Wednesday, February 15, 2012

Sharing the love

Thank you, fellow Gleaners, for your comments on yesterday's Valentine's Day edition—including sharing your favorite love lyrics from Mary Oliver, Elizabeth Bishop, Shakespeare, and Rilke. We were smitten with them!
The Guardian had a slide show of "10 best love letters," including one in French from Henry VIII to Anne Boleyn and from poet Rupert Brooke to English actress Cathleen Nesbitt (“I’m madly eager to see you again. My heart goes knocking when I think of it… I will kiss you till I kill you.”) Also among the latest crop of digitized missives are the almost daily letters Elizabeth and Robert Browning wrote to each other before their elopement, viewable at the website of Wellesley College Library's Special Collections. Here is the original of her most famous poem:
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday's
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for Right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from Praise.
I love thee with a passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood's faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints, — I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life! — and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

From the very first, rather prolix, letter:
[Postmark: 10 January 1845]  I love your verses with all my heart, dear Miss Barrett,-and this is no off-hand complimentary letter that I shall write,-whatever else, no prompt matter-of-course recognition of your genius and there a graceful and natural end of the thing: since the day last week when I first read your poems, I quite laugh to remember how I have been turning and turning again in my mind what I should be able to tell you of their effect upon me-for in the first flush of delight I thought I would this once get out of my habit of purely passive enjoyment, when I do really enjoy, and thoroughly justify my admiration-perhaps even, as a loyal fellow-craftsman should, try and find fault and do you some little good to be proud of hereafter!-but nothing comes of it....
The reply came swiftly back (all eight pages worth!):
50 Wimpole Street. Jan 11. 1845- I thank you, dear Mr Browning, from the bottom of my heart. You meant to give me pleasure by your letter-and even if the object had not been answered, I ought still to thank you. But it is thoroughly answered. Such a letter from such a hand! Sympathy is dear-very dear to me: but the sympathy of a poet & of such a poet, is the quintessence of sympathy to me! Will you take back my gratitude for it?-agreeing too that, of all the commerce done in the world, from Tyre to Carthage, the exchange of sympathy for gratitude is the most princely thing?....
They don't write 'em like they used to!



  2. I couldn't agree more, Penny! In this "Twitterverse" age, nothing has the inherent emotional heft of handwritten letters. When's the last time you saw a stationery store?!

  3. I still love to receive cards and I wish that people would take more time to write personally and not digitally!

  4. I remember the days of "pen pals"! We should start a letter-writing

  5. Handwritten letters are like little "soul-prints". We are so fortunate that these people troubled to leak evidence of themselves onto the page. The handwriting itself is beautiful.

  6. I love the handwriting also. I've often thought it would be fascinating to give samples of authors' work to handwriting experts incognito and see what they come up with as far as describing their personalities.
    Maybe someday technology will be able to make "personal fonts" out of our handwriting (after all, that's what early italic fonts were), but in the meantime I agree w/ you and Eva and everyone else who commented!