Turner, 1775-1851,
English Romantic “painter of light”)

“A loving heart is the truest wisdom,” wrote the English author Charles Dickens (1812-1870).


Love explained all for me,
all was resolved by love,
to this love I adore
wherever it may be.

I am open space for a placid tide
where no wave roars, clutching at rainbow branches.
Now a soothing wave uncovers light in the deep
and breathes light onto unsilvered leaves.

In such silence I hide,
a leaf released from the wind,
no longer anxious for the days that fall.
They must all fall, I know.

~ Karol Wojtyla (1920-2005), Polish priest, philosopher, playwright, and poet, later to become Pope John Paul II; translation by Jerzy Peterkiewicz

Friday, June 25, 2010

To Fanny

(portrait of John Keats by William Hilton,
1786-1839, English painter)

When John Keats fell in love with the girl next door, Fanny Brawne, he was an impoverished poet with no prospects for marriage. He was also under a death sentence, stricken with the consumption or tuberculosis that had already killed a brother. Keats moved to Italy for his health and died there when he was only 25 years old, separated from his beloved.

The love that they felt for each other Keats recorded in his poems and the many letters that survive. “I love you the more in that I believe you have liked me for my own sake and for nothing else,” he wrote to Fanny. “I have met with women whom I really think would like to be married to a Poem and to be given away by a Novel.”

In another letter he told Fanny, “I have no limit now to my love. I have been astonished that men could die martyrs of religion. I have shuddered at it. I shudder no more. I could be martyred for my religion — love is my religion — I could die for you. My creed is love and you are its only tenet. You have ravish’d me away by a power I could not resist. . . . My love is selfish. I cannot breathe without you. . . . Yours for ever.”


I cry your mercy — pity — love — aye, love!
Merciful love that tantalizes not,
One-thoughted, never-wandering, guileless love,
Unmask’d, and being seen — without a blot!
O! let me have thee whole, — all — all — be mine!
That shape, that fairness, that sweet minor zest
Of your love, your kiss, — those hands, those eyes divine,
That warm, white, lucent, million-pleasured breast, —
Yourself — your soul — in pity give me all,
Withhold no atom’s atom or I die,
Or living on perhaps, your wretched thrall,
Forget, in the midst of idle misery,
Life’s purposes, — the palate of my mind
Losing its gust, and my ambition blind!

~ John Keats (1795-1821), English Romantic poet

For a short article about Bright Star, the recent film depicting the love between Keats and Fanny, go to this site:

(Please cut and paste the address if the link is not working.)

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Líadan Laments Cuirithir

(an image from the Book of Kells, created
by Irish monks circa 800 A.D.)

“The course of true love never did run smooth,” wrote Shakespeare in A Midsummer Night’s Dream. Among the many star-crossed lovers in life and in art are Abélard and Héloïse, Romeo and Juliet, John Keats and Fanny Brawne, Rhett Butler and Scarlett O’Hara, Charles and Diana, and Al and Tipper Gore.

One of the earliest tragic romances recorded in verse was written by an unknown Irish poet in the ninth century. It tells the story of the sixth-century poet Líadan, who was forbidden from joining her lover, the poet Cuirithir, because she had made a vow of chastity. When she pursued him, he crossed the sea into exile and left her alone to mourn their love.


what I have done!
to torment my darling one.

But for fear
of the Lord of Heaven
he would lie with me here.

Not vain,
it seemed, our choice,
to seek Paradise through pain.

I am Líadan,
I loved Cuirithir
as truly as they say.

The short time
I passed with him
how sweet his company!

The forest trees
sighed music for us;
and the flaring blue of seas.

What folly
to turn him against me
whom I had treated most gently!

No whim
or scruple of mine
should have come between

Us, for above
all others, without shame
I declare him my heart’s love.

A roaring flame
has consumed my heart:
I will not live without him.

~ Translation by John Montague, born 1929, Irish poet

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

A Midsummer Night's Dream

(A Midsummer Night’s Dream by Arthur Rackham,
1867-1939, English illustrator)

Today, June 23, is Midsummer Night’s Eve, a puzzling name since we have just marked the summer solstice, the beginning of the season. It’s called midsummer because the occasion celebrates the midpoint of the growing season, which starts with the planting in the spring and ends with the harvest in the fall.

The merrymaking begins on the eve and goes right on through the next day. According to tradition, this night is a time of magic “when it is well known all kinds of ghosts, goblins, and fairies become visible and walk abroad,” as the American author Washington Irving (1783-1859) wrote.

This is also a time when thoughts of love fill the air, as in Shakespeare’s happiest play,
A Midsummer Night’s Dream.

Things base and vile, holding no quantity,
Love can transpose to form and dignity.
Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind;
And therefore is wing'd Cupid painted blind.
Nor hath Love's mind of any judgment taste;
Wings and no eyes figure unheedy haste:
And therefore is Love said to be a child,
Because in choice he is so oft beguil’d.
As waggish boys in game themselves forswear,
So the boy Love is perjur’d every where.

~ Helena, one of the young lovers in the play (Act I, scene i)

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Can’t Help Lovin’ Dat Man

(Couple in MG, Florence 1952, by Ruth Orkin, 1921-1985,
American photographer)

Mr. Right is never Mr. Perfect, so you learn to make the best of it, like Julie in the 1927 musical Show Boat.


Fish got to swim, birds got to fly,
I got to love one man till I die,
Can’t help lovin’ dat man of mine.
Tell me he’s lazy, tell me he’s slow,
Tell me I’m crazy (maybe I know),
Can’t help lovin’ dat man of mine.

~ Oscar Hammerstein II (1895-1960), American lyricist, and Jerome Kern (1885-1945), American composer

Three decades later, Tom Lehrer composed his own version of this ode to true love.


Sharks gotta swim, and bats gotta fly,
I gotta love one woman till I die.
To Ed or Dick or Bob
She may just be a slob,
But to me,
She’s my girl.

In winter the bedroom is one large ice cube,
And she squeezes the toothpaste from the middle of the tube.
Her hairs in the sink
Have driven me to drink,
But she’s my girl, she’s my girl, she’s my girl,
And I love her.

The girl that I lament for,
The girl my money’s spent for,
The girl my back is bent for,
The girl I gave up Lent for,
Is the girl that heaven meant for me.

So though for breakfast she makes coffee that tastes like shampoo,
I come home to dinner and get peanut butter stew,
Or if I’m in luck,
It’s a broiled hockey puck,
But, oh, well, what the hell,
She’s my girl,
And I love her.

~ Tom Lehrer, born 1928, American satirist, pianist and mathematician

Monday, June 21, 2010

I Am Offering This Poem

(Quilt by women of Gee's Bend, Alabama)

Sometimes, you don't have anything to give except love.


I am offering this poem to you,
since I have nothing else to give.
Keep it like a warm coat
when winter comes to cover you,
or like pair of thick socks
the cold cannot bite through,

I love you,

I have nothing else to give you,
so it is a pot full of yellow corn
to warm your belly in winter,
it is a scarf for your head, to wear
over your hair, to tie up around your face,

I love you,

Keep it, treasure this as you would
if you were lost, needing direction,
in the wilderness life becomes when mature;
and in the corner of your drawer,
tucked away like a cabin or hogan
in dense trees, come knocking,
and I will answer, give you directions,
and let you warm yourself by this fire,
rest by this fire, and make you feel safe,

I love you,

It's all I have to give,
and all anyone needs to live,
and to go on living inside,
when the world outside
no longer cares if you live or die;

I love you.

~ Jimmy Santiago Baca, born 1952, American poet


Had I the heavens' embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with the golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and half-light
I would spread the cloths under your feet
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams beneath your feet;
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

~ William Butler Yeats (1865-1939), Irish poet and dramatist

Sunday, June 20, 2010

Father's Day

(Grandfather by Paul Wright, born 1973,
English artist)

“The words a father speaks to his children in the privacy of the home,” wrote the German novelist Jean-Paul Richter (1763-1825), “are not overheard at the time, but, as in whispering galleries, they will be clearly heard at the end and by posterity.”


Father, where do the wild swans go?
Far, far. Ceaselessly winging,
Their necks outstraining, they haste them singing
Far, far. Whither, none may know.

Father, where do the cloud-ships go?
Far, far. Then winds pursue them,
And over the shining heaven strew them
Far, far. Whither, none may know.

Father, where do the days all go?
Far, far. Each runs and races,
No one can catch them, they leave no traces
Far, far. Whither, none may know.

But Father, we ‒ where do we then go?
Far, far. Our dim eyes veiling,
With bended head we go sighing, wailing
Far, far. Whither, none may know.

~ Ludvig Holstein, 1864-1943, Danish poet

Saturday, June 19, 2010

The Heart's Friend

(Autumn Moon by Ansel Adams, 1902-1984, American

This verse is a love song of the Shoshone Indians. One well-known member of this tribe was Sacagawea, the guide and interpreter on the Lewis and Clark expedition of 1804-1806 that explored the country between what is now North Dakota and the Pacific Ocean.


Fair is the white star of twilight
And the sky clearer
At the day’s end;
But she is fairer, and she is dearer,
She, my heart’s friend!

Fair is the white star of twilight
And the moon roving
To the sky’s end;
But she is fairer, better worth loving,
She, my heart’s friend!

Friday, June 18, 2010


(Fraser’s Hermit Hummingbird by John
Gould, 1804-1881, English ornithologist
and painter)

In the right hands, a sweet nothing can turn into poetry.


Suppose I say summer,
write the word “hummingbird,”
put it in an envelope,
take it down the hill
to the box. When you open
my letter you will recall
those days and how much,
just how much, I love you.

~ Raymond Carver (1938-1998), American short story writer and poet

Thursday, June 17, 2010


(Monsieur Barré’s Ride by Robert Doisneau,
1912-1994, French photographer)

To survive and flourish, love needs special care. “Love is like quicksilver in the hand,” said the writer Dorothy Parker. “Leave the fingers open and it stays. Clutch it and it darts away.”


We walk by the sea-shore
holding firmly in our hands
the two ends of an antique dialogue
— do you love me?
— I love you

with furrowed eyebrows
I summarize all wisdom
of the two testaments
astrologers prophets
philosophers of the gardens
and cloistered philosophers

and it sounds about like this:
— don’t cry
— be brave
— look how everybody

you pout your lips and say
— you should be a clergyman
and fed up you walk off
nobody loves moralists

what should I say on the shore of
a small dead sea

slowly the water fills
the shapes of feet which have vanished

~ Zbigniew Herbert (1924-1998), Polish poet, essayist and playwright; translation by Czeslaw Milosz and Peter Dale Scott

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

At That Hour

Today, June 16, is Bloomsday. On this day in 1904, as recorded in James Joyce’s novel Ulysses, advertising salesman Leopold Bloom wandered the streets of Dublin. In great detail, Joyce lets us in on Bloom’s thoughts and feelings and actions, as well as those of Molly Bloom, his wife, and Stephen Dedalus, Joyce’s alter ego.

With its many allusions, masterful use of language, and complex weaving back and forth, the novel famously echoes Homer’s epic poem
Odyssey. Ulysses has become one of the most influential works of modern writing.

While Joyce is best known for his novels and short stories, he also wrote poetry, including the verse below about the power of love ─ it makes the world go ’round.

(Marilyn Monroe reading Ulysses, 1955,
by Eve Arnold, American photojournalist)

There seems to be some question about this photograph, given Marilyn Monroe’s public persona. The explanation is found in R. B. Kershner’s Joyce and Popular Culture:

In a letter to me of 20 July 1993, Eve Arnold has kindly offered the following memorial reconstruction of those circumstances which, with her kind permission, I quote in full.

“We worked on a beach on Long Island. She was visiting Norman Rosten the poet. As far as I remember (it is some thirty years ago) I asked her what she was reading when I went to pick her up (I was trying to get an idea of how she spent her time). She said she kept Ulysses in her car and had been reading it for a long time. She said she loved the sound of it and would read it aloud to herself to try to make sense of it — but she found it hard going. She couldn’t read it consecutively. When we stopped at a local playground to photograph she got out the book and started to read while I loaded the film. So, of course, I photographed her. It was always a collaborative effort of photographer and subject where she was concerned — but almost more her input.”


At that hour when all things have repose,
O lonely watcher of the skies,
Do you hear the night wind and the sighs
Of harps playing into Love to unclose
The pale gates of sunrise?

When all things repose, do you alone
Awake to hear the sweet harps play
To Love before him on his way,
And the night wind answering in antiphon
Till night is overgone?

Play on, invisible harps, unto Love,
Whose way in heaven is aglow
At that hour when soft lights come and go,
Soft sweet music in the air above
And in the earth below.

~ James Joyce (1882-1941), Irish writer of novels, short stories and poems

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Love at First Sight, part two

(Heart by Henri Matisse, 1869-1954, French
painter and sculptor)

The ancient Greeks had a simple explanation for love at first sight. It was the gods driving some poor mortal crazy. The lover in John Clare’s poem published here on June 10 seems to be one of their victims.

The English essayist William Hazlitt (1778-1820) thought he had a more rational explanation. “I do not think that what is called Love at first sight is so great an absurdity as it is sometimes imagined to be. We generally make up our minds beforehand to the sort of person we should like, grave or gay, brown or fair; with golden tresses or raven locks; and when we meet with a complete example of the qualities we admire, the bargain is soon struck.”

But is love at first sight truly “at first sight”? Or is there more to it than meets the eye?


They’re both convinced
that a sudden passion joined them.
Such certainty is beautiful,
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.

Since they’d never met before, they’re sure
that there’s been nothing between them.
But what’s the word from the streets, staircases, hallways ─
perhaps they’ve passed each other a million times?

I want to ask them,
if they don’t remember ─
a moment face to face
in some revolving door?
perhaps a “sorry” muttered in a crowd?
a curt “wrong number” caught in the receiver?
but I know the answer.
No, they don’t remember.

They’d be amazed to hear
that Chance has been toying with them
now for years.

Not quite ready yet
to become their Destiny,
it pushed them close, drove them apart,
it barred their path,
stifling a laugh,
and then leaped aside.

There were signs and signals,
even if they couldn’t read them yet.
Perhaps three years ago
or just last Tuesday
a certain leaf fluttered
from one shoulder to another?
Something was dropped and then picked up.
Who knows, maybe the ball that vanished
into childhood’s thicket?

There were doorknobs and doorbells
where one touch had covered another
Suitcases checked and standing side by side.
One night, perhaps, the same dream,
grown hazy by morning.

Every beginning
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.

~ Wislawa Szymborska, b. 1923, Polish poet and winner of the 1996 Nobel Prize in Literature; translation by Stanislaw Baranczak and Clare Cavanagh

Monday, June 14, 2010

Acts of Love

(Self-portrait with Elizabeth, his wife, in a Paris café,
1931, by André Kertész, 1894-1985, Hungarian-born

Love is an act of will, a choice.


If endeared is earned
and is meant to identify
two halves

then it composes
one meaning

which means
a token

a knot
a note

a noting in the head
of how it feels

to have your heart
be the dear one

~ Pam Rehm, born 1967, American poet

Sunday, June 13, 2010

The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò

(The Garden by Joan Miró, 1893-1983,
Spanish painter, ceramist and sculptor)

Sometimes true love, for the very best of reasons, does not end in Happily Ever After.


On the Coast of Coromandel
Where the early pumpkins blow,
In the middle of the woods
Lived the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò.
Two old chairs, and half a candle, ─
One old jug without a handle, ─
These were all his worldly goods:
In the middle of the woods,
These were all the worldly goods,
Of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò,
Of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò.

Once, among the Bong-trees walking
Where the early pumpkins blow,
To a little heap of stones
Came the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò.
There he heard a Lady talking,
To some milk-white Hens of Dorking, ─
’Tis the lady Jingly Jones!
“On that little heap of stones
Sits the Lady Jingly Jones!”
Said the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò,
Said the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò.

“Lady Jingly! Lady Jingly!
Sitting where the pumpkins blow,
Will you come and be my wife?”
Said the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò.
“I am tired of living singly, ─
On this coast so wild and shingly ─
I’m a-weary of my life:
If you’ll come and be my wife,
Quite serene would be my life!” ─
Said the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò,
Said the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò.

“On this Coast of Coromandel,
Shrimps and watercresses grow,
Prawns are plentiful and cheap,”
Said the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò.
“You shall have my chairs and candle,
And my jug without a handle! ─
Gaze upon the rolling deep
(Fish is plentiful and cheap)
As the sea, my love is deep!”
Said the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò,
Said the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò.

Lady Jingly answered sadly,
And her tears began to flow, ─
Your proposal comes too late,
Mr. Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò!
I would be your wife most gladly!
(Here she twirled her fingers madly)
But in England I've a mate!
Yes! you’ve asked me far too late,
For in England I’ve a mate,
Mr. Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò!
Mr. Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò!”

“Mr. Jones ─ (his name is Handel, ─
Handel Jones, Esquire, & Co.)
Dorking fowls delights to send,
Mr. Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò!
Keep, oh! keep your chairs and candle,
And your jug without a handle, ─
I can merely be your friend!
─ Should my Jones more Dorkings send,
I will give you three, my friend!
“Mr. Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò!
“Mr. Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò!”

“Though you've such a tiny body,
And your head so large doth grow, ─
Though your hat may blow away,
Mr. Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò!
Though you're such a Hoddy Doddy ─
Yet a wish that I could modi-
fy the words I needs must say!
Will you please to go away?
That is all I have to say ─
Mr. Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò!
Mr. Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò!”

Down the slippery slopes of Myrtle,
Where the early pumpkins blow,
To the calm and silent sea
Fled the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò.
There, beyond the Bay of Gurtle,
Lay a large and lively Turtle, ─
“You're the Cove,” he said, “for me
On your back beyond the sea,
Turtle, you shall carry me!”
Said the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò,
Said the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò.

Through the silent-roaring ocean
Did the Turtle swiftly go;
Holding fast upon his shell
Rode the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò.
With a sad primeval motion
Towards the sunset isles of Boshen
Still the Turtle bore him well.
Holding fast upon his shell,
“Lady Jingly Jones, farewell!”
Sang the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò,
Sang the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò.

From the Coast of Coromandel,
Did that Lady never go;
On that heap of stones she mourns
For the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò.
On that Coast of Coromandel,
In his jug without a handle,
Still she weeps, and daily moans;
On that little hep of stones
To her Dorking Hens she moans,
For the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò,
For the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bò.

~ Edward Lear (1812-1888), English artist, poet and writer of limericks and other nonsense

Saturday, June 12, 2010

What Is This Thing Called Love?

(The Birthday by Marc Chagall, 1887-1985, Russian-
French artist)

“What is this thing called love?” asked Cole Porter. “Just who can solve its mystery?”

We can always look to Shakespeare.


Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixéd mark
That looks on tempests, and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks.
But bears it out ev’n to the edge of doom: ─
If this be error, and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Note in this sonnet the echoes of sentiments found in one of the most beautiful passages in the New Testament, Paul’s first letter to the Christians in Corinth, Greece, around the middle of the first century A.D.

If I speak in the tongues of men and of angels, but have not love, I am a noisy gong or a clanging cymbal.

And if I have a prophetic power, and understand all mysteries and all knowledge, and if I have all faith, so as to remove mountains, but have not love, I am nothing. If I give away all I have, and if I deliver my body to be burned, but have not love, I gain nothing.

Love is patient and kind; love is not jealous or boastful; it is not arrogant or rude. Love does not insist on its own way; it is not irritable or resentful; it does not rejoice at wrong, but rejoices in the right. Love bears all things, believes all things, hopes all things, endures all things.

Love never ends; as for prophecies, they will pass away; as for tongues, they will cease; as for knowledge, it will pass away. For our knowledge is imperfect and our prophecy is imperfect; but when the perfect comes, the imperfect will pass away. When I was a child, I spoke like a child, I thought like a child, I reasoned like a child; when I became a man, I gave up childish ways.

For now we see in a mirror dimly, but then face to face. Now I know in part; then I shall understand fully, even as I have been fully understood. So faith, hope, love abide, these three; but the greatest of these is love.

Friday, June 11, 2010


(The Singing Butler by Jack Vettriano, Scottish
painter, born 1951)

When one is smitten, the center of the universe shifts.


How did the party go in Portman Square?
I cannot tell you; Juliet was not there.

And how did Lady Gaster’s party go?
Juliet was next to me and I do not know.

~ Hilaire Belloc (1870-1953), French-born poet, essayist and historian, who became a naturalized British citizen and even served as a Member of Parliament for five years

Thursday, June 10, 2010

Love at First Sight

(portrait of John Clare by William Hilton,
1786-1839, English painter)

First love, love at first sight ─ often they are the same thing. In this poem the poet has been struck by what the French call a coup de foudre, or thunderbolt, what the ancient Greeks deemed to be an act of the gods to drive a man mad.


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 as 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 sight 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,
And love’s 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 (1793-1864), English Romantic poet

Wednesday, June 9, 2010

First Love

(Front cover of Figaro Illustre magazine
by Madeleine Lemaire, 1845-1928, French
painter and illustrator)

Remember your first crush? Your heart was young and tender. Your feelings were intense. But they remained unrequited, for the object of your affection had no idea.


When I was in my fourteenth year,
And captain of the third eleven,
I fell in love with Guinevere,
And hovered at the gate of heaven.
She wasn’t more than twenty-seven.

I partnered her, by happy chance,
At tennis, losing every game.
No shadow dimmed her careless glance,
No teasing word, no hint of blame.
Brightlier burned my secret flame.

Nothing I asked but to adore,
In dumb surrender, shy and stiff:
But ah, she gave me how much more,
A benison beyond belief!
“Just hold my racquet for a jiff.”

~ Gerald Bullett (1893-1958), English essayist, novelist and poet

Tuesday, June 8, 2010

You’re the Top!

How many metaphors can you squeeze into a poem or a song? If you’re Cole Porter, a new one every line. In this song, the witty, urbane, suave, sophisticated lyricist compares his beloved to cellophane, to a turkey dinner, to the nose on the great Durante, among many other things.

Porter’s snappy pace makes it work. You’re the top! he begins. Each item he then adds to his collection becomes a metaphor for the best. No explanation is needed. No justification is provided.

The tempo, the rhythm, the rhyme, and the sheer chutzpah turn this list into a romantic lyric.

The enchanting Miss Ella makes music of all this nonsense.

(A note: “a Berlin ballad” refers to Irving Berlin, not to Berlin
during the Weimar period, as depicted in this video by the poster of The Threepenny Opera by Bertolt Brecht and Kurt Weill)


At words poetic, I’m so pathetic
That I always have found it best,
Instead of getting ’em off my chest,
To let ’em rest unexpressed.
I hate parading my serenading
As I’ll probably miss a bar,
But if this ditty is not so pretty
At least it’ll tell you
How great you are.

You’re the top!
You’re the Colosseum.
You’re the top!
You’re the Louvre Museum.
You’re the melody from a symphony by Strauss,
You’re a Bendel bonnet,
A Shakespeare sonnet,
You’re Mickey Mouse.
You’re the Nile,
You’re the Tower of Pisa,
You’re the smile of the Mona Lisa.
I’m a worthless check, a total wreck, a flop,
But if, baby, I’m the bottom,
You’re the top!

You’re the top!
You’re Mahatma Gandhi.
You’re the top!
You’re Napoleon Brandy.
You’re the purple light
Of a summer night in Spain,
You’re the National Gallery,
You’re Garbo's salary,
You’re cellophane.
You’re sublime,
You’re a turkey dinner,
You’re the time of the Derby winner.
I’m a toy balloon that’s fated soon to pop,
But if, baby, I’m the bottom,
You’re the top!

You’re the top!
You’re a Waldorf salad.
You’re the top!
You’re a Berlin ballad.
You’re the nimble tread
Of the feet of Fred Astaire,
You’re an O’Neill drama,
You’re Whistler’s mama,
You’re Camembert.
You’re a rose,
You’re Inferno’s Dante,
You’re the nose
On the great Durante.
I’m a lazy lout who is just about to stop,
But if, baby, I’m the bottom,
You’re the top!

~ Cole Porter (1891-1964), American composer and lyricist

Monday, June 7, 2010

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?

(Statue of Shakespeare in Leicester Square,

This sonnet, or “little sound” or “song” from the Italian sonetto, is one of the best-known love poems in the English language. At first glance, the poet seems to be likening his beloved to a beautiful sunny day in summer ─ a classic metaphor. But this is Shakespeare. He carefully turns it around. He praises by dispraising. He seems to set out to prove the negative. He points out the many ways his love is unlike those apparently perfect days of summer.


Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date,
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimmed,
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance, or nature’s changing course, untrimmed.
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st,
Nor shall death brag thou wand’rest in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st.
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

~ William Shakespeare (1564-1616), English poet and playwright

Sunday, June 6, 2010

The Bait

(portrait of John Donne by unknown painter, c. 1595)

O, those metaphysical poets! What are they on about, with their strange metaphors?

The metaphysical poets were seventeenth-century lyric poets like John Donne, George Herbert, Henry King, Andrew Marvell, and Henry Vaughan. The name “metaphysical” refers to the relations these writers made between the abstract and the concrete, the philosophical and the physical.

They frequently used unusual metaphors to establish these connections. In their extended comparisons, “the idea and the simile become one,” as the poet T.S. Eliot (1888-1965) wrote about one such poem.

The critic Samuel Johnson (1709-1784) popularized the metaphysical label. He was, however, dismissive of their work: “The most heterogeneous ideas are yoked by violence together; nature and art are ransacked for illustrations, comparisons, and allusions; their learning instructs, and their subtlety surprises, but the reader commonly thinks his improvement dearly bought, and, though he sometimes admires, is seldom pleased.”

Dr. Johnson could very well have been describing the “metaphysical conceits” or images in this poem by John Donne. The poet’s words do seem incongruous. Few of us would choose such words to invite a beloved into our life.

But does the poem appeal to us? Yes, if we let the paradox, the surprise, the contradiction, the unexpected, the wit, the images, do their work and make us stop and think.


Come live with me, and be my love,
And we will some new pleasures prove
Of golden sands and crystal brooks,
With silken lines and silver hooks.

There will the river whisp’ring run
Warm’d by thy eyes, more than the sun;
And there th’enamour’d fish will stay,
Begging themselves they may betray.

When thou wilt swim in that live bath,
Each fish, which every channel hath,
Will amorously to thee swim,
Gladder to catch thee, than thou him.

If thou, to be so seen, be’st loth,
By sun, or moon, thou dark’nest both,
And if myself have leave to see,
I need not their light, having thee.

Let others freeze with angling reeds,
And cut their legs with shells and weeds,
Or treacherously poor fish beset,
With strangling snare or windowy net.

Let coarse bold hands, from slimy nest
The bedded fish in banks out-wrest;
Or curious traitors, sleevesilk flies,
Bewitch poor fishes’ wand’ring eyes.

For thee, thou need’st no such deceit,
For thou thyself art thine own bait:
That fish, that is not catch’d thereby,
Alas ! is wiser far than I.

~ John Donne (1572-1631), the finest of the English Metaphysical poets

Saturday, June 5, 2010

A Decade

(Still Life with Bottle, Glass and Loaf, formerly attributed
to French painter Jean-Siméon Chardin, 1699-1779, but
now acknowledged to be a nineteenth-century imitation)

Sometimes the poet reaches out to the mundane for a simile to describe a beloved. Even images pulled from the pantry can be romantic, as they are in this love poem.


When you came, you were like red wine and honey,
And the taste of you burnt my mouth with its sweetness.
Now you are like morning bread,
Smooth and pleasant.
I hardly taste you at all, for I know your savor;
But I am completely nourished.

~ Amy Lowell (1874-1925), American poet

Friday, June 4, 2010

To One Lost in Paradise

(Portrait of an Unknown Woman by an early
nineteenth-century French artist)

Grief can whisper, but often it wails.

It’s a delicate line that separates the emotional from the overwrought. The poet, searching for ways to draw an image of his beloved, has to take care not to go to extremes. Edgar Allan Poe almost crosses the boundaries in this love poem. The metaphors he uses at first glance seem confusing and in a whirl. But then, it becomes clear he has entered the fanciful world between the real and the unreal, between trance and dream, between the Past and the Future. The metaphors reflect the maelstrom that has descended on him.


Thou wast that all to me, love,
For which my soul did pine ─
A green isle in the sea, love,
A fountain and a shrine,
All wreathed with fairy fruits and flowers,
And all the flowers were mine.

Ah, dream too bright to last!
Ah, starry Hope! that didst arise
But to be overcast!
A voice from out the Future cries,
“On! On!” ─ but o’er the Past
(Dim gulf!) my spirit hovering lies
Mute, motionless, aghast!

For, alas! alas! with me
The light of Life is o’er!
“No more ─ no more ─ no more ─”
(Such language holds the solemn sea
To the sands upon the shore)
Shall bloom the thunder-blasted tree,
Or the stricken eagle soar!

And all my days are trances,
And all my nightly dreams
Are where thy dark eye glances,
And where thy footstep gleams ─
In what ethereal dances,
By what eternal streams.

~ Edgar Allan Poe (1801-1849), American poet, writer and father of the detective story

Thursday, June 3, 2010

You’re Here

(The Great Gate of Kiev by Wassily Kandinsky, 1866-
1944, Russian painter)

Sometimes a poet will choose an unusual metaphor for his beloved, as does Boris Pasternak in this poem. He took a risk. Who wants to be compared to a city? Even if it’s a beautiful ancient one like Kiev on the river Dnieper. Even if it’s “wrapped in sultry sunbeams.”

And there lies the romance. The city is alive. It’s not a perfect place but he’s prepared to spend his days there with his beloved.


You’re here. We breathe the self same air.
Your presence here is like the city,
like quiet Kiev wrapped in sultry
sunbeams there outside the window.

It hasn’t slept its sleep yet,
but struggles in its dream, unconquered.
It tears the bricks from off its neck
like a sweaty Shantung collar.

In it, perspiring in their leaves
from obstacles they’ve just got over,
the poplars gather in a crowd
wearily on the conquered pavement.

You make me think of the Dnieper there,
in its green skin of creeks and ditches,
the center-of-the-earth’s complaint book
for us to write our daily notes in.

Your presence here is like a call
to sit down hastily at midday,
to read through it from A to Z
and then to write your nearness in it.

~ Boris Pasternak (1890-1960), Russian poet, translator and writer of the novel Dr. Zhivago

Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Cherry Ripe

(The Fruit Seller by Vincenzo Campi, 1536-1591,
Italian painter)

In this verse, Thomas Campion’s beloved is not just a red, red rose. The poet sees a full garden in her face, and he creates even more images with the help of other metaphors, mixed though they be.

But this beauty is out of bounds, he tells us, until she herself gives permission. “Cherry ripe” is the cry heard in the London markets and recorded by another English poet of the time, Robert Herrick:

Cherry-ripe, ripe, ripe, I cry,
Full and fair ones; come and buy.


There is a garden in her face
Where roses and white lilies grow;
A heav’nly paradise is that place
Wherein all pleasant fruits do flow.
There cherries grow which none may buy,
Till “Cherry ripe” themselves do cry.

Those cherries fairly do enclose
Of orient pearl a double row,
Which when her lovely laughter shows,
They look like rose-buds fill’d with snow;
Yet them nor peer nor prince can buy,
Till “Cherry ripe” themselves do cry.

Her eyes like angels watch them still,
Her brows like bended bows do stand,
Threat’ning with piercing frowns to kill
All that attempt with eye or hand
Those sacred cherries to come nigh,
Till “Cherry ripe” themselves do cry.

~ Thomas Campion (1567-1620), English poet

Tuesday, June 1, 2010

Red, Red Rose

(miniature of unknown woman)

The month of June has long been associated with weddings. But first comes love, and that will be our theme this month.

Poets are fascinated with love and romance. It’s their favorite topic. We begin with one of the most famous love poems, in the original Scottish English dialect. It’s based on a traditional song. The poet does what lovers do, compare his beloved to something beautiful. Here he uses similes, others may also use metaphors.


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 weel, my only Luve
And fare thee weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ it were ten thousand mile.

~ Robert Burns (1759-1796), Scottish poet