Do you really know what love is? Some of the greatest writers in history give their take...
We all know the Biblical version of what love is: "Love is gentle. Love is kind," but what do the other writers say about this state of utter madness?
William Shakespeare, of course, provides one of the most memorable versions of the definition in "Romeo and Juliet" :
"Love is a smoke made with the fume of sighs,
Being purged, a fire sparkling in lovers' eyes,
Being vexed, a sea nourished with lovers' tears.
What is it else? A madness most discreet,
A choking gall and a preserving sweet."
While Shakespeare may be one of the greatest writers about love in history, other men and women have put their slant on this famous malady (love).
The "Treasury of Encyclopedia Britannica" describes "Love in Medicine" like this:
"The symptoms produced by this passion as a disease, according to medical writers as follows: The eye-lids often twinkle, the eyes are hollow, and yet appear as if full with pleasure: the pulse is not peculiar to the passion... As the force of love prevails, sighs grow deeper; a tremor affects the heart and the pulse... a loss of appetite, a hectic fever, melancholy, or perhaps madness, if not death, constitutes the sad catastrophe."
The "Treasury" explains that this particular discussion was published in the 3rd edition of the book (1788-1797). The 4th edition (1801-1809) isn't much better, though that book managed to bring women into the equation.
Around the same time, Johann Wolfgang von Goethe (1749-1832) was writing poetry, novels, plays, etc. He writes:
"This is the true measure of love,
When we believe that we alone can love,
That no one could ever have loved so before us,
And that no one will ever love in the same way after us."
We could explain that definition, or that "measure of love," by saying that he was just expressing his view of human nature... I'm sure many would argue that it's not about the individual; perhaps it's about a relationship, something beyond self ... Or, some might agree that love really does start with the self. There's the old saying that has almost become cliché: "To your own self be true... " And "If you don't know yourself, how can you know anyone else... " Does that have anything to do with love... and with literature... and with our attempt to find meaning in something that has gone far beyond really our ability to understand.
We could go into a philosophical debate about the substance of love, the absence of love, the presence or absence of being and knowing, and how all of that relates to love. But suffice it to say, much could be said about love. We could dig up terms and definitions galore, but would we really get that much closer?
In "Essay on Love," Percy Bysshe Shelley writes:
"If we reason, we would be understood; if we imagine, we would that the airy children of our brain were born anew within another's; if we feel, we would that another's nerves should vibrate to our own, that the beams of their eyes should kindle at once and mix and melt into our own, that lips of motionless ice should not reply to lips quivering and burning with the heart's best blood. This is Love."