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Love Found: A Diverse Illustrated Collection of Classic Poems Celebrating Desire, Longing, and Devotion

Love Found: A Diverse Illustrated Collection of Classic Poems Celebrating Desire, Longing, and Devotion

“The alternations between love and its denial, suffering and denial of suffering … constitute the most essential and ubiquitous structural feature of the human heart,” philosopher Martha Nussbaum wrote in contemplating how we know we love somebody. How unsurprising then, and how inescapably human, that we should try to steady ourselves through these oscillations — violent, beautiful, disorienting — on the armature of language, on poetry’s precision of sentiment.

To curate a corpus of poems that stretch across love’s vast spectrum of joy and suffering with resonance that edges on the universal is a Herculean task, but that is what editors Jessica Strand and Leslie Jonath have accomplished in Love Found: 50 Classic Poems of Desire, Longing, and Devotion (public library) — a collection plumbing the depths of the commonest human experience in the most uncommon and arresting of verses, alongside vibrant illustrations by artist Jennifer Orkin Lewis. Among the fifty poets, who span an impressive range of epochs, sensibilities, and cultural backgrounds, are Pablo Neruda, Adrienne Rich, Langston Hughes, Mark Strand, Wisława Szymborska, E.E. Cummings, Walt Whitman, and Emily Dickinson. (I was especially delighted to find Derek Walcott’s “Love After Love,” one of the greatest works of art I’ve ever encountered, among the selections.)

Here are a few favorites from this tiny treasure trove:

by Langston Hughes

Is a ripe plum
Growing on a purple tree.
Taste it once
And the spell of its enchantment
Will never let you be.

Is a bright star
Glowing in far Southern skies.
Look too hard
And its burning flame
Will always hurt your eyes.

Is a high mountain
Stark in a windy sky.
If you
Would never lose your breath
Do not climb too high.

by E.E. Cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
                                i fear
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you

here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Love, if I weep it will not matter,
    And if you laugh I shall not care;
Foolish am I to think about it,
    But it is good to feel you there.

Love, in my sleep I dreamed of waking, —
    White and awful the moonlight reached
Over the floor, and somewhere, somewhere,
    There was a shutter loose, —it screeched!

Swung in the wind, — and no wind blowing! —
    I was afraid, and turned to you,
Put out my hand to you for comfort, —
    And you were gone! Cold, cold as dew,

Under my hand the moonlight lay!
    Love, if you laugh I shall not care,
But if I weep it will not matter, —
    Ah, it is good to feel you there!

by Anna Akhmatova

The heart’s memory of the sun grows faint.
The grass is yellower.
A few early snowflakes blow in the wind,
Barely, barely.

The narrow canals have stopped flowing —
The water is chilling.
Nothing will ever happen here —
Oh, never!

The willow spreads its transparent fan
Against the empty sky.
Perhaps I should not have become
Your wife.

The heart’s memory of the sun grows faint.
What’s this? Darkness?
It could be!… One night brings winter’s first
Hard freeze.

by Elizabeth Bishop

The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with the intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.

by Joseph Brodsky

If you were drowning, I’d come to the rescue,
    wrap you in my blanket and pour hot tea.
If I were a sheriff, I’d arrest you
    and keep you in the cell under lock and key.

If you were a bird, I ‘d cut a record
    and listen all night long to your high-pitched trill.
If I were a sergeant, you’d be my recruit,
    and boy i can assure you you’d love the drill.

If you were Chinese, I’d learn the languages,
    burn a lot of incense, wear funny clothes.
If you were a mirror, I’d storm the Ladies,
    give you my red lipstick and puff your nose.

If you loved volcanoes, I’d be lava
    relentlessly erupting from my hidden source.
And if you were my wife, I’d be your lover
    because the church is firmly against divorce.

by Walt Whitman

A glimpse through an interstice caught,
Of a crowd of workmen and drivers in a bar-room around
    the stove late of a winter night,
        and I unremark’d seated in a corner,
Of a youth who loves me and whom I love, silently
    approaching and seating himself near,
    that he may hold me by the hand,
A long while amid the noises of coming and going, of
    drinking and oath and smutty jest,
There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking
    little, perhaps not a word.

by Pablo Neruda

I love the handful of the earth you are.
Because of its meadows, vast as a planet,
I have no other star. You are my replica
of the multiplying universe.

Your wide eyes are the only light I know
from extinguished constellations;
your skin throbs like the streak
of a meteor through rain.

Your hips were that much of the moon for me;
your deep mouth and its delights, that much sun;
your heart, fiery with its long red rays,

was that much ardent light, like honey in the shade.
So I pass across your burning form, kissing
you — compact and planetary, my dove, my globe.

Complement the thoroughly resplendent Love Found with Anne Sexton’s stunning love poem “Song for a Lady,” then revisit the story of how young Vladimir Nabokov met the love of his life and won her over with a poem.

Excerpts and illustrations courtesy of Chronicle Books

Published October 25, 2017




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