“Let me count the ways.”
Our theme for this month’s reading is “L’Amour,” and I must admit I had a hard time with it. Love is probably the most discussed subject in any written language; how can it be distilled into three short selections? Focusing on romantic love over its platonic and familial cousins is still daunting. Does our audience want sweetness and courtship? Forbidden love? Steamy romance novel stuff, wherein throbbing codpieces plunge into lady softness?*
I found what I was looking for in a tiny poetry book the size of my hand. Sonnets from the Portuguese by Elizabeth Barret Browning is the best known collection of love poems aside from Shakespeare’s, so it could be considered a safe bet. That’s not the reason I chose it, though. I chose it because of my husband.
When we started dating, I was mousy as Adrian in the first Rocky movie, but with bigger hair. This was before burlesque and pin-up modeling, before I could start a conversation or make eye contact. My future husband decided to chat me up anyway. We ended up talking a lot about things that deserve italics, like cinema and literature. He mentioned that he was a distant relative of the poet Robert Browning, Elizabeth’s beloved and the subject of her sonnets. I tried not to let on how cool I thought that was. I was trying to impress him, not expose my secret life as a book nerd.
The conversations went on for several months until we finally went on a real grownup date, on my birthday. The book of sonnets, as you might have guessed, was his gift to me. He told me that he loved that I was well-read, how vapid women who only read nutrition labels and Cosmo bored him. That he liked me how I was, book nerd and all. I was pretty much sold after that.
Everyone has heard the first line of sonnet 43: “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Concerning my husband, I love him for hanging around while I read, naked or not. Ah, L’Amour!
*The purple prose comes from this, the funniest book review I’ve ever seen. I dare you not to giggle when “lady softness” comes up.