Art & Love: An Illustrated Anthology Of Love Poetry, selected by Kate Farrell
This book is a lot better than I thought it would be. Admittedly, this is not exactly a new collection of poetry, having been made in 1990 when there was some sort of interest on the part of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in showing off the paintings that it had on display and connecting them to the world of love poetry. Admittedly, this ends up being worthwhile for several reasons, not least of which is the fact that both the paintings chosen and the poems anthologized here are generally of high quality as well as being from diverse styles and approaches and subject matter within the overall theme of love. The result is that both the art and poetry included here make the other look better by context, and the result makes the poetry included (for the most part) and the paintings of the MMA come off looking their best, and that is something that suggests a strategy for other museums to follow when it comes to promoting their art work and encouraging people to visit or at least spend money on a gorgeous volume of material that would benefit the museum and also add a bit of class to the book collection of the reader.
This book is less than 200 pages long and is divided into several sections. After a short introduction the collection begins with books relating to babies and early family life in general (called “My-Ness” after its opening poem, a pattern that holds throughout the book as a whole). After that a section called “Oath of Friendship” looks at the love that exists between friends with a sense of loyalty. “Go, Lovely Rose” (not named after its opening poem) discusses the relationship between lovers that focuses on the ambivalence between desire and fear. “Let Me Count The Ways” (named after a line from the opening sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning) is more straightforwardly optimistic in its discussion of love, including perhaps the worst poem here, a Valentine from Gertude Stein. “The Mess Of Love” contains a lot of modern poems and poems from other decadent ages (like Catullus) talking about how people screw up relationships, while “Yesterday He Still Looked In My Eyes” focuses on the regret that follows an ended relationship. Finally, the book ends with sections like “The Marriage Of True Minds” that focus on the success of love as well as “Give All To Love” that focus on the sacrifices that people make for love, after which there are acknowledgements, credits, and indices of artists, authors and titles, and first lines in all the poems, as well as translators.
As someone who appreciates classic art and also appreciates good poetry (and has a larger than normal amount of poetry that I have written myself), this book is rather tailor-made for my own interests in how art and literature can improve each other when placed in the right context. Not everyone appreciates how these work together, but those who do will find themselves intrigued by the implicit comparison being made between classic love poems from a diverse group of authors and a diverse group of paintings that extends over the course of centuries. What makes this collection so appealing is that neither the art nor the poetry have a marked bias for modern styles but both are largely dominated by classic options that have a much more solid base of broad enjoyment. There are some paintings and some drawings from the 20th century, but most of the options of both extend before this to appreciate works written by people who had a decent sense of what was beautiful. And the few paintings and poems that fall short of a high standard are easy enough to skip through to enjoy better ones, which is definitely something that can be appreciated by any reader of this book.