A recent conversation inspired me to return to a small book of poems by Elizabeth Barrett Browning called, “Sonnets from the Portuguese,” which contains her best known and “most anthologized” sonnet number 43, in which she enumerated the ways she loved Robert Browning. Each of the sonnets in this collection have their unique appeal, and anyone who has experienced the “depth and breadth and height” of love can find something in these sonnets, but my personal favorite of the collection is the one above–sonnet XXIX.
In my experience, the vocabulary of love in poetry, when it attempts to recreate only the soaring heights of love, reveals just half of the story, often omitting consideration for the parts of love which the poet, Kahlil Gibran, described as aspects that “…shake our roots in their clinging to the earth.” Sonnet XXIX utilizes the tree metaphor very effectively, and urges the one beloved to “let the bands of greenery…drop heavily down,”–down to the bare surface, to reveal how difficult it can be to see the one you love when we are “too near.”
Kahlil Gibran, the Lebanese poet and philosopher, wrote what I would consider some of the most powerful words regarding the nature of love ever written, and in the following short passage, expresses how love is “an internal spiritual condition that permeates our whole being:”
“It is wrong to think that love comes from
long companionship and persevering courtship.
Love is the offspring of spiritual affinity and
unless that affinity is created in a moment, it
will not be created in years or even in generations.
In one of his lesser known works, “The Broken Wings,” he also expresses how even using words to express love really isn’t necessary at every moment:
“We were both silent, each waiting for the
other to speak, but speech is not the only
means of understanding between two souls.
It is not the syllables that come from the
lips and tongues that bring hearts together.
There is something greater and purer than
what the mouth utters.
Silence illuminates our souls, whispers
to our hearts, and brings them together.”
Gibran also advised us to consider true friendship as one of the highest forms of love:
“Your friend is your needs answered.
He is your field which you sow with love
and reap with thanksgiving.
You come to him with your hunger,’
and you seek him for peace.
And let there be no purpose in friendship
save for the deepening of the spirit.”
I would receive my first lesson in the deepening of the spirit in California, but in subsequent locations throughout my travels, the awareness of the spiritual nature not only of love, but of life itself, would come at me with a vengeance in the experiences that followed, and in ways I never could have imagined…..