France is, by general agreement, the country of love and romanticism. Just imagine being with your partner walking through the streets of Paris while admiring the stars and listening to those classic songs that praise love with language that gives us goosebumps. I know, it’s quite cheesy, but you can’t deny that it sounds quite romantic. The softness and musicality of the French language is what entices many. To be honest, it has a very special effect on me, and because it’s a very popular cliché, it’s likely it have the same effect on other people. So, what’s the essence of love?
Love, the ultimate emotion we all feel at some point in our lives, and the one we hope to experience in a true way, has inspired poets, artists, and even scientists to discover the true nature and process of falling in love. Science has even described all the processes involved in the experience. Yet only art has the ability to get to the emotional core, the one that studies are unable to describe. In that way, it was French writer Stendhal the one who devoted a whole treaty on the process of falling in love.
According to Stendhal, the process consists of seven stages we all experience. There isn’t a better way to explore them than with poems originally written in the language of love.
The first stage consists of admiration. It’s the moment you start noticing that you are attracted to a person’s qualities. It can happen the moment you first meet someone or simply by realizing that a person you’ve known for such a long time has something you'd never seen before.
Gerard de Nerval (1808-1855)
It is of you, divine enchantress, I am thinking, Myrto,
Burning with a thousand fires at haughty Posilipo,
Of your forehead flowing with an Oriental glare,
Of the black grapes mixed with the gold of your hair.
Je pense à toi, Myrtho, divine enchanteresse,
Au Pausilippe altier, de mille feux brillant,
À ton front inondé des clartés de l'Orient,
Aux raisins noirs mêlés avec l'or de ta tresse.
Once you’ve noticed these qualities, it’s only a matter of time for your body and mind to feel the need to get to know that person in a more intimate way. You start thinking about that person constantly, and just the idea of naming them or seeing them makes you feel shivers down your spine, something you can’t really explain. You start fantasizing about that person and longing to have them near you.
“Take This Rose...”
Pierre de Ronsard (1524-1585)
Take this rose as lovely as you can be
Which is the rose that’s prettiest
Which is the flower that’s the freshest
Whose fragrance so delights all me.
Prends cette rose aimable comme toi,
qui sert de rose aux roses les plus belles,
qui sert de fleur aux fleurs les plus nouvelles,
dont la senteur me ravit tout de moi.
There’s no turning back. You already feel completely infatuated by this person, and the only thing you want is to start a relationship with them. That’s what this phase is all about the wish for your emotions to be reciprocated. It's hoping they'll feel the same way.
“Song of Love I”
Alphonse de Lamartine (1790-1869)
Open your eyes, I would say, O my only light!
Let me, let me read in your eyes
My life and your love!
Your languishing look means more to my soul
Than the first ray of celestial flame
To eyes deprived of the day.
Ouvre les yeux, dirais-je, ô ma seule lumière !
Laisse-moi, laisse-moi lire dans ta paupière
Ma vie et ton amour !
Ton regard languissant est plus cher à mon âme
Que le premier rayon de la céleste flamme
Aux yeux privés du jour.
Stendhal also names this phase as "love is born". It’s there, in your mind and heart. That person brightens your day, and there isn’t anything or anyone that can ruin it. Your feelings have run amok, and the only thing you can do is actually let yourself go in this experience.
“August Night” (“Nuit d’Août”)
Alfred de Musset (1810-1857)
I love and want to sing of joy and laziness
Of my crazed life and cares of just one day.
I want to tell and say forever and ceaseless
That once vowing to live without mistress,
Only of love I vow to live and die.
J’aime, et je veux chanter la joie et la paresse,
Ma folle experience et mes soucis d’un jour,
Et je veux raconter et répéter sans cesse
Qu’après avoir juré de vivre sans maîtresse,
J’ai fait serment de vivre et de mourir d’amour.
5. First crystallization
This is an essential stage of love and the one Stendhal bases his study on. Being inspired by the geological natural evolution of rocks, he named his treaty as the process involved, which is crystallization. It’s what happens with diamonds: at first sight, they don’t look so attractive, but once they’re transformed, they become beautiful crystals that you forget how imperfect they naturally were. The same happens with love: it blinds us in ways that we can only see that person as the embodiment of perfection.
“Kiss Me More” (“Baise m’encor'”)
Louise Labé (1526-1566)
Kiss me, kiss me more and still more,
Give me that scrumptious kiss of yours,
Give me that kiss that’s tenderest,
I’ll give you four that are hottest.
Baise m’encor, rebaise-moi et baise :
Donne-m’en un de tes plus savoureux ,
Donne m’en un de tes plus amoureux ;
Je t’en rendrai quatre plus chauds que braise.
Now, here starts another cycle of the process. Up until now Stendhal compares the process as going on a trip (actually he’s quite specific and claims that it’s like going from Bologna to Rome). When you’re about to depart, you don’t seem to appreciate the place, as long as you approach your destination. Once you arrive at that special place, you start appreciating the new and nice things you discover. However, once you’re there, there’s a moment of doubt and confusion.
Marceline Desbordes-Valmore (1786-1859)
Once there was friendship, the charms of a book
filled without effort each peaceful spare hour.
Oh, what is the object of this vague desire?
I ignore it, but worry then makes me go look.
If my happiness wasn't with gaiety bound,
then nor am I finding it resting with sadness,
but if I fear weeping the same way as madness,
then where is enjoyment found?
Autrefois l'amitié, les charmes de l'étude
Remplissaient sans effort mes paisibles loisirs.
Oh ! quel est donc l'objet de mes vagues désirs ?
Je l'ignore, et le cherche avec inquiétude.
Si pour moi le bonheur n'était pas la gaîté,
Je ne le trouve plus dans ma mélancolie ;
Mais, si je crains les pleurs autant que la folie,
Où trouver la félicité ?
7. Second crystallization
Finally, the last stage is described as a second realization of your feelings and the connection with that person. It becomes a moment of reassurance where the relationship is settled and defined. It can be understood as a sublime moment.
“More Strong Than Time” (“Puisque j'ai mis ma lèvre à ta coupe encor pleine”)
Victor Hugo (1802-1885)
Since I have set my lips to your full cup, my sweet,
Since I my pallid face between your hands have laid,
Since I have known your soul, and all the bloom of it,
And all the perfume rare, now buried in the shade;
Since it was given to me to hear on happy while,
The words wherein your heart spoke all its mysteries,
Since I have seen you weep, and since I have seen you smile,
Your lips upon my lips, and your eyes upon my eyes;
Puisque j’ai mis ma lèvre à ta coupe encor pleine ;
Puisque j’ai dans tes mains posé mon front pâli ;
Puisque j’ai respiré parfois la douce haleine
De ton âme, parfum dans l’ombre enseveli ;
Puisqu’il me fut donné de t’entendre me dire
Les mots où se répand le cœur mystérieux ;
Puisque j’ai vu pleurer, puisque j’ai vu sourire
Ta bouche sur ma bouche et tes yeux sur mes yeux.
Unlike what we could think about his notes and thoughts on love, Stendhal based his writings on his own story, an unrequited love. The man, who had fallen in love with a woman who didn’t love him in return, shows us the nature of this desired experience by making it, actually, more approachable and attainable.
The images illustrating the article belong to @merveandnils