It’s time we had the talk. The love poem talk.
As a teacher, I love to encourage my kids to write, but Lord help me when they bring me their love poetry to look at .
When I make them write poetry, I tell them that they can write about anything they want, as long as it isn’t romantic love. “If you can out-sonnet Shakespeare, then go for it; if not? Pick a different subject.” Then I tell them that if they give me a teenage love poem to read, I will make confetti out of it.
If the poem has the phrase “there for me” in it, I’ll add glitter and use it at their next parent conference.
So, this being National Poetry Month, we’re going to get the obvious out of the way. If you love poetry, there are love poems you love. This is not complicated, unlike love itself, whose complication is infinite and ever-changing.
Here are my favorites, and why I love them so much. Can I use the word ‘love’ again? I’d love to, thanks.
(1) Shakespeare’s sonnet 114. Otherwise known as “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments.” One of Will’s best known, it basically says that love isn’t going to break if things get in its way. It’s not going to change for the worse when bad things happen. If it’s real love, it’ll get stronger, and the fact that you’re reading the poem is proof of it. The fact that we study it is proof that The Bard was right. When it comes to love poems, he wrote more than a hundred of them, and they are all worth reading, especially if you are both in love and a poetry geek.
(2) The Seafarer–This poem may seem like an odd choice for a list of love poems, but the Anglo-Saxon Bard who wrote it was no stranger to the heart ache love can cause, especially if the thing you love does not love you back. The speaker’s one true love is the ocean, which we all know is capricious and unrelenting. Not great traits for a lover to have, but we don’t pick who or what we love, do we?
(3)I Love You, by Roy Croft This poem has some dubious origins if Wikipedia is to be believed, but regardless of who wrote it, it maps out why we love the people we do. It’s not just about them, it’s about who we become when we’re with them. Remember Jack Nicholson’s “You make me want to be a better man?” speech? That’s essentially what this poem is. It’s simple, free verse, and doesn’t require much reading between the lines to understand. I think we had it read at our wedding, because it’s just that awesome of a poem (and my memory is just that out of whack!)
(4) Annabel Lee, by Edgar Allan Poe My favorite poem of all time, by one of my favorite writers. It’s a sad fairy tale love story about love that goes on beyond the “sepulchre there by the sea” into eternity. When I was in 6th grade or so, I figured out that “Annabel Lee” rhymed with Tracy Marie, and that made my little heart explode. Even now, when I recite it, I have to sub my name for Annabel Lee’s name at least once. And it still gives me a goose bump or two. Like much of Poe’s love poetry it mourns the loss of his love, but does so in a beautiful lyrical style with sound effects and rhythm as only Poe can do.
(5) 1st Corinthians 13:4-8. These are the “Love is patient” verses, and might be the most recited passage in the history of modern weddings. It is a Biblical definition of what love is and isn’t, and no matter where you are in your spiritual life, you have to admit that the definition is pretty spot on. Now, there are about a gazillion different translations for the Bible, and while some are better than others, your choice as to a favorite is exactly that. The link I added here allows you to choose among MANY translations.
(6) Sonnet 43, Edna St.Vincent Millay Many might argue against this choice for a great love poem, but hear me out. Each of us has a lost love story. A broken heart is good for someone because of all the lessons that come with it, but most sad love poetry is all “please come back, baby.” Millay is wise enough to know that such wishes only create more problems, and that broken hearts and loves that didn’t work out should stay in the past, sighing and tapping on the window pain.
(7) To Althea, From Prison” by Richard Lovelace. Love doesn’t hold us back, according to Richard Lovelace, it gives us the freedom of flying angels. Perhaps best known for its “Stone walls do not a prison make” line, most people have at least heard of this poem. He admits to loving the physical relationship with his beloved Althea, and offers the idea that true love is the most precious kind of freedom. Plus, he uses the verb tipple. How can you not love that?
Worksheets for some of these poems are in progress, and will be posted in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store when they’re done!
What’s your favorite poem? Comment with a link below!
They were very different girls, Altonise and Alexis.
Both were fun-loving, full of life, and feisty. Beyond that, their similarities were the color of their brown skin and the first letter of their names.
I taught them both, loved them both, and both were murdered.
One was a senior, one was a junior. Different high schools. Different challenges in life. Different goals. Different styles. Different attitudes.
Both were found dead in their homes, both of their last moments filled with violence and terror.
Unfulfilled promise that will never have a chance to bloom.
As a teacher, there are no things worse than the funeral of a student, except maybe the day when you and your students find out about that death.
I couldn’t go to Alexis’ funeral because my husband works weekends and I couldn’t find a sitter.
Altonise’s fell on Monday after a rainy Easter weekend. The day burst with bright blue sky and a few dancing white clouds. My heart wasn’t prepared for the beauty of the day nestled in with the tragedy of the funeral.
But even the funeral wasn’t gloomy.
There were songs of hope and the promise of salvation, and guarantees that, if we follow the right path, we’ll be able to see our loved ones again. The mourners sang and clapped along, and silences were punctuated with the keening of her friends and family.
There were speeches of forgiveness and admonitions against violence and revenge.
And there was pink. Deep rich pink, like impatiens in the summer. It was in the corsages members of her family wore, in the flowers around her casket, and in the headbands and hairstyles of her friends.
As a mom, there are no words I can offer for comfort. And as a teacher, there aren’t either. Death is of life, and we must face it, but when it is a shocking death, a loss of the promises of youth, how do you find comfort or offer it?
And so, for Alexis and Altonise, two spirited young women whose tenacity and spunk lit up the world around them, I can only offer words. One of my favorite poets is John Donne, whose poetry is by turns passionate and full of faith, lost and full of love. In one of his holy sonnets he says, “But let them sleep, Lord, and me mourn a space.”
I will mourn the space that held these two girls, and hope that as the world turns on, those who loved them will live a little more, do a little more good, and experience a little more of life in their honor.
On the anniversary of my falling apart, I’m not going to preach. I’m not going to lecture. I’m not going to beg for sympathy or accolades or anything, other than your attention, and maybe, hopefully, your understanding.
This is about the anniversary of my falling apart.
Last year, tonight, I thought I was having a heart attack. I wasn’t, and even today, a year later, I’m almost convinced that it would have been easier had it been a heart attack. At least heart attacks are very physical things. They can be fixed with surgery, and actual tangible things can be done to repair a heart when it’s physically broken.
But when it’s not your body that’s broken, it’s a much more difficult thing.
In my case, the little man inside my head that managed all of my emotions walked off the job. I say that jokingly, but what I really need to say is that every ability I thought I’d ever had at managing everything in my brain was gone. Poof!
Suddenly, it was just me and everything I had bottled up since 1970-something.
To say that that was difficult would be the worst sort of reverse hyperbole. I do exaggerate and embrace the hyperbole in life because it’s so much fun, but when I’m talking about the week that led to my anxiety diagnosis, I am not exaggerating or hyperbolizing or making things up.
Anxiety is a very real thing. It is such a very real thing that even a year later, I am still fighting for control.
When that little emotional manager left his post and walked away, I was left with nothing to control everything up there. That’s not to say that I didn’t try to cope or deal with everything as it was happening over the course of my life, because I really was trying.
But I wasn’t doing it in a any sort of healthy way. I canned things up and stored them in the little twists and turns of my gray matter. Then, I’d have a meltdown, or I’d pick the callouses off my feet and cut my toenails too far down. TMI and gross, yes. But it’s true. I ate all the wrong things and binged at all the wrong times. I went through a well-hidden drinking phase. I hit abysmal depression amidst genuinely happy stretches. And it all felt normal to me.
Looking back, the little guy in my head probably needed to walk off the job, because in retrospect, he pretty much sucked at it. I just wish I’d had some notice; you know, the standard two weeks. I’d’ve really appreciated that.
So last year, thanks to the sudden absence of my Angst Manager, I was forced to face myself. And I was not prepared to do that.
Mental illness, like any other illness, manifests differently in all its targets. (It helps me to personify Anxiety. If it’s a person, I can stand up to it and strategize and eventually win.)
Anxiety takes away my ability to be me. It takes away your ability to walk into your job, and do your job, the same job that you have done thousands and thousands of times. It takes away your joy in your job, and your confidence that you’re pretty good at what you do.
It takes away your ability to drive home, to walk into a store, to watch a TV show with your kids. Because you never know when it will strike.
When it strikes, I can’t breathe. My heart races, palpitates, and I feel like I’ve been running, which if you know me at all, you know is not something I do unless there are actual zombies after my brain. That’s why the first time it hit me, I thought it was a heart attack.
My hands shake, and that feeling of not being able to hold something securely in them is body-wide—nothing is safe, nothing is secure, and everything is wrong. There is an almost uncontrollable need to release primal terror that’s building up, and curl up in a corner and hide. It makes me want to escape whatever I am doing right that minute, and GO. Doesn’t matter where, just go. All of this even though I’m doing something I’ve done hundreds, if not thousands of times.
There is an absolute certainty that everything is going to fall apart. Right. This. Minute. And at first, Anxiety shows up completely unannounced. No one likes unannounced guests. Especially not like this.
When those moments hit, I have to physically stop everything I’m doing, and focus on breathing. It sounds like a horrible cliché, but it’s probably a cliché because it’s true. If I don’t concentrate on breathing, my heart rate escalates into scary three digit numbers, and everything else kicks in.
Sometimes I have to take my shoes off and with my toes, massage the ground below me.
Sometimes I have to turn on music and ignore the world around me, sometimes I need absolute silence, the kind that allows you to hear that fly buzz. Sometimes I have to color. All while breathing in, holding it for a count of four, and blowing it out to a count of seven.
But in all of those times what I really want to do is disappear to a dark corner and sob hysterically for hours. That’s what anxiety feels like for me. It feels like there’s nothing in my life that I can control because I never know when I’m going to fall apart again. To be clear: Normally, I don’t ever want to hide in a corner and sob for hours, but when Anxiety attacks, that’s what my brain feels like it’s screaming for.
Sometimes—even a year later—it feels like I’ve forgotten to breathe normally. It took some time to figure out that I’m not actually forgetting to breathe: I’m holding my breath. That held breath becomes the cliff the rest of me tumbles off of into anxiety’s chasm of racing heart palpitations, sweatiness, rapid breathing, loss of focus, and the urge to hide in a corner under a blanket. There’s always something that triggered that held breath, and a year later, I’m working on identifying and controlling those things. Sometimes I can manage it. Sometimes it wins. But I’m starting to win more than I lose.
And on the anniversary of my falling apart, I can tell you that I’m still breathing, still alive.
I can tell you that I have learned who in my life I can trust with absolute certainty, and who I can’t. I think a part of me always knew, but didn’t want to face the fact that a good many of the people I really wanted don’t feel the same way about me.
Modern pharmacology is a beautiful thing. But I can also tell you that all of those wonderful pills and drugs aren’t a permanent fix, and they aren’t enough to live on when anxiety attacks. Medication has its place in treatment, but education, therapy, and practice will always trump it; medication will numb the attack, but education can head it off and stop it in its tracks.
And prayer. Faith. Priceless parts of my fight, they have helped sustain me on the many sleepless nights. Wait, I didn’t mention the loving gift of insomnia that anxiety often gives? (If you didn’t read that line with oozing sarcasm, you read it wrong.) God didn’t give me a spirit of fear, and I miss the joy I once had.
Therapy. Oh, how I love my therapist. I’ve told her a few times that I’d love to be friends with her, but have realized that the client/therapist relationship is better; she’s required by oath and professionalism to push me really hard to learn, to practice, and to embrace me. Friends will encourage you, love you, and stand by you, but often, they don’t push for fear of hurting your feelings. I’ve had to hurt a lot of my own feelings to get this far. And my success in this is largely thanks to the guidance I get from her.
On the anniversary of my falling apart, I can tell you that a good savasana is one of the absolute best ways to end a Sunday night. Savasana is the last thing done in a restorative yoga class. You’re lying on your back, a small pillow on your eyes, arms outstretched, a blanket over your stomach, legs propped up as high as you want them.
And you’re breathing. Deeply in. Slowly out. Controlled.
There’s soft music, usually stuff you wouldn’t listen to under other circumstances, but it’s relaxing and soothing, and pretty much my new favorite thing ever. There are no distractions, and all you have to do is stretch and breathe. If I could do this every time the big A shows up, it’d be a totally different fight. But people frown on you lying down and getting comfy in public, so I relish those times when I can go to yoga. Set all your blockades aside and go to a restorative class; I promise you won’t be disappointed.
On the anniversary of my falling apart, I can tell you that anxiety requires its victims to stop everything and focus on it, and how I focus on it will determine my success or failure in that moment. I’m a high school teacher, and sometimes, I’ll be in the middle of class, and I’ll have to do one or more of the things I mentioned earlier to hang on. I have had to stop what I was doing, put my head down, and just count my breaths. I’ve taught barefooted at my board, and from my desk while coloring, all the while desperate for them not to notice how on edge I am.
I’ve done yoga in my classroom during lunch so I could get through the hour and a half until my planning period when I could let myself fall apart a little, and not do it with a room full of teenagers. I’ve even had students join me in my lunchtime practice.
Yeah, they think I’m a little weird, but that’s part of the fun of teaching. I can be a little odd and it’s charming or quirky. Were I in any other profession, I’m pretty sure it’d be different.
At home, my husband has been wonderful about tagging me out so I can get it together. My kids have noticed me “breathing funny” but hopefully, they’ll grow to see that as a good thing: Mommy handling herself so everyone else can handle themselves too.
And as I type this, I noticed that I was holding my breath, and starting to shake a little. I’m nervous about this piece, and being nervous about something is a trigger. But I’m still typing.
Because on the one year anniversary of my falling apart, I am sharing. I am letting the world in, and giving it a tour because so many people deal with anxiety silently, and I never thought that person would be me. If you know me, you know I’d talk the ears off a donkey given half a chance, and maybe my sharing will help someone who isn’t so chatty.
Many other people don’t think anxiety is a real thing, and I can tell you unequivocally that they are wrong. It is real, and can be debilitating. In my case it’s trying to be, but I am not letting it. I am slowly winning this fight, because it’s a fight for my life, and I won’t live it on someone else’s terms.
So, on the anniversary of my falling apart, I hereby declare that I am now falling together, pulling the good pieces back in, and discarding the things that don’t fit, don’t feel good, and don’t encourage the positive.
I am looking for and embracing the lights in my life—those lights are who I am and why I’m here, and anxiety will not get to steal them away from me.