Old love. Dreamed of, longed for, hymned in folk songs. The sweet old ballad we used to sing around the piano lays down a rash challenge—“Let thy loveliness fade as it will . . .” The singer is so enchanted that he vows, bravely, that the disintegration of his mate’s beauty will not diminish his love.

For some lovers, that rash promise will hold true. Louis Begley made that clear in a recent New York Times column, “Old Love,” in which he acknowledges the wisdom of a friend’s counsel: “Both you and she will change. You will change in tandem. You won’t see her with the eyes of a young man, but instead with those of someone who is 75 or 80. The eyes of an old man.”

A reader, Bill Kasdorf, responded in a letter to The Times: “It took me until my 60s to realize that there is no such thing as a formerly beautiful woman.”

Ah, but what about the beautiful spirit? Muriel Stuart, a Scottish writer (1865 to 1967), calls up profound old love most eloquently in this poem.

 

A Song for Old Love

By Muriel Stuart

 
There shall be a song for both of us that day
Though fools say you have long outlived your songs,
And when, perhaps, because your hair is grey,
You go unsung, to whom all praise belongs,
And no men kiss your hands—your fragile hands
Folded like empty shells on sea-spurned sands.
And you that were dawn whereat men shouted once
Are sunset now, with but one worshipper,
Then to your twilight heart this song shall be
Sweeter than those that did your youth announce
For your brave beautiful spirit is lovelier
Than once your lovely body was to me.
Your folded hands and your shut eyelids stir
A passion that Time has crowned with sanctity.
Young fools shall wonder why, your youth being over,
You are so sung still, but your heart will know
That he who loved your soul was your true lover
And the last song alone was worthy you.

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  • John Allen Richter March 16, 2015 at 1:00 pm

    Muriel’s poetry is absolutely beautiful, and I think quite appropriate for your comments here. When I read her words I don’t see someone from a bygone era detached from a world that I am familiar with. Muriel’s poetry is forever, universal, contemporary with my own thoughts and feelings. Beautiful forever, I would say. One small correction though. She wasn’t Scottish, but English. Another famous writer once proclaimed that she was Scottish and ever since people have been making that same mistake….

    Reply
  • hillsmom September 9, 2012 at 11:12 am

    This is a touching article and poem. The link led me to the old sweet songs my Aunt Essie used to sing around the house when I was very, very young.

    Reply