Say it with verse...

Say it with verse...

The movie Titanic, directed by James Cameron, is remembered not so much for the epic disaster that sank ‘the unsinkable ship’, but more for the intense attraction between a young man and woman. It was that emotion called ‘love’ that floated the movie, earning more than $2.1 billion.

Yes, love is the star of all emotions, that which moves mountains, makes a saint of a man, makes a man out of a saint, and breaks any prison designed by man. It is that emotion that causes even heaven to resemble hell, even hell to become heaven, or makes earth both heaven and hell. It makes a lion of a mouse... or a lion into a mouse... okay, okay, you get the drift: love makes poets out of all of us.

“Chintu, I luv u, da!” Aah, sheer poetry, no? If you don’t think so, ask the guy and girl involved. They probably think they are the first love poets in the world!

Hardly! The oldest love poem ever written was The Love Song of Shu-Sin, written in ancient Mesopotamia around 2000 BCE. It was part of a sacred rite performed each year, in which the king would symbolically marry the Goddess of Love, called Inanna. Its words are sheer romantic and erotic love:

To prove that you love me, give me your caresses, my Lord God, my guardian Angel and protector, my Shu-Sin, who gladdens Enlil’s heart, give me your caresses!

(As you can infer, this is the unabridged version of the WhatsApp message to Chintu.)
There is something about the emotion love that makes it an integral part of literature, and that is conflict. Initially, the conflict is the decision-making — to love or not to love. Love means giving up control to emotions, to the other, to fate itself, and that in itself is a big decision to make. Then, there is the conflict with parents, family, society and the world. Nothing makes for better reading than love that doesn’t come to fruition. Had Romeo married Juliet and had three kids, none of us would give them a second thought. In the movie Titanic, James Cameron admitted that there was totally enough room on the raft for both Jack and Rose to float safely. But he very cannily observed, “If Jack lives, the movie makes a tenth as much.”

The conflict in love has made for endless stories. Way back in our own mythology, we have the love story of Sita and Rama, Rukmini and Krishna, Subhadra and Arjuna, Shakuntala and Dushyanta, Ganga and Shantanu... the list goes on. While these stories with happy endings spawn their own brand of conflict, the unrequited romances of Amba for Bhishma and Radha for Krishna, as well as the darker hidden love of Bhima for Draupadi, and Draupadi for Karna, wring our hearts with the pleasure-pain that is the intrinsic nature of love.

The power of love to enrich stories was not ignored by ancient Greeks either. Around the mid-800s BC, a Greek poet named Homer wrote an epic called the Illiad, based on Greek wars that destroyed the city of Troy. At the core of this story is the story of Troy’s prince Paris’s love for the wife of Grecian king Menelaus, Helen. He followed up with the Odyssey, which has at its centre the love between Ulysses, the King of Ithaca, and his wife, Penelope.

Since then, there have been a number of love stories, requited and unrequited, true and fictitious, that continue to move us. The true stories of Anthony and Cleopatra, Napoleon and Josephine, Heloise and Abelard, Shah Jahan and Mumtaz Mahal, Baz Bahadur and Rani Roopmati, Marie and Pierre Curie, and Queen Victoria and Prince Albert are just as moving as the fictitious ones of Lancelot and Guinevere, Tristan and Isolde, Laila and Majnu, Salim and Anarkali, Jane Eyre and Mr Rochester, Andrei Bolkonsky and Natasha Rostov and... so many others.

As for poetry, the range exceeds imagination. Shakespeare, Robert and Elizabeth Browning, Tennyson, Emily Dickinson, Keats, Burns, Shelley, Rabindranath Tagore, Khalil Gibran and many others have immortalised the nebulous feeling in words that turn paper into passion.

To prevent us from becoming maudlin, there are also some good humorous poems on love, like:

Roses are red, violets are blue.
He’s for me, not for you.
And if by chance, you take my place,
I’ll take my fist and smash your face.
And here is one on unrequited (?) love, where a princess laments:
I kissed a frog because I’d heard
That it would turn into a prince.
That’s not exactly what occurred,
And I’ve been croaking ever since.
May all your days be filled with love and laughter.
Happy Valentine’s Day!

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