Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Unrequited Love's a Bore, and I Got it Pretty Bad

The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the Ocean,
The winds of Heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
in one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine?--

See the mountains kiss high Heaven
And the waves clasp one another;
No sister-flower would be forgiven
If it disdained its brother;
And the sunlight clasps the earth
And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?

"Love's Philosophy", 1820

I've posted before on Plato's Symposium and the power of the metaphors from this work in conditioning our understanding about love. Aristophanes's tale of the beings who seek to find their other half and be content deeply influences how we understand the yearning to be with our beloved. We want to find stability, safety, to be whole, and have a our lives be filled with meaning by being with the "right" person, our "soul mate".

Whether or not is healthy to expect this kind of fulfillment from another person is a matter I'll set aside for now. Its enough to say that this tale seems to capture the feelings of promise and excitement when one is first falling in love with someone--so much connection, so much potential, so much that can be done in the future with this "right" person.

But this interview, with Australian philosopher Linnell Secomb, reminds us that these feelings are only part of the experience of love. Another dimension is one hinted at in the above poem written by Percy Shelley--the phenomena of lost or unrequited love. As Shelley recounts, it can seem as if the whole of nature is against you when it seems that the one you love won't love you back.

Secomb says that this feeling has a famous representation in literature: Frankenstein (written, of course, by the other famous Shelley, Mary, wife of Percy. Lot's of tragic love in that family). Frankenstein's creature is created by his master and then rejected. The creature then wanders the world looking, in effect, for a friend, someone to love and to love him. Yet, everyone rejects him. This unrequited love makes him a monstrosity, inside and out. The issue then is (as the last few lines of "Love's Philosophy" intimates): What is the world worth if one cannot love and be loved in return?

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At 10:54 PM , Anonymous Theresa said...

The Romantics glorified the pain and anguish of unrequited or thwarted love as often as they celebrated love's triumphs. Lord Byron's poem below, "When We Two Parted," is a perfect example of that kind of celebration of the melancholy which today, perhaps, might mark the author as "Emo."
There is something irresistible in love that cannot be requited or consummated. Much great literature focuses on this theme, and with good reason. When love is not requited, it retains all of the fantasy and hope that so often fades in the reality of a day to day relationship. The longed for lover maintains a kind of perfection that a real lover can never achieve...

Lord Byron

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
Sank 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.

At 1:24 PM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

And where would country music be without unrequited love? Lani

At 8:40 AM , Anonymous Theresa said...

That's funny, Lani, because I just blogged about that topic myself!


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