The Art of Romance

Published: Thursday, Feb 14,2013, 12:32 IST
concept of romance. caskets of history, valentine day 2013, The Art of Romance

The modern world appears to have lost the concept of romance.  Perhaps, it has been left behind in the caskets of  history. Defined as an “ardent emotional attachment or involvement between people”, the 21st Century has replaced it by elements of lust and physical attraction.

Perhaps the media is to blame for influencing the recent generation although the problem may be more complex. Men in general have been criticised bitterly for minimising romance due to their inability to express their emotions adequately. The early beauty of Persian love poetry written by greats like Rumi and Hafiz, commonly used words like “The minute I heard my first love story I started looking for you, not knowing how blind that I was”, while modern-day communication has been reduced to  “Wassup bebz”.

This can hardly be called the height of romance, nor does it entice your beloved into a much desired embrace under a moonlit night. It is difficult to pin-point the factors responsible for destroying the art of romance but, perhaps, it has been the nature of social evolution, the use and abuse of language, the failure of proper education on the subject, the rise of feminism and the focus on physical attraction placing inordinately high pressures on both sexes to concentrate on the development of physical appearance rather than their minds. A romance of minds far outlasts the mere lust of mortal flesh.

India’s Bollywood has influenced a generation with their “formula” romance – beautiful people within a backdrop of colourful scenery, rain drenched clinging clothes and a few catchy songs thrown in for good measure. All designed to arouse the sexual senses while paying little heed to the subtlety and beauty of step-wise love and adoration. Also to blame is the fast paced materialistic lives we may lead. It is important to note that, in the past, people have placed their beloved on their highest priority list – one such person is Charles Darwin - while preoccupied in formulating his theories on natural section on board the Beagle, found time to send beautifully crafted love letters to his childhood sweetheart. General Napoleon Bonaparte, in his busy schedule wrote to is beloved  -  Citizeness Joséphine Bonaparte

"A few days ago I thought I loved you; but since I last saw you I feel I love you a thousand times more. All the time I have known you, I adore you more each day; that just shows how wrong was La Bruyére's maxim that love comes all at once. Everything in nature has its own life and different stages of growth. I beg you, let me see some of your faults: be less beautiful, less graceful, less kind, less good..."

Some of the greatest love letters have provide us with an insight into history's  romantic relationships. Each shows us that both parties have taken the time to know the other's personality, their foibles, their eccentricities and have loved them deeply. The classical composer, Beethoven’s Immortal beloved letters are one such example. He wrote the following "Love demands everything and is quite right, so it is for me with you, for you with me”.

For Beethoven, love was the inspiration for his music, one such piece being the wonderfully romantic "Moonlight Sonata”. Love has been the inspiration of literature and music throughout the centuries. From the Moonlight Sonata, the long suffering Chopin to the more modern White Light developed by the StarSailor and their lead singer James Walsh. The soul crushing lyrics “Onwards to forever, Our minds belong together” captures succinctly how love and adoration should be but appears to be frequently lost in our complicated world. It is clear that love – unconditional, unrequited or requited inspires everyone's sense of creativity.

In modern day, sex masquerading as love has become the biggest marketing strategy for many products. Perhaps this tells us that the human soul yearns for romantic love in a world that appears to become colder in emotion as the days go by. Maybe the reasons for divorce and relationship breakups lie in the failure of people to take the time to understand, love and cherish their beloved. Main complaints are that once the honeymoon period is over, the romance between two people fades because they have both allowed their spark to die. Keeping the flame alive should be a priority for all couples. It is probably the most important aspect of a relationship. It should be understood that once a flame is put out, it may never be ignited again leading to painful break-ups. While Valentines’ Day continues to be seriously commercialised, perhaps the solution to a successful relationship is to make every day Valentines Day.

The art of romance has been fine tuned throughout history, so theoretically the advances in technology combined with the tried and tested methods of the past, should make individuals today highly romantic. Depressingly, surveys have found that technology is killing romance. The UK’s National Trust’s survey of 2558 people found that almost two thirds had never sent a love letter, and only one in five had sent a love poem. Two thirds though had texted “ I love you” or various abbreviations of the message via mobile phone. Interestingly, 70 per cent of women said they would rather receive a love letter or poem than a text message or email. Of course, the greatest relief to men everywhere in the world will be this sentence from the great scientist Stephen Hawking who on his seventieth birthday said  "Women. They are a complete mystery.". That may be so, but the truly heroic amongst us should brace this challenge with the armoury of the past and seek to develop some understanding of this mystery. A small peak into our colourful history is useful as a demonstration of how romance is done.

Historically, arranged marriages to gain property, money and political alliances were normal in the east and west. The idea being that love was achieved in time.  A recent exhibition in Australia called “Love and devotion: from Persia and beyond” showed the stories of human and divine love from the early 11th century onwards. History shows that the west fell under the romantic spell of Persia mainly due to the work of Rubaiyat of Omar Khayyam that influenced 19th Century European imagination. The exhibition demonstrates that the works inspired great western writers such as Shakespeare and John Donne. Historical Persian art is all about love. Persian ideas of romance were adopted by the Mughal and Ottoman Empire. A leaf depicting the marriage of Yusuf and Zulaykha from the manuscript of Jami AH 1004 (1595AD) cited “Beyond the garden wall is a lush landscape beneath a clear blue sky, representing the idea of “eternal spring”.

Two blossoming cypress trees on either side of the pavilion contribute to the painting’s formal symmetry that symbolise Yusuf and Zulaykha’s eternal love. Cypress trees were often planted beside graves as symbols of eternity in the Persian world, and were drawn by artists to represent “beloved” characters in poetry. In India, the days of the British Raj showed  that the love between Bibis and Sahibs was material fit for the best romance novels. The heroic yet romantic tale of Job Charnock, founder of the City of Calcutta is interesting. He married the heavenly lady by the name of Leela, having rescued her from a funeral pyre where "Sati" was due to be performed. When the British had to return to England, loves and lives were destroyed. The internet was not available at the time and, apart from holding one’s love safely in their hearts, there was little by way of a solution for these star-crossed lovers.

Moving to the west, romantic love was made popular by the concept of courtly love involving knights in the middle ages. These were elaborate  non- marital relationships with noble women. Chivalry originated from there, demonstrating the value and respect for women, while poetry of the time illustrated the emotional closeness and intimacy. The Art of Courtly Love, written in the 12th Century, detailed the rules of love. These include the following “Boys do not love until they arrive at the age of maturity” “No one can love unless he is impelled by the persuasion of love” “Good character alone makes any man worthy of love” “He whom the thought of love vexes, eats and sleeps very little” and “Real jealousy always increases the feeling of love”. During this period, suitors won their beloved by romantic serenades, elaborate poetry and drama. The more modern terminology of “court as lover” originated from the late 19th and 20th Century in French culture. It is interesting to note a old French custom, a concoction called metheglin made with honey was consumed as the moon went through its stages – this is the origin of the word “honeymoon”.

One of the qualities of romance is the art of creating tokens of  love – a time-line memory of adoration between two people. Carved spoons from the 17th Century Wales were traditionally made by the suitor to show his love. The decorative carvings had meanings like “I desire to settle down” to “love grows” carved in a ornate vine. During the American Civil War, prisoners who had little time, took to turning coins into messages from the heart. This was done by taking a half dime or 10 cent coin, smoothing one side by rubbing it on the stone floor or prison wall. Their beloved’s name or initial would be engraved on the surface with a nail or sharp instrument. Love tokens to your beloved are meant to create a memory trail of that love.

In terms of the role of the digital age, according to London's Daily Telegraph, one of the world's first computers wasn't built to crunch numbers -- but to write love letters. Matters have progressed somewhat, as it is clear that even IT professionals contemplate romance. The question of love tokens and a memory trail in the digital age was considered by a team of artists, engineers and social psychologists at Newcastle University detailed in the  International Journal of Human-Computer Studies.  They created an item called the “Lovers Box” . This retains the appearance of the traditional jewellery boxes with the technology to enable couples to record romantic messages to each other. I—Programmer described it as follows Each box consists of two halves connected by brass hinges, decorated with ornate carvings, with an antique keyhole at the front. They look like something from another time but inside a computer with an integrated RFID reader is hidden. Once unlocked, the box opens like a book, and a screen becomes visible but is framed with rounded edges to  counter the usual associations of a digital display with hard edged technology. Once open placing the RFID tag in the key fob triggers a video message”. An interesting idea for all those romantics who are technologically inclined.

Conventional ways of meeting the opposite sex are well known. In the 21st Century these ways have expanded to include social networking. Barbara Defoe Whitehead - director of the National Marriage Project at Rutgers University and author of Why There are No Good Men Left said “ The traditional mating system where people met someone in their neighbourhood or college is pretty much dead.” She also added “What we have is a huge population of working singles who have limited opportunities to go through some elaborate courtship.”

Theoretically, in an electronic age of social networking, the availability of music online, quotes, poetry, imagery on the internet, it should be possible for the male or female to woo their beloved by creating their own magical romance without investing in expensive gifts or indulging in elaborate gestures. Facebook, for instance, has the interesting quality of noting down the likes and dislikes of individuals. This makes it easier for the opposite sex to understand their potential beloved in a fraction of the time taken in conventional romances. In doing so, the art of romance can be targeted to the personality demonstrated.

An initial approach should be written well, without spelling mistakes, without  sexual references and the relationship or friendship can build from there. It is possible to exchange tokens of love through Facebook or indeed any other social network. Its message centre on Facebook cannot be deleted on both sides leaving lovers to keep a permanent record of their exchanges, arguments and discussion chronology.

Of course, when discord occurs, then the biggest problems occur with social networking.  Nevertheless, the initial stages of romance can of course be commenced on Facebook or whatever social networking forum you frequent. Secret messages can be placed online with words that only have a meaning to the both of you. So in general, social networking combined with the usual cards, flowers, chocolates, gifts can give any romance an uplift. This way of meeting also gives individuals a wider choice of partners and the ability to use the romance tools of the past to create their own magic.

Of course, safety is an important consideration when an online romance progresses into real life. This requires a stage by stage approach, carefully done to ensure the safety of both parties. Couples also run the risk of reality not being what Facebook promises. Of digital romances, recent research commissioned by the Association for Psychological Science (APS) showed “that while less than one per cent of couples met through the web in the early 90s, digital dating now accounts for around one in three relationships". All is therefore not lost between lovers who are at a distance, those who are busy with their work lives and those whose lives are not conventional. Social networking provides an opportunity to maintain long lasting love and romances – only if two people desire the same thing.

Whatever method you choose, the art of romance can be adopted and adapted by anyone. It is just a case of personalising the methods used in history, and fine tuning them to your life. That with a magical potion created with your dreams, starlights of your imagination mixed with  the pureness of the heart, should be enough to ignite a few fires in your beloved’s heart. Each person engaging in the pursuit of romance should remember a quote by the famous poet Khalil Gibran “Beauty is not in the face; beauty is a light in the heart”. As Shakespeare wrote in his play Midsummer Night's Dream “The course of true love never did run smooth”. It should be unconditional and never have great expectations, although this concept takes quite a lot of contemplation. Love can never be demanded, it cannot be seized or imprisoned – it must always be given voluntarily.

It should simply be allowed to develop much like the universe was created – with the symmetry and perfection of in-depth understanding of each other.  We may not possess the wizardry of  the past but each of us has the power to create our own brand of magic for those we adore. We only have a snapshot of time before we too turn into history. In this one life, we can only hope that our soul mates will walk out of our dreams and into our lives. Once love is found, it should never be deserted, betrayed or forsaken. It should be forever cherished until the end of time.

References :

The Art of Love Book 2 Rules of Love : [ link ]

Love and Devotion : From Persia and Beyond [ link ]

Romance and technology in a box [ link ]

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