Magazine article The Spectator

Aspects of Love

Magazine article The Spectator

Aspects of Love

Article excerpt

THE HONEY GATHERERS: A BOOK OF LOVE POEMS edited by Maura Dooley Bloodaxe, L9.95, pp. 320, ISBN 1852243597

Bloodaxe, Britain's leading independent publisher of poetry, is usually responsible for slim, elegant volumes of indulgent whimsy that stand ignored in shadowy nooks of specialist shops. A wilful aversion to commerce characterises their approach. The end page of this anthology, for example, solicits our interest in The Book of Orgasms. Imagine asking for that in DilIons. And yet, in defiance of their cherished principles, they have produced an attractive, gem-packed and pleasantly weighty compendium of love poems that should serve as a standard collection for years to come. It's a bargain too - 300 poems for a tenner.

The editor, Maura Dooley, has sifted five centuries of verse with disinterested acuity. One can only guess how deeply modern poets envy their Elizabethan predecessors who had a supple, immature English to play with, the syntax fluid, the usages variable, the nouns and verbs swapping functions with equal ease. Edmund Spenser uses these vibrant tools to shape a pedestrian thought into a pentameter of exquisite trimness. `My verse your virtues rare shall eternise.' You couldn't say that nowadays. Everyone would cringe.

Bravura counterpoint came readily to Shakespeare and he found the young language able to express a subtle thought with amazing concision. `Love is not love/ Which alters when it alteration finds.' Three centuries later, Christina Rossetti tries a similar effect and it comes out like this:

When you can no more hold me by the hand, Nor I half turn to go nor turning stay.

Like lumpy custard.

Love poetry is rarely about love triumphant. Bitterness, betrayal, regret, valediction, bulldozered dreams, the missus shacking up with the feng shui consultant - these are the themes that keep the bard busy. While a broken heart brings out the worst in part-time versifiers, it spurs the professionals to their best efforts. I find much of Andrew Motion's work and and calculated, but I was delighted by `On the Table', a lucid, able and pertinent poem about a dress that he gave to a fickle lover.

Favouritism nowhere taints Maura Dooley's selections. …

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