This month I focused on love, a topic near to my broken heart. With a heart in that condition it was inevitable that this would be a dark month. So I thought, why not celebrate that? Most of the people I know are going around at the moment with a broken heart, bruised heart or […]
For Valentine's Day: On love, the scientists versus the romantic poets and a lady in white, long dead who captures my heart
For Valentine's Day: On love, the scientists versus the romantic poets and a lady in white, long dead who shares my heart
I’m sitting outside smoking, behind the hotel, looking in on the darkness of that building. It was only an instant, the length of time it took her to emerge from the shadows of the hallway, cross and disappear through a side door. But I saw her face - quite lovely, though sad and seemingly lost.
It was the white lady of George and Pilgrim Hotel in Glastonbury, thought to be looking for her long lost love, a monk from the nearby abbey, which if legend is to be believed, is walled up someplace in a tunnel in the basement.
It’s love that keeps her spirit tied to this place, this earth.
Love may not be able to move mountains, but it gives us the ability to fly over them and defy all odds, even death.
I was out of love at that moment, shattered by love and perhaps that’s why I saw her, for we shared a common bond. Even in ashes, love is the strongest of human emotions. Fear, jealousy, anger - you can overcome all those. But even when lost, love still has the ability to color all you see and feel.
The thought that love lives after death, or at least the connection to your love is timeless. To One In Paradise is Poe's contribution to the canon, a love letter to one who was lost. The music is loosely based on The Enigma Variations by Edward Elgar, 1898-99.
It’s a complicated emotion for there are so many different types of love. But February is the month in which we celebrate romantic love, which is in a class all its own.
Is there a better feeling in the world than those moments where love is blossoming? The world is never so beautiful as when you’re moving at the same speed that love grows. You want each moment to last forever and it breaks your heart to let one moment go, even though you know the one coming next will be even more beautiful.
This is the era of sarcasm and irony, which doesn’t work well with love. Love requires honesty and when you express it, it often sounds earnest, which today is the kiss of death. Because to be earnest is to state a belief, something you can be held accountable for. We change our minds too quickly today - words like love and addiction are used for the small things as well as the large. Comparing a love in my twenties to one in my fifties is like comparing an addiction to chocolate to an addiction to heroin. It’s not the same.
Love expressed through poetry, William Butler Yeat's Aedh Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven and Unending Love, by Rabindranath Tagore. With a little help from Lillian Gish and the Pre-Raphaelite painters ... And of course, William Blake.
Byron put it best, “like the measles, love is most dangerous when it comes late in life.” I never realized this, because before this last affliction, I’d spent close to a decade quite happily alone. I thought I’d experienced all love had to offer, and thought I could do without it. I could have, but then I learned I’d missed the most important part.
Love is a conversation that once begun never ends. It’s a high wire act - you share your deepest darkest thoughts with another person, and by my age your thoughts have grown quite dark. Rather than running, shrieking in fear, they reciprocate and you find you share a heart and a soul. It’s a cosmic explosion at any age, one that has inspired artists, novelists, poets, singers - in short, it's the best of all that makes us human.
Welcome Home, 2015
Yes, it inspires the flip side of creativity as well, all that is destructive in humanity, and often in the same people that to whom it once inspired beauty.
Love has to be grown, and we have to be reminded of that love. A locket in your vest pocket, her photo on your desk, beside your bed. Her letters safely kept and nearby. You listen to her favorite songs, wear the clothes she loves you in even if she won’t be seeing you that day, the cologne she likes. It’s easy because it's all little things. You don’t change for love, just adapt. You’re living for two now.
And when love has worked its ultimate magic, the ring upon your finger is an eternal reminder.
In the past we had more need of someone else in our lives. Today it’s too easy to go it alone, too easy to replace one with another. The scientists after all tell is us love is really just a chemical reaction in the brain, primeval desires to reproduce, and once that goes, it’s merely a companion who is conveniently there. It’s more comfortable, and as the saying goes, it's cheaper to keep her.
According to Helen Fisher an anthropologist at Rutgers University, “These bodily insurrections—from butterflies in the stomach to sweaty palms, weak knees, and a pounding heart—are probably the result of norepinephrine, a chemical closely related to dopamine … Romantic love is a need, a want, a craving, a homeostatic imbalance, a drive that arises from primitive regions of the mammalian brain, giving us the energy, focus, and motivation to win a mating partner—life’s greatest prize.”
Fuck science. Love isn’t a dopamine rush. That’s where science gets it wrong. Dopamine doesn’t make us recognize what we’re experiencing as love. Love triggers the dopamine. We go from a life of thinking and dreaming to the pleasures of the flesh, a life spent experiencing the senses fully, or as Keats longed for "O far a life of sensations rather than of thought.”
Love wasn't always so sad. This is a work in progress from happier days, Indian Serenade by Percy B. Shelley.
To be in love is to fully feel life, even in pain … Percy Shelley this time, "I fall on the thorns of life; I bleed.”
Science also tells me I didn’t see the white lady at Glastonbury. They can give me several explanations which don’t add up to the experience, and when their explanations fail, it’s a faulty brain at work.
Yeah, I’ll buy that. Love is madness. But it’s the madness that makes us human, and make us come tremblingly alive. Love is a flash of lightening, a rumble of thunder through our soul, it comes into our hearts as a thief in the night and takes up lodging, first by the day, but it never really leaves. Even in its absence it colors our thoughts, feeling and fears. It’s the content of our baggage.
My ex and I used to laugh that we needed to be buried side by side, in sort of effigy, each with an arm pushing through the dirt, straining for each other’s hand and never quite reaching it.
Because love is the emotion we want to believe that survives even after death, in eternity if that’s where you find yourself, or in life after life if that’s your cup of tea. Either way, we still dream of it, it’s the sweetest draught from the cup of life that we get to drink from.
And so this Valentine’s Day I find myself alone once more, again in league with the white lady in Glastonbury. But I’ve got plenty to keep me occupied, and who knows? Perhaps that conversation that never ends still lies in my future. Perhaps it’s already begun and just not been noticed yet for the noise. And perhaps I find that destiny and fate really do govern these things, and that was the love of my life.
John Donne took a rather pessimistic view of love in his poem Go and Catch a Falling Star. I love that it does mention Mandrake, but most of all for the last verse here. Despite his pessimism.
So I'm reminded of the words of the late British/Irish actor, Peter O’Toole, who finding himself alone later in life remarked that he had “open arms and low expectations.”
My arms don't open so easy, I'm not easy. In all likelihood, my next date will be the next time I'm in Glastonbury, with a woman who only flickers in and out of the light for a couple of brief seconds. Just long enough to prove to me what I already know, what science still gets wrong and the poets got right.
omnia vincit amor
NOTE: I've written about love here on several occasions. These are the stories where I got it right, at least for me. Your experiences may differ of course ... These cover a range of topics, some more fun than other. This isn't a self help site y'all.
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