Alphabet Blogging Challenge Day 12

It’s day 12 of my alphabet blogging challenge

The letter is L

and the topic is LOVE

When people ask me what my novel ‘Unravelling’ is about, I want to say love, but I can see the impending yawn (especially from men) if I do, and the neat pigeonholing of the book as light romance.

And yet the book is about love – as are so many novels, stories, poems, plays. Different sorts of love – sexual, familial, patriotic, friendship – but love (whatever that is, as Prince Charles famously once said) in some form or another is surely what drives us as human beings. Its pursuit, its lack, its fulfilment.

In the reading group guide for ‘Unravelling’ I described the background to the novel:

I wrote Unravelling because I wanted to explore the concept of a love that survives a lifetime, despite separation, estrangement and betrayal. Its early title was All That Remains from the notion that whatever life throws at us, what counts in the end – what ‘remains’– is love.

I was interested in the idea taken from Plato’s Symposium that humans were once made up of two halves, one female, one male. The gods, out of jealousy, split them in two, and now we spend our lives looking for our other half, our ‘soul mate’. It’s an idea that’s prevalent in modern culture and perhaps an ideal we all yearn for.

When I read an article about someone’s parents who remarried aged 58 and 73, having first eloped in the 1960s, the love affair at the heart of Unravelling was born.

Unravelling is different because it explores the contrasts between ‘young’ love and ‘old’ love, between passionate, dangerous love and quiet, secure love. It considers the forces that shape love at different times in our lives. While it is a novel about love, with a powerful love affair, passionate characters and an involving plot, it is not a romantic novel in the accepted sense.

LOVE is a vast topic (and I’m conscious I’ve been filling your inboxes with quite lengthy posts) so I thought I’d offer you a few of the poems on the subject. (Hope I’m not infringing copyright!)

Edna St Vincent Millay was an American poet who wrote prolifically about love.

Edna St. Vincent MillayEdna St. Vincent Millay was an American lyrical poet, playwright and feminist. She received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923, the third woman to win the award for poetry, and was also known for her activism and her many love affairs. Wikipedia

I particularly like this sonnet by her. It begins in an apparently casual way (even using the word in the first line) and then there are a number of hesitations, asides, but the pain of losing someone, perhaps  a forbidden love, where you can’t acknowledge that pain, grows as the poem progresses until the last four lines are almost unbearable in their restraint.

IF I should learn, in some quite casual way,
That you were gone, not to return again—
Read from the back-page of a paper, say,
Held by a neighbor in a subway train,
How at the corner of this avenue
And such a street (so are the papers filled)
A hurrying man—who happened to be you—
At noon to-day had happened to be killed,
I should not cry aloud—I could not cry
Aloud, or wring my hands in such a place—
I should but watch the station lights rush by
With a more careful interest on my face,
Or raise my eyes and read with greater care
Where to store furs and how to treat the hair.

Robert Graves was an English writer and scholar who wrote a poem called Symptoms of Love – you might recognise them!

Love is a universal migraine,
A bright stain on the vision
Blotting out reason.

Symptoms of true love
Are leanness, jealousy,
Laggard dawns.

Are omens and nightmares –
Listening for a knock,
Waiting for a sign:

For a touch of her fingers
In a darkened room,
For a searching look.

Take courage, lover!
Can you endure such grief
At any hand but hers?

I love the irony in this!

Robert Browning (19th century poet) had a famous romance with the poet Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and I like the romance in this poem. It paints such vivid pictures:

Meeting at Night

The grey sea and the long black land;
And the yellow half-moon, large and low;
And the startled little waves that leap
In fiery ringlets from their sleep,
As I gain the cove with pushing prow,
And quench its speed in the slushy sand.

Then a mile of warm sea-scented beach;
Three fields to cross till a farm appears;
A tap at the pane, the quick, sharp scratch
And blue spurt of a lighted match,
And a voice less loud, through its joys and fears,
Than the two hearts beating each to each!

And one last one (which I’m not going to quote because of copyright) is Carol Ann Duffy’s ‘Anne Hathaway’ from her brilliant collection The World’s Wife. Shakespeare famously left his wife, Anne Hathaway, his second best bed in his will.The poem plays with this idea. It begins:

The bed we loved in was a spinning world ( and you can read the rest of the poem here)

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  1. Lovely ~ and most interesting to see what sparked Unravelling 🙂

  2. Christine says:

    Thank you for another great post. You know I’m not the greatest fan of poetry but I did enjoy the first one. Beautifully understated passion.

  3. Lindsay says:

    Glad you enjoyed the post, Christine. I love the understatement of that poem – a lesson in writing for all of us.

  4. Robin Heaney says:

    I like the poem by Carol Ann Duffy. It was very clever how she used the Shakespearian style. The last two lines in particular evoked a sense of his sonnets.

    On the subject of love as word, I have been thinking (and trying to write) about how its strength has been sapped by overuse: ‘here’s your lunchbox, love you’, ‘be back by five, love you’, ‘here’s a packet of razor blades to play with, love you’ alright not that one!
    It’s almost like the hyperinflation of the Deutschmark in 1930’s Germany when you needed a lorry-load of notes to buy crumbs. I blame the Americans.

  5. Lindsay says:

    I think the poems ih Duffy’s ‘The World’s Wife’ collection are very clever and entertaining.

    I like the approach to love you mention. Definitely hyper-inflation!

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