This begins with a season, which for want of a better word we might as well call September.
It begins with a forest, where the woodchucks woo and leaves wax green and vines entwine like lovers.
Try to see it, not with your eyes for they are wise, but see it with your ears: The cool, green breathing of the leaves.
And hear it with the inside of your hand, the soundless sound of shadows flicking light.
Celebrate sensation! Recall that secret place, that special place where once, just once
In your crowded, sunlit lifetime you hid away in shadows from the tyranny of time;
That spot beside the clover, where someone’s hand held your hand,
And love was sweeter than the berries or the honey or the stinging taste of mint.
[from “The Fantasticks”]
People need to love. It, too, relieves life’s tensions and strengthens us to press on. Perhaps that is because it satisfies the biological imperative to reproduce. The person who experiences amore is likely to say “who cares.”
- Michel Delon, ed., The Libertine: The Art of Love in Eighteenth-Century France (Abbeville Press, 2013): a sumptuous illustrated book “displaying the dazzling breadth and depth of the 18th-century obsession with pleasures of the flesh.”
In this passage, Hugo describes the spark of amore arising in Marius, toward Cosette.
When Marius passed near her, he could not see her eyes, which were constantly lowered. He saw only her long chestnut lashes, permeated with shadow and modesty. This did not prevent the beautiful child from smiling as she listened to what the white-haired old man was saying to her, and nothing could be more fascinating than that fresh smile, combined with those drooping eyes. For a moment, Marius thought that she was another daughter of the same man, a sister of the former, no doubt. But when the invariable habit of his stroll brought him, for the second time, near the bench, and he had examined her attentively, he recognized her as the same. In six months the little girl had become a young maiden; that was all. Nothing is more frequent than this phenomenon. There is a moment when girls blossom out in the twinkling of an eye, and become roses all at once. One left them children but yesterday; today, one finds them disquieting to the feelings. This child had not only grown, she had become idealized. As three days in April suffice to cover certain trees with flowers, six months had sufficed to clothe her with beauty. Her April had arrived. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume III – Marius; Book Sixth – The Conjunction of Two Stars, Chapter II, Lux Facta Est.]
Then this occurs:
One day, the air was warm, the Luxembourg was inundated with light and shade, the sky was as pure as though the angels had washed it that morning, the sparrows were giving vent to little twitters in the depths of the chestnut-trees. Marius had thrown open his whole soul to nature, he was not thinking of anything, he simply lived and breathed, he passed near the bench, the young girl raised her eyes to him, the two glances met. What was there in the young girl's glance on this occasion? Marius could not have told. There was nothing and there was everything. It was a strange flash. She dropped her eyes, and he pursued his way. What he had just seen was no longer the ingenuous and simple eye of a child; it was a mysterious gulf which had half opened, then abruptly closed again. There comes a day when the young girl glances in this manner. Woe to him who chances to be there! That first gaze of a soul which does not, as yet, know itself, is like the dawn in the sky. It is the awakening of something radiant and strange. Nothing can give any idea of the dangerous charm of that unexpected gleam, which flashes suddenly and vaguely forth from adorable shadows, and which is composed of all the innocence of the present, and of all the passion of the future. It is a sort of undecided tenderness which reveals itself by chance, and which waits. It is a snare which the innocent maiden sets unknown to herself, and in which she captures hearts without either wishing or knowing it. It is a virgin looking like a woman. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume III – Marius; Book Sixth – The Conjunction of Two Stars, Chapter III, Effect of the Spring.]
Then later, this:
Isolation, detachment, from everything, pride, independence, the taste of nature, the absence of daily and material activity, the life within himself, the secret conflicts of chastity, a benevolent ecstasy towards all creation, had prepared Marius for this possession which is called passion. His worship of his father had gradually become a religion, and, like all religions, it had retreated to the depths of his soul. Something was required in the foreground. Love came. A full month elapsed, during which Marius went every day to the Luxembourg. When the hour arrived, nothing could hold him back.--"He is on duty," said Courfeyrac. Marius lived in a state of delight. It is certain that the young girl did look at him. He had finally grown bold, and approached the bench. Still, he did not pass in front of it any more, in obedience to the instinct of timidity and to the instinct of prudence common to lovers. He considered it better not to attract "the attention of the father." He combined his stations behind the trees and the pedestals of the statues with a profound diplomacy, so that he might be seen as much as possible by the young girl and as little as possible by the old gentleman. Sometimes, he remained motionless by the half-hour together in the shade of a Leonidas or a Spartacus, holding in his hand a book, above which his eyes, gently raised, sought the beautiful girl, and she, on her side, turned her charming profile towards him with a vague smile. While conversing in the most natural and tranquil manner in the world with the white-haired man, she bent upon Marius all the reveries of a virginal and passionate eye. Ancient and time-honored manouvre which Eve understood from the very first day of the world, and which every woman understands from the very first day of her life! her mouth replied to one, and her glance replied to another. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume III – Marius; Book Sixth – The Conjunction of Two Stars, Chapter VII, Adventures of the Letter U Delivered Over to Conjectures.]
Much later, after they meet, it is like this:
Marius was conscious of a barrier, Cosette's innocence; and Cosette of a support, Marius' loyalty. The first kiss had also been the last. Marius, since that time, had not gone further than to touch Cosette's hand, or her kerchief, or a lock of her hair, with his lips. For him, Cosette was a perfume and not a woman. He inhaled her. She refused nothing, and he asked nothing. Cosette was happy, and Marius was satisfied. They lived in this ecstatic state which can be described as the dazzling of one soul by another soul. It was the ineffable first embrace of two maiden souls in the ideal. Two swans meeting on the Jungfrau. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume IV – Saint-Denis; Book Eighth – Enchantments and Desolations, Chapter I, Full Light.]
Then, near the end of the novel:
Cosette and Marius beheld each other once more. What that interview was like we decline to say. There are things which one must not attempt to depict; the sun is one of them. [Victor Hugo, Les Misérables (1862), Volume V – Jean Valjean; Book Fifth – Grandson and Grandfather, Chapter IV, Mademoiselle Gillenormand Ends By No Longer Thinking It a Bad Thing That M. Fauchelevent Should Have Entered With Something Under His Arm.]
Novels and stories:
- Gabriel García Márquez, Love in the Time of Cholera (Everyman's Library, 1997).
- Glenway Wescott, The Pilgrim Hawk: A Love Story (NYRB Classics, 2001).
- Open the links for young people’s books about romantic “love”.
- René Magritte, Prince Charming (1948)
- Norman Rockwell, Little Spooners (1926)
- Norman Rockwell, Four Ages of Love
- Pablo Picasso, Lovers (1923)
- Konstantin Somov, Lovers (1920)
- Marc Chagall, Green Lovers (1915)
- Gustav Klimt, The Kiss (1907-08)
- Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, In Bed, the Kiss (1892)
- Gustave Courbet, The Happy Lovers (1844)
- Jacques-Louis David, Paris and Helen (1788)
- Jean-Honoré Fragonard, Fontaine d'Amour (The Fountain of Love) (c. 1785)
Film and Stage
- Smiles of a Summer Night: Bergman’s “bedroom farce”
- A Summer’s Tale, about “vulnerable youth playing adult games”
- Bread, Love and Dreams (Pane, Amore e Fantasia): “comparatively little attention is paid to bread and dreams”
- Mona Lisa, about unrequited romantic feelings
- Moonstruck: a comedy but this film is really about amore
- She’s Gotta Have It, about a young woman with too many men in her life, according to them but not to her
I ne'er was struck before that hour
With love so sudden and so sweet,
Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower
And stole my heart away complete.
My face turned pale as deadly pale.
My legs refused to walk away,
And when she looked, what could I ail?
My life and all seemed turned to clay.
And then my blood rushed to my face
And took my eyesight quite away,
The trees and bushes round the place
Seemed midnight at noonday.
I could not see a single thing,
Words from my eyes did start --
They spoke as chords do from the string,
And blood burnt round my heart.
Are flowers the winter's choice?
Is love's bed always snow?
She seemed to hear my silent voice,
Not love's appeals to know.
I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling-place
And can return no more
[John Clare, “First Love”]
- William Carlos Williams, “Love Song”
- Faiz Ahmed Faiz, “Ghazal”
- Dante Allighieri, “So kind and so honest she seems”
- Thomas Caraw, “Boldness in Love”
- Andrew Marvell, “To His Coy Mistress”
- Robert Burns, “A Red, Red Rose”
- Thomas Moore, “Believe Me, If All Those Endearing Young Charms”
- Robert Browning, “Meeting at Night”
- Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “Heart’s Compass”
- Oscar Wilde, “In the Gold Room”
- D. H. Lawrence, “Gloire de Dijon”
- E. Cummings, “I Love You Much (Most Beautiful Darling)”
- Pablo Neruda, “Full Woman, Fleshly Apple, Hot Moon”
- Dante Gabriel Rossetti, “Love’s Testament”
Music: songs and other short pieces
Popular “love” songs and from operas and lieder
- Schubert, Ständchen (Serenade)
- Elle Ne Croyait Pas (from Mignon)
- Vaughan Williams, Silent Noon
- Kenny G, Forever in Love
- The Temptations, My Girl
- Michael Jackson, I’ll Be There
- Stevie Wonder, I Just Called to Say I Love You
- The Beatles, In My Life
- The Beatles, I Will
- Alison Krauss, I Will
- The Beatles, Michelle
- The Beatles, Here, There and Everywhere
- Roberta Flack, The First Time Ever I Saw Your Face
- The Righteous Brothers, Unchained Melody
- The Drifters, Save the Last Dance for Me
- The Righteous Brothers, You’re My Soul and Inspiration
- Percy Sledge, When a Man Loves a Woman
- The Carpenters, Close to You
- Neil Young, Heart of Gold
- Minnie Riperton, Lovin' You
- Dan Fogelberg, Longer
- Stevie Wonder, You Are the Sunshine of My Life
- Somewhere, from “West Side Story”
- One Hand, One Heart, from “West Side Story”
- On the Street Where You Live, from “My Fair Lady”
- Some Enchanted Evening, from “South Pacific”
- Patsy Cline, Crazy
- Billy Joel, Just the Way You Are
- The Chi-Lites, Oh Girl
- Roberto Flack and Peabo Bryson, Tonight I Celebrate My Love
- Frank Sinatra, The Way You Look Tonight
- Michael Bublé, The Way You Look Tonight
- Elvis Presley, I Can’t Help Falling in Love with You
- The Association, Cherish
- Van Morrison, Brown-Eyed Girl
- K-Ci and Jo-Jo, All My Life
- Van Morrison, Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?
- Rod Stewart, Have I Told You Lately That I Love You?
- The Beatles, And I Love Her
- Joe Cocker, You Are So Beautiful
- Rod Stewart, Maggie May
- Ed Ames, Mary in the Morning
- John Lennon, Woman
- Bread, If
- Lionel Ritchie and Diana Ross, My Endless Love
- Ed Ames, Timeless Love
- Barbara Streisand, Evergreen
- Stevie Wonder, My Cherie Amour
- Ed Ames, Let Me So Love
- Ed Ames, My Cup Runneth Over
- The Association, Never, My Love
- Chet Baker, My Funny Valentine
- Ed Ames, When the Snow Is On the Roses
- Andy Williams, Dear Heart
- Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons, Can’t Take My Eyes Off You
- Joni Mitchell, Help Me
- Theobald Böhm, Romanza in F Major (No. 68)
Music: Composers, artists, and major works
Sergei Rachmaninoff, Symphony No. 2 in E Minor, Op. 27 (1907) (approx. 51-59’), is the quintessential romantic symphony. “For Rachmaninov, the Second Symphony, written between 1906 and 1907, emerged out of uncertainty and self-doubt. Following the disastrous premiere of the First Symphony and the ensuing harsh criticism, Rachmaninov fell into debilitating long-term depression. The music transcends all of this. The Second Symphony’s melodies blossom and soar with gratitude, passion for life, and sensuality.” “The rich orchestration and passionate melodies assure its status among the finest Russian symphonies of the late Romantic era.” Top performances are those conducted by Sanderling in 1956, Ormandy in 1959, Svetlanov in 1968, Previn in 1973, Maazel in 1982, Iván Fischer in 2003, Bychkov in 2007, Litton in 2015, and Rattle in 2021.
Rachmaninoff, Piano Concerto No. 2 in C Minor, Op. 18 (1901) (approx. 31-39’), is loaded with sweeping romantic passages. “The work opens with the soloist sounding a series of chords that ring like church bells, and grow in both volume and intensity. Interestingly for a piano concerto, the soloist’s role in this movement is largely one of accompaniment, until one of Rachmaninoff’s most familiar and beloved themes emerges.” Rachmaninoff “often stated that music must come from the heart, not the head.” “Explanation for the concerto’s popularity is really quite simple. It brims with unforgettable themes and rhapsodic emotion.” Top performances on disc are by Rachmaninoff in 1929 , Smith in 1948, Moiseiwitsch in 1955, Katchen in 1958, Richter (Wislocki) in 1959, Richter (Sanderling) in 1959, Graffman in 1964, Ashkenazy in 1972, Zimerman in 2000, Grimaud in 2001, Fedorova in 2021.
- Bizet, L'Arlésienne (The Girl from Arles), Suite No. 1 (1872) and Suite No. 2 (1880), were inspired by a story of unrequited romantic love (performances conducted by Beecham, Stutzmann and Stokowski).
- Janáček, String Quartet No. 2, JW7/13, "Intimate Letters" (1928) explores an elderly Janáček’s obsession with a much younger woman.
- Beethoven, Piano Sonata No. 24 in F-sharp major, Op. 78, “A Thérèse” (1809): a musical love letter to Beethoven’s pupil Therese von Brunsvik
- Puccini, La Rondine (The Swallow) (1917): the protagonists are in love but do not stay together (performances conducted by Maazel, Villaume and Bareza).
- Knaifel, Make Me Drunk with Your Kisses (Canticum Canticorum, Chapter 8)
- Raga Kafi (Kafi Kanara) a Hindustani classical raag for late evening, evokes love and aroused passion (performances by Chakraborty, Banerjee and Bhatt)
- Reale, Piano Sonata No. 5 in A major (1988-89/2019) “. . . the heart of the Sonata resides in the sometimes-violent swings of emotion which often accompany intense infatuation.” (composer Paul Reale)
- Händel, Il Delerio Amoroso, love beyond reason