Today is V-Day. Whether you are a ‘romantic’ or stoic lover, love unifies us all, a reminder of the bonds we share and the wellspring of a million prose, poems and songs. I’ve selected four poems from various traditions to celebrate this universal emotion. To encourage more reflective reading, I focus on short poems or extracts of longer poems.
Omar Khayyam (Extract from the Rubaiyat)
Here with a loaf of bread beneath the bough,
a flask of wine,
a book of verse – and thou beside me
singing in the wilderness,
wilderness becomes paradise.
Omar Khayyám (1048-1131) was a Persian polymath: philosopher, mathematician, astronomer and poet. He also wrote treatises on mechanics, geography, mineralogy, music, climatology and Islamic theology. Born in Nishapur, at a young age he moved to Samarkand and obtained his education there. Thereafter, he moved to Bukhara and became one of the major mathematicians and astronomers of the medieval period. Outside Iran and Persian speaking countries, Khayyám’s poetry is known through the translation of his works, most notably by the English scholar Edward FitzGerald (1809—83) in his celebrated translation and adaptations of Khayyám’s quatrains, The Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam.
Bhartrihari (from Lyric)
Where thou art not
there to me is darkness;
Even by the brightness of the taper’s light,
All to me is dark.
Even by the quiet glow of the hearth fire,
All to me is dark.
Though the moon and the stars shine together,
Yet all to me is dark.
The light of the sun only distresses me.
Where thou, my doe, and thine eyes are not,
All to me is dark.
Translated from the Sanskrit by Von Schroeder.
Bhartrihari was a writer who lived through the second half of the 5th century. He wrote in the sacred Hindu language called Sanskrit and is believed to have produced at least two important pieces of work which became extremely influential. One was the definitive guide to Sanskrit grammar which portrayed a holistic view of the language spoken at that time. The second was a large volume of short verses which contained three separate collections of poetry, each part demonstrating a different aesthetic mood, known as a rasa. Each focused a separate theme of life as lived by the majority of people: love, dispassion and moral conduct. He wrote a hundred verses on each theme.His poetry is still studied today by students of Sanskrit.
Japanese poems are generally shorter and more essentially poetic than most Western poems. Here are two examples with love as the theme. The first is a tanka (a 31-syllable poem) by lady Otomo No Sakanoe who lived in the 8th century. The second is a haiku (17-syllable poem) by the Showa period poet, Takayama Kyoshi (1874-1959). Most Japanese haiku are about nature or everyday life; Kyoshi’s haiku is a rare and excellent example of a poem of love.
Do not smile to yourself
like a green mountain
with a cloud drifting across it;
People will know we are in love.
– Lady Sakanoe (8th century)
The rainbow stands
As if you are here
In a moment.
– Takayama Koyshi (1874 – 1959)
I end this blog with extracts of two poems by the famed Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda
From ‘Ode to Her Scent’
Tender love of mine, what does your
From your heart your aroma rises
as if from the earth,
light to the tip of the cherry tree.
From ‘Ode to the Happy Day’
At my side on the sand
you’re sand –
you sing and are song
The world is my soul today,
song and sand.
Pablo Neruda (1904-1973) is a poet, diplomat and politician. He is often considered the national poet of Chile. Neruda wrote in a variety of styles, including surrealist poems, historical epics, political manifestos, a prose autobiography, and passionate love poems such as the ones in his collection Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (1924). He won the Nobel Prize for Literature in 1971. Neruda’s works continue to be popular and influential worldwide.