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Robert Louis Stevenson

(1850-1894 / Edinburgh / Scotland)

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Love, What Is Love

LOVE - what is love? A great and aching heart;
Wrung hands; and silence; and a long despair.
Life - what is life? Upon a moorland bare
To see love coming and see love depart.

Submitted: Tuesday, December 31, 2002

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Read poems about / on: despair, silence, love, life, heart

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  • Freshman - 1,053 Points Elena Sandu (4/15/2014 7:51:00 PM)

    Beautiful poem, good point of view, food for thought and wonders, I think love could be so much more than silence and despair. Suppose love never goes away from one's heart, then, what is life? Can love bring a lot of pain yes, but maybe through such pain we get to learn of the true beauty, true meaning of life, the freedom given by true love? (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 393 Points Michelle Claus (4/15/2014 10:17:00 AM)

    When I read this poem, I feel despondent. Love, in this telling, is elusive for the poet. Bummer. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 304 Points Hardik Vaidya (4/15/2013 5:02:00 AM)

    Robert Louis Stevenson died when he was 44. I find this poem to be a brilliant composition. I find this poem to be dwelling on one specific aspect of realisation of love. It may not be the road for all. Few can walk this road, and no one chooses this fork in the T of their lives. But the fortunate few who are blessed to walk it see a dimension of love which is quite unique. Robert Louis Stevensen after reading this poem of his, leaves my mind with no doubt was one such fortunate individual. Look at the choice of words. Great heart. The word great is a sublime word, and is used with exquisite sensitivity. So is the word Ache. To the English speaking world especially whose mother tounges happen to be English, this should strike first shot, he did not use the word pain. Its Ache. Its Hindi equivalent would be Tees. The hands are wrung, the word wrung has a visual stringing appeal to it. Love comes and love departs. He hasn't used the word goes. Depart is a deep word. Souls depart. People come, people leave, greatness comes and greatness departs. You stand immersed, yet helpless, as a passenger on a platform, seeing whom you distance into infinity, not necessarily death. Love remains, but the whole experience of understanding its roots and its fabric, brings forth the title of the poem, What is Love. Quad Erat Demonstratum. (Report) Reply

  • Veteran Poet - 2,931 Points Veeraiyah Subbulakshmi (4/15/2012 11:52:00 PM)

    Is it love or an affair? Robert, You had written a short poem to show the love derived through an affair is always short. (Report) Reply

  • Veteran Poet - 2,931 Points Veeraiyah Subbulakshmi (4/15/2012 11:38:00 PM)

    Is it love or an affair! ! Robert of Edinburgh, You lived in a castle city and your city was mesmeric to me, when I stood in front of the kilometer long artistic caste! Whether I like your wrong definition of love or not, I like and hate Edinburgh for some personal reason..May your soul find the true love, as we, Indians have found in every other relationships, not only conjugally.. (Report) Reply

  • Freshman - 2,214 Points Pranab K Chakraborty (4/15/2012 10:22:00 AM)

    Love is a very complicated word to define its real meaning, physical and metaphysical. Rather passion is very clear to expose. But LOVE...very much hard to break its riddling code. If we try to illustrate its meaning by a different way, we will see, love demands the offering, it can't bear the exchange. If you are ready to unconditionally offer yourself, you will get the meaning but if you expect something you will be in dark, will defeat as poet says shamelessly a long despair which is supported by the last line. In one sense, poet is correct because man can not give anything without expecting the exchange, if not loudly, at least in subconscious. And here despair spreads its web to make one dull.....So honest the confession poet tried to keep in words. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 516 Points Paul Brookes (4/15/2012 2:33:00 AM)

    I agree with Mr Pruchnicki. I don't think this was how he RLS felt at that moment. However he does express the eternal truth that love is not always easy, it can be bleak and painful. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Terence George Craddock (4/15/2010 10:03:00 AM)

    Robert Louis Stevenson asks ‘LOVE - what is love? ’ and the immediacy of his definite answer ‘A great and aching heart; /Wrung hands; and silence; and a long despair’ tells us that in this poem, he is concerned only with despair, an unrequited, despondent or lost love. This image is reinforced with ‘Upon a moorland bare’, definitely a broken landscape of love.
    Personal experience must be part of the poem or story, if the poet or writer is writing about subject matter of which they know, yet personal heartbreak is not necessary at the moment of writing, although knowledge of heartbreak would be necessary to create realism in writing referencing this emotion. Stevenson’s words indicate such knowledge and if writing Bio or Confessional Poetry artistic experience is central.
    Not all poems by RLS or Shakespeare can be described as a clever trick of arbitrary whim, written by magicians of illusion; many can be traced to proven historical events which occured in their lives. And good criticism will progress from an introductory How into what a poem means, based upon insightful and plausible readings, with appropriate quotes to sustain the argument chosen. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Gone Away (4/15/2010 8:07:00 AM)

    I like the fact that 4 short lines of poetry can provoke such dissent! Even love that lasts a lifetime departs eventually with life itself. Love as it described here is painful and hurts and yet once it is gone, it leaves a lonely figure on a barren landscape. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie - 294 Points Ramesh T A (4/15/2010 2:36:00 AM)

    In the port of life ships of love will come and go with full of woes according to R L Stevenson! His experience has made him depict such a picture of love quite thought provoking! (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Anthony Foster (4/15/2009 4:50:00 PM)

    I must be doing somthing wrong as my poetry is my expirience and I can just imagine RLS putting a rebuff or personal heartbreak into verse. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Michael Pruchnicki (4/15/2009 4:10:00 PM)

    Who really thinks that the poem embodies 'how RLS felt at that moment'? And whatever theory means to JOE POEWHIT is beyond me - 'just one more theory'!

    A poem, whether by RLS or Shakespeare is an artifice, a thing of words put together after some thought and study in certain arbitrary patterns. Whatever happened to that warning that stressed the separation between fiction and real life, that what seems real is not real but a fictitious creation by an artist. There may be some correspondence with a poet's biography, but the poet is more concerned with creating an illusion through the use of words and sounds printed on a page. HOW a poem means is more relevant to understanding poetry than all the emotional twaddle about despair or the nature of love since the Garden of Eden. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Kevin Straw (4/15/2009 7:06:00 AM)

    There are moments in life of despair when one says things like this. This is how RLS felt at that moment. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Joseph Poewhit (4/15/2009 5:25:00 AM)

    Since Adam & Eve man has tried to understand or explain love. Place this with the million and plus more theories. [ just dig those ways ] one more theory (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Wendy Zhou (4/15/2009 2:15:00 AM)

    Unusual rhyming pattern.
    Seems a little bleak, doesn't it? It's brief and straightforward, though, and I like that. It's too easy to go 'TL; DR' (Too Long; Didn't Read) to poetry that's more than a page long. (Report) Reply

  • Rookie Melvina Germain (12/3/2008 1:20:00 PM)

    Ahhh such a question, (What Is Love) this poem is fantastic, profound and all that but I still don't see in it the explanation of what love is. An aching heart, wrung hands and silence, excuse me but that sounds more like (depression) if it's love, I know I don't want any part of it. I think this can be a reaction to a love lost, not actual love itself, therefore the question in the landscape of my mind still remains (What Is Love) . Marina Moore, states Love is life, how so, life is life, how then can love be life, I don't see it, we can love life but what is it we're actually doing to define how we feel truly about life, (what is this thing called love) . I ask this question again (What Is Love) . (Report) Reply

Read all 27 comments »

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