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.
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,
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)