It's Valentine's Day, and Valentine's Day reminds me of one of my favorite Plato quotes: "At the touch of love, everyone becomes a poet." However, it seems to me that the more appropriate phrase would be "At the touch of love, everyone thinks they're a poet."
However, every once in a blue moon, God ordains that someone who is actually poetic should write on the topic of love, and when they do, they can concoct some very fabulous verses. As such, I thought it might be appropriate to share some lines that I consider among the best ever penned on the subject, both from poetry and prose, along with a few reflections.
I would like to start with my favorite line from what could very well be my favorite poem, "Annabel Lee" by Edgar Allen Poe. "But we loved with a love that was more than love - I and my Annabel Lee…" It appears a bit contrary at first that a man so renowned for his horror stories should have written possibly the greatest love poem to date. One would expect such an achievement to come from a Browning or a Bronte or perhaps the Bard.
However, perhaps it took a heart hollowed of the illusions of love by a life of horror and fear to hear love's melodies clearly. After all, how often has a man or woman found themselves blinded in the bliss of love but been acutely aware of love's sorrow? If the case is to be made that one in fact never knows a good thing until it's gone, no stronger argument can be made than Poe's last poem.
While we're on the subjects of love and death, I would like to turn your attention to John 15:13: "Greater love than this no man hath, that a man lay down his life for his friends."
While in its original context this quote referred primarily to the sacrifice of Christ on the cross, there is no reason why it must be constrained to a single level of meaning. While the vast majority of us will never have the opportunity to die for the ones we love, we can make the decision at any time to lay down our lives for them. Each moment we spend breathing is lost forever, and to offer a moment of life to someone (by doing the dishes or playing a game with them or any number of other things) is to give a gift which we cannot possibly expect back. In this way, we can lay down our lives for each other, even without crosses to present them on.
Finally, I wish to direct you to my favorite quote of all: "Late have I loved thee, O Beauty ever ancient, ever new. Late have I loved thee." It's taken from St. Augustine's "Confessions" and regards his conversion. It may not be on the topic of romantic love, but it serves to remind us, particularly in its full context (which I lack space to reproduce,) of the purpose of love in the first place.
Page 2 of 2 - Love is the ordering principle of the universe. It has the power to transform us and create us anew, and when properly oriented, it has the power to make us into men and women we could never dream of becoming. In this way, this excerpt is also a quote about death: a death to self and to the world.
Over the course of this article, we have come to observe that there is quite an intimate relationship between love and death, and in fact, the more love has to do with death, the greater it is. Why is that? Perhaps, it's because when we love something, we die to everything else. That one thing becomes the center of our universe, and everything else must fall into orbit around it.
As Dante said: "Here my powers rest from their high fantasy, but already I could feel my being turned – instinct and intellect balanced equally; as in a wheel whose motion nothing jars – by the Love that moves the sun and other stars." Now that, my friends, is poetry.
Clarke Peterson is a 16-year-old student who lives in Leavenworth.