Prompt #37: Love and the Older Body

Love poetry! Of course — the romance, the longing for connection, the passion — the heartbreak! So much love poetry is written by the young and for the young. And it should be that way. Do any browsing at all, in books or online, and love poetry is everywhere. At the Academy of American Poets, their collection of Love Poems is legion, beginning with the most famous perhaps of all, Elizabeth Barrett Browning‘s famous “How Do I Love Thee, Let Me Count The Ways.”

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.

But, love is not only for the young, and love poetry is not only written by young poets. I stumbled upon a poem this week, on The Writer’s Almanac, called “Surfer Girl” by Barbara Crooker. The speaker in the poem is “on the far side of sixty,” “athletic as a sofa.” The poem opens with her walking on the beach, spotting a surfer, “sleek as a seal.” The poem goes on as the speaker imagines herself in a younger body, “lithe and long-limbed,” with her “short tousled hair full of sunshine.” The poem describes the health and power of a younger body, a young person’s ambitions and dreams, “Nothing more important now than this balance between / water and air, the rhythm of in and out.” This poem is about longing and love, for the surfer boy and for the younger self remembered.

Another poem I found this week, titled “You Make Love Like the Last Snow Leopard” by Paige Taggart, came through my Poem-A-Day email subscription from Poets.org. I don’t always have time to read them when they come, but this title really caught my eye. What would that be like, to be the last snow leopard on earth, and to make love — would it be fiercely, with fear and the knowledge of certain death, impending loss, would it be tenderly, aware of an aching body, the absence of youthful power? I find Taggart’s poem strange, with ambiguous language, some disquieting sexual allusions and unusual images of time passing. In the first stanza, “Time hunts your shadows.” In the second stanza, the speaker addresses her lover, “Your white hair flocked. It’s old age that makes / you kill for food,” pairing an image of old age with an image of violent survival. The last two lines are the most disturbing and beautiful in the poem, I think: “A cliff of umbrellas and memory / shaping your every move.”

These two poems spoke to me of the ways we think of physical love as we get older: full of the aches and memories of the body, and the longing of the heart for something powerful in today’s experience. Love isn’t only for the young.

You can see some of Paige Taggart’s jewelry “Bling that Sings” here on Tumblr and here at her website. She seems to have a mission to decorate poets wherever she finds them.

If you want to write a poem, write a love poem, modeled after one of the ones on the Poets.org website. If you are inspired to try something else, imagine what it would be like to be a passionate young soul trapped in an older and no-longer powerful body. Describe the way the body moves and the way the spirit of love moves and how those types of motion agree or disagree, work in harmony or collide.

The photo of the female swimmer is by Etta Clark, from her book of the same name, “Growing Old is Not for Sissies.”

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