Stormy Vigil by VanKeefer, under a Creative Commons license
Ah, February 29th! A leap year, therefore the one day in every four years when it is socially acceptable for a woman to propose to her man. Obviously, at the forward-thinking SPL, we hold no truck with such rigid convention, but now seems like a good time to revisit our favourite declarations of love by women.
Many of us are already familiar with Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s ‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways. / I love thee to the depth and breadth and height / My soul can reach…’ Robert Browning dazzled her with fan mail – that’s how their relationship started. The lesson? If you’re wondering how to impress your beloved, a complimentary email can go a long way.
Christina Rossetti voices a desire for stillness, rather than the intensity of romantic passion: ‘I do not look for love that is a dream – / I only seek for courage to be still’, and Emily Dickinson, more soberly, reminds us of the flip side of all this adoration: ‘Parting is all we know of heaven / and all we need of hell’.
In recent years, poets like Jo Shapcott have taken brilliantly slant approaches to their love poetry. Shapcott writes in her poem 'Muse': ‘When I kiss you in all the folding places / of your body, you make that noise like a dog / dreaming, dreaming of the long run he makes / in answer to some jolt to his hormones…’ – an image as oddly beautiful as it is surprising.
The American poet Sharon Olds is a contender for the accolade of “queen of modern love poetry”. In the painfully honest 'True Love', she describes snow falling outside her window, as she considers the love she has for the father of her children. ‘I cannot see past it. I cannot see past it,’ she writes.
And that’s love, isn’t it? We cannot see past it.
Happy Leap Year, everybody.