“at least our imagination, which perpetually figures them to us by the desire we have of seeing them again, makes us think so. By a peculiar power love can make that seem life itself which, as soon as the loved object returns, is nothing but a little canvas and flat colour. I have your picture in my room; I never pass it without stopping to look at it; and yet when you are present with me I scarce ever cast my eyes on it. If a picture, which is but a mute representation of an object, can give such pleasure, what cannot letters inspire? They have souls; they can speak; they have in them all that force which expresses the transports of the heart; they have all the fire of our passions, they can raise them as much as if the persons themselves were present; they have all the tenderness and the delicacy of speech, and sometimes even a boldness of expression beyond it.”
Heloise to Abelard, Letter II, p.25 (1901)
“My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp north, without declining west?
Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.”
“You took my heart in your hand
With a friendly smile,
With a critical eye you scanned,
Then set it down,
And said: It is still unripe,
Better wait a while;
Wait while the skylarks pipe,
Till the corn grows brown
As you set it down it broke-
Broke, but I did not wince;
I smiled at the speech you spoke,
At your judgment that I heard:
But I have not often smiled
Since then, nor questioned since,
Nor cared for corn-flowers wild,
Nor sung with the singing bird.”
by Christina Rosetti (1830-1894)
Starlit houses, and sky below,
Earth dazed in the nearness.
The same secret longing though
In Paris, so vast and joyous.
The evening boulevards noisy,
The last ray of light dies,
Couples, paired round me,
Fierce lips, insolent eyes.
I’m alone. It’s sweet to rest
My head on a chestnut tree.
As in far Moscow, my breast
Throbs to Rostand’s poetry.
Paris at night, painful strangeness,
Dear the heart’s ancient folly!
I’m going back to violets, sadness,
A portrait of someone kind to me.
There that gaze, pensive, a brother,
There that mild profile, on the wall.
Rostand, L’Aiglon that martyr,
And Sarah – in dream I find them all!
In Paris, so vast and joyous,
I dream of clouds and grass,
Laughter, shadows, ominous,
And the pain that will not pass.
Paris, June 1909.
(Note: Rostand’s play L’Aiglon concerns the unhappy life of the Duke of Reichstadt, the son of Napoleon I and Marie Louise, lived under the surveillance of Metternich at the Schönbrunn Palace. The drama was produced, on the 15th March 1900, by Sarah Bernhardt, at her own theatre, she herself playing the part of the Duke.
To kiss the brow-eases all anxiety.
I kiss the brow.
To kiss the eyes – cures insomnia’s misery.
I kiss the eyes.
To kiss the lips – one’s no longer thirsty.
I kiss the lips.
To kiss the brow – erases memory.
I kiss the brow.
5th June 1917.
Go, find yourself naïve lovers, they
Won’t correct marvels by number.
I know that Venus was – hand made,
I’m a craftsman, with craft encumbered.
From the highest solemnity, dumb,
To the soul almost trampled to death,
Here’s the whole celestial stair – from
My breathing – to: not one breath!
18th June 1922
“N’écris pas – N’apprenons qu’à mourir à nous-mêmes
Ne demande qu’à Dieu … qu’à toi, si je t’aimais !
Au fond de ton silence écouter que tu m’aimes,
C’est entendre le ciel sans y monter jamais
N’écris pas ! ”
by Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (1786-1859)
“Do not write – Let us learn for ourselves how to die.
Ask only God… and to yourself if I loved you!
In your absence’s depth to hear that you love me
Is to hear heaven without ever getting there.
Do not write! ”
Translated by Thomas D. Le in 2007
I know not whether thou has been absent:
I lie down with thee, I rise up with thee,
In my dreams thou art with me.
If my eardrops tremble in my ears,
I know it is thou moving within my heart.
Aztec Indian Wedding Poem
Beau comme le jour
Et mauvais comme le temps
Quand le temps est mauvais
Cet amour si vrai
Cet amour si beau
Et si dérisoire
Tremblant de peur comme un enfant dans le noir
Et si sûr de lui
Comme un homme tranquille au milieu de la nuit …
by Jacques Prevert (4 February 1900 – 11 April 1977 ).
Beautiful as the day
And bad as the weather
When the weather is bad
This love so true
This love so beautiful
And so pathetic
Trembling with fear like a child in the dark
And so sure of itself
Like a tranquil man in the middle of the night…
I, too, wish to sing of heroic deeds
(about the Atreides, and about Kadmus),
but the lyre’s strings
can only produce sounds of love.
Recently, I changed the strings,
and then the lyre itself,
and tried to sing of the feats of Hercules,
but still the lyre kept singing songs of love.
So, fare well, you heroes!
because my lyre sings only songs of love.
by Anacreon (570 BC – 488 BC)
a Greek lyric poet, notable for his drinking songs and hymns.
Anacreon wrote all of his poetry in the ancient Ionic dialect.
ΘΕΛΩ ΛΕΓΕΙΝ ΑΤΡΕΙΔΑΣ,
ΘΕΛΩ ΔΕ ΚΑΔΜΟΝ ΑΙΔΕΙΝ,
Ο ΒΑΡΒΙΤΟΣ ΔΕ ΧΟΡΔΑΙΣ
ΕΡΩΤΑ ΜΟΥΝΟΝ ΗΧΕΙ.
ΗΜΕΙΨΑ ΝΕΥΡΑ ΠΡΩΗΝ
ΚΑΙ ΤΗΝ ΛΥΡΗΝ ΑΠΑΣΑΝ·
ΚΑΓΩ ΜΕΝ ΗΙΔΟΝ ΑΘΛΟΥΣ ΗΡΑΚΛΕΟΥΣ,
ΛΥΡΗ ΔΕ ΕΡΩΤΑΣ ΑΝΤΕΦΩΝΕΙ.
ΧΑΙΡΟΙΤΕ ΛΟΙΠΟΝ ΗΜΙΝ, ΗΡΩΕΣ·
Η ΛΥΡΗ ΓΑΡ ΜΟΝΟΥΣ ΕΡΩΤΑΣ ΑΙΔΕΙ.
I live, I die: I burn, I drown,
Amidst the cold, heat strikes me down
Too soft and too hard my life is to me
My great sorrows are mixed with glee.
All at once I laugh and I cry
And I endure great torment in pleasure.
My happiness flees, but lasts forever.
All at once I wilt and I thrive.
Thus inconstant love torments me.
Just as I think my pain has worsened
Without thinking so I am trouble-free.
Then when I believe my joy is certain
With happiness I so craved it fills me,
And sets me back to my first misfortune.
by Louise Labé (1524-1566)
Je vis, je meurs : je me brûle et me noie – I live, I die; I burn, I drown. (Sonnet VIII)
The earth trembled as you passed by,
Turning everything sacred as you walked.
And you set your blue eyes upon me for the first time,
speaking at me with the depth of the night
…like a nightingale who doesn’t need its wings to fly.
What a blessing it is to be worthy of your look.
I have seen rain on the desert,
and all impossible things coming true.
All of my prayers carry your name.
I wish to be pure so that I can desire you.
Take me as you will.
Ancient Egyptian love poem from the Middle Kingtom (1991-1668 BCE)
“It seems that somewhere people are celebrating;
although there are no houses or human beings
I can listen to guitars and other laughters which
are not nearby
Maybe far away, within the ashes of heavens
Andromeda, the Bear, or the Virgin…
I wonder; is loneliness the same, all over the
worlds ? ”
By Odysseas Elytis, Calendar of an invisible April-
1 Castor and Pollux, brothers of Helen, set in the heavens as the constellation of the Twins and supposed to be propitious to mariners.
You Who Never Arrived
You who never arrived in my arms, Beloved, who were lost from the start, I don’t even know what songs would please you. I have given up trying to recognize you in the surging wave of the next moment. All the immense images in me — the far-off, deeply-felt landscape, cities, towers, and bridges, and unsuspected turns in the path, and those powerful lands that were once pulsing with the life of the gods– all rise within me to mean you, who forever elude me.
You, Beloved, who are all the gardens I have ever gazed at, longing. An open window in a country house– , and you almost stepped out, pensive, to meet me. Streets that I chanced upon,– you had just walked down them and vanished. And sometimes, in a shop, the mirrors were still dizzy with your presence and, startled, gave back my too-sudden image. Who knows? Perhaps the same bird echoed through both of us yesterday, separate, in the evening…
Archaic Torso of Apollo
We cannot know his legendary head with eyes like ripening fruit. And yet his torso is still suffused with brilliance from inside, like a lamp, in which his gaze, now turned to low, gleams in all its power. Otherwise the curved breast could not dazzle you so, nor could a smile run through the placid hips and thighs to that dark center where procreation flared. Otherwise this stone would seem defaced beneath the translucent cascade of the shoulders and would not glisten like a wild beast’s fur: would not, from all the borders of itself, burst like a star: for here there is no place that does not see you. You must change your life.
I am walking barefoot on an endless white beach. Suddenly the water keeps rising and covers every piece of land. Now I am walking in the water. I can feel the sand with my feet but I cannot see it. I have to find my way out of the water. I have to swim. Which way did I come here? I have to remember.
I am walking barefoot in my sun filled apartment. Suddenly the walls of the rooms are disappearing. Now I am walking from room to room. I can feel the doors that I close behind me but I cannot see them. I have to close all the doors. I can start over. Which way did I come here? I have to remember.
I am walking barefoot in your charming eyes. Suddenly I am hearing a crying woman. Now I am walking among crying women. I can feel their feelings but I cannot see them. I have to find my way out of your eyes. I have to run. Which way did I come here? I have to remember.
Infatuation He seems to me equal to the gods that man whoever he is who opposite you sits and listens close to your sweet speaking and lovely laughing — oh it puts the heart in my chest on wings for when I look at you, even a moment, no speaking is left in me no: tongue breaks and thin fire is racing under skin and in eyes no sight and drumming fills ears and cold sweat holds me and shaking grips me all, greener than grass I am and dead — or almost I seem to me. (translation at : http://inamidst.com/stuff/sappho/ ) ------------ Peer of the gods, the happiest man I seem Sitting before thee, rapt at thy sight, hearing Thy soft laughter and they voice most gentle, Speaking so sweetly. Then in my bosom my heart wildly flutters, And, when on thee I gaze never so little, Bereft am I of all power of utterance, My tongue is useless. There rushes at once through my flesh tingling fire, My eyes are deprived of all power of vision, My ears hear nothing by sounds of winds roaring, And all is blackness. Down courses in streams the sweat of emotion, A dread trembling o'erwhelms me, paler than I Than dried grass in autumn, and in my madness Dead I seem almost. (translation by Anne Carson, 2002)
Original poem- by
Sappho (630/612 BC to around 570 BC):
φαίνεταί μοι κῆνος ἴσος θέοισιν ἔμμεν' ὤνηρ, ὄττις ἐνάντιός τοι ἰσδάνει καὶ πλάσιον ἆδυ φωνεί- σας ὐπακούει καὶ γελαίσας ἰμέροεν, τό μ' ἦ μὰν καρδίαν ἐν στήθεσιν ἐπτόαισεν, ὠς γὰρ ἔς σ' ἴδω βρόχε' ὤς με φώνας οὔδεν ἔτ' εἴκει, ἀλλὰ κὰμ μὲν γλῶσσα +ἔαγε, λέπτον δ' αὔτικα χρῶι πῦρ ὐπαδεδρόμακεν, ὀππάτεσσι δ' οὐδ' ἒν ὄρημμ', ἐπιρρόμ- βεισι δ' ἄκουαι, κὰδ' δέ ἴδρως κακχέεται, τρόμος δὲ παῖσαν ἄγρει, χλωροτέρα δὲ ποίας ἔμμι, τεθνάκην δ' ὀλίγω 'πιδεύης φαίνομ' ἔμ' αὔτᾳ.
It’s the soft wind
That reminds me of
The dance of our words
The wild flowers of
The scents of our feelings
The dark moon of
Your deceptive silences
And the bitter rain of
All my tears.
Walked the same path
Stared into each other’s eyes
Spoke the same words
Thought the same thoughts
Felt the same feelings
For an instant and
Before we said
Like sunlight dissolves dawn
Like virtue endures temptation
Like courage defeats fear
I will conquer the lonesomeness
of your silence.
You will discover me
I will discover you
I will disappoint you
You will disappoint me
You will deny me
I will deny you
I will forget you
You will forget me
You will desire me
I will desire you
I will seek you out
You will seek me out
You will love me
I will love you
Reflections of our souls
Traced by the morning sunlight
And our desire to immerse in each other
Eternal feeling ripened by time
Love without pretentious blossoms
Twice upon a time.
Isabella was sitting by the lamp with the green light, staring at her book.
With her mother visiting her older sister at a nearby city and her brother working till late, it was awfully quite around the house. She would have gone for a walk, but the rain kept her indoors, thinking about him.
She felt great relief when found out that he was back in town. She could not wait to see him again. She asked her maid to occupy her stepfather so she can leave through the kitchen door. She quickly walked through the garden and into the small forest behind the house.
She kept walking as fast as she could through the fields until she got to the place where they used to meet. There she waited until she heard steps approaching. Not being sure if it was him, she pulled her coat over her head, and remained still in the dark. She felt the steps right behind her. She stopped breathing.
The sound of the steps started fading away…
As she uncovered her face she saw the shadow of a man walking away across the fields.
“I have already begun to forget about the house with the mezzanine, and
only now and then, when I am working or reading, suddenly–without rhyme
or reason–I remember the green light in the window, and the sound of my
own footsteps as I walked through the fields that night..”
From the : House with the Mezzanine (P. Chekhov)