Of all the many topics covered by the classic poets, love is a favorite of mine. The rhythmic cadences and the complexity of the emotion make for a fascinating combination; and the intimacy of the words draws up the depth of our human connection. I think to get lost in these poems in solitude is sometimes the best way to experience them; that chance to be an unseen entity looking in at the very heart of the writer. Whether it's darkly melancholy or alight with ardent joy, whether a love-letter poem or one that tells a story, they all have a way of transporting the reader into the essence of love, and the exquisiteness of the emotion is heightened by the use of language that only few have been capable of wielding for the topic. Byron, Keats, Shelley. Even Poe was a masterfully romantic poet when he turned his eye to the subject of love. In part because I don't consider myself a classic student of these works (and maybe just because they’re so beautifully complimented by the artistry of voice), I love hearing classic poems recited. So I was thrilled to read that Audible had tapped none other than Richard Armitage to narrate a book of classic love poems (which is free for a limited time, in celebration of Valentine's Day). It's a beautiful selection featuring some of my old favorites – Poe’s Annabel Lee, Keats’s Bright Star, Cummings’s I Carry Your Heart – and it's introduced me to a few new favorites as well. There's a long, lingering piece by Tennyson (Maud) and a lovely short poem by George Eliot (To Be One with Each Other). There's also a touch of Shakespeare (Sonnet 116) and a passage from the Bible (1 Corinthians 13: 4-8, with its iconic introductory lines, "Love is patient, love is kind..."). There's the classic Elizabeth Barrett Browning poem How Do I Love Thee, often misattributed to Shakespeare, and Robert Browning is here as well (Meeting at Night). Byron's She Walks in Beauty is featured, and Edna St. Vincent Millay's The Dream, among others. All such beautiful, powerful poems, but put them in the hands of Armitage – who played one of my favorite romantic heroes in the history of literary adaptations (John Thornton of North and South) – and you have a wonderfully immersive sojourn into the heart of these great works.
What makes these poems so timeless I couldn't begin to expound on, but part of their importance and appeal to me is the way they transcend the basic foundation of love – attraction, romantic feeling – and encapsulate the underbelly of love, as it were: the darkness, the tragedy, the desperation, the joy of wanting and the pain of it alike. No one exposed their art to the sheer vulnerability of love quite like these poets. It's as though they had a special method of unlocking their deepest selves and letting the full scope of human emotion ravage through them, onto the paper. And by doing so, they provided priceless inspiration – instruction, even, we could say – to artists, dreamers, and romantics for lifetimes to come.
Classic Love Poems includes a total of 15 poems, and right now Audible is offering the collection for free (through 3/9) in celebration of Valentine's Day. Enjoy!
Get the book: Audible