Wednesday, February 13, 2013

"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..."

TheArticle Image Picador Book Of Love Poems

Edited by John Stammers.

 In the introduction to this Anthology, the poet and editor John Stammers states “The poetry of love is unlike any other”. He goes on to say that “no other poetry has it’s singularity of focus” and that it is “the dominant theme of most western poetry since the renaissance” and where English poetry finds it’s most characteristic and celebrated expression, whether in the sonnets of Shakespeare or the poets of the the present day. One individuals love for another is typified, if not defined by Eros, following all it’s myriad journeys, travails, its false starts & failed endings.

“Since feeling is first”

since feeling is first

who pays any attention

to the syntax of things

will never wholly kiss you;


wholly to be a fool

while spring is in the world


my blood approves,

and kisses are a far better fate

than wisdom

lady i swear by all flowers. Don’t cry

--the best gesture of my brain is less than

your eyelids’ flutter which says


we are for each other: then

laugh, leaning back in my arms

for life’s not a paragraph

And death i think no parenthesis

E.E. Cummings

What makes this particular anthology different from the rest, is the way the award winning poet John Stammers has compiled the chosen poetry. Instead of just arranging them in some arbitrary fashion, he has sort to arrange them into pairs, placing some of the greatest love poems of the  past with their  modern counterparts, creating a dialogue between the poems, which in turn reflects the two-way nature of love itself. Also, by pairing them in this particular way, poets such as Spenser, Herrick and Donne  brush up against contemporary poets such as Duffy, Neruda and Hughes, throwing new and interesting light on an age old subject, reflecting the many ways love can be expressed in all it’s ambiguous, concrete, obscure and distinct nature. To be honest, like relationships themselves, not all the pairings work, some sit harmoniously together, others jar and argue, whilst others appear to have nothing in common, yet the majority create a dialogue that leads to more than the individual pieces alone, as Elizabeth Barrett Browning wrote "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways..." one of my favourite pairings is the two shown here.

First Love.

I ne’er was struck before that hour

With love so sudden and so sweet,

Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower

and stole my heart away complete.

My face turned pale as deadly pale

My legs refused to walk away,

And when she looked, what could I ail?

My life and all seemed turned to clay.


And then my blood rushed to my face

And took my eyesight quite away,

The trees and bush round the place

seemed midnight at noonday.

I could not see a single thing,

Words from eyes did start -

They spoke as chords do from the string,

And blood burnt round my heart.


Are flowers the winter’s choice?

Is love’s bed always snow?

She seemed to hear my silent voice,

Not love’s appeals to know.   

I never saw so sweet a face

As that I stood before.

My heart has left its dwelling-place

And can return no more.

John Clare

John Stammers (Wiki)


John Stammers (Poetry,Int’)

Picador (Wiki)

John Stammers was born in London in 1954. His first collection Panoramic Lounge-bar (Picador, 2001) won the Forward Prize for Best First Collection 2001, was shortlisted for the Whitbread Poetry Award 2001, and was a Poetry Book Society Recommendation. A second collection Stolen Love Behaviour (Picador, 2005) was a Poetry Book Society Choice. It was shortlisted for the TS Eliot Prize 2005, and the Forward Prize for Best Collection 2005. He won third place in the 2009 National Poetry Competition.


More Bolts from Cupid’s Quiver.

Love Poems – Erich Fried

Collected Love Poems – Brian Patten

Two Pomes for Valentines Day


stujallen said...

great choice for valentines day Gary ,all the best stu

Brian Joseph said...

Very interesting concept of pairing more contemporary poems with older works.

At the risk of throwing in somethings too clinical and scientific into a discussion on poetry, I believe that Daniel Dennett, in Consciousness Explained argued that the way we look at romantic love in our time is very different from common beliefs of several hundred years ago. Basically we believe less in platonic love, idealize it less, are less naive about it, etc. I think that reading this work with Dennett's hypothesis in mind would be interesting.

James said...

An inspiring entry for Valentines or any day.

Tom Cunliffe said...

A perfect post for Valentine's Day. We all have our favourites But Shakespeare seems to say it all as usual. Interesting comment from Brian

@parridhlantern said...

Thanks Stu.

Hi Brian, I agree it would add an interesting layer to the reading.

Thanks James.

Hi Tom, yes Shakespeare seems to have said it all, but some of the contemporary poets have interesting angles on an old subject.