The Lost Art of Love Letters
I haven’t been able to sleep the past few nights and tonight, I find myself dreaming without the aid of closed eyes.
I am thinking of love letters tonight. Not just the “Hey there, you’re swell, luv ya bunches” emails or texts or something equally quick and thoughtless. But a real, honest to goodness, handwritten love letter. It’s a lost art that, in a world where there is still love, should never be lost. It has just been maimed, squeezed into moments where we have time to scratch a few lines in a greeting card we picked up near the grocery checkout or a Post-it that you stick on a computer screen. But I think it’s high time that real love letters had a comeback (and after the hordes of women who sighed over that scene in the “Sex and the City” movie, I think they just might…at least a little).
While I openly admit that things like Jane Austen have perhaps marred my expectations of 21st century men, I am still dreamy-eyed enough to be looking for a man who will write me love letters. My mom tells me about these letters that my dad wrote her when they were engaged (he denies they are as sappy as she claims) and how sweet they were, brimming with dreams of their marriage and life together. (Sorry Dad if you read this and blush.) I don’t care if we live in a world of emails and Facebook, darn it, I still want a man who will take the time to do something entirely sentimental and time-consuming like write me love letters. Gentlemen of the world, take note. Give me a bouquet of beautiful words from the heart rather than roses any day.
Here are some of my favorites (some old, some new):
“I already love in you your beauty, but I am only beginning to love in you that which is eternal and ever precious – your heart, your soul. Beauty one could get to know and fall in love with in one hour and cease to love it as speedily; but the soul one must learn to know. Believe me, nothing on earth is given without labour, even love, the most beautiful and natural of feelings.”
-Leo Tolstoy to Valeria Arsenev, his fiance, 1856
“You fear, sometimes, I do not love you so much as you wish? My dear Girl I love you ever and ever and without reserve. The more I have known you the more have I lov’d. In every way – even my jealousies have been agonies of Love, in the hottest fit I ever had I would have died for you. I have vex’d you too much. But for Love! Can I help it? You are always new. The last of your kisses was ever the sweetest; the last smile the brightest; the last movement the gracefullest. When you pass’d my window home yesterday, I was fill’d with as much admiration as if I had then seen you for the first time.”
-John Keats, to Fanny Brawne, 1820
“I will give you this, my love, and I will not bargain or barter any longer. I will love you, as sure as He has loved me. I will discover what I can discover and though you remain a mystery, save God’s own knowledge, what I disclose of you I will keep in the warmest chamber of my heart, the very chamber where God has stowed Himself in me. And I will do this to my death, and to death it may bring me. I will love you like God, because of God, mighted by the power of God. I will stop expecting your love, demanding you love, trading for your love, gaming for your love. I will simply love. I am giving myself to you, and tomorrow I will do it again. I suppose the clock itself will wear thin its time before I am ended at this altar of dying and dying again. God risked Himself on me. I will risk myself on you. And together, we will learn to love, and perhaps then, and only then, understand this gravity that drew Him, unto us.”
-Donald Miller, excerpt from a play described in Blue Like Jazz
Abigail Adams used to begin all her letters to her husband John the same way: “My dearest Friend.” I love that. What is love, real love, if it is not first the dearest and best friendship? It’s a beautiful thought — being able to pour your heart and soul into a single letter to someone who is both your lover and closest friend. Just imagining that in itself is enough of a reason to understand why people write love letters in the first place. I have only been in love once in my life and I wrote him a poem about it. I wasn’t planning on giving it to him at all, but for some reason, I decided to. I was so embarrassed while he was reading it that I stuffed my face in a pillow and wouldn’t look up until he tugged the pillow out of my grip and forced me to look at him. He didn’t say a word but just held me for a long time. I suppose in a way, that in itself was a love letter — he knew that even had he tried, at that moment, the words for what he wanted to say hadn’t been written yet.
I don’t suppose love letters will ever go entirely out of fashion, because I don’t believe we will ever reach a point where we run out of things to say about love or to those we love. Humanity will spend its entire existence looking for words to translate something that is by its virtue unknowable into something we can take between our hands and say, “Look. This feeling, this song on the tip of my tongue, this swelling in my heart that threatens to overwhelm all that I am, here it is to see and hear and touch.” We will never stop trying to use our senses to convey into words the language that is tapped out only in heartbeats.
Love letters will always be there because inherently, as creatures whose divine source is Love, we cannot separate our longing for connection and love from the desire to pull other people into it and make them understand what it is, what it feels like. We search for language to write a map to this crevice deep in ourselves that is only known by this Love and that we spend our lives trying to translate. It is something much too holy and sacred and precious for words to know, for it is a language that was spoken on that first day and will not be heard again until the last. On that day, I believe that for the first time, I will hear and understand and say, “Yes. For all these years, in all the lifetimes on earth, that is what we were trying to say.”