a newspaper man adjusts his pen

Friday, February 12, 2010

Give it with a heart or forget it

“It is not you but your radiance. It is that which you know not in yourself and can never know.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson, “Love,” explaining why one person loves another.

By Amanda Gillooly

The last thing I wanted was to out myself as a hopeless romantic, but I’m stepping out of that closet to give a humble request to my friends – both single and married – this Valentine’s Day.

I knew I had to go public when a friend on bed rest sent out an APB asking for poems, pictures, quotes and lyrics that best articulate love. She can’t get out to purchase a gift or prepare a special evening out for her husband, so she asked for suggestions to include in something she is calling a Love Book.

And thanks to the “reply all” function of the Facebook messaging system, I began receiving responses from some of the fellow ladies on the mailing list. Their suggestions included quoting the band Lone Star, Canadian cliché Celine Dion and then most sadly 98 Degrees.

I lost all belief in romance when someone quoted the 98 Degrees' lyric, “You are my fire. My one desire,” and simultaneously understood why divorce rates are so high. That’s the best they got? First of all, I don’t know if the complexities of love can be examined in such rigid rhyme structure. Secondly, none of that stuff has any heart.

And that’s the problem with modern-day romance. I think: People are thinking about what love and romance SHOULD be, instead of feeling it. While I admit my credentials in matters of relationships could be reasonably questioned, my heart can’t.

I’m all heart, baby.

So as the romantics and the cynics line up on different sides of the Valentine’s Day debate, I’d like to see a little more heart from everybody. And I want to ask as humbly as I can that if you’re going to attempt to woo someone this holiday, please do it right. Love deserves better than boy-band ballads.

And you can do better than Shakespeare’s sonnets or anything by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. While everlasting, they’ve been overused. But at bottom, the poets have come closer to any in explaining the inner workings of the hearts of lovers – so don’t forsake the likes of Whitman and Keats and Cummings.

Cummings, for example, explained that “kisses are a better fate than wisdom.”

And remember to look past the poems to the men and women behind them – many of whom lived the romances they wrote about. Men like John Keats and women like Zelda Fitzgerald.

Keats wrote to his Fanny Brawne, “You have ravish'd me away by a Power I cannot resist - I cannot breathe without you.”

Fitzgerald wrote to her husband, “Scott -- there's nothing in all the world I want but you -- and your precious love -- All the material things are nothing. I'd just hate to live a sordid, colorless existence -- because you'd soon love me less -- and less -- and I'd do anything -- anything -- to keep your heart for my own -- I don't want to live -- I want to love first, and live incidentally.”

Those wordsmiths lived in an era when love letters were sometimes daily indulgences. And while the e-mail age has made faraway friends and long-lost lovers feel closer, the chapters of our romances have suffered from the brief and impersonal nature of text messages and Internet chat capabilities. If that is too dramatic, I’m confident you’ll agree that at least the history of our great modern love stories have been undermined.

I encourage you all – us all – to change that. Don’t just quote the ancients, and jot down the beatings of a dead poet’s heart. And if you must, at least add some sentiment of your own. It doesn’t have to be Keats. It doesn’t have to be Fitzgerald.

It just has to have heart. And yes, especially on Valentine’s Day.

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