The Haphazardly Poetical – Poems of Love and Indifference: Infamous First Drafts

Photo by Trust “Tru” Katsande on Unsplash

The days have grown long
And the winter is finished
I love you in Spring
Now your rash has diminished.

So, it started when I attempted to write something romantic to put inside a Valentine’s card for my wife. These things seldom go to plan, do they? Anyway, it occurred to me that even the great poets must have suffered the same anguish when attempting to construct the early drafts of their own declarations of love. So, I did a little digging around and this is what I found. Consider, for instance, the difficulties faced by Robert Burns when he first attempted to express his devotion…

A Red, Red Nose
O my Luve is like a red, red nose
That’s newly sprung a leak.
O my Luve is like the melody
That only tone-deaf seek.

So fair thy skin, so red thy lips
So bloodshot is your eye
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
When the bar is all drunk dry.

And O my throat is parched, my dear.
Behold my empty glass.
Just go and fill it up with beer;
Be quick my bonnie lass.

Then fare thee weel, my only luve!
Our farewell stays unspoken,
For I will come again, my luve,
When the barman has awoken.

Elizabeth Barrett Browning attempted to get this sonnet right on so many occasions that, eventually, she began to number them…

How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love some things about you, but I might need to think.
I would write them all down, but I can’t spare the ink
And I cannot buy more until somebody pays.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Flossing of teeth and washing of socks.
I could love thee more if you bought me some chocs.
I love thee madly when I wake in a daze.
I love thee the most with the help of some booze
When my vision is blurred and I can’t see your vest.
Though I don’t love the way that thy dentures are loose
And, if I’m quite honest, your skin’s not the best.
I don’t love your pimples and pussy-nosed ooze.
In fact, if I’m honest, I think you’re a pest.

John Keats, also, did not find that his first drafts always went to plan…

You say you love; but with a voice
You say you love; but with a voice
Chaster than a nun in wimple
To God she promises herself
And not some oik with pimples –
Oh love me Julie!

You say you love; but with a sneer
That positively smoulders,
With nought but pure indifference,
For you have two cold shoulders –
Oh love me Julie!

You say you love; but then your lips
Are pursed, clenched tight like mother.
More than ever kissing mine,
You’d sooner kiss my brother –
Oh love me Julie!

You say you love; but then your hand
No pleading cheek doth grazeth
And, in the stead of soft embrace,
Two fingers it doth raiseth –
Oh love me Julie!

Oh sweet insanity of love,
Although your words can injure,
The pain they cause cannot compare –
Your punch is like a Ninja.
Oh, love me Julie!

Even Shakespeare didn’t always get it right first time…

Sonnet 18: Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer’s Day?
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And rattle the hinges of the gate.
Sometimes the clouds of steely grey
Are blown across the skies of blue
And it pisses down the length of day
And that’s when I most think of you.
You are, by nature, full of gloom,
That even sunshine cannot lift:
You fill me with a sense of doom
That even Dairy Milk can’t shift.
Dejected I know I shall be
As long as you are here with me.

But they all persevered and, of course, got it right eventually. I fear I may not do the same…

Roses are red
And delicately scented
I don’t know what I saw in you
Quite frankly, you’re demented.

One thing I learned during the course of writing this piece was that there are some poems you just cannot mess about with. I realised that ‘That I Did Always Love’ (Dickinson); ‘A Subaltern’s Love Song’ (Betjeman) and ‘Love’s Philosophy’ (Percy Bysshe Shelley) are all untouchable. That I did not even discover the latter poem until I was researching for this piece, probably tells you all you need to know about me…

With abject apologies to Robert Burns, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, John Keats and William Shakespeare

Oh, life is a glorious cycle of song,
A medley of extemporanea;
And love is a thing that can never go wrong;
And I am Marie of Roumania
Dorothy Parker