Pieces That Pull on the Heartstrings.
A literary discussion by Kate O’Brien.
It is that time of year again, Valentine’s Day is upon us. There are ads for flowers and chocolates everywhere, and lots of people are leaning into the romantic atmosphere. Literature discusses all aspects of society and highlights the good, the bad, the ugly, and the things we wish we could change. Naturally, love and romance are very popular topics in literature. Many pieces explore falling in love, the meaning of love, falling out of love, unrequited love, the things we do for love, etc. It is a topic that I imagine will forever be relevant as love is such a huge part of the human experience, and without sounding too terribly pretentious, I think literature will always be concerned about the human experience.
I’ve put together a selection of six of my favourite pieces that I think always pull on the heartstrings. You don’t have to be in a romantic relationship to appreciate lovely literature, so whether you’ve been struck by cupid’s bow or not, these pieces should warm your heart.
I’m going to start with a cliché classic. Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18.
This sonnet is often known by its first line, “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”
This poem has been named one of Shakespeare’s most beautiful and romantic pieces, and I believe that it is sometimes called “The Valentine’s Day Poem.”
Sonnet 18 is famous and I would argue that the poem is synonymous with the idea of romance itself. It is referenced often in popular culture, especially if someone is trying to woo their love interest. The opening line is often the example that is used when someone is talking about romantic poetry. “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” is used so much that some may find it somewhat cringe inducing, however I think the overall theme and tone of this sonnet is quite beautiful.
The poem is obviously about love, as it speaks so highly about the person it is referring to.
Shakespeare’s form is beautiful, the poem is so smooth and fluid, it sounds so lovely when read aloud, especially when it is read by a speaker or an actor who is not afraid to put their heart into it and really mean it. I would also argue that it could be described as somewhat of a nature poem too, simply because Shakespeare uses so many weather references to make his overall point.
“Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May.” (Shakespeare, Sonnet 18, line 3.)
What is the overall point of this poem?
That summer may end, and time may pass, but the love that one person has for another will never fade. The tone is incredibly romantic and also very hopeful, and while this poem has arguably been turned into a bit of a cliché, I do think that the message in it is really lovely.
I think it is a testament to the love that two people can share. Time may pass, things may change, life may bring ups and downs, but the love that I have for you will remain the same.
Up next is another poem, and this one celebrates friendship rather than a strictly romantic relationship.
Let’s look at Emily Brontë’s Love and Friendship.
“Love is like the wild rose-briar,
Friendship like the holly-tree, —
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?”
(Brontë, Love and Friendship, stanza one.)
I think that this is a really sweet poem that is simply about appreciating the friends who are always there for us. It can be very easy to get wrapped up in a romantic relationship, especially when it is new, and especially when we are young, but it is important that we do not abandon our friends for a romantic relationship.
We’ve all heard of that experience when a friend disappears for a while when they are dating someone new, only to reappear when that romance does not work out. True friends are there for you during the ups and downs that life has to offer, but that does not mean that taking those friendships for granted is acceptable. This poem is short and sweet and it celebrates those who are always there for us. It can also serve as a reminder about who is always there for us, and how we should let those friends know how much we love and appreciate them.
Piece number three is a song. I am talking about Think of Me from The Phantom of the Opera.
I plan on discussing this book and this show in much more detail very soon, however I will say now that I absolutely love this song. I think it might be my favourite song from the score, but as always I love different songs for different reasons so it is so hard to choose an outright, single favourite.
Think of Me is a song that is performed by Christine and Raoul very early in act one.
These two characters were childhood sweethearts and they sing this song as adults after they have seen each other for the first time in a very long time. I love this song for so many reasons. The music alone is beautiful. It is purely romantic in style, it is sweeping and romantic with some lovely sustained notes, as well as being light and airy. The song is about the excitement of seeing someone again and remembering the love and fondness you have for them, alongside saying that you hope this person still thinks of you fondly.
In some ways it is similar to Shakespeare’s Sonnet 18 in tone.
“Flowers fade, the fruits of summer fade
They have their seasons so do we
But please promise me that sometimes
You will think of me.”
In my opinion, this is a song all about hope. I hope you remember me, I hope you think of me, I think of you, I think of us fondly. I think this song highlights how eager these two characters are to reconnect, and I think it is so lovely that following this song, that is exactly what they do.
Christine and Raoul still love each other after all this time, and I think this song encapsulates that hopeful, smitten, romantic feeling.
The fourth piece that I’d like to talk about is the little blue book entitled Love Letters of Great Men, edited by Ursula Doyle.
I would almost call this an example of life writing as this collection of letters is not fictional.
This book contains a collection of love letters that were written by well-known historical figures.
There are letters in this book from Victor Hugo, from Lord Byron, from Mozart, from John Keats, and many more.
This collection highlights how feelings of love, devotion, and passion have inspired people to take pen to paper for decades. These letters are deeply personal, and some of them demonstrate the literary genius and passion that their author possessed. There is something really romantic about the idea of writing someone a love letter as arguably that is an act that most likely does not happen often today.
I think one of my favourite quotes from this book is a line from one of John Keats’ letters.
He writes “Your letter gave me more delight than anything in the world.”
I suppose today’s equivalent might be getting excited when you see a text from a certain someone light up your phone, as after all, texts are just electronic letters, however I will admit that I don’t think the impact is quite the same.
I love handwritten notes or a card. I really enjoy sitting down to write someone a card, as I just think it shows someone that we are thinking of them and we are willing to take the time to be personal.
I try to imagine what it must have been like when a letter in the post was one’s only form of communication. I’d guess that the letter’s arrival caused a stir of excitement, and there is something very sweet about imagining a letter being read over and over again.
If you want to see some examples of beautiful, poetic, lyrical writing, and you’d like a glimpse into the thoughts of some of these literary and historical figures, then Love Letters of Great Men is a really fascinating and intimate read.
Next I want to talk about Lemony Snicket’s The Beatrice Letters.
I have to talk about this book because this is a piece that pulls on the heartstrings in ways that I struggle to describe. I absolutely love The Beatrice Letters. I think this book might be one of the most beautiful pieces that I have ever read, and each time I read it again, there is a new line that catches in my throat and grabs my attention.
These letters are beautiful, poignant, biting, and melancholic. This book always leaves me feeling very strange, it is a feeling that I can’t name. It always leaves me feeling as if I am missing something but don’t know what. This book is made up of thirteen letters, and it is considered a prequel to A Series of Unfortunate Events.
The Beatrice Letters have been called incredibly heartfelt and absurd, and I think that is the best way to describe them. The letters are a series of run-on sentences, so if you attempt to read aloud, I wish you luck for you will run out of breath. This does however lead to the reader sounding very passionate when speaking, which is of course, fitting.
I’m going to share some of my favourite quotes from The Beatrice Letters.
“I will love you if I never see you again, and I will love you if I see you every Tuesday.”
“I will love you as misfortune loves orphans, as fire loves innocence, and as justice loves to sit and watch while everything goes wrong.”
“It takes years for the land to recuperate from a fire, but even in the darkest of ashes eventually something can grow.”
I will love you until the chances of us running into one another slip from skim to zero, and until your face is fogged by distant memory, and your memory faced by distant fog, and your fog memorised by a distant face, and your distance distanced by the memorised memory of a foggy fog.”
“I will love you even as the world goes on its wicked way.”
(Lemony Snicket, The Beatrice Letters.)
There is something about “I will love you if I never see you again, and I will love you if I see you every Tuesday,” that I just love. I can’t explain it, but this line has always stood out to me. I think it is bittersweet, I think it poignant, I think it is filled with sincerity. The Beatrice Letters just make me wake up and pay attention to good writing. The analogies and metaphors that Snicket uses are brilliant and never ending. He gives intimacy to the most ordinary things.
If you have not read this book then you’re missing out. I cannot recommend it enough.
The last piece I want to talk about is another Shakespeare quote.
This piece is really short and sweet. It is so simple, but it is one of my all time favourite lines from any Shakespeare play.
It is a line from Hamlet.
This line is said in Act 2, scene 2. In this scene, Polonius reads aloud a letter from Hamlet to Ophelia.
He reads, “Doubt thou the stars are fire;
Doubt that the sun doth move;
Doubt truth to be a liar;
But never doubt I love.” – (Shakespeare, Hamlet, Act 2, Scene 2.)
Even though Polonius’ reasoning for reading the letter aloud is not exactly romantic, the quote itself is really beautiful. It is no secret that I am a fan of Shakespeare’s language. I just think that there is something so lyrical about this quote. When it is read aloud, it sounds so sincere, and so full of love. It is reassuring in tone. It says that no matter what doubts you may have in life, never doubt that I love you, and I think that that sentiment is stunning.
There is a bit of an overarching theme in this discussion, I love pieces that explore the idea of telling someone that no matter what challenges lie ahead, you love them. Times may change, and we may face ups and downs, but I love you and I’ll be here for you. This idea can be recognised in nearly every piece that I have discussed so far. I did not intend for this review and discussion to have an overarching theme. I simply picked pieces that I really enjoy. Each piece was chosen because it does genuinely pull on my heartstrings in some way, and it is only when I was putting them all together that I realised that there is an overarching theme to this discussion.
I think that the idea of telling someone you love them and will love them as time passes and life goes on is a beautiful sentiment. It is a sentiment that does not only have to refer to romantic relationships. This can also be said to a friend, to a family member. I consider myself very lucky because I do have friends in my life who have been my friends since I was a very young child, so already we’ve been through many changes together, from school, to college, to working life, some of us have left or will leave Ireland, but no matter what, we’ve always remained friends throughout the years, and we’ve grown up together so it is really comforting to know that no matter what, that bond won’t break. Perhaps that is why pieces with this theme and with this sentiment appeal to me so much. Perhaps it is why I subconsciously chose several pieces that have a shared theme and tone.
This line from Hamlet really sums up everything perfectly – Never doubt I love. It is simple, it is sincere, it is honest, it is reassuring. It can be said to a friend, to a family member, or to a significant other, no matter what happens, never doubt I love.
I hope that my selection inspires you to read some classic literature. Love, whether it is familial, platonic, or romantic is timeless. It is a feeling, and it is a theme that is explored countless times in literature and I think that this will always be the case. I think that love can inspire some very beautiful, very heartfelt, and very lyrical pieces of writing, and I had lots of fun deciding which six pieces I was going to write about. I also really enjoyed thinking about each piece and why I like it so much. I enjoyed exploring why they pull on my heartstrings, and why do I think that they might pull on yours too?
I hope you enjoy these pieces if you follow my recommendations and give them a read.
As always, if you would like to share any pieces that you think I would enjoy, then please be my guest and leave a comment! I love receiving suggestions and recommendations.