I spent all weekend at the Festival of Books. Last year it was the 6th largest book festival in the country, and this year even more people attended. Writers of every stripe were present, and there were 26 tracks of programming, plus a separate children’s program. A number of respected poets spoke and read from their work, but I confess, I didn’t attend any of their presentations.
So instead of writing about something I saw at the festival, I’ll be writing about Kabir, a 15th century mystic whose verses often preached tolerance between the Hindu and Muslim communities. Apparently he wasn’t all about religion, though.
Give up erotic games, Kabir,/let longing flood your heart./Only through tears of longing/can you glimpse the face of the beloved.
This can be read as an admonition to give up the pleasures of the flesh in favor of the devine, but I prefer a more earthy interpretation, especially in light of the next poem.
Sometimes, everywhere I look,/O my love, I see your face./With you ever present,/how could I close my eyes to anything?
Six hundred years ago these poems described what traditional (as opposed to erotic) romance does so well. While gratification is delayed the characters allow a deeper attachment to form. Sexual tension drives the development of most traditional romances, and it’s only resolved fully when the protagonists really see, accept, and love each other. This longing and transformation are the essence of modern traditional romance.
Love makes us see not only the beloved, but ourselves and the world differently. Kabir managaed to say it in only 46 words.