Wednesday, April 20, 2011

Need, Disguised As Love

More words have been written about love than any other subject. It is as if love were a cosmic puzzle which we sing about, write and talk about, wonder about, and sometimes obsess upon. I myself am guilty of writing far too much poetry about love. In modern times, people even shop for love. There have always been matchmakers, but now matchmaking is an industry.

As a veteran of the love wars, I have frequently been given advice by my friends: “If you can’t choose between them, you probably don’t love either one all that much.” “There’s a major difference in commitment here.” “I don’t think he’s got what it takes to keep you down on the farm.” Mostly I ignored this advice, sometimes to my peril and embarrassment. Not to mention cost.

The Greeks have two words for love. Erotas is the love which demands union, romantic love. Agape is selfless love, as for God, one’s children, a friend or an old wife or husband. Music and literature are most often concerned with Erotas, which after all leads to the perpetuation of the species. Romeo and Juliet did not live to have to deal with family holidays, bad breath or farts. Cole Porter’s comment on Erotas was that it was too hot not to cool down. The popular American distinction is between being “in love” and “loving”, putting enormous weight on a tiny preposition.

The famous passage about love in First Corinthians uses the word "agape" in the original Greek. Historically, the Greeks have always assumed that Erotas would in fact cool down, and so long-term serious contracts like marriage were based on more stable things.

I am not one to deny the intoxication, power, or mind-bending beauty of Erotas. Look at all that music, art and literature it has produced. On the other hand: Henry the Eighth.

What is it that we need and are so likely to justify in the name of love? We need the basic creature things, food, shelter, safety. We need the psychological things, acceptance, esteem, continuity. We have humanistic requirements: Some indication that our life has meaning, that we have value, or even that we are lovable. We do not want to feel separated. In fact, Erich Fromm in The Art of Loving says that the experience of separateness is the source of all anxiety.

I could be an old poop and respond to “We love each other” with the Logic 101 request, “Define your terms.” But I’d much rather echo the conversation between Tevye and Golde in “Fiddler On the Roof”. “Do you love me?” “Do I what?”

(The painting is Edward Burne-Jones’ Cupid and Psyche, the cover of my latest poetry chapbook, Cupid’s Arrow Gone Awry”.


teguh said...


Teguh Subianto said...

I like this.....Love

pia said...

Ahhh, thank you so much. Brilliant, and timely (for me).
These quotes are also much appreciated:“If you can’t choose between them, you probably don’t love either one all that much.” “I don’t think he’s got what it takes to keep you down on the farm.” :)

Nae said...

When I read this in April, it stung. Reading it now is better. It is very, very difficult to know the inner workings of another person's relationship. Love means so many things. Depending on whom you ask and when. Transcendent love...that deep, timeless and joyous connection of the spirit, the mind, and the body...that love is very rare and I am not so sure there IS a word to capture it. Farting & getting old are part of transcendent love. It delights me that you use elegant and not so elegant words in your writing! Yay! Good stuff!