I wish I was putting pen to paper, but instead, here I am engrossed in the clickity-clack of my keyboard. Maybe, I would have been better off if I started this article 20 years in the past where expression of love didn’t limit itself to a WhatsApp message or worse, a DM. It’s the nature of civilization to evolve as time moves forward, but in retrospect, some things are better left untouched, like the art of writing letters.
What a delight would it have been to be born in the time when paper had that old-wood smell like it had captured time when the scent of dried-ink was not a result of science but rather alchemy, when secrets were held in envelopes and when words were an embodiment of intimate thoughts that wouldn’t have found a better way, if not written on that wood scented paper. If you are wondering why I am romanticizing love, maybe it has to do with Valentine’s Day coming around the corner and the serious absence of an affectionate proclamation of love. And to cope with the same, I found solace in historic letters. I did not want to be selfish and revel in this old-world charm all by myself, so here are some excerpts from iconic people that have excelled in the art of writing love letters.
Zelda Fitzgerald to F. Scott Fitzgerald
Emblems of the Jazz Age, a term fitting for these two novelists and romantics. If one has to imagine what a whirlwind their romance was, all you need to do is go back into 20s where jazz carpeted the whispers of illicit affairs, where smoke from the cigar pipes masked the on-goings of speakeasies and where the chaos of a roaring New York city veiled the madness of the love affair of Zelda and Scott Fitzgerald. Although they lived a short, albeit a troubled life, Zelda’s and Scott’s relationship exposed the literary world to their art, the most talked about being the letters they exchanged. Here’s one from the archives –
“Darling– I love these velvet nights. I’ve never been able to decide whether the night was a bitter enemy or a “grand patron” –or whether I love you most in the eternal classic half-lights where it blends with day or in the full religious fan-fare of mid-night or perhaps in the lux of noon. Anyway, I love you most and you ‘phoned me just because you phoned me tonight– I walked on those telephone wires for two hours after holding your love like a parasol to balance me. My dear–”
Vita Sackville-West to Virginia Woolf
A same-sex love affair in a conservative British society, Vita Sackville-West’s and Virginia Wolf’s love story are not ordinary. The two women were drawn to each other’s intellect and had the affair outside of their respective marriages. Both acclaimed writers, however, Sackville-West drew more success during her time as opposed to Virginia Wolf who’s words gained high regard in the later years. It is believed that Virginia Wolf’s acclaimed book ‘Orlando’ was inspired by her relationship with Vita, a story that speaks to people even today due to it’s themes on gender and sexuality. Here’s a peek into one of the many letters that the two women wrote to each other during their lifetime.
“I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia, I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way. You, with all your undumb letters, would never write so elementary a phrase as that; perhaps you wouldn’t even feel it. And yet I believe you’ll be sensible of a little gap. But you’d clothe it in so exquisite a phrase that it should lose a little of its reality. Whereas with me it is quite stark: I miss you even more than I could have believed, and I was prepared to miss you a good deal. So this letter is really just a squeal of pain. It is incredible how essential to me you have become. I suppose you are accustomed to people saying these things. Damn you, spoilt creature; I shan’t make you love me any more by giving myself away like this — But oh my dear, I can’t be clever and stand-offish with you: I love you too much for that. Too truly. You have no idea how stand-offish I can be with people I don’t love. I have brought it to a fine art. But you have broken down my defences. And I don’t really resent it.”
Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas
Passion, frenzy, jealousy and hope, if words could describe the relationship between Oscar Wilde and Lord Alfred Douglas, the dictionary would fall short. Two men who love each other and more importantly love each other’s art – a fact that was hard to accept in the 19th century. Oscar Wilde has many relationships in his lifetime, some notorious, some scandalous and some of just pure love. However his tumultous relationship with ‘Bossie’, a nickname for Lord Douglas resulted in a hard prison time for Oscar Wilde on account of ‘gross indecency’ during the Victorian Period, a trial pursued by Lord Alfred’s father. In the many letters that Wilder wrote to his lovers which unfortunately were cited as ‘evidence’, here is one of them –
My Own Boy,
Your sonnet is quite lovely, and it is a marvel that those red rose-leaf lips of yours should be made no less for the madness of music and song than for the madness of kissing. Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry. I know Hyacinthus, whom Apollo loved so madly, was you in Greek days.
Why are you alone in London, and when do you go to Salisbury? Do go there to cool your hands in the grey twilight of Gothic things, and come here whenever you like. It is a lovely place and lacks only you; but go to Salisbury first.
Always, with undying love, yours,
Teresa Guiccioli from Lord Byron
The English writer and the Italian countess were together for only a short-time, but their love was what drew Lord Byron out from his debauchery. Lord Byron elicited a charm that would sway all the women from humble maids to ladies of the higher rank, but after meeting the Countess in Italy it was only her that came about to be the woman who would restore his faith through her devotion and passion.
My dearest Teresa,
I have read this book in your garden;–my love, you were absent, or else I could not have read it. It is a favourite book of yours, and the writer was a friend of mine. You will not understand these English words, and others will not understand them,–which is the reason I have not scrawled them in Italian. But you will recognize the handwriting of him who passionately loved you, and you will divine that, over a book which was yours, he could only think of love.
In that word, beautiful in all languages, but most so in yours–Amor Mio–is comprised my existence here and hereafter. I feel I exist here, and I feel I shall exist hereafter,–to what purpose you will decide; my destiny rests with you, and you are a woman, eighteen years of age, and two out of a convent. I love you, and you love me,–at least, you say so, and act as if you did so, which last is a great consolation in all events.
But I more than love you, and cannot cease to love you. Think of me, sometimes, when the Alps and ocean divide us, –but they never will, unless you wish it.
Johnny Cash To June Carter
A story of persistence, Johnny Cash and June Carter’s romance is as iconic as their music career. A love worthy of popular songs and Oscar-nominated movies, Cash and Carter were both married when they first met. But as Carter described it in one of her interviews – “It was not a convenient time for me to fall in love with him, and it wasn’t a convenient time for him to fall in love with me. One morning, about four o’clock, I was driving my car just about as fast as I could… I was miserable, and it all came to me: ‘I’m falling in love with somebody I have no right to fall in love with’… I thought, ‘I can’t fall in love with this man, but it’s just like a ring of fire”, it was clear that the couple could not have been away from each other for long. What followed was Johnny Cash’s proposal to Carter at a concert in front of 7000 people and what we now know as the most legendary love story of all time.
Valentines [sic] is fine. But you being mine is finer.
If I continue down this road, it will lead to me weeping in a corner, scrambling through my stationery and doing a deep dive in my innermost thoughts and try to ornate them with the most beautiful words that a dictionary can let me borrow. I have decided otherwise, I am going to restrict my search and allow you to be engulfed by these beautiful declarations. Maybe, just maybe you are motivated to find that piece of paper and pour your heart out in this beautiful season of love.