Love and Loss in Prose and Poetry

William Shakespeare (1564-1616)

Sonnet CXVI: Let me not to marriage of true minds admit impediments

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his height be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come:
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1770-1850)

Sonnets from the Portuguese, XIII

If thou must love me, let it be for nought
Except for love's sake only. Do not say
'I love her for her smile--her look--her way
Of speaking gently,--for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day'--
For these things in themselves, Beloved, may
Be changed, or change for thee,--and love, so wrought,
May be unwrought so. Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity's wiping my cheeks dry,--
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby !
But love me for love's sake, that evermore
Thou mayst love on, through love's eternity.

Theodore Roethke (1908-1963)

I knew a woman

I knew a woman, lovely in her bones,
When small birds sighed, she would sigh back at them;
Ah, when she moved, she moved more ways than one:
The shapes a bright container can contain!
Of her choice virtues only gods could speak,
Or English poets who grew up on Greek
(I'd have them sing in chorus, cheek to cheek).

How well her wishes went! She stroked my chin,
She taught me Turn, and Counter-turn, and Stand,
She taught me Touch, that undulant white skin;
I nibbled meekly from her proffered hand;
She was the sickle; I, poor I, the rake,
Coming behind her for her pretty sake
(But what prodigious mowing we did make).

Love likes a gander, and adores a goose:
Her full lips pursed, the errant note to seize;
She played it quick, she played it light and loose;
My eyes, they dazzled at her flowing knees;
Her several parts could keep a pure repose,
Or one hip quiver with a mobile nose
(She moved in circles, and those circles moved).

Let seed be grass, and grass turn into hay;
I'm martyr to a motion not my own;
What's freedom for? To know eternity.
I swear she cast a shadow white as stone.
But who would count eternity in days?
These old bones live to learn her wanton ways:
(I measure time by how a body sways).

Lord Byron (1788-1824)

She walks in beauty

She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that's best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellow'd to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.

One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impair'd the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o'er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.

And on that cheek, and o'er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!

Lord Byron (1788-1824)

When We Two Parted

When we two parted
In silence and tears,
Half broken-hearted
To sever for years,
Pale grew thy cheek and cold,
Colder thy kiss;
Truly that hour foretold
Sorrow to this.

The dew of the morning
Sunk chill on my brow--
It felt like the warning
Of what I feel now.
Thy vows are all broken,
And light is thy fame;
I hear thy name spoken,
And share in its shame.

They name thee before me,
A knell to mine ear;
A shudder comes o'er me--
Why wert thou so dear?
They know not I knew thee,
Who knew thee too well:--
Long, long shall I rue thee,
Too deeply to tell.

In secret we met--
In silence I grieve
That thy heart could forget,
Thy spirit deceive.
If I should meet thee
After long years,
How should I greet thee?--
With silence and tears.

Pablo Neruda

Poema Veinte

I can write the saddest verses tonight.
Write, for example: "The night sky is full of stars,
And far away, blue, celestial bodies tremble".
The night wind whirls in the sky and sings.
I can write the saddest verses tonight.
I loved her, and sometimes she also loved me.
Through nights like tonight I held her in my arms.
I kissed her so many times under the infinite sky.
She loved me, and sometimes I also loved her.
How could one not have loved her great still eyes.
I can write the saddest verses tonight.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I lost her.
To hear the immense night, even more immeasurable without her.
And the verse falls to the soul as dew to the pasture.
It does not matter that my love could not keep her.
The night sky is full of stars, and she is not with me.
This is all. In the distance someone sings. In the distance.
My soul cannot be relieved now that I lost her.
My eyes search for her, trying to bring her close to me.
My heart searches for her, and she is not with me.
The same night, whitening the same trees.
We, of that time, are no longer the same.
I no longer love her, it is true, but how I loved her.
My voice tried to find the wind to caress her hearing.
Another's. She must belong to someone else, just as she belonged to my kisses.
Her voice, her bright body. Her infinite eyes.
I no longer love her, it is true, but maybe I still love her.
Love is so short, and forgetting takes so long.
Because through nights like tonight I held her in my arms,
My soul cannot be relieved now that I lost her.
Even when this is the last pain she causes me
And these are the last verses that I write about her.

Christina Rossetti (1830-1894)


Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go, yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you planned:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.

Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.

Alanis Morissette (1975-)

Your House

I went to your house
Walked up the stairs
Opened the door without ringing the bell
Walked down the hall
Into your room where I could smell you

And I shouldn't be here
Without permission
Shouldn't be here...

Would you forgive me love if I danced in your shower
Would you forgive me love if I laid in your bed
Would you forgive me love if I stay all afternoon?

I took off my clothes
Put on your robe
Went through your drawers
And I found your cologne
Went down to the den
Found your cd's
And I played your Joni
And I shouldn't stay long
You might be home soon
Shouldn't stay long

Would you forgive me love if i danced in your shower
Would you forgive me love if i laid in your bed
Would you forgive me love if i stay all afternoon?

I burned your incense
I ran a bath
I noticed a letter that sat on your desk
It said: "Hello, love.
I love you so, love.
Meet me at midnight."
And no, it wasn't my writing
I'd better go soon
It wasn't my writing

So forgive me love If I cry in your shower
So forgive me love for the salt in your bed
So forgive me love If I cry all afternoon

William Shakespeare

from Measure for Measure

[Act IV Scene I]

Take! O take those lips away,
that so sweetly were forsworn;
And those eyes, the break of day,
Lights that do mislead the morn;
But my kisses bring again, bring again,
Seals of love, but seal'd in vain, seal'd in vain.

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