“I wish I could write to you as tenderly as I love you and tell you all the good things that I wish you. You are so infinitely dear to me, dearer than I can say… If things go on much longer as they are at present I shall have sometime to put you under glass or to have you set in gold. […] Do write me a nice letter soon. Your letters are like kisses.” (Johannes Brahms to Clara Schumann)
It is suspected, though it’s one of those things that can’t be proved, that Clara Schumann and Johannes Brahms had an affair. Let’s get one thing straight – Brahms sure got around the block, though being in love with someone he could not be together with might have had something to do with that. Clara Schumann was, after all, a married woman with children to take care of, and whose husband suffered from mental illness in an age where the treatment for mental illness involved confinement and torture. She took her duties very seriously. Still, what makes this quote so striking is the idea that, no matter what life brings, there is still one person who can inspire such pure, sincere feelings and, of course, the thought of, above all else, wishing that person be safe and not asking for much in return.
“It seems to me, to myself, that no man was ever before to any woman what you are to me – the fullness must be in proportion, you know, to the vacancy…and only I know what was behind – the long wilderness without the blossoming rose…and the capacity for happiness, like a black gaping hole, before this silver flooding. Is it wonderful that I should stand as in a dream, and disbelieve – not you – but my own fate? Was ever any one taken suddenly from a lampless dungeon and placed upon the pinnacle of a mountain, without the head turning round and the heart turning faint, as mine do?” (Elizabeth Barrett Browning to Robert Browning)
In 1844, Elizabeth Barrett received an admiring letter from fellow poet Robert Browning. The rest, as they say, is history. Aged 38 at the time, Barrett was a woman of frail health with a domineering father – in society’s eyes, a walking recipe for spinsterdom. Browning was six years her junior and conventionally handsome. Let’s be honest, when we hear, “Love isn’t about how someone looks like,” it’s usually directed at women, never at men. And we still hear that only women in their early 20s are worthy of being loved. Well, two 19th century poets would beg to differ. From their story, we can learn that love can come even when one abandons all hope for it and that is has absolutely nothing to do with societal standards and expectations.
“Happiness is within you… so unlock the chains from your heart and let yourself grow – like the sweet flower you are. I know the answer – just spread your wings and set yourself free.” (Jimi Hendrix to an unknown woman)
Most of the love stories we are exposed to are more about possession, domination and obsession. If you ask me, that’s not very rock’n’roll. I think it would be good to listen to Jimi Hendrix from time to time. (See what I did there?) Here he is reminding us that love isn’t about enslaving, but about liberating, about wanting someone to be their full selves around you. Now that’s what I call rock’n’roll.
“You are so dear, so wonderful. I think of you all day long, and miss your grace, your boyish beauty, the bright sword-play of your wit, the delicate fancy of your genius, so surprising always in its sudden swallow-flights towards north and south, towards sun and moon – and, above all, yourself.” (Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas)
This is the love that Oscar Wilde did time in prison for. The inspiration for Dorian Gray, Lord Alfred Douglas is often portrayed as spoiled, destructive and careless as to the consequences of his actions – just see Jude Law’s portrayal of him. Still, Douglas was brave enough to defy his father, the Marquess of Queensberry, for the sake of this relationship – and, sadly, his father’s connections, doubled with the prejudices of the age, prevailed. Douglas also reunited with Wilde after the latter was released from prison and spent the rest of his life riddled with guilt for what had happened.
“We get old and get used to each other. We think alike. We read each other’s minds. We know what the other one wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes take each other for granted. But once in a while, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me. You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the #1 earthly reason for my existence.” (Johnny Cash to June Carter Cash)
When talking about cover versions of songs that are better than the original, Johnny Cash’s version of Nine Inch Nails’ “Hurt” always gets a mention. The song is made even more poignant by the video, which is as much about June Carter Cash as it is about Johnny himself. They’ve had their ups and downs and they were not perfect people (no one is) but, from them, we can learn that love can, indeed, last and that there is nothing better than sharing life with someone you truly connect with.
“How did I love before I knew you — before I possessed your affection! I reckon upon your love as something that is to endure when everything that can perish has perished — though my trust is sometimes mingled with fear, because I feel myself unworthy of your love. But if I am worthy of it, you will always love me; and if there be anything good and pure in me, it will be proved by my always loving you.” (Nathaniel Hawthorne to Sophia Peabody)
What makes Nathaniel Hawthorne’s words to his future wife, artist Sophia Peabody, particularly endearing is the fact that we can all relate to them. I think that even a very confident person can feel a bit nervous and insecure upon meeting – so to speak – the one they’ve been waiting for. However, even stronger than the initial insecurity is the will to be one’s best possible self and work for the relationship.
“I need you, my fairy-tale. Because you are the only person I can talk with about the shade of a cloud, about the song of a thought – and about how, when I went out to work today and looked a tall sunflower in the face, it smiled at me with all of its seeds.” (Vladimir Nabokov to Vera Nabokov)
Even though Vladimir Nabokov held some questionable views on women writers, he also said that he would have gotten nowhere without his wife, Vera. They were married at a time when it was unacceptable for a Russian aristocrat to marry a Jewish woman. Once again, societal norms proved to be nothing compared to having someone one can truly communicate with – which, needless to say, is essential to love.
“Well, the truth is White is beside himself and would have said more about it but is holding himself back, not wanting to appear ludicrous to a veteran mother. […] What he feels, he told me, is a strange queer tight little twitchy feeling around the inside of his throat whenever he thinks that something is happening which will require so much love, and all on account of you being so wonderful.” (E.B. White to his wife, editor Katharine Angell, writing from the perspective of their dog)
Upon finding out that he was to become a father, E.B. White wrote a touching and funny letter to his wife, Katharine Angell, from the point of view of their dog. Katharine is called a “veteran mother” because, at the time, she already had a child from her previous marriage. Doubtless, he had the ability to make her laugh, and laughter is a wonderful way to keep a relationship fresh.
9. “I have your picture in my room. I never pass by it without stopping to look at it; and yet when you were present with me, I scarce ever cast my eyes upon it. If a picture which is but a mute representation of an object can give such pleasure, what cannot letters inspire? They have souls, they can speak, they have in them all that force which expresses the transport of the heart; they have all the fire of our passions…” (Héloïse d’Argenteuil to Pierre Abélard)
The story of Héloïse and Abélard is one of the most famous, as well as saddest, of the European Middle Ages. Philosopher Pierre Abélard and his pupil, Héloïse d’Argenteuil, were married in secret. Out of fear of her family, who disapproved of the relationship, Abélard hid Héloïse in a convent. They were unable to find her, but he was not so lucky, as they caught up with him and mutilated him. Above everything else, Héloïse and Abélard were intellectual equals and, even when they could not be together anymore, they continued to write letters to one another.
“When sometimes I stroll in silence, with you / Through great floral meadows of open country I listen to your chatter, and give thanks to the gods / For the honest friendship, which made you my companion / But in the heavy fragrance of intoxicating night / I search on your lip for a madder caress I tear secrets from your yielding flesh / Giving thanks to the fate which made you my mistress” (Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf)
In an age when LGBTQ people were forced by societal standards to live in what could only be described as hiding, it is no wonder that this poem of Vita Sackville-West’s, written about Virginia Woolf, was kept secret and not discovered until recently. Simple, stripped of all unnecessary decoration, the poem speaks of the kind of fulfilling love that we all aspire to, where the other is, at the same time, a passionate lover and a loyal friend and companion.
Anca Rotar is a Romanian-born writer, over-thinker and caffeine addict. She is the author of two books, Hidden Animals and Before It Sets You Free, both available from Amazon.com. Among her interests, which she finds it hard to shut up about, she counts fashion, yoga, city breaks and deadpan sarcasm. She is also currently studying Japanese, so wish her luck. You can sample bits of Anca’s creative writing here.