Next month, one of our editors will officiate a wedding, a situation for which she has been granted a terrifying amount of leeway. To prepare, she did what any self-respecting bluestocking would do: scoured novels and poetry collections to mine the romantic musings of writers more expert than she. Now we’re offering up a baker’s dozen of her literary discoveries for your benefit. For while you may not be called upon to declare anyone husband and wife this summer, it never hurts to have a few choice words in your repertoire for rehearsal-dinner toasts, anniversary parties, or birthday dinners. Better yet, jot down your favorite of our selections and tuck it into your beloved’s jacket pocket or purse. We bet you $1000 (in Monopoly money) your surprise love letter will mean more to the recipient than a week’s worth of text messages!
Diane Ackerman, A Natural History of Love
Love. What a small word we use for an idea so immense and powerful. It has altered the flow of history, calmed monsters, kindled works of art, cheered the forlorn, turned tough guys to mush, consoled the enslaved, driven strong women mad, glorified the humble, fueled national scandals, bankrupted robber barons, and made mincemeat of kings. How can love’s spaciousness be conveyed in the narrow confines of one syllable?…Love is an ancient delirium, a desire older than civilization, with taproots spreading deep into dark and mysterious days…. The heart is a living museum. In each of its galleries, no matter how narrow or dimly lit, preserved forever like wondrous diatoms, are our moments of loving, and being loved.
Jane Austen, Pride and Prejudice
I cannot fix on the hour, or the spot, or the look, or the words, which laid the foundation. It is too long ago. I was in the middle before I knew that I had begun.
Louis de Bernières, Captain Corelli’s Mandolin
Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides. And when it subsides, you have to make a decision. You have to work out whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable that you should ever part. Because this is what love is. Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement, it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not the desire to mate every second minute of the day, it is not lying awake at night imagining that he is kissing every cranny of your body.…That is just being “in love,” which any fool can do. Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away, and this is both an art and a fortunate accident.
E.E. Cummings, from “i carry your heart with me(i carry it in)”
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)
George Eliot, Adam Bede
What greater thing is there for two human souls, than to feel that they are joined for life—to strengthen each other in all labour, to rest on each other in all sorrow, to minister to each other in all pain, to be one with each other in silent unspeakable memories at the moment of the last parting?
Nikki Giovanni, from “Resignation”
I love you
because the Earth turns around the sun
because the North wind blows north
because the Pope is Catholic
and most Rabbis Jewish
because winters flow into springs
and the air clears after a storm
because only my love for you
despite the charms of gravity
keeps me from falling off this Earth
into another dimension
I love you
because it is the natural order of things
Henry James, The Portrait of a Lady
It has made me better loving you… it has made me wiser, and easier, and brighter. I used to want a great many things before, and to be angry that I did not have them. Theoretically, I was satisfied, as I once told you. I flattered myself that I had limited my wants. But I was subject to irritation; I used to have morbid, sterile, hateful fits of hunger, of desire. Now I am really satisfied, because I can’t think of anything better. It is just as when one has been trying to spell out a book in the twilight, and suddenly the lamp comes in. I had been putting out my eyes over the book of life, and finding nothing to reward me for my pains; but now that I can read it properly I see that it’s a delightful story.
Nicole Krauss, The History of Love
Once upon a time there was a boy who loved a girl and her laughter was a question he wanted to spend his whole life answering.
Tony Kushner, from “An Epithalamion”
A wedding is the conjoining of systems in which
Neither loses its single splendor and both are completely
transformed. As, for example,
The dawn is the wedding of the Night and the Day,
and is neither, and both,
and is, in itself, the most beautiful time,
abundant artless beauty,
free and careless magnificence.
D.H. Lawrence, “Fidelity”
Man and woman are like the earth, that brings forth flowers
in summer, and love, but underneath is rock.
Older than flowers, older than ferns, older than foraminiferae,
older than plasm altogether is the soul underneath.
And when, throughout all the wild chaos of love
slowly a gem forms, in the ancient, once-more-molten rocks
of two human hearts, two ancient rocks,
a man’s heart and a woman’s,
that is the crystal of peace, the slow hard jewel of trust,
the sapphire of fidelity.
The gem of mutual peace emerging from the wild chaos of love.
Madeleine L’Engle, The Irrational Season
To marry is the biggest risk in human relations that a person can take…If we commit ourselves to one person for life this is not, as many people think, a rejection of freedom; rather it demands the courage to move into all the risks of freedom, and the risk of love which is permanent; into that love which is not possession, but participation…It takes a lifetime to learn another person…When love is not possession, but participation, then it is part of that co-creation which is human calling, and which implies such risk that it is often rejected.
L.M. Montgomery, Anne of Avonlea
Perhaps, after all, romance did not come into one’s life with pomp and blare, like a gay knight riding down; perhaps it crept to one’s side like an old friend through quiet ways; perhaps it revealed itself in seeming prose, until some sudden shaft of illumination flung athwart its pages betrayed the rhythm and the music; perhaps…perhaps…love unfolded naturally out of a beautiful friendship, as a golden-hearted rose slipping from its green sheath.
Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet
It is also good to love: because love is difficult. For one human being to love another human being: that is perhaps the most difficult task that has been entrusted to us, the ultimate task, the final test and proof, the work for which all other work is merely preparation. Loving does not at first mean merging, surrendering, and uniting with another person…it is a high inducement for the individual to ripen, to become something in himself, to become world, to become world in himself for the sake of another person; it is a great, demanding claim on him, something that chooses him and calls him to vast distances… Once the realization is accepted that even between the closest people infinite distance exists, a marvelous living side-by-side can grow up for them, if they succeed in loving the expanse between them, which gives them the possibility of seeing each other as a whole before an immense sky.