All entries for Saturday 02 October 2010

October 02, 2010

Why Poetry Matters: Love Poetry —–August/September 2010.

I recently joined the Nittany Valley Writer’s Network in Pennsylvania, and I have been trying to convince some of the other members of the wondrous nature of poetry. Consequently, they’ve asked me to write a column in the newsletter on “Why Poetry Matters”, the title taken from Jay Parini’s excellent book Why Poetry Matters.

Last month I talked about poetry and current financial crisis, but what could be further away from money than love? Love poetry has a long history and special significance, because it expresses both universal longings and a specific dedication to a particular person. Perhaps this is what is so wonderful about love poetry – that it represents a meeting of the personal and universal. The grief or longing expressed in love poetry is shared by the poet and the reader.

One of my favourite love poets is the Russian poet, Marina Tsvetaeva (sometimes spelled Tsvetayeva or Cvetaeva). Tsvetaeva is a somewhat tragic character; she lived through the Russian Revolution, she was exiled from Russia in the 1920s and 30s for her radical politics, and she died by hanging in 1941, an event which some suggest was murder rather than suicide. Apart from her heartbreaking life, Tsvetaeva’s love poems are legendary and they have the universal quality necessary for great love poems.

‘No one has taken away anything’ is a poem about being separated from someone you love, yet Tsvetaeva suggests that however far apart the lovers are, the relationship is still intact – no one can take anything away from them. Tsvetaeva goes on in the poem to express her unworthiness and she sets her lover free:

No one has ever stared more
tenderly or more fixedly after you…
I kiss you—across hundreds of
separating years.

Whether we’re straight or gay, whatever race, culture or religion we come from, we can all understand the message of desire, longing and grief in Tsvetaeva’s poem.

(See the full poem here:

For those interested in love poetry, I recommend the fabulous anthology, The Virago Book of Love Poetry, edited by Wendy Mulford.


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