Greatest Love Poem in the World

Appropriately for February, we’re looking at love poems, starting with lost love then enduring love. Now it’s time for the Greatest Love Poem in the World.

What should love be?  Insta-Lust?  No, love is lasting.

Weak when faced with problems?  No, love is strong.

Selfish and self-focused?  Love is mutually focused.

True love is integral to the soul.  It colors and brightens our world and gives us guidance in the other spheres of life, helping us survive the professional slog and the communal drivel.  It gives potential to the elements necessary for growth and abundance.

This poem expresses all of that.

[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in]

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere

i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done

by only me is your doing,my darling)

i fear

no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want

no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)

and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant

and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows

(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud

and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows

higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)

and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

Personally, cummings is one of the few poets who still intrigues me.  This poem is proof that he is more than the gimmick of unusual punctuation and capitalization.

What does the poem say?

Speech and thought go hand in hand, side by side, just as a couple should.  “Whatever is done by me” is not me alone.  The other half of the whole contributes just as much, just not in the same way.  Each powers the other, even when each is alone in the brutal world.

They are destined, fated, to be together.  The moon of romance and the sun of living are intrinsically within each other for each other.

The power of the third stanza is the meaning carried beyond the words.  The nourishing and spreading root, the blossoming and nectar-filled bud, the over-arching and all-covering sky—these represent love and still do not say it all.

Love is wondrous and inexplicable.  cummings’ word choice calls upon us to figure out the riddling miracle that can never quite be untangled from its mystery.

Line structure plays its own part in that riddling mystery. 

Why is “i fear” on a line alone and thrown to the right side? Is it intended to join the two equal stanzas?  That is what love does:  it joins two equal and independent selves and sets them on a journey forward, together.

Alone in the world, a person does fear.  Linked with another, we “fear no fate”.  Yet why is that line thrown to the right?  To be rightly joined—is that the answer?  To be not “unequally yoked” but rightly joined.  That’s logical.

Punctuation gives more meaning.

cummings pares his punctuation down to parentheses (6 uses), two semicolons, four commas, and two apostrophes.  Is he “speaking to us” with these marks?

Commas link.  Okay, that’s easy to connect to the meaning.

Semicolons link equal and independent statements.  That echoes the linkage of the first two stanzas, rightly and equally joined.

Parentheses are for additional information not considered necessary but deemed by the writer as needing to be added.  Wow.  Just—wow.

Apostrophes—both contractive, not possessive.  Oh, my.  Love brings two people together, yet neither “owns” the other.  They remain equally independent, together by choice.  Not necessary to each other but needed by each other. 

That’s—that’s—well, I did not see it truly until I examined it.

Yes, the Greatest Love Poem

cummings certainly has more going on than a gimmick—and his explanation of a heart-filled relationship is the definition of love.

Coming Up

The Greeks have four separate words for love, each expressing a different type.  We’ll examine these in the next post, March 5th.  Join us.

A Love that Never Dies

Writers Ink continues our series of blogs on poetry: sharing & examining, analyzing & interpreting.

February is Love, and poetry is my particular love. ~ M.A. Lee

While I love experimental poetry–free verse and the like, carefully crafted pure verse can amaze. The sonnet with its required length of 14 lines, rhyme scheme and meter length, all written to propose and answer a question, is just one example of poetic skills.

Llike the villanelle and other required structural poems, the sonnet exhibits a poet’s fluency with words and deftness with structure.  The majority are actually poetic arguments, as the poet presents a conflicting problem and works to a solution.

Several poets have exceptional skill with the sonnet form:

  • Any sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay but especially “Time Does not Bring Relief, You all Have Lied”
  • Robert Frost’s “Once by the Pacific” which alludes to William Blake’s “The Ancient of Days”
  • Elizabeth Bishop’s “Sonnet”
  • Octavio Paz’s “The Street”
  • and the master, William Shakespeare, especially his Sonnet 18, which serves as the focus for this blog.

In Sonnet 18, the persona’s love has asked the perennial question that contains a trap: “Do you think I’m pretty?”

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?

Thou art more lovely and more temperate.

The trap part of that question holds the following, waiting to sink the unwary:  Do you love me because I’m pretty?  Will you still love me when I lose my prettiness?  What do you find my prettiest feature?

Shakespeare’s persona sidesteps the question with a question of his own:  The prettiest thing in his mind would be a summer’s day:  hot as love without burning up, clear of troubling clouds, no problems on the horizon, everything blooming and growing and fruiting.

And then he answers:  you are better than a summer’s day, not just for its beauty but also for being “temperate”, moderate.  Smart man:  he just said her personality is as wonderful as her appearance.

The next two lines and the new two quatrains of the sonnet present evidence in support of the persona’s statement.

Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,

And summer’s lease hath all too short a date.

Clever, clever persona:  Everyone loves May, the first true month of warm weather, filled flowers, lacking the April showers.  Remember, though, that May still have lingering showers and the flowers won’t stand up to the bad weather . . . while Summer’s growth—and therefore their love—is strong enough to stand up to storms.

The problem with Summer, however—and the reason that she is better than a summer’s day—is that it never lasts long enough.  The poem continues in the second quatrain to present additional problems with Summer.  And he infers that she does not have any of those problems. 

Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines

And often is his gold complexion dimm’d,

And every fair from fair sometime declines,

By chance, or Nature’s changing course untrimm’d.

A clever man appeals to his love’s intelligence as well as her emotions.  He admits when things are not perfect—and then reminds that perfection is not what he wants because it’s not real.

  • Summer days get too hot (and he’s already called her “more temperate”).
  • Clouds cover the sunshine, sometimes for days on end. (She, therefore, is never so dimmed.)
  • Every fair wonderful things can never been constantly fair.  At some point it will “decline”.  No relationship, he suggests, is always perfect, whether a problem occurs through accidental chance or through an action we take by mistake.

The best time in the natural world are only temporary.  She’s more than temporary to him.

So, his love says, “You love me.  You think we’re going great.  But what happens when we get older?  Will you still love me?  Or will you go after some other young pretty thing?”

“Ah, sweetheart,” he replies, “have you forgotten?  I don’t love you because of your appearance alone.  That may have attracted me, but your personality caught me.”

But thy eternal summer shall not fade

Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st

“Will you love me when I’m gone?  Or will you forget about me?”

Clever, clever man with your poem:

Nor shall Death brag thou wander’st in his shade

When in eternal lines to time thou growest.

Death may have you, but I will always remember you.  See, sweetheart, this poem will remind me even when I am in my decrepancy.

“But—.”

“No, sweetheart, look.”  And he gives her a revelation in the poem’s closing couplet:

So long as men can breathe or eyes can see

So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

Their love is immortalized.  Now everyone will know, for all eternity, that he loves her for herself, her soul, not for any temporary consideration.

The English sonnet (or Shakespearean sonnet, if you prefer), is a simple three quatrain and one couplet structure.  This poem maintains without much twisting the required ten syllables, but a strict iambic meter is not maintained—nor necessary. 

Rhyme is not necessary to tie a poem together, but this one rocks not only an abab scheme but also four additional methods to “couple” them even more closely:

  • Repetition >> summer, more, sometime (and yes, that is sometime, not sometimeS), fair, long, and life/lives.
  • Alliteration >> “fair from fair”, chance / changing, long / lives
  • Internal Rhyme >> “lines to time”
  • Anaphora >> 3 lines that start with “and” (with two of those coupled) then a 4th that starts with “but”, 2 coupled lines starting with “nor”, and the last two lines coupled with “so long”.

Sonnet 18 is a lovely poem for lovers in a lasting relationship.  Attraction may have drawn them together.  Compatibility may have formed the relationship.  Yet it’s devotion to the individual, our personality, that holds together the relationship through chance and changing times, through times better and worse, richer or poorer, in sickness and in health, until death do us part.

Thank you for stopping by. Return on the 25th for the most beautiful love poem in the world.