You Shall Love – A Valentine’s Day Anthology

Royalty-Free-Images-Anatomy-Heart-GraphicsFairy-red1Well, 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


What It Is

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.
            And so

we love to show
            what we are not
and what He is:
            relationship, community,
righteous love, perfected from
            the start,

ever true, what light years, aeons
            can’t produce
within our hearts
            of their accord:
love in the making, in creation,
            lived and breathed

            in us.


He remembered us in our low estate
                      His love endures forever.
            (Psalm 136:23)

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.

Theology Part 2: Resolution

…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,
seeing yourself
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
lying, bleeding
beside the bleeding road.

You shall love

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
                        lives eternally.

The Crowd Is Unbelief

For up they looked and on they walked, straight to
Horizons which the world, too blind to see,
All mocked and doubted; yet the endless view
Of cities yet to come, lives yet to be
Still drove them on, amidst the scornful crowd.
The leap of faith, the movement and the dance,
The downwards stab which scandalised the proud –
All this defied the pomp of circumstance
Yet showed them what one day could be by faith,
Gave eyes to see what could not yet be seen,
Gave spring to steps, to fall out into grace,
And confidence to stand against the mean.
The world, not worthy of them, shakes its head;
The faithful, trusting, take the leap instead.

To trust requires a qualitative leap (Kierkegaard Sonnet #3)

To trust requires a qualitative leap
 And sin, I’m told, involves more of the same:
The gap, whichever way you turn, is deep
And, leaping, you can’t go back where you came.
So, then, when our ontology is faint
And all our guesses lead us back to here –
This point of anxious thinking, mind’s constraint –
Our only hope the ground we know and fear,
(A firmness interpenetrating sight),
The trust that, eo ipso, God still is
And we may be in Him, just like the light
Of Sun consumes all that we see and gives
All things their life and energy. Though we
Must leap within the dark, we leap to see.