Words of love



Words of love.

I’ve been remiss. I’ve not written anything for too long. I’ve been trying to write this ever since Flo, my partner of 36 years, and I got married just over two weeks ago, on a day of alternating snow squalls and clear blue skies. It was a day like one years ago on Skye,  a day of snow and sun. We were hiking back from the Point of Sleat, in a sudden whiteout, and blundered into a herd of Highland cattle and one big Highland bull, pressed into the side of the hill, moodily waiting out the snow. And, snuffling and mooing, they made way for us. That was another special day. Days are where we live.

I wanted to write about writing about being in love. I thought I could write something grateful and insightful and intelligent. It turns out I can’t. In the end you simply have to sit down and do it and let it be what it will. This I learn from the to and fro of Kim Moore and Clare Shaw egging each other on to stick to their NaPoRiMo challenge via Facebook. They are each distracted by children or by work or by tiredness and still they do it. A couple of days ago each of them posted a piece for which the prompt was the challenge to write a love poem.

Kim wrote one for her three year-old which had a section that I’ll not forget in a hurry:

My nearly-three-year old 

says when I’m not with her

she hears my voice 

inside her head saying 

‘I’ll be back soon.’


sometimes it feels 

as if I’m talking 

to a strange bird 

who repeats

whatever it hears

or an old soul 

come to teach me everything

It took me back decades to the lurch of that possessive, utterly-enveloping feeling, watching my tiny daughter running down the road to greet me, oblivious to everything but me coming to meet her. That kind of love.

Clare’s was different; a reminder that when love goes it goes absolutely and leaves you in a different place. A lost love.

To hear a knock on the door 

and no-one there. 

To be empty, to be filled by a memory. 

To hear footsteps, to be suddenly cold. 

This took me straight back to Thomas Wyatt, who might well have written this in the Tower when he was in imminent danger of execution for loving the object of the poem. It was a dangerous business, falling in love with the wife of a king.

They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot, stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek,
That now are wild and do not remember
That sometime they put themself in danger
To take bread at my hand; and now they range,
Busily seeking with a continual change

So many songs, so many poems that we call love songs and love poems. The ones you share. Then the ones you hug to yourself when you sing along to the Everleys…When will I be loved? The ones you would dance to:  I saw her standing there /I wanna hold your hand/ I love you, Peggy Sue/Then he kissed me/Heartbeat, why do you miss/ I’m in love with you……………………… And so on. There’ll be the songs that played along to your heartbreaks. Brian Ferry singing You are my sunshine. Prince’s Purple Rain.And the ones when you fell in love again. Steve Forbert: I’m in love with you. You can write the soundtrack to your life with them. Love is all you need.

And it’s a matter of life and death. Faith, Hope and Charity or Faith Hope and Love. The greatest of these is Love. Or Charity. In 16th Century England you could be strangled and burned for choosing the politically wrong one. Like Tyndale who was concerned with the love of God who  so loved the world, that he gave his only begotten Son, that whosoever believeth in him should not perish, but have everlasting life. [John. KJV]. 

Agape, eros, desire, absorption and infatuation. We talk about love of country (whatever that means); we love our children, our parents and our partners, and sometimes I think we never feel love more vividly than when we find we’ve lost it.

I got to thinking about the poems I’ve written that I could call love poems, though I didn’t think of many of them as such when I wrote them. Poems for my parents and grandparents, poems for my children. When it came to poems for a lover, a partner, a wife, I was never confident enough. Love letters I could write. But poems, not so much. I think I thought that if you couldn’t do it like John Donne…say in The Good Morrow..then you shouldn’t try, that you’d just be writing sentiment

And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an every where.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world; each hath one, and is one.

My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest


Clever, confident, laconic, grown-up, sexy. No wonder I thought that was the way to do it when I was a teenager, and why I never quite got over it. Until I learned to listen to more understated voices. Like Ursula Fanthorpe’s.


There is a kind of love called maintenance
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;

……………………………..which keeps
My suspect edifice upright in air,
As Atlas did the sky.


It taught me, that poem, that a celebration of patient and enduring love of the kind we call living together could be so wonderfully memorable. 

I was thinking about that when Flo and I decided (after 36 years) that we needed to get married to safeguard each other legally. It’s a shock to discover that there’s no such thing as Common Law marriage. Not really. Living together and sharing everything for 36 years gives you no rights at all in law. It turned out that it made us happy to get married. We had a lovely day of it. I didn’t write a poem for it or because of it. I realise that over the years the love poems I’ve written have been oblique…apart from ones not for sharing, publicly. But a couple of years ago I wrote a poem that says what I want to say about all this. UA Fanthorpe gave me permission. This is for me and Flo. Self-indulgent, possibly. But who’s to stop me? 

Hyacinth Girl

But that was years ago. In Bakewell there were beasts 

with clotted flanks in the cattle market’s clanging mazes, 

on a day of rain, the showground waterlogged,

pubs warm and dark and full of farmers in damp coats,

farmers drinking big mugs of hot dark tea,

screwing red faces round slabby bacon baps;


and at the junk stall in the market down the street

I bought you this small warm mahogany box

with a broken lock. And some dished brass discs,

and two brass rods. I had no idea what use they were,

only that you would like them. And that was the year

I made you paper hyacinths in a paper box

painted with hyacinths , and a poem for its lid.


I suppose I was thinking of cruel months

and hyacinth girls, and unexpected rains.

I was thinking of surprises. I was not thinking at all.

I was in love, and in various ways I am, still,

and thinking how we have assembled things around us

and cannot bring ourselves to throw away anything.

These cards, those bits of ribbon, these fragments.


PS. It’s a self-indulgent post is this. So while I’m on a roll, let me advertise the launch of my new collection, Pressed for Time published by Calder Valley Press

It’s on Tuesday May 3rd in the lovey and airy art gallery of Brighouse Library, in whose grounds you can park for free. It’s an early start, 7.00-9.00pm. (ish). This is partly because that’s the hours they offer, and partly because these days I get very tired very easily. It’s the first live reading I’ll have done for over two years, mainly because of the combination of lockdowns and shielding. I realise I’m absurdly anxious…not on health and safety grounds, but because I’m terrified no one will turn up. So, If you can make it I’ll love you all for ever. And if you can’t, you’ll be able to buy the book, after May 3rd, all 104 pages of it, either via this blog (there’ll shortly be a Paypal Button in the My Books link at the top of the page) or direct from Calder Valley Poetry.

6 thoughts on “Words of love

    1. Congratulations!
      It took us 20 years to get round to tying the knot, but 36 is even better – shows we are the sort of folk that don’t like to rush into things!
      Take good care.
      much love,
      Julie x


  1. What a lovely, loving, post John. Wishing you both much happiness. And I like the poem too, especially ‘I was thinking of surprises. I was not thinking at all./ I was in love…’


  2. Happy it was a happy day for you. Loved the poems you posted. Best wishes for your launch – I’m sure the collection will do well 😀


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