LOVE SET YOU GOING is an anthology of poems about love, assembled with commentary from Janet Morley, noted for her excellent magpie collections of poetry, prayers, and rites.
She divides her selections into three categories: “Up and down the generations” (Love between children and adults); “Grown up love”; and “God and the human heart”. She includes poems from across the ages and styles, from the Song of Songs to Carol Ann Duffy.
It is adventurous enough to compile an anthology of poems about love in an already crowded market, but it is arguably more perilous to then make comments about the poems themselves. A large part of the value of poetry is that the precise meaning of any individual poem is elusive. The transaction between the poet and reader is very personal: it is not explicable prose.
Having said that, Morley rarely falls into the trap of telling us what we should think, or — perhaps more importantly — what we should feel about any one poem. Her comments are gentle, meditative, and perceptive. She avoids the overly devotional and sentimental, and has a gift for picking out the killer line or the telling stanza.
Her choice of poems is catholic, and mostly avoids the obvious. There are some conventional favourites, but others are quite daring. “The Story of a Hotel Room”, by Rosemary Tonks, for instance, hints at the recklessness of love, while Ted Hughes’s “Bride and Groom Lie Hidden for Three Days” celebrates the way in which lovers explore intimately each other’s bodies.
Jane Kenyon’s “Staying at Grandma’s” deals with the words that can obstruct love between generations, while U. A. Fanthorpe and Seamus Heaney write beautifully about how we construct long-term devotion, demonstrating that love is not simply about desire, but also about the everyday.
And, in looking at the love between humans and the divine, Morley readily explores darkness, absence, and the unknowability, as well as comfort and assurance.
This book looks outwards as well as inwards, and will sit well next to the armchair: a good companion when hurry is not on the agenda, but contemplation is.
The Revd Malcolm Doney is a writer, broadcaster, and Anglican priest.
Love Set You Going
Church Times Bookshop £11.70