Heartlines, part 1

I thought once how Theocritus had sung
Of the sweet years, the dear and wished-for years,
Who each one in a gracious hand appears
To bear a gift for mortals, old or young
And, as I mused it in his antique tongue,
I saw, in gradual vision through my tears,
The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years,
Those of my own life, who by turns had flung
A shadow across me. Straightway I was ’ware,
So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move
Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair;
And a voice said in mastery, while I strove,—
“Guess now who holds thee!”—“Death,” I said, But, there,
The silver answer rang, “Not Death, but Love.”

I actually remember reading Sonnets from the Portuguese in high school (and I was the teenage girl who actually loved it, not because it was a little book of lovey-dovey poems, but because it was a book of sonnets and I thought, how badass to sit around and write sonnets? FUCKING SONNETS? So your Byronic heroine did just that for a great long while after I graduated1).

If you’re not an English lit nerd, I’m referring to a collection of love poems written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning to the man that would eventually become her husband, Robert Browning. Reading the Sonnets, deeply and critically, truly informed my early notions of romantic love. There’s something quaint and lovely about the idea of composing love poetry during courtship, isn’t there? And here we settle for Facebook chats and kissing emoticons.

Love is in the air this week, at least, buzzing through the zeitgeist. It is Valentine’s Day on Friday. I had a discussion on facebook yesterday about this presumably “made up” holiday2. My daughter’s preschool class is having a party this week and she is required to either 1. Bring in NO Valentines or 2. Bring in a Valentine for EVERY KID. Which makes a lot of sense to me as a parent. Unfortunately, there is a little boy in her class who once threw wood chips at her on the playground, and the level of contempt she’s developed for this child has reached the limits of her generosity when it comes to scribbling her name across a red paper heart. She REFUSES to make this boy a card. Similarly, there is another boy in her class that constantly antagonizes her and she’s convinced she’s going to marry that one.

I find myself in the awkward position of forcing my child to sign a card that conveys a sentiment that she feels is untrue. You have to love this guy even though he’s a jerk! and then on the other hand, hoping that she won’t love the other guy, because frankly, he’s a jerk. Watered down, of course, to whatever kind of attachment a four-year-old can have to another.

Which reminds me that relationships are always tricky (as if I needed reminding). Matters of the heart are always complicated. And Love, as Ms. Browning so eloquently put it3, sometimes feels a lot like Death. But then, not being in love, being denied reciprocal love, being alone, or waiting on your lover can also feel super shitty. So there is an entire spectrum of human emotion that is born out of this chemical/reproductive/survivalist instinct that we have and a lot of it feels really awful4. Awesome. Let’s celebrate that with chocolates and flowers and diamonds.

Whether what holds you feels like a cherub or a reaper, I hope you’ll be easy on yourself this week. For myself, I try to follow the advice of a more modern wordsmith (and her Machine).

[quote]Just keep following
The heartlines on your hand
Cause I am.[/quote]

Come back tomorrow for Part II. We’ll actually look at some heartlines.


  1. Oh who am I kidding? I still get all tingly at the mention of iambic pentameter.
  2. It is made up, yes. But it has a long, rich, made-up tradition and who are we to fly in the face of tradition?
  3. In iambic pentameter!
  4. Caveat – a lot of it can feel really wonderful too. I mean, I assume.

Author: Melissa

Melissa Jozefina is a poet, stargazer, and fortune teller.