When Love Breaks Through
I dwell on your love through day and night,
the hours I am lying down,
and at dawn when I have awakened…
We will be together even when the peaceful days of old age come.
—From “The Crossing,” a twelfth century B.C. Egyptian love song
Sometimes love breaks through, and an artist captures it.
Like in the film Jerry Maguire, when Tom Cruise breaks through his fear of commitment. He’s hurriedly explaining his feelings to Renee Zellweger until he pauses to catch his breath, and she says, “You had me at hello.”
Or in As Good as It Gets, when Jack Nicholson breaks through his awkward neuroses and tells Helen Hunt, “You make me want to be a better man.”
It’s the first kiss in Titanic, between Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, with the sound of “My Heart Will Go On” in the background.
It’s Romeo’s first kiss of Juliet.
It’s all those wonderful moments in film and novel, poem and song, when love breaks through and the fairy tale begins.
The songwriter composes music to sing about love in a new way. Poets create new images to describe love in an original way. Or a talented group of scriptwriter, director, cast, and crew capture aspects of love in a romantic scene which is like—and yet quite unlike—any before it.
The best of these moments have a timeless quality about them: the scenes of love in the drama of Casablanca, Cold Mountain, or Sense and Sensibility; the realization of love in the romantic comedies of Notting Hill, You’ve Got Mail, or Sleepless in Seattle; the poetry of love in Shakespeare, Shelley, or Donne.
We feel these timeless moments especially in song, that mysterious and moving marriage of melody and poetry.
I saw and felt the power of romantic song unforgettably once in Stockholm, Sweden. At a festival in the city, several thousand people mingled from one tent to the next, sampling the foods, listening to the various bands, enjoying a perfect summer day.
One of the bands started a new song. A man with a wonderful tenor voice began to sing, softly at first. Then his voice rose slightly above the din of the crowd. The people nearest him were the first to quiet their conversation. Gradually a hush spread out like ripples in a pond, and even those far away stopped, turned, and listened. The entire crowd became like an amphitheater with the vocalist on his small stage in the center. He sang with passion and warmth, from the depths of his heart. I could see the pain and joy, disappointment and hope in the expressions of the listeners as he sang “The Rose.”
Some say love, it is a river,
that drowns the tender reed.
Some say love, it is a razor,
that leaves your soul to bleed.
Some say love, it is a hunger,
an endless aching need.
I say love, it is a flower,
and you its only seed.
It’s the heart, afraid of breaking,
that never learns to dance.
It’s the dream, afraid of waking,
that never takes a chance.
It’s the one who won’t be taken,
who cannot seem to give.
And the soul, afraid of dyin’,
that never learns to live.
When the night has been too lonely,
and the road has been too long,
And you think that love is only,
for the lucky and the strong,
Just remember in the winter,
far beneath the bitter snows,
Lies the seed, that with the sun’s love,
in the spring becomes the rose.
As the last words lingered in the summer air, no one moved. Then a few began to speak softly. Others began shuffling off to the various tents of the festival, many with meditative expressions. The song had touched our hearts, and we silently acknowledged the insight of its lyrics. Because for some of us love had been harsh. What we thought would be a refreshing source of water became a river drowning us. Romance had felt like a razor leaving our hearts to bleed. And for many of us, the nights had indeed been lonely. All that remained was a yearning hunger, “an endless, aching need.” And some had no doubt concluded that love was only for “the lucky and the strong.”
But the song reminded us that the seeds of love are within us still, like the seed of the rose beneath the bitter winter snows, and we can’t be afraid to let the warmth of the sun give it life.
The song encourages openness to love. And it freshly expresses a timeless paradox: In giving love, we receive it; but in withholding it, we lose what we are trying to protect.
Why do love songs from various times and places speak to all of us? Because they arise from the heart, and since the hearts of lovers remain the same, the songs from their hearts speak to ours.
The songs are not only a treasury of lyrics to delight us but a reservoir of wisdom to guide us—a collection of insights from lovers everywhere.
They show, for example, love’s unusual timing—its frustrating elusiveness, but also its delightful unpredictability. No one knows when Cupid’s arrow will strike. Love comes unexpectedly and often after painful longing.
. . .
Romantic songs also speak of love’s transforming power. Black and white blushes with color. Winter blossoms into spring. The dormant life under the surface rises in all its flowery beauty.
Love songs describe a heightened awareness of the world around us and feelings of joy and wholeness. “Till There Was You,” you didn’t hear the birds in the sky singing or the bells on the hill ringing.
Even the love songs from Egypt three thousand years ago described the changes love can bring. The hearts of lovers remain wonderfully the same no matter what the century. So I felt no surprise when a somewhat cynical, twentieth-century Meg Ryan, as Kate, fell in love with nineteenth-century Leopold in Kate and Leopold.
The songs speak of the oneness love brings too.
The Greeks claimed this as evidence that one preexistent soul had been split in two to make a man and woman on earth. When those two people found each other, they immediately recognized their “other half,” and they so perfectly completed each other that each knew they had found their “soul mate.” It’s a picture in myth of the completion love songs describe.
Their lyrics say love meets our deepest needs, involves every aspect of our personalities, and can bring caring support in all of life. As Celine Dion sings, she found strength “Because You Loved Me.”
Lovers have always said, “You complete me.”
It’s no wonder then, with the experience of love described in these lyrics, that perhaps the most common theme of the songs is the promise that love will last a lifetime. It was clear in Titanic that Kate Winslet would never forget Leonardo DiCaprio, even as he drifted off to the icy grave of the Atlantic. Decades after the tragedy, he still lived in her heart, and so she could sing, “My Heart Will Go On.”
Another common theme of love songs, unfortunately, is the depth of pain when love is lost. It could not be otherwise, of course. If love brings so much pleasure, then its loss must bring great pain . . .
When I needed help to begin new dreams, I found it in the same places as the old dreams had begun—talking with friends, reading about relationships, contemplating the insights of artists who created pictures of love I could grasp and songs of love I could feel.
It’s hard to compare the benefit of, say, reading a self-help book on relationships and of listening to a song like “The Rose.” Both are helpful in different ways. The book instructs me, and I learn from its insights. But the song inspires me, and I long to feel deeply again . . .
One song I haven’t yet mentioned has helped me most of all.
The influence of this song upon me is, perhaps, surprising. It’s from another time and culture, composed nearly three thousand years ago. The original melody has been lost, leaving only the images and story of its lyrics. And the poetry of its verse is often filled with figures of speech difficult for the modern reader to understand.
Yet many regard it as the greatest love song ever written. In fact, that’s why they call it the Song of Songs . . .
The lovers of the Song help us see not just what our partners should be like, but what our relationships should feel like: the role of emotion, longing, and sexual attraction; the foundation of friendship, respect, and commitment; the experience of intimacy, certainty, and forgiveness. The lovers put flesh and blood on these words in their unforgettable romance. Love broke through, and the artist captured it!
Whether viewed simply as great art or great art that rises to the level of sacred art, the Song of Solomon is a love song for all time. It can touch our hearts, awaken our deepest longings, and provide ideals to guide us.
Ideals like the stars in the sky, by which we, like mariners of the sea, may set our course.