Monday, May 26, 2008

A dying art?

This topic - this whole "love letter" thing - got me thinking. (Superficially, I'll admit, since I'm reporting in from the Hussy Washington Bureau this week, and the sight of the Capitol is a bit distracting.)

Is the entire notion of writing a letter, especially a love letter, a dying art?

I Googled "love letters". Got some interesting links too. And guess what? Most of the love letters history has deemed worth recording for posterity were written before the nineteen hundreds. Catherine of Aragon wrote a famous one in 1536, ending it with " Lastly, do I vow, that mine eyes desire you above all things." Nice turn of phrase there. Unfortunately she was on her deathbed when she wrote it.

In the seventeenth century, Ninon de L'Enclos penned a long and rather instructive love letter, advising him toward the end "At least, give my prescription a fair trial, and I will be answerable for the success." It is to be hoped the anonymous recipient took her advice.

The eighteen hundreds were the "hot years" for love letters, it seems. Everyone had a better chance of learning to write and avenues of physical communication were opening up enough to permit the delivery of letters across long distances. (Probably also bills, wanted posters and the occasional bit of century-appropriate SPAM.)

We have Byron and Bonaparte (not to each other as far as I know), Ludwig von Beethoven (wanna bet he wrote his on music sheets?), Charlotte Bronte - and of course the ever-popular Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Her missives to Robert Browning still come close to the top of everyone's list of well-written love letters, including - as one does - the phrases " And now listen to me in turn. You have touched me more profoundly than I thought even you could have touched me - my heart was full when you came here today. Henceforward I am yours for everything....".

Can't beat that with a stick, folks.

So...what happened? After the early nineteen hundreds, there appears a scarcity of love letters worth recording. I'm sure there were many passionate epistles sent home from warriors fighting abroad during time of war. I'm sure there still are. But with the invention of the telephone, letters dwindled in importance, apparently. Today? Yep. It's all done via text or IM. And I will admit that "I luv u. C u l8er. LOL" doesn't really compare too well with "I am thine and shall be until the last star dies in the sky". Although they probably mean pretty much the same thing to the couples involved.

We're probably all guilty of "shorthanding" our emotions as much as we shorthand our mails these days. The pace of our lives has changed drastically over the intervening centuries, and finding a pen today is as much of a challenge as bringing in the crops was in 16-something-or-other. Try reading a Poe story. Or Dickens. Pages of literary description, florid and - yes - a bit overwhelming to a generation used to sixty second sound bites and fifteen second commercials. Yep, love letters have changed along with our lives.

That said, I'll just add that I believe they still mean every bit as much. No matter how it's phrased, or what media it uses, a sentiment to a loved one expressing passion still warms the heart and softens the soul. Whether it's a card on a bunch of flowers written by an unknown florist, or a quick IM text message from an airport gate, "I love you" still means exactly that. And in this crazy world of global warming, gas crises and endless wars, knowing someone loves you is priceless. Doesn't matter if you're a Shakespeare-wannabe or a Blackberry addict, the message is the same.

Go tell someone today you love them. IM them, text them, email them, or hire a sky writing airplane and spell it out across the sky. Who cares? It's all about the sentiment. The media doesn't matter, does it? It's what you're saying that counts!!

And if you happen to find a few classical words to toss in, so much the better. Although how you'd text "Shall I compare thee to a summer's day?" I'm not quite sure.(grin)

From the Nation's capital,
Hussy Sahara sending hugs and "I love you"'s to everyone!!!
(Lord knows we could use a few more love letters here in this particular spot!)


Sally Painter said...

Beautiful post, Sahara! I'm stealing away from grill duty to catch up with emails and blog.

I still get love letters via IMs from my husband who is only 10 steps away in his office, but it makes for a very sexy modern form of love letters. (g). And I get very nice love notes typically written within cards, so yeah, we have a more condensed version, but I think poetry itself has changed over the past 2 centuries and most love letters were quite poetic.

I believe the era for that form of love letters is past but has been replaced by our modern language and way of expression, so maybe the sentiments are still just as strong and powerful, but we have the ability to instantly convey and even if we are separated by great distances, we can hop a plane and say those things in person or at least act upon them quicker.

I think the inability to physciall travel conveniently or cover great distances made those historical hearts beat a bit harder and more desperate with great angst to express.

Nicole Austin said...

So much has changed over time. The ways we express ourselves are so different now. I don't think many people write letters at all, much less love letters. The way we speak and write is definitely much less flowery and poetic.

I hope you're having a great time on your trip! Safe travels, Sahara!

NathalieGray said...

Hey babes!

Actually, I think text messaging and e-mails and IMs are bringing back the lurrrrrrve letters. You just read them on a screen now instead of parchment paper.

It's poetic in its own way, I guess. I'm sure it still makes hearts beat fast to received a short but fun "I *heart* U" as popup message notifier :))

Lynn LaFleur said...

My hubby would leave me little notes. He didn't do email or texting, so resorted to old-fashioned pen on paper. I lost many of them when most of our belongings were destroyed in a house flood, but I still have a few of them from a couple of years before he died. They're very precious to me.


N.J.Walters said...

Great post, Sahara. It is the message, not the medium. A simple note or email is just as precious, although a love letter is a very special thing.