Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,. Feast on your life. As in all her work, the magic in this poem derives from Szymborska's unconventional approach to her theme. When she brings to our attention the easiness we feel in the absence of the raw emotions of love, our hearts and minds travel immediately to the opposite sweet uneasiness when love shakes our whole existence. I always love it when a poet enters through invisible doors. I don't wait for them, as in window-to-door-and-back. Almost as patient as a sundial, I understand what love can't, and forgive as love never would.
Trips with them always go smoothly, concerts are heard, cathedrals visited, scenery is seen. And when seven hills and rivers come between us, the hills and rivers can be found on any map. They deserve the credit if I live in three dimensions, in nonlyrical and nonrhetorical space with a genuine, shifting horizon. To be in love and to say nothing about it — this seems to me the most elegant and perhaps the only sensible form of romantic attachment.
Passions are likened best to floods and streams: The shallow murmur, but the deep are dumb; So, when affections yield discourse, it seems The bottom is but shallow whence they come.
They that are rich in words, in words discover That they are poor in that which makes a lover. Wrong not, sweet empress of my heart, The merit of true passion, With thinking that he feels no smart, That sues for no compassion;. Since, if my plaints serve not to approve The conquest of thy beauty, It comes not from defect of love, But from excess of duty. For, knowing that I sue to serve A saint of such perfection, As all desire, but none deserve, A place in her affection,. I rather choose to want relief Than venture the revealing; Where glory recommends the grief, Despair distrusts the healing.
Thus those desires that aim too high For any mortal lover, When reason cannot make them die, Discretion doth them cover. Yet, when discretion doth bereave The plaints that they should utter, Then thy discretion may perceive That silence is a suitor. Silence in love bewrays more woe Than words, though ne'er so witty: A beggar that is dumb, you know, May challenge double pity. Then wrong not, dearest to my heart, My true, though secret, passion: He smarteth most that hides his smart, And sues for no compassion.
I found it hard to choose between "Pure Death" and "O love, be fed with apples while you may". Twice or thrice had I lov'd thee, Before I knew thy face or name; So in a voice, so in a shapeless flame Angels affect us oft, and worshipp'd be; Still when, to where thou wert, I came, Some lovely glorious nothing I did see. But since my soul, whose child love is, Takes limbs of flesh, and else could nothing do, More subtle than the parent is Love must not be, but take a body too; And therefore what thou wert, and who, I bid Love ask, and now That it assume thy body, I allow, And fix itself in thy lip, eye, and brow.
Whilst thus to ballast love I thought, And so more steadily to have gone, With wares which would sink admiration, I saw I had love's pinnace overfraught; Ev'ry thy hair for love to work upon Is much too much, some fitter must be sought; For, nor in nothing, nor in things Extreme, and scatt'ring bright, can love inhere; Then, as an angel, face, and wings Of air, not pure as it, yet pure, doth wear, So thy love may be my love's sphere; Just such disparity As is 'twixt air and angels' purity, 'Twixt women's love, and men's, will ever be.
The best love poems are written by the most faithless lovers, Burns and Byron. There are so many great Burns and Byron love poems, but my favourite is Byron's poem to a young man at Missolonghi who looked after him in his last illness. It begins "I watched thee when the foe was at our side" and the last stanza has the greatest split infinitive in literature. Poems of unrequited love are very powerful, and this is one of the best.
I also admire "When we two parted in silence and tears" but I guess these aren't very good for St Valentine. I watched thee when the foe was at our side, Ready to strike at him — or thee and me, Were safety hopeless — rather than divide Aught with one loved save love and liberty. I watched thee on the breakers, when the rock, Received our prow, and all was storm and fear, And bade thee cling to me through every shock; This arm would be thy bark, or breast thy bier.
I watched thee when the fever glazed thine eyes, Yielding my couch and stretched me on the ground When overworn with watching, ne'er to rise From thence if thou an early grave hadst found. The earthquake came, and rocked the quivering wall, And men and nature reeled as if with wine. Whom did I seek around the tottering hall?
For thee. Whose safety first provide for? And when convulsive throes denied my breath The faintest utterance to my fading thought, To thee — to thee — e'en in the gasp of death My spirit turned, oh! Thus much and more; and yet thou lov'st me not, And never wilt! Love dwells not in our will. Nor can I blame thee, though it be my lot To strongly, wrongly, vainly love thee still. I love the intensity of feeling and the subtle eroticism of this poem. The story of love's betrayal is obliquely told, charged with pain, yet it speaks straight to us across years.
There is a mystery here too. Is Anne Boleyn the woman in the loose gown, who catches the poet in her arms "long and small"? Thomas Wyatt was imprisoned in the Tower for alleged adultery with her, and it is thought that from his window he witnessed her execution. The poem is written in rhyme royal, which may be a clue in itself …. They flee from me that sometime did me seek With naked foot, stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek, That now are wild and do not remember That sometime they put themself in danger To take bread at my hand; and now they range, Busily seeking with a continual change. Thanked be fortune it hath been otherwise Twenty times better; but once in special, In thin array after a pleasant guise, When her loose gown from her shoulders did fall, And she me caught in her arms long and small; Therewithall sweetly did me kiss And softly said, "Dear heart, how like you this? It was no dream: I lay broad waking. But all is turned thorough my gentleness Into a strange fashion of forsaking; And I have leave to go of her goodness, And she also, to use newfangleness.
But since that I so kindly am served I would fain know what she hath deserved. When I was eight, I was romantically in love with Jean, my beautiful young nanny.
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Let me count the ways" was my favourite. I used to croon it to myself in her honour. Much later, Harold's love poems became the delight of my life — best of all "It is Here" — and similarly provide comfort now he is no longer around to recite them to me. What was that sound that came in on the dark? What is this maze of light it leaves us in? What is this stance we take, To turn away and then turn back? What did we hear? William Wordsworth once wrote that he liked the sonnet because he was happy with the formal limits it imposed.
The great thing about this Thomas Wyatt sonnet, on the other hand, is the way the surge of desire seems to push against the form that "bounds" it, even as it obeys the requirements — 14 lines, octave and sestet, proper Petrarchan rhyme scheme. It is a great love poem because of its rhythmic energy, its syntactical drive, the way the bitter truths of denial and exclusion are transformed — transformed by creative stamina into a work that is lifted above bitterness by the artist's joy in finding the right trope for his predicament.
In a way, the final line retells the whole story: a wildness has been tamed in the writing, but it is the wildness that has given the poem its staying power. Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind, But as for me, alas, I may no more; The vain travail hath wearied me so sore, I am of them that furthest come behind. Yet may I by no means my wearied mind Draw from the deer, but as she fleeth afore Fainting I follow; I leave off therefore, Since in a net I seek to hold the wind. Who list her hunt, I put him out of doubt, As well as I, may spend his time in vain.
And graven with diamonds in letters plain, There is written her fair neck round about, " Noli me tangere , for Caesar's I am, And wild for to hold though I seem tame. Choosing a favourite love poem is a bit tricky — like choosing a favourite toe or finger, if you had hundreds of toes and fingers. And what's a love poem? I'll go with "Animals", and it doesn't need me to explain it. I'd just add that even though the poem's a celebration, framing it in the past tense means it's also a great elegy, as great love poems often are.
Have you forgotten what we were like then when we were still first rate and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth. I wouldn't want to be faster or greener than now if you were with me O you were the best of all my days. Anyone who has lain hundreds or thousands of miles from home, listening to strangers' rain falling on a stranger's roof, will respond to the vehement longing in this old, mysterious fragment.
It is difficult to believe your lover is alive under the same sky, and the more clearly you can see their room, their bed, the more you feel the piercing pain of separation. At night, the rain on my tent is the tramping feet of long ago legionaries marching in a Babel of tongues, cosmopolitan as any London street. They carried dried cherries — wrinkled, burgundy bursts of southern sunshine, spitting the stones turned into a game of chance: closest, highest, furthest.
I dream of an avenue of blossom stretching as far as Dover; scenting their way home. In Printemps Department Store A sleety April shower drives me in, past the soldiers on the wet street, the bag searchers at the doors. One day she sees him buying gauloises on the Rue de Charonne, follows him back to a shuttered and geraniumed apartment block; all day she remembers how he smiled as she passed, how he was both more and less than she imagined, her body glowing like a miracle.
Occupation, Liberation, her bones surfacing, blue dress at least a decade out of fashion, she waits for him to return to the city that gives him his only true voice. Although little is known of their early relations, the letters written to Gilbert while she was teaching at Baltimore speak with a kind of hope for a shared perspective, if not a shared vocation.
Recent critics have speculated that Gilbert, like Dickinson, thought of herself as a poet. She sent Gilbert more than of her poems. Gilbert may well have read most of the poems that Dickinson wrote. In many cases the poems were written for her.
They functioned as letters, with perhaps an additional line of greeting or closing. In there had been some minor argument, perhaps about religion. In the mid s a more serious break occurred, one that was healed, yet one that marked a change in the nature of the relationship. Critics have speculated about its connection with religion, with Austin Dickinson, with poetry, with their own love for each other. Her words are the declarations of a lover, but such language is not unique to the letters to Gilbert.
It appears in the correspondence with Fowler and Humphrey. As Carroll Smith-Rosenberg has illustrated in Disorderly Conduct: Visions of Gender in Victorian America , the passionate nature of female friendships is something the late 20th century was little prepared to understand. Modern categories of sexual relations, finally, do not fit neatly with the verbal record of the 19th century.
From her own housework as dutiful daughter, she had seen how secondary her own work became. In her observation of married women, her mother not excluded, she saw the failing health, the unmet demands, the absenting of self that was part of the husband-wife relationship. That remains to be discovered—too late—by the wife. Rather, that bond belongs to another relationship, one that clearly she broached with Gilbert.
Defined by an illuminating aim, it is particular to its holder, yet shared deeply with another. As Dickinson had predicted, their paths diverged, but the letters and poems continued. The letters grow more cryptic, aphorism defining the distance between them. The s marked a shift in her friendships. As her school friends married, she sought new companions. Defined by the written word, they divided between the known correspondent and the admired author.
No new source of companionship for Dickinson, her books were primary voices behind her own writing. Regardless of the reading endorsed by the master in the academy or the father in the house, Dickinson read widely among the contemporary authors on both sides of the Atlantic. With a knowledge-bound sentence that suggested she knew more than she revealed, she claimed not to have read Whitman. Her contemporaries gave Dickinson a kind of currency for her own writing, but commanding equal ground were the Bible and Shakespeare.
Included in these epistolary conversations were her actual correspondents. Their number was growing. In two cases, the individuals were editors; later generations have wondered whether Dickinson saw Samuel Bowles and Josiah Holland as men who were likely to help her poetry into print. Bowles was chief editor of the Springfield Republican; Holland joined him in those duties in With both men Dickinson forwarded a lively correspondence. She readily declared her love to him; yet, as readily declared that love to his wife, Mary.
In each she hoped to find an answering spirit, and from each she settled on different conclusions. Josiah Holland never elicited declarations of love. When she wrote to him, she wrote primarily to his wife. In contrast to the friends who married, Mary Holland became a sister she did not have to forfeit.
These friendships were in their early moments in when Edward Dickinson took up residence in Washington as he entered what he hoped would be the first of many terms in Congress. In after one such visit, the sisters stopped in Philadelphia on their return to Amherst.
Staying with their Amherst friend Eliza Coleman, they likely attended church with her. The minister in the pulpit was Charles Wadsworth, renowned for his preaching and pastoral care. Dickinson found herself interested in both. The content of those letters is unknown. That Dickinson felt the need to send them under the covering hand of Holland suggests an intimacy critics have long puzzled over. As with Susan Dickinson, the question of relationship seems finally irreducible to familiar terms.
The only surviving letter written by Wadsworth to Dickinson dates from Believe me, be what it may, you have all my sympathy, and my constant, earnest prayers. Edward Dickinson did not win reelection and thus turned his attention to his Amherst residence after his defeat in November He also returned his family to the Homestead. Emily Dickinson had been born in that house; the Dickinsons had resided there for the first ten years of her life. It was not, however, a solitary house but increasingly became defined by its proximity to the house next door. Austin Dickinson and Susan Gilbert married in July They settled in the Evergreens, the house newly built down the path from the Homestead.
For Dickinson, the next years were both powerful and difficult. Her letters reflect the centrality of friendship in her life. There were also the losses through marriage and the mirror of loss, departure from Amherst. Her approach forged a particular kind of connection. In these years, she turned increasingly to the cryptic style that came to define her writing.
The letters are rich in aphorism and dense with allusion. She asks her reader to complete the connection her words only imply—to round out the context from which the allusion is taken, to take the part and imagine a whole. Through her letters, Dickinson reminds her correspondents that their broken worlds are not a mere chaos of fragments. Behind the seeming fragments of her short statements lies the invitation to remember the world in which each correspondent shares a certain and rich knowledge with the other.
They alone know the extent of their connections; the friendship has given them the experiences peculiar to the relation. At the same time that Dickinson was celebrating friendship, she was also limiting the amount of daily time she spent with other people. The visiting alone was so time-consuming as to be prohibitive in itself. As she turned her attention to writing, she gradually eased out of the countless rounds of social calls. Sometime in she began organizing her poems into distinct groupings.
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By Dickinson had written more than poems. At the same time, she pursued an active correspondence with many individuals. It was focused and uninterrupted. Other callers would not intrude.
Foremost, it meant an active engagement in the art of writing. If Dickinson began her letters as a kind of literary apprenticeship, using them to hone her skills of expression, she turned practice into performance. The genre offered ample opportunity for the play of meaning. By the late s the poems as well as the letters begin to speak with their own distinct voice.
They shift from the early lush language of the s valentines to their signature economy of expression. The poems dated to already carry the familiar metric pattern of the hymn. Her poems followed both the cadence and the rhythm of the hymn form she adopted. This form was fertile ground for her poetic exploration. Through its faithful predictability, she could play content off against form. While certain lines accord with their place in the hymn—either leading the reader to the next line or drawing a thought to its conclusion—the poems are as likely to upend the structure so that the expected moment of cadence includes the words that speak the greatest ambiguity.
In the following poem, the hymn meter is respected until the last line. A poem built from biblical quotations, it undermines their certainty through both rhythm and image. In the first stanza Dickinson breaks lines one and three with her asides to the implied listener. The poem is figured as a conversation about who enters Heaven. She places the reader in a world of commodity with its brokers and discounts, its dividends and costs.
The neat financial transaction ends on a note of incompleteness created by rhythm, sound, and definition. The final line is truncated to a single iamb, the final word ends with an open double s sound, and the word itself describes uncertainty:. By she had written nearly 1, poems. Her own stated ambitions are cryptic and contradictory. In contrast to joining the church, she joined the ranks of the writers, a potentially suspect group.
Distrust, however, extended only to certain types. Did she pursue the friendships with Bowles and Holland in the hope that these editors would help her poetry into print? Her April letter to the well-known literary figure Thomas Wentworth Higginson certainly suggests a particular answer. She sent him four poems, one of which she had worked over several times. Her accompanying letter, however, does not speak the language of publication. It decidedly asks for his estimate; yet, at the same time it couches the request in terms far different from the vocabulary of the literary marketplace:.
Should you think it breathed—and had you the leisure to tell me, I should feel quick gratitude—. If I make the mistake—that you dared to tell me—would give me sincerer honor—toward you—. In a letter to Atlantic Monthly editor James T. The brave cover of profound disappointment? The accurate rendering of her own ambition? Sometime in she wrote her often-quoted poem about publication with its disparaging remarks about reducing expression to a market value.
In the same letter to Higginson in which she eschews publication, she also asserts her identity as a poet.
As she reworked the second stanza again, and yet again, she indicated a future that did not preclude publication. Again, the frame of reference is omitted. The only evidence is the few poems published in the s and s and a single poem published in the s. This minimal publication, however, was not a retreat to a completely private expression. She sent poems to nearly all her correspondents; they in turn may well have read those poems with their friends.
She continued to collect her poems into distinct packets. The practice has been seen as her own trope on domestic work: she sewed the pages together. Unremarked, however, is its other kinship. Preachers stitched together the pages of their sermons, a task they apparently undertook themselves. My Business is to Sing. In song the sound of the voice extends across space, and the ear cannot accurately measure its dissipating tones.
Love is idealized as a condition without end. It appears in the structure of her declaration to Higginson; it is integral to the structure and subjects of the poems themselves. The key rests in the small word is. In her poetry Dickinson set herself the double-edged task of definition. In the world of her poetry, definition proceeds via comparison. One cannot say directly what is; essence remains unnamed and unnameable. In its place the poet articulates connections created out of correspondence. In some cases the abstract noun is matched with a concrete object—hope figures as a bird, its appearances and disappearances signaled by the defining element of flight.
Defining one concept in terms of another produces a new layer of meaning in which both terms are changed. Dickinson frequently builds her poems around this trope of change. Her vocabulary circles around transformation, often ending before change is completed. In this world of comparison, extremes are powerful. There are many negative definitions and sharp contrasts. While the emphasis on the outer limits of emotion may well be the most familiar form of the Dickinsonian extreme, it is not the only one. The part that is taken for the whole functions by way of contrast. The specific detail speaks for the thing itself, but in its speaking, it reminds the reader of the difference between the minute particular and what it represents.
Emily Dickinson died in Amherst in Though Mabel Loomis Todd and Higginson published the first selection of her poems in , a complete volume did not appear until Edited by Thomas H. Johnson, the poems still bore the editorial hand of Todd and Higginson. It was not until R. Angel Nafis is paying attention. She talks with Danez and Franny about learning to rescale her sight, getting through grad school with some new skills in her pocket, activated charcoal, Don Share is the editor of Poetry Magazine, a poet and translator, and a gem of a human.
He chats with Danez and Franny about the mechanics and ethos of Poet and translator Emily Jungmin Yoon comes through the studio for a deep dive into her work translating contemporary and modern Korean poetry, her new collection A Cruelty Special to