I just finished reading Ralph Waldo Emerson's essay, "Love," for the first time. Okay, so really, any Emerson I'm reading, I'm reading for the first time, and I'm only reading him, because with my new step ladder, I can actually make it to the top shelf of my dad's book case, where he's been cleverly hiding all of his collectable, first edition, COOL books. Like this collection, simply entitled, Emerson's Essays.
So, I read "Love." I was a bit less than excited to be reading it so close to Valentine's, while my mind is still reeling from all the reasons I do not involve myself romantically with, well, anyone. But, I found, that despite the horniest and most desperate date night of the year barreling at me, that this essay didn't make me care like at all about the ominous February 14th.
Instead, I thoroughly enjoyed Emerson's progression of I guess his conception of what Love is, and also what Love should be, and finally, why no one ever can make much logical sense of the quest for it, because it is, as he says, a quest for the unattainable aspects of another person's soul within us. Or if he didn't say that, he pretty much did.
I love his description:
"For [love] is a fire that, kindling its first embers in the narrow nook of a private bosom, caught from a wandering spark out of another private heart, glows and enlarges until it warms and beams upon multitudes of men and women, upon the universal heart of all, and so lights up the whole world and all nature with its generous flames."
I like this, because it reminded me of my high school sweet heart and mine's first date. I'd die if he knew I was using our story to correlate this. So, I'll stop there. Honestly, looking back, I wish I known what all these words meant, so I could have known what I was messing around with in my youth.
Then in college, after a lot of trauma, and quite a few misunderstandings due to irresponsible drinking, pulling too many all nighters in the newspaper office and computer labs, too much talking about everything but what I was really going through, I did begin to think of "love," as a snare or a noose more than that warm fuzzy blanket I wanted wrapped around me at all times.
The more I've read through this essay, though, I see the expansion of Emerson's definitions of love. Sometimes he's not talking about the romantic love between partners or star-crossed lovers. Sometimes he's talking about the love of art, and the love of the divine, before comparing that love back to what we seek in another's human nature.
I absolutely adore what he says specifically about sculpture but also translates across the arts. I imagine Emerson trolling the Louvre and philosophizing over the same classical masterpieces I witnessed while I visited in 2005 when he writes,
"The god or hero of the sculpture is always represented in a transition from that which is representable to the senses, to that which is not. Then first it ceases to be a stone. The same remark holds of a painting. And of poetry, the success is not attained when it lulls and satisfies, but when it astonishes and fires us with new endeavors after the unattainable."
This description of what any of us artists are most likely trying to accomplish in our crafts of any sort makes me feel a lot less alone for the upcoming holiday. My poetry won't buy me chocolates. My fiction won't lend its hands to a long overdue footrub. But I feel like after reading all this great stuff about what love between two partners is supposed to be like, at least I have that with my writing.
Probably the coolest paragraph I read within these great parchment leafs leaves me only with the hope that I'm correct in not settling for less:
"Hence arose the saying, 'If I love you, what is that to you?' We say so, because we feel that what we love is not in your will, but above it. It is not you, but your radiance. It is that which you know not in yourself, and can never know."
This is very poetic, and it's very not at all applicable to my own history in romance. Partners have always focused on what they'd like me to change instead of telling me why I should bother to stay. Fiction and poetry, though, they can't talk back, to this author, at least.
Happy Valentines Day!