love is in the air

Just for you: A perfect evocation of love in anticipation of Valentine’s Day. ♥️

“Les Amoureux” by Marc Chagall (1928).
by William Jay Smith

Now touch the air softly, step gently, one, two …
I’ll love you ’til roses are robin’s egg blue;
I’ll love you ’til gravel is eaten for bread,
And lemons are orange, and lavender’s red.

Now touch the air softly, swing gently the broom.
I’ll love you ’til windows are all of a room;
And the table is laid, And the table is bare,
And the ceiling reposes on bottomless air.

I’ll love you ’til heaven rips the stars from his coat,
And the moon rows away in a glass-bottomed boat;
And Orion steps down like a river below,
And earth is ablaze, and oceans aglow.

So touch the air softly, and swing the broom high.
We will dust the grey mountains, and sweep the blue sky:
And I’ll love you as long as the furrow the plough,
As however is ever, and ever is now.

~ from The Girl in Glass: Love Poems (Books & Co., 2002)


“Lovers with Daisies,” by Marc Chagall (1949-59).

I was totally enchanted by every word of this lyrical gem, which is alternately titled “A Pavane for the Nursery.” Something about, ‘step gently, one, two’ struck me as an ingenuous invitation to delight.

This poem has been set to music by several composers, is a popular choral piece, and is often sung or recited at weddings.

A former U.S. Poet Laureate, William Jay Smith once said, “Great poetry must have its own distinctive music; it must resound with the music of the human psyche,” and this poem certainly bears that out.

Smith favored traditional poetic styles to free verse, hence his use of a rhymed metrical-stanzaic structure here. His pronouncements are charming as well as disarming despite the formal style. Who can resist “the moon rows away in a glass-bottomed boat,” or “we will dust the grey mountains and sweep the blue sky”?

“La Promenade,” by Marc Chagall (1918).

Brooms are symbols of good luck, as they can be used to “sweep away” evil spirits or bad fortune. According to an old Welsh custom, newlyweds should enter their new home by stepping over a broom so luck will follow them. Similarly, if a bride and groom jump over a broom during their marriage ceremony, good luck and fortune will flourish in their union.

Upon reading this poem, I thought immediately of Marc Chagall. After all, he’s considered “the ultimate painter of love.” He masterfully captured the euphoria of love with his levitating lovers, who blissfully float on air, defying gravity, soaring beyond earthly realms as one. 

“Bride and Groom of the Eiffel Tower,” by Marc Chagall (1938-39).

His wife Bella was not only the love of his life, but the muse who inspired his best work. He said, “Is it not true that painting and color are inspired by love? In art, as in life, all is possible when conceived in love.”

I thought Chagall’s flying lovers a good match for Smith’s poem, for it is the life-sustaining purity of air that blesses those united in love, enfolding them in their own universe.

“Birthday” by Marc Chagall (1924).

After listening to several renditions of this poem put to music, I decided my favorite is by Minnesota folk musician Peter Mayer. His crisp, warm, fluid acoustic treatment is perfection.



The lovely and talented Carol Varsalona is hosting the Roundup at Beyond LiteracyLink. Waltz on over to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being served up around the blogosphere this week. Enjoy your weekend and watch out for cupid’s arrows next week. 🙂

Copyright © 2023 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

e. e. cummings o’clock (kisskiss)

“A clock is a little machine that shuts us out from the wonder of time.” ~ Susan Glaspell

The sunlight claps the earth, and the moonbeams kiss the sea: what are all these kissings worth, if thou kiss not me?” ~ Percy Bysshe Shelley

Spring is practically here and love is in the air. Why not count the minutes with kisses? 🙂


there are so many tictoc
clocks everywhere telling people
what toctic time it is for
tictic instance five toc minutes toc
past six tic

Spring is not regulated and does
not get out of order nor do
its hands a little jerking move
over numbers slowly

                                      we do not
wind it up it has no weights
springs wheels inside of
its slender self no indeed dear
nothing of the kind.

(So,when kiss Spring comes
we'll kiss each kiss other on kiss the kiss
lips because tic clocks toc don't make
a toctic difference
to kisskiss you and to
kiss me)

~ from erotic poems by E.E. Cummings (W.W. Norton & Co., 2010)


How’s that for sweet seduction? 🙂

Indeed, Cummings makes a great case for unbridled passion — no regulated constraints, no measured monotony. Just bring on the sensuous delights, surprising, even sudden. For something this delicious, toss your clocks out the window. After all, love has a way of making time stand still.

As you probably know, Cummings wrote many poems celebrating spring and love, often defining one in terms of the other. I think of “O sweet spontaneous earth . . . thou answerst them only with spring,” “we’re alive,dear:it’s(kiss me now)spring!,” “springtime is lovetime and viva sweet love,” or stanzas like this one:

everywhere's here
(with a low high low
and the bird on the bough)
--we never we know
(so kiss me) shy sweet eagerly
most dear


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an expression of love: jack gilbert’s “the forgotten dialect of the heart”

“It is interesting to note that poetry, a literary device whose very construct involves the use of words, is itself the word of choice by persons grasping to describe something so beautiful it is marvelously ineffable.” ~ Vanna Bonta

Detail from a reproduction of the Fresco of the Procession, Palace of Knossos, Crete.


We sometimes hear people say, “words fail me.” Have you ever been stymied trying to write about something you care deeply about, frustrated that everything you come up with falls short?

Whether grief, elation, bafflement, or love — we often fall victim to cliché or manage a fair approximation at best.

In this poem, Jack Gilbert suggests that love — the most intense and wide ranging emotion human beings are capable of experiencing — might be the most challenging to describe in words. It’s ironic how Gilbert acknowledges the imperfection of language with a poem that is perfection in itself. 🙂


Phaistos Disc, Side A (it’s just under 6″ in diameter).


by Jack Gilbert

How astonishing it is that language can almost mean,
and frightening that it does not quite. Love, we say,
God, we say, Rome and Michiko, we write, and the words
get it wrong. We say bread and it means according
to which nation. French has no word for home,
and we have no word for strict pleasure. A people
in northern India is dying out because their ancient tongue
has no words for endearment. I dream of lost
vocabularies that might express some of what
we no longer can. Maybe the Etruscan texts would
finally explain why the couples on their tombs
are smiling. And maybe not. When the thousands
of mysterious Sumerian tablets were translated,
they seemed to be business records. But what if they
are poems or psalms? My joy is the same as twelve
Ethiopian goats standing silent in the morning light.
O Lord, thou art slabs of salt and ingots of copper,
as grand as ripe barley lithe under the wind’s labor.
Her breasts are six white oxen loaded with bolts
of long-fibered Egyptian cotton. My love is a hundred
pitchers of honey. Shiploads of thuya are what
my body wants to say to your body. Giraffes are this
desire in the dark. Perhaps the spiral Minoan script
is not a language but a map. What we feel most has
no name but amber, archers, cinnamon, horses and birds.

~ from Jack Gilbert: Collected Poems (Knopf, 2014)

Phaistos Disc, Side B


Pittsburgh native Jack Gilbert once described himself as a “serious romantic.” Born four days after Valentine’s Day in 1925, he flunked out of high school but was admitted to the University of Pittsburgh due to a clerical error (yes, really!).

After his first book of poetry, Views of Jeopardy (1962), won the Yale Young Poets Prize and was nominated for a Pulitzer, he became quite the literary and media darling. He did not embrace this role, however, and for most of his life went into self-imposed exile, eschewing fame and traveling around Europe where he sometimes taught American Literature for the U.S. State Department. He would not publish another collection of poetry for twenty years.

Many of his poems are about love and his relationships with specific women. The “Michiko” in “The Forgotten Dialect of the Heart” is the sculptor Michiko Nogami, a former student 21 years his junior, with whom he lived in Japan until she died from cancer at age 36.

The cultural references in the poem, especially the “spiral Minoan script,” reflects Gilbert’s time living in Greece and brought back fond memories of my visits there. The Phaistos Disc in the photos is one of the greatest archaeological mysteries of all time. At least 4,000 years old, it was discovered by an Italian archaeologist in 1908, and people have been trying to decipher its mysterious code ever since.

Recently, after working together for six years, Dr. Gareth Owen (linguist researcher with the Technological Educational Institute of Crete) and John Coleman (phonetics professor at Oxford), figured out what the mysterious language sounded like and what some of it means. Reading in a spiral direction from the outside to the inside, they’ve concluded it’s a prayer to a Minoan goddess.


Minoan White Goddess


Because the inscriptions were made by pressing hieroglyphic “seals” into soft clay, producing a text with reusable characters, the Phaistos Disc is considered by some to be a very early example of “movable type printing.” Fascinating!

Jack Gilbert, who published five volumes of poetry, died at age 87 in 2012 after a long battle with Alzheimer’s. I love the idea of dreaming about “lost vocabularies that might express some of what we no longer can.” And I am grateful to poets for inventing their own “lost vocabularies,” giving voice to our deepest yearnings.


Enjoy this reading of the poem by Tom O’Bedlam:



“Cupid in a Landscape by Il Sodoma (1510)


How will you express your love this Valentine’s Day?



Thanks to everyone who left comments last week. We are pleased to announce that the lucky person receiving a copy of CAN I TOUCH YOUR HAIR? by Irene Latham and Charles Waters is:

🌺 GAYLE!! 🌸

Congratulations!! Please send along your snail mail address to receive your book.

Next giveaway: Anne of Green Gables Cookbook on Tuesday, February 13!


The talented and clever Sally Murphy is hosting the Roundup this week. Take a trip down under to check out the full menu of poetic goodness being shared in the blogosphere. Have a good weekend. 🙂

Copyright © 2018 Jama Rattigan of Jama’s Alphabet Soup. All rights reserved.

friday feast: sweet words for valentine’s day

hearts line
via lucia and mapp

Recently, while browsing through The Poets Laureate Anthology (W.W. Norton & Co., 2010), I came across this wonderful poem by William Jay Smith that’s just perfect for Valentine’s Day.

I’m a sucker for the short lyrical line and fell for it immediately, all the while wondering why I hadn’t seen it before. Most of you probably know this poem, perhaps as the lyrics of a children’s song or as a wedding ceremony recitation. I like how it celebrates that pure, unconditional love between parent and child, as well as the romantic love that has the power to sweep us off our feet at any age. With its charm, whimsy and unbounded declaration, the poem expresses the love we all live and long for — beginning to end, above, below, around, and between.

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