October 19, 2006 |I have been reading the blogs and comments on marriage with interest, especially the recent pieces by Erin and Alexandra. What especially intrigues me is the concept that love is not the love we might think it is. Love does involve a feeling, but emotion seems to play a small and sometimes an even insignificent role.

Again and again we hear about the unromantic aslpects of love: steady obligation and commitment.

Although I think that sometimes divorce is necessary and believe in systems that allow for it, I am moved by the writing here on the passionate committment to keep a marriage whole, vital, and enduring.

Recently, in a poetry class I am teaching, we read and memorized several Shakespeare sonnets and took a close look at the sonnet that begins, "Let me not to the marriage of true minds / admit impediments." (See the whole poem below). Most scholars agree that the poem was written to a young male friend of the author's who was preparing for marriage. (Some say that this young man was a close friend and others argue that he was probably more of a romantic partner. We don't know for sure as very little is known about Shakespeare's life.) In any case, in this particular sonnet, the poet is urging his friend to get married, and he goes on to define love with the words, "love is not love" and breaks the line there, after the second "love." The breaking of the line in this place forces the reader to dwell on that phrase before moving on to the next line.

In class, we were struck by how difficult it is for poets to write about love, and here, Shakespeare is blasting our misconceptions about the ineffable experience. He suggests that the notions we have about love are incorrect. He goes on to write:

Love is not love
Which alters when in alteration finds
Or bends with the remover to remove.
Oh no, it is an ever fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is not shaken.

Shakespeare presents a case for love that emphasizes action as opposed to feeling.

Last year I heard a rabbi tell a story about himself and his father. The rabbi's father was flying into New York from Israel the next day, and his son, the rabbi telling the story, suddenly realized that he woudn't be able to pick his father up at the airport because he had important meetings to attend that day. He called his father to tell him that he wouldn't be able to pick him up, that he loved him, and that he hoped he could find someone else to drive him or possibly call a taxi. He told his father how sorry he was and how much he loved him but that he just couldn't do it.

His father said, "Son, I really do need you to pick me up at the airport."

His son replied, "Father, I love you so deeply but I just can't do it. I have very important meetings tomorrow."

And his father said, "Stop loving me so much and just pick me up at the airport."

The rabbi's father was teaching his son a lesson about love, which contains the same message as Shakespeare's poem. Love is not love!

Ironically, telling his father he loved him was getting in the way of acting like a loving son. The feeling of love really carried very little weight. It was the action that has depth, resonance, and meaning. And so, of course, he cancelled his meetings and picked his father up at the airport.

In Sense and Sensibility, Marianne and Willoughby recite the "love is not love" Shakespeare sonnet to each other at the beginning of their dramatic courtship imagining that they understand and are experiencing true love themselves. In actual fact, they are both blind. Willoughby turns out to be a cad, and even though he does have feelings of love for Marianne, he does "alter when in alteration finds" and does "bend with the remover to remove." And Marianne lacks the insight to see that their connection is based only on mere feeling, which does not amount to much.

Here is Shakespeare's poem below. Enjoy.

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments; love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no, it is an ever-fixèd mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand'ring bark,
Whose worth's unknown, although his heighth be taken.
Love's not Time's fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle's compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.

Eve Grubin is a poet and teacher living in New York City. She is also the author of Morning Prayer.

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