Altering and Removing Love: True Love, Forgiveness, and Shakespeare

Rowena walking away, b&w

Shakespeare knew something about love. One of his greatest poems is about love, anger, pride, and pain. And about marriage in the sense of the true union of two hearts and minds. The lines: “Love is not love which alters when it alteration finds, or bends with the remover to remove” are the heart and soul and point of this poem.

When any Lover tries to alter his love for his Beloved – to remove it from her – he will find that this is impossible to do, try as hard as he may. Because if his love is truly love, despite everything he says to the contrary, his love must remain constant still. Likewise if in reaction the Beloved says she no longer loves the Lover – that somehow suddenly her love for him has altered – and that she has removed her love for him because he tried to remove his from her, then this probably has more to do with pride and pain than with Love.

To use a metaphor, if the Beloved can somehow turn off the valve of her Love for the one she loves, so that the basin holding that Love – which can only be their hearts – is soon only half full of her Lover’s outpouring love, or visa versa, then there must never have really been any love at all. But if there was true love before, then the soul-crushing despair of heartbreak and pain may be to blame, not a lack of love, and Love may yet burst forth from the streams in their hearts changing heartbreak into New Life and New Love once again.

This is the lesson Shakespeare teaches us in his masterful poem on the subject of pain, heartbreak, anger, and the constancy of love – Sonnet 116. Can you not see the English bard’s logic in this?

William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

William Shakespeare, 1564-1616

Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’ed.

William Shakespeare, Sonnet 116, published in 1609 but perhaps written as much as 10-15 years earlier

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