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MBRB Gupshup: On the Poetry of Love and Loss

Why are all the best poems about love also about losing love? Or is that the only impression of love which stays?

Milosz, Seth, Dickinson, Parker, Auden and Teasdale give us a lesson in love

Having successfully designed a treaty for living peacefully with kids (well, sort of!), the MBRB Editors suddenly had enough time on their hands to dust out their much loved poetry books.  As we share snatches from some of our favourite love poems in this Gupshup, we ponder over the almost-unbreakable bond between love, loss and longing.

Hina, the poetry of love is timeless isn’t it? You don’t have to be in love to appreciate the poets’ ardour, her valiant struggle against allowing herself to be consumed by a visceral passion, or the quiet resignation when she knows she’s been felled. I ‘love’ so many ‘love poets’ – Shakespeare’s love sonnets (the gold standard in spite of their age) , Emily Dickinson’s near-spiritual love, and Sara Teasdale’s quiet love poetry that sounds like it’s been crafted by a fireplace in some place cold and unforgiving. But a couplet that I keep coming back to, is this one from Pablo Neruda about the end of love:

Tonight I can write the saddest lines.

To think that I do not have her, To feel that I have lost her.

 To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.

And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.

Gauri, Is there anyone who didn’t shed a few tears after reading those lines by Neruda, or nod in agreement when he concludes that: ” Love is so short, forgetting is so long” ?  If Neruda is the master of soulful love, then Emily Dickinson and Dorothy Parker are the mistresses of ironic love – who else but Parker can warn us that

Love is sharper than stones or sticks;

Lone as the sea, and deeper blue;

A lot of people love Sylvia Plath’s love poems, but to be honest they are too messed up and complicated for me. I prefer the simplicity and lyricism of Vikram Seth – is there any other poet who has described loving, not loving, losing, keeping and protecting love so exquisitely? But for now, I will start with a headily redolent ode to love – can you not imagine the grey bearded sky, the rain slanting on the red rooftops and the gentle whispers of your lover as you read these magical lines by Czeslaw Milosz:

Hina, I know what you mean about Sylvia Plath. She feels so much herself that her poetry invariably leaves me cold! I get the impression that I am peering deep into the innermost recesses of her thoughts and that makes me strangely uncomfortable. Maybe I am just in a morbid mood, but nearly all the love poetry I can think of today, is about the end of love. I love the stark brutality of Auden’s Funeral Blues:


He was my North, my South, my East and West,

My working week and my Sunday rest,

My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;

I thought that love would last for ever: I was wrong.


The stars are not wanted now: put out every one;

Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun;

Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood.

For nothing now can ever come to any good.

And I also keep returning to the simplicity and light of Sara Teasdale’s Love Songs. Her writing is so crisp and intelligent- the rare poet who both celebrates the beauty of love and realizes how futile the emotion is.



Gauri, The best cure for your gloom is Emily Dickinson’s ode to Valentine’s Day (way back in 1850!):

Oh the Earth was made for lovers, for damsel, and hopeless swain,

For sighing, and gentle whispering, and unity made of twain

But you’ve raised an interesting point – some of my favourite love poems are about the loss of love, and I suspect that holds for most of us. Is it because we have loved and lost more than we have loved and kept? Who can resist the slow descent into nostalgia as we think of those we have loved and those who have loved us - “some for two nights or one, and some for all their years” , in Vikram Seth’s immortal words.  I wish I had Seth’s pre-sentiment when he foretells:

Somewhere within your loving look  I sense,

Without the least intention to deceive,

Without suspicion, without evidence,

Somewhere within your heart the heart to leave. 


Or Auden’s selflessness when he declares:

How should we like it were stars to burn 

With a passion for us we could not return? 

If equal affection cannot be, 

Let the more loving one be me. 

Oh, how flawlessly melancholy English poetry can be!  I propose to pour myself a glass of Merlot, play my Leonard Cohen playlist and then retreat into the mystic arms of Faiz Ahmed Faiz.


You do that Hina,

As for me – maybe it’s just my Bollywood-addled brain, but when we talk about love and the poetry of love, all I can see is an Irshad Kamil and Gulzar poet-off, officiated by the venerable spirit of Khayyam.

Until next week then, when we look at Urdu poetry, and its bastardised Bollywood doggerels!

You can read the poems quoted in this article below:

Tonite I Can Write The Saddest Lines by Pablo Neruda

Ballade of Unfortunate Mammals by Dorothy Parker

 After Paradise by Czeslaw Milosz

Funeral Blues by W.H. Auden

What Do I Care by Sara Teasdale

Valentine Week by Emily Dickinson

Interpretation by Vikram Seth

The More Loving One by W.H.Auden

Photo Credit: Wasfi Akab via Compfight cc

1 Comment on MBRB Gupshup: On the Poetry of Love and Loss

  1. love the interchange..will share

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