Poems and songs about love which must be honorably abbreviated
June 10, 2019 11:19 PM   Subscribe

What are some poems and songs about honorably abbreviated love?

This love sprang up between two people who have been happily married to others for many years. Because of children, because of not wanting to hurt their spouses, because of all that would be destroyed, these two people made the decision to abbreviate their love, which remains unconsummated. An example would be the Yeats poem:

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.
posted by anonymous to Human Relations (23 answers total) 8 users marked this as a favorite
I would recommend On a Good Day by Joanna Newsom.
posted by rd45 at 1:43 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

Robert Burns's "Ae Fond Kiss" is based on a situation of honorably abbreviated love.
posted by demonic winged headgear at 2:03 AM on June 11

I actually thought first of the Royal Tenenbaums, where Margo says, “I think we're just gonna to have to be secretly in love with each other and leave it at that, Richie.”
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 3:26 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]

It doesn't quite have the sense of lifelong wistfulness which I suspect is at the heart of your question, but "Man's Best Friend" by Canadian power-pop band The Pursuit of Happiness captures this sentiment from a younger man's perspective.
posted by mykescipark at 6:13 AM on June 11

Erykah Badu, Next Lifetime, is about exactly this
posted by Lawn Beaver at 6:13 AM on June 11 [3 favorites]

Aceyalone, Everything Changes.
posted by chesty_a_arthur at 6:46 AM on June 11

Ani Difranco School Night
posted by greta simone at 6:52 AM on June 11 [2 favorites]

I think Ani DiFranco's Providence fits here too.
posted by purpleclover at 9:39 AM on June 11

Brandy (You're a Fine Girl) by Looking Glass:
"Brandy, you're a fine girl, What a good wife you would be. But my life, my love, and my lady is the sea."
posted by Morpeth at 9:57 AM on June 11 [1 favorite]

The Hardest Thing by 98°
posted by Constance Mirabella at 11:03 AM on June 11

Undeclared by The Dodos
posted by papayaninja at 12:16 PM on June 11

The movie (and musical) Once.
posted by fast ein Maedchen at 12:58 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]

Very apt in the movie "Lost In Translation", I think the Roxie Music "More Than This" describes this as well.

It was fun for a while
There was no way of knowing
Like dream in the night
Who can say where we're going
No care in the world
Maybe I'm learning
Why the sea on the tide
Has no way of turning
posted by hillabeans at 1:05 PM on June 11

The Bridges of Madison County.
posted by DirtyOldTown at 1:35 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]

The Long Black Veil

The judge said son, what is your alibi
If you were somewhere else, then you won't have to die
I spoke not a word, though it meant my life
For I'd been in the arms of my best friend's wife
posted by bonobothegreat at 6:26 PM on June 11

Parton's I Will Always Love You. And look into elements of 'courtly love' -- ardent, devoted, chaste love between parties already spoken for.
posted by Iris Gambol at 6:50 PM on June 11 [1 favorite]

I Loved You Once in Silence, from Camelot. As classic as chivalrous love gets - Lancelot and Guinevere
posted by arabidopsis at 8:49 PM on June 11 [2 favorites]

Edward Lear, The Courtship of the Yonghy-Bonghy-Bo
posted by verstegan at 2:25 AM on June 12

Dessa’s “Go Home” is about exactly this, and is gorgeous.

(Chorus: “Go home to her / while you still can. / It’s much too late now / for drafting up new plans. / Your woman’s got an honest man / I always thought / so don’t do nothing now / to make me take it back.”)
posted by Edna Million at 8:21 AM on June 12 [2 favorites]

The ghazal is ... written from the point of view of the unrequited lover whose beloved is portrayed as unattainable.... or else the societal circumstances do not allow it. The lover is aware and resigned to this fate but continues loving nonetheless; the lyrical impetus of the poem derives from this tension. Nice explanation of the form.

Ghazal 42
Yellow Tulips
Ghazal 1

Here's (part of? a version of?) one in Arabic that shows up on a wall hanging in the background in a scene in the movie "Brief Encounter" (1945), which you didn't ask for movies, but it's apropos:

لسان الهوى من مقلتي لك ناطق ... يخبر عني أنني لك عاشق
ولي شاهد من طرف قلبي معذب ... وقلبي جريح من فراقك خافق
وكم أكتم الحب الذي قد أذابني ... وقلبي جريح والدمع سوابق
وما كنت أدري قبل حبك ما الهوى ... ولكن قضا الرحمن في الخلق سابق

A (very loose, bad, truncated and incorrect translation but not as comically bad as Google's):
My eyes give away that I love you
I am tormented by your parting
I stifle the love that consumed me and my wounded heart
Before loving you I did not know of craving

Here is a sung version.
posted by Hal Mumkin at 6:34 PM on June 12

I Honestly Love You, best known as a hit by Olivia Newton-John, but written before he came out, when he couldn't be open about who he loved:

If we both were born
In another place in time
This moment might be ending in a kiss

But there you are with yours
And here I am with mine
So I guess we'll just be leaving it at this
posted by kristi at 10:20 AM on June 17

For the back story of the Yeats poem you quote, see The Collected Poems of William Butler Yeats.

The poem derives from À Hélène de Surgères by the 16th Century French poet Pierre Ronsard, considered by many as the greatest French poet of his age. The poem is quoted in full in that post in both the French and in an English translation, by whom I know not. I was rather profligate in my quotes in those days.

But it is of use in this case.

What comes to mind is another poem of Yeats:

Aedh 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.

I miss azazello, from whom we have not heard for five years. One of our greatest in my estimation.

And read the thread in that post, all of it. It shows us at our best.
posted by y2karl at 7:46 AM on August 17

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