Can you imagine 144 million cards given out on or before Valentine’s Day in America? It has become the second leading day in the entire year for such expression. Alfred Tennyson wrote, “If I had a flower for every time I thought of you…I could walk through my garden forever!” What an amazing expression! It’s something many of us should say today.
But perhaps the greatest illustration of what this day is all about comes from a mid-nineteenth century English poet named Elizabeth Barrett Browning. She wrote a book in 1853 known as The Sonnets From The Portuguese in which she included a special love poem known as Sonnet 43. Andrew Spacey presents this amazing story the following way.
It was dedicated to her husband, poet Robert Browning.
The inspiration behind the work was Elizabeth’s love for the man who had, for all intents and purposes, rescued her from a quietly desperate, reclusive lifestyle she led in London, following the accidental death of her closest brother.
Dominated by her possessive father, Elizabeth spent most of her time alone in an upstairs room. She was a frail, sick woman who needed opium and laudanum in an effort to cure her pain.
Her only consolation was poetry and at this she was very successful. When Robert Browning read her work he was so impressed he wrote asking to meet her. The two eventually fell in love and decided to secretly elope to Italy in 1846, despite the father’s resistance and anger. He ended up disinheriting his daughter.
Elizabeth and Robert exchanged hundreds of love-letters over the two years from 1845-46. In them you get a clear idea of just how much they adored one another. Take this excerpt from Elizabeth in 1846, near the time of their elopement:
‘For I have none in the world who will hold me to make me live in it, except only you – I have come back for you alone…at your voice…and because you have use for me! I have come back to live a little for you. I love you – I bless God for you – you are too good for me, always I knew.’
Elizabeth was close to 40 years of age when she broke free from the control of her father. You can imagine her pent up strength of feeling and sense of relief. She went on to give birth to a son and was happily married for sixteen years, until her death in 1861.
Here is the classic love poem Elizabeth wrote to Robert:
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 greifs, 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.
I wish I could have written that! Don’t you? It’s such a deep and beautiful way words can express what we feel but so often find hard to say. Let’s say these thoughts today. Let’s present to the one we love how deeply they had touched us and how broadly they have changed our lives!
In a spiritual dimension consider this: “What would it be like to love a Being absolutely lovely – to be able to give our whole existence, every thought, every act, every desire to that Adored One – to know that He accepts it all, and loves us in return as God alone can love?” (F.P. Cobb) Jesus Christ is that Being absolutely lovely. He is worthy and accepting of our response to His love for us. “We love Him because He first loved us.”(I John 4:19)
In every way may this day be the best you’ve ever experienced!
Till next time, Don Johnson, KP Chaplain