In the midst of winter, with its grey skies and barren trees, what could be better than warming yourself with inspiring love stories or poems? That must be the reason Valentine’s Day falls right in the middle of one of the season’s bleakest months. In keeping with all things Valentine-and-love related, we asked Shenandoah University Associate Professor of World Literatures Michelle Lynn Brown, Ph.D., to share a few of literature’s greatest love stories to warm the cockles of your heart (and maybe even supply you with some gorgeous words to share with your sweetie).
Great Love Stories for Valentine’s Day
– by Michelle Lynn Brown, Ph.D.
Valentine’s Day is all about love. Whether you are in love, looking for love, or searching for a way to declare that love to another, you can always rely on literature’s great love stories for inspiration—or at least for the right words.
FIRST LOVE. For four hundred years, William Shakespeare’s famous play “Romeo and Juliet” has spoken to the hearts of young lovers fighting to stay together against families and friends working to tear them apart. Romeo and Juliet teach us that true love transcends even death. “But soft! What light through yonder window breaks?” Romeo asks, transfixed by Juliet’s beauty above him on a balcony. “It is the east, and Juliet is the sun.” With lines like that, it is no wonder that Romeo’s name now means “lover.”
HAPPY ENDING. Jane Austen’s novel “Pride and Prejudice” may be over two hundred years old, but its witty commentary on the right—and wrong—ways to find love still rings true. Despite her mother’s frantic efforts to marry her off—to anyone—Elizabeth Bennett would rather be single than an “empty-headed flirt” like her boy-crazy sisters. Eventually, however, her wry verbal sparring with the haughty Fitzwilliam Darcy transforms into friendship and, then, love. “It has been coming on so gradually, that I hardly know when it began,” she explains. “It is settled between us already that we are to be the happiest couple in the world.” Love grows from mutual admiration, not beauty or money.
LOVE SONNETS. Somehow, some of lovers’ most powerful expressions have fit into fourteen lines of iambic pentameter… for over two centuries. Elizabeth Barrett Browning counts eight ways her love spans life, death, heaven, and earth in “How Do I Love Thee?” Shakespeare declares unconditional love in “My Mistress’ Eyes are Nothing Like The Sun.” And, in the seventeenth of his 1959 “One Hundred Love Sonnets,” Pablo Neruda expresses an unspoken love which we cannot explain because it simply is: “I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where… I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love.”
So keep reading… and show a little love.
“Romeo and Juliet” e-text available at shakespeare.mit.edu. Romeo’s line is from Act II, scene ii.
“Pride and Prejudice” e-text available at pemberley.com. Elizabeth’s lines are from Chapter 59.
Sonnets, below, from poetryfoundation.org.
Sonnets from the Portuguese 43: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways”
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Sonnet 130: “My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun”
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damasked, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground.
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare.
One Hundred Love Sonnets: XVII
BY PABLO NERUDA
TRANSLATED BY MARK EISNER
I don’t love you as if you were a rose of salt, topaz,
or arrow of carnations that propagate fire:
I love you as one loves certain obscure things,
secretly, between the shadow and the soul.
I love you as the plant that doesn’t bloom but carries
the light of those flowers, hidden, within itself,
and thanks to your love the tight aroma that arose
from the earth lives dimly in my body.
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you directly without problems or pride:
I love you like this because I don’t know any other way to love,
except in this form in which I am not nor are you,
so close that your hand upon my chest is mine,
so close that your eyes close with my dreams.