I came to writing through poetry, and as a young writer, wrote dozens of love sonnets. Poetry felt right because to me it captured the essence of experience, and it was through poetry that I developed my love of words and language. There’s powerful contemporary poetry about, but I chose to go back in time to two poets you’ll recognize. I felt nostalgic, and hope you will too.
- PABLO NERUDA. This is one of those times I wish I could understand Spanish. Pablo Neruda, a Chilean poet, won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971, and he was prolific. Weird as it may seem given my fondness for William Carlos Williams, I’m irresistibly drawn to Neruda’s ostentatious celebration of women, sexuality and romance. He was also deeply politicized and committed to social change. Even in translation, his work reflects his deep and uninhibited passion. To find out more about this extraordinary man and his massive contribution to Latin American and international poetry, venture here.
‘Tie your heart at night to mine, love,’
LXXIX from: ‘Cien sonetos de amor’
Tie your heart at night to mine, love
and both will defeat the darkness
like twin drums beating in the forest
against the heavy wall of wet leaves.
Night crossing: black coal of dream
that cuts the thread of earthly orbs
with the punctuality of a headlong train
that pulls cold stone and shadow endlessly.
Love, because of it, tie me to a purer movement,
to the grip on life that beats in your breast,
with the wings of a submerged swan,
So that our dream might reply
to the sky’s questioning stars
with one key, one door closed to shadow.
And here’s one that’s always been a favorite:
- ELIZABETH BARRETT BROWNING. I’m a romantic. Can’t help it. It’s not something I can change or grow out of, so I’ve accepted it and reflect it in my own work, where dark and light are often in conflict. What can I say about a woman who wrote her first epic poem by the age of twelve? Married to Robert Browning, Elizabeth was a celebrated poet in her own right before she met Robert, fiercely opposed to slavery and injustice despite a controlling father whose fabulous income depended on it. Her life story is fascinating, and can be explored here.
How do I love thee? (Sonnet 43)
Elizabeth Barrett Browning
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.
Whatever form love takes, nothing is quite as strong or vivid in its capacity to celebrate life and bring about change. It has the power to transform, nourish and heal, and wherever it shows up, it touches everything around it. It starts with ourselves, and from there on out, knows no limits.