I should start by saying I’m a poetic illiterate. I’ve never read Whitman or Yeats, and my poetry analysis skills date back to 8th grade English class. That being said, Auden is my favourite poet. By some luck, I’ve been exposed to his words three times; ‘The Unknown Citizen’ in one of my English classes; the misquoted line “love each other or perish” in Tuesdays with Morrie; and finally ‘The More Loving One.’ Of those three, ‘The More Loving One’ is my favourite.
Maria Popova, the writer of my favourite newsletter Brain Pickings, recently published a book on the history of science called Figuring. For the epigraph, she chose the second stanza of Auden’s poem. She writes that “it is an elegy… a homage to the supreme triumph of the human heart – the willingness to love that which does not and cannot love us back.”
‘The More Loving One’ is an ode to love. It’s a tale of unrequited love. The first stanza tells us of idolized stars that feel nothing for the speaker. Yet, it is not the worst that could be. Receiving nothing is better than receiving hatred. And so, the speaker asserts in the second stanza that they would choose to love in spite of this. After all, love is never equal. And if one is capable of it, why should one not love as deeply as they can?
At the same time, the poem is a tale of how the recipients of our love change over time. In the third stanza, the speaker begins to realize that even though they once did have immense love for the stars, that love has begun to fade. And in the final stanza, the speaker ponders over what would happen if the subject of their love were to leave. They posit that even if one’s heart is broken once, they can always learn to love again. That the speaker will learn to appreciate something in an entirely different way, but still love just as deeply.
I found myself yearning for a feeling the first time I read it. It feels as though Auden captured an entire lifetime’s worth of emotion in 16 short lines. He tells a story of selflessness, a story that tells of loving endlessly even if one doesn’t have love returned. It makes me wistful, makes me wonder what if everybody loved more openly.
But we grow scared to love because it means vulnerability. It means we can get hurt, and we get scared that others will hurt us. But love begets love, and we should choose to love with all of our beings. Auden has written a manifesto of love that I will forever be in love with.
Yet, Auden’s ode is about more than romantic or platonic love. ‘The More Loving One’ is an ode to human love; of the innate human ability to show love for things that can’t. It’s our ability to love nature and food, to love poetry and art. It’s our love for science and knowledge, to understand the world because there is beauty in that as well. If there was ever a mantra for what it means to be human, it just might be this poem. It’s the only piece of verse I have ever memorised, and I’m glad to share it with you all.
Read W.H. Auden’s ‘The More Loving One’ here.
Image: Alan Trotter via Flickr.