Wordwatch Towers

A plain language guide to punctuation, grammar and writing well.

Love, curiosity, freckles and doubt

with 13 comments

Valentine's Day

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It’s that Valentine’s Day time of the year again. I know, I know, you want grammar stuff. Fear not, just scroll: you’ll find links to information about apostrophes (don’t all rush at once) and more posts with a literary theme.

The title of this post, by the way, is part of a Dorothy Parker quote: Four be the things I’d have been better without: Love, curiosity, freckles and doubt.

Anyway, I strongly advise going straight to the post about apostrophes sit back and enjoy:

To My Valentine

I love you more than a wasp can sting,
And more than the subway jerks,
I love you as much as a beggar needs a crutch,
And more than a hangnail irks.

I swear to you by the stars above,
And below, if such there be,
As the High Court loathes perjurious oaths,
That’s how you’re loved by me.

Ogden Nash

Read the full poem here.


My love for Linton is like the foliage in the woods. Time will change it, I’m well aware, as winter changes the trees. My love for Heathcliff resembles the eternal rocks beneath – a source of little visible delight, but necessary. Nelly, I am Heathcliff – he’s always, always in my mind – not as a pleasure, any more than I am always a pleasure to myself – but as my own being – so don’t talk of our separation again –

Emily Brontë, Wuthering Heights


Celia Celia

When I am sad and weary,
When I think all hope has gone,
When I walk along High Holborn
I think of you with nothing on.

Adrian Mitchell


She missed him the days when some pretext served to take him away from her just as one misses the sun on a cloudy day without having thought much about the sun when it was shining.

Kate Chopin, The Awakening


Without You

Without you they’d forget to change the weather,
Without you blind men would sell unlucky heather,
Without you there would be
No landscapes/no stations/no houses,
No chipshops, no quiet villages/no seagulls
on beaches/no hopscotch on pavements/no
night/no morning/there’d be no city no country
Without you.

Adrian Henri

Read the full poem here.


He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven

Had I the heavens’ embroidered cloths,
Enwrought with golden and silver light,
The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
Of night and light and the half-light,
I would spread the cloths under your feet:
But I, being poor, have only my dreams;
I have spread my dreams under your feet,
Tread softly because you tread on my dreams.

W.B. Yeats



Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

W.S. Merwin

Apostrophes in Valentine’s Day, April Fool’s Day and other similar named days

Literary terms


13 Responses

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  1. Ha! Adrian Henri was my art master, way back in the mists of time, when he had a proper job!


    13/02/2011 at 2:17 pm

    • Hi Ron — that’s interesting! I have to say, though, purely based on my own experience — I’m not sure that ‘art master’ was ever a proper job, either. At least not in 1842 when I was at school. If our art master went to the cupboard to retrieve a tube of paint he considered his month’s salary well-earnt. Long hair. Sandals. Hobbitesque in a not entirely unappealing way. Hobbits can live for up to 130 years – that’s how long he used to spend each lesson drinking tea. You get the idea.


      13/02/2011 at 2:58 pm

  2. Hmm… Once Henri decided he was really a poet, be affected the French pronunciation of his name (he’d tried that at school, but nobody was having it), and along with other members of Liverpool’s “arty” crowd, equipped himself with floppy hats, long scarves and hideous stripy blazers.

    They spent much of their time in various disreputable city-centre pubs, taking up valuable drinking space and spending as little as they could get away with.

    Superannuated students, the whole bunch of ’em!


    13/02/2011 at 3:14 pm

  3. While I’d tend to side with Adrian Mitchell and Kate Chopin on this issue – though they approach it from opposite directions, I’m moved to wonder why Nash would opt for the cliché of a beggar with a crutch?

    There is absolutely no reason why a beggar should be be-crutched, unless, perhaps, he’s Long John Silver, fallen on hard times, any more than the possession of a crutch should render one a beggar. I can’t, in all honesty, say it’s ever brought me any income.

    Just a (picky), thought . . .

    Feeling peeved because I just know all my Valentine cards are going to get lost in the post.



    13/02/2011 at 11:44 pm

    • Thanks for the Nash poem, Ron. Very good!

      It’s a strange line, altogether, I think, the beggar with a crutch thing.

      I’ve set aside this morning to open my Valentine’s Day cards and arrange all the flowers. Who was it who said always have a plan B? How right they were.


      14/02/2011 at 8:03 am

  4. Some advice, kiddiewinks, for Valentine’s Day, also from Ogden Nash:-

    Reflexions on Ice-Breaking

    is dandy
    But liquor
    is quicker


    14/02/2011 at 12:01 am

  5. John Walsh, writing in The Independent, discusses the perhaps lost art of writing love letters. He quotes, among others, the following gem:

    Napoleon Bonaparte to his new bride, Josephine de Beauharnais (1796):

    “I do not love thee any more; on the contrary, I detest thee. Thou art horrid, very awkward, very stupid, a very Cinderella. Thou dost not write me at all, thou dost not love thy husband; thou knowest the pleasure that thy letters afford him, and thou dost not write him six lines of even haphazard scribble. What do you do, then, all day, Madame? What matter of such importance is it that takes up your time from writing to your very good lover?”


    14/02/2011 at 2:28 pm

    • Think he was a tad peeved then?

      Mind you, if that’s the best he could manage, where was her incentive to play nice? The whole point about love letters between a committed couple is that there needs to be a high degree of reciprocity – one party just whining doesn’t really help much. That’s the time he should be pulling out all the emotional stops.

      Haven’t read Walsh (yet), but it’s not just the writing of love-letters that’s a lost art – I think all forms of written personal communication are equally moribund, especially among the young, who have trouble dealing with words of more than 3 letters and, all too frequently, have the vocabulary of a turnip.


      14/02/2011 at 4:46 pm

      • Hmm… One missive from Napoleon to Josephine apparently said, Home in a few days – don’t wash!

        The romantic fool . . .


        14/02/2011 at 5:16 pm

        • …yet so many people want to write — as witnessed by the thousands of blogs being created every day. Your turnip remark reminded me of the classic Spitting Image line when Thatcher was in a restaurant with her cabinet members. The waiter asks something along the lines of, ‘And what about the vegetables?’ You know the punchline. I won’t waste ink.

          I’ve heard about N’s preference for a soap-free spouse before. Each to their own…


          14/02/2011 at 6:47 pm

  6. I liked the Adrian Henri the most. The Yeats was nowhere near as romantic as something like “When you are old and grey….”

    My contribution to the day (my time):

    “I assured her that, whatever the difference in age might be, love based on the purely physical lasted only a short time. Once the novelty had disappeared, as routine set in, sexual attraction gradually diminished and finally died (in the case of the man especially), and the couple could then survive only if there were other attractions between them: spiritual, intellectual, moral. And for this sort of love the question of age was of no importance.

    ‘It all sounds fine the way you tell it, and I only wish it were true,’ Aunt Julia said, rubbing her nose, which as usual was ice-cold, against my cheek. ‘But it’s all false, from beginning to end. The physical something secondary? It’s what matters most for two people to put up with each other, Varguitas.’ ”
    (Mario Vargas Llosa)

    Michael Farrell

    15/02/2011 at 6:16 am

    • Thank you, Michael!

      Yes, I like the Henri, and the Nash – but also, especially, these two lines in the Yeats poem:

      The blue and the dim and the dark cloths
      Of night and light and the half-light

      …and the last line, of course. I like the repetition of words such as ‘light’ and ‘dreams’, and the use of one poetic word ‘enwrought’ among all the everyday words. The overall effect is almost hypnotic.

      Here is the poem you mention:

      When You Are Old and Grey

      When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
      And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
      And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
      Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

      How many loved your moments of glad grace,
      And loved your beauty with love false or true,
      But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
      And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

      And bending down beside the glowing bars,
      Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
      And paced upon the mountains overhead
      And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.


      15/02/2011 at 7:59 am

  7. “Youth, whose memory brings despair!” (Quoted by MVL)

    Michael Farrell

    15/02/2011 at 2:13 pm

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