Well, tomorrow is Valentine’s Day. Whoever St Valentine was or was not, his feast day has come to be associated with romantic nights out and Hallmark cards. It isn’t the best expression of love that we have, but it’s still a day when our culture focuses quite publicly on a very specific kind of love, and so it seems worth engaging with.
Over the last few months, I’ve been working on a series of poems dealing with the tensions of what it means to love – both romantically and towards our neighbours. These poems have been prompted by Kierkegaard’s weighty but inspiring “Works of Love”: not the standard text to invoke on Valentine’s Day, but Kierkegaard’s view – and indeed the Bible’s – might serve as a helpful antidote to the Hallmark view of love. I hope these poems can find a welcome home in your hearts this February.
You Shall Love
is a giving, a direction,
a relation to God,
a movement within the eternal.
At His core is what we fail
to be, to do, to know.
we love to show
what we are not
and what He is:
righteous love, perfected from
ever true, what light years, aeons
within our hearts
of their accord:
love in the making, in creation,
lived and breathed
He remembered us in our low estate
His love endures forever.
The esteem of love which esteems greatly,
sacrifices all for the receipt of nothing,
and gives self when Self is not
found within oneself;
the worth of love which bestows worth,
values highly what is lowly valued,
remembers what is passing, faint
and lost in low estate:
sing, celebrate, imitate this love,
which loves where love is not,
which lifts what sinks in swamp and mire;
and loves what it transforms.
Yet love which loves with double-tongue
and loves that it may be esteemed,
esteeming only when it’s loved
and gives to be returned,
which values what gives value back
remembers only what clings to the mind,
which sinks unless by others raised,
and affirms the fishing soul:
love is not love which alters when
it alteration finds, nor is
it love when with a hidden hand
it clutches and gives up.
Indebted to eternity, already aeons lost in space,
beholden to a love too vast
for any mind or hand to grasp,
love as you have been loved.
The law fulfilled, the highest good
held out to you upon a tree,
seek first the kingdom and receive
a love which gives as love.
…love to one’s neighbour is not to be sung about – it is to be fulfilled in reality. Even if there were nothing else to hinder the poet from artistically celebrating love to one’s neighbour in song, it is quite enough that with invisible letters behind every word in Holy Scripture a disturbing notice confronts him – for there it reads: go and do likewise.
(Søren Kierkegaard, Works of Love)
Faith is no good if,
in a morning mirror,
you walk into the day
and forget your own face.
Love is no good if,
taking, not giving,
you can say to your father
whose all is your own,
“Give me now what is mine.”
And poetry is no good
if you can walk to Jericho
and leave the stranger
beside the bleeding road.
not to win the dash and charm the crowd
nor gain a victor’s kiss,
not that you may save yourself
from lonely night on lonely night:
not for all of this.
Nor that passers-by may give you love
or those for whom you’ve pined,
not that you may earn a wreath
and win praises far and wide
for your sacrifice.
Nor in finding love shall you ask why
or put it to the test
as though you could not give your love
without the promise of return;
no, love without this.
“More beloving than beloved”, you shall
love with all eternity’s great breadth
and breath. Love by Love suspired,
give love without the thought of love
and let Love sustain.
“Only when love is a duty, then
is love secure”; then
is love an act of freedom, un-
shackled from our expectations,
doubts and fears. So love:
and in loving, learn the depth, the height –
see scars that were His crown;
love given without fear of love
or thought of throne, such love