An Ode to the Cliché

Let me entertain you with something that has entertained me for the past few days. Take your time, read it slowly. 

If thou must love me, let it be for naught

by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

If thou must love me, let it be for naught
Except for love's sake only. Do not say
`I love her for her smile -her look -her way
Of speaking gently -for a trick of thought
That falls in well with mine, and certes brought
A sense of pleasant ease on such a day' -
For these things in themselves, Beloved, may
Be changed, or change for thee, -and love, so wrought,
          May be unwrought so.

Neither love me for
Thine own dear pity's wiping my cheeks dry -
A creature might forget to weep, who bore
Thy comfort long, and lose thy love thereby!
But love me for love's sake, that evermore
Thou may'st love on, through love's eternity.


Now, be advised, I am terrible with poetry. If you asked me to read this aloud, you would probably split your trousers from laughing so hard at my inability to master tempo and meter.  Whatever, its fine, I'm an ICS major - I won't have to do this for money (unless I am doing outreach to poetic muslims in Tunisia, but that's for another day).

Like I said, I am not originally a poetry gal (AP Literature and Language is the extent of my poetical exploration)  but I wondered what all the hoopla was about, and since I've been venturing into so many new subjects lately (spanish, gardening, sailing, rekindling my theatrical aspiriations, rollerblading) I decided to buy a book of poetry.  

Elizabeth Barrett Browning. You are a sonnetic genius.  (Not to mention you're the only poet in the whole book that I actually understood).

This poem struck me at once because its message seemed to jump off the page and imbeded itself into my heart, like it was coming home.  "Do not say/`I love her for her smile -her look -her way/...For these things in themselves, Beloved, may/Be changed, or change for thee, -and love, so wrought,/May be unwrought so." I have been thinking so much of Love lately - not who I love, or how lovely it is to be in love, but rather what Love is, what it should be, how God created it, how its become deformed, and finally how can I show a better kind of Love than the sort I've grown up with. What is Love?

Someone once called this poem cliché:
So I thought it would be wise to go back to the originally meaning of the word:
"A cliché is a saying, expression, idea, or element of an artistic work which has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, rendering it a stereotype, especially when at some earlier time it was considered meaningful or novel. (thank you wikipedia)"

I happen to agree.  This poem is tragically cliché. Its says, "Love is more than my outward beauty or my wit or the kindness you've shown me.  Love for these things will not stand the test, but these things can and will change, and thereby the love will become brittle and bitter. So as these things diminish, love me to love. Love because love is one of the most precious things in the world."  It is a matter of will and the heart.  LOADS of people pen this sort of stuff all the time!

So yes, this is exactly cliché.  It is an expression and idea that has been overused to the point of losing its original meaning or effect, when earlier it was considered meaningful or novel.  It has been over and mis used so much that is has become trite, and its true implications are overlooked and pushed aside. 

Today, love is an attraction, a love sick addiction to another person.  Bravo, I have no problem with this, unless it stays there.  The problem comes when we fail to search, listen and explore the true soul and character of those we know.  We either only love those who catch our attention immediately and thereby miss a whole host of wonderful people because we don't take the time to invest OR we end up in relationships with people of opposing characters because again we didn't take the time to invest in them aside from what their favorite activities are. (I think I should get a fancy sports coat, like from Masters golf tournament, for all the times I've done this.)  So when this attraction starts to fail or personalities conflict, we have no basis to stand on. 


Jesus is radically awesome in that he tells us exactly what love is.  Its delightful and fanciful, but it is also long-term, enduring, deep and rich. He is where we may draw our strength to love when the idea is repulsive.

The truism that Elizabeth Browning is pleading in this poem should not be cliché.  But it is.