Brevity=Wit Entry #12

February 15th, 2010 by Wordsman

As Valentine’s Day was this weekend, I thought it only made sense to talk about expressions of love.  There are many ways to say, “I love you,” some long, some short, some famous, and some obscure.  Let’s take a look at “famous,” starting with this well-known poem by Elizabeth Barrett Browning:

“How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight

It’s not a bad start, really.  She loves as deeply as her soul can.  That’s pretty good.  But when you count it, as she herself suggests, that’s only one way, three tops, if you count “depth,” “breadth,” and height separately.  When you look at it that way, it’s not very impressive at all.

Let’s try another one, the famous Sonnet 18 by my good friend and frequent participant in Brevity=Wit, William Shakespeare:

“Shall I compare thee to a Summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And Summer’s lea”

This one’s just a mess.  You kind of understand where he’s going.  He does call her (or, depending on what interpretation you subscribe to, him) “lovely,” but that’s about it.  “Temperate?”  I really can’t tell if that’s supposed to be a compliment or not.  Clearly what happened here is that old Willy tried to profess his love, but in the end he panicked and just babbled on about the first thing that came into his head, which happened to be the weather.

Now, I’m not going to suggest any of my own compositions to be used instead.  And I suppose that even these long-winded sonnets could work for some people, if high school English class is their idea of romance.  But, for those of you that are looking for more bang for your buck (or, specifically, more content for your characters), then I would like to recommend this classic work of unknown authorship:

“Roses are red,
Violets are blue,
Sugar is sweet,
And so are you.”

There you have it.  Everything you need, in only sixty-one characters.  A fabulous exemplar of brevity.

But it’s not the best.  Even this terse, to-the-point poem spends half the time going on about flowers, which don’t really have anything to do with anything.  If you want the ultimate declaration of love (as measured by quantity of love expressed per character), then I direct your attention to The Empire Strikes Back:

LEIA: “I love you.”

HAN: “I know.”

Eighteen characters.  Beautiful.  It doesn’t get any sweeter than that.

Happy Valentine’s Day!

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