The thing about love letters is that almost anyone can write one -- which makes just about almost everyone an expert on the subject. Odd, because nowhere in our schooling were we ever taught how to wax poetic on the subject of love. How to diagram sentences? Boy, they were heavy on that. How to write a term paper on the Hundred Years War? Hoo boy, ad nauseam. But love letters? Heck, did you even hear the word love mentioned? The closest we came was in biology class when we dissected grasshoppers.
In fact, love-letter writing is just one of those things that comes naturally for most people -- much like sighing or blurting. Which probably explains why sighing and blurting are the two most often used formats for love letters. The sighing approach is as old as dirt -- one can practically feel the writer's depression at being parted from his or her loved one. "My Dearest: Most likely I'll be dead of melancholy by the time you read this. Please feed the iguana." Completely opposite is the more confident, "blurt" approach: "Hey! I love you! Get the next plane out here! Now! Bring those underwear things I sent you! Now!"
Not surprisingly, there are very few rules to writing a love letter. First, make sure you correctly spell the name of the person to whom you're writing. Second, make sure you send it to the right person. Third, never ask for money.
With that in mind, here is a sampling of love letters from some pretty famous lovers, followed by a helpful critique to guide your
Humorist Will Rogers to his wife, Betty (1909)
My Own Darling Wife,
just a little note before i go up stairs cause I am lonesome and wishing you were up there waiting for me. and you will be in a few days won't you hon. "G" I sho do love you and I miss you oh so much and think of you all the time and I said some mean things in some of my letters and I did not mean a one of them. you are so good to me and I am the one who is wrong and you must forgive me cause I dont mean a bit of it and I will show you when you come "home."
Well Goodnight my own my love you are the best and dearest wife in the world.
The subtle use of self-pity here is, of course, brilliant, making this a model sigh letter. Rogers was away from his bride of six months on a performance tour in Cincinnati and was reportedly so bummed out he actually met a man he didn't like.
You shall now receive (my deare wife) my last words in these my last lines. My love I send you that you may keep it when I am dead, and my councell that you may remember it when I am no more. I would not by my will present you with sorrowes (dear Besse) let them go to the grave with me and be buried in the dust. And seeing that it is not Gods will that I should see you any more in this life, beare it patiently, and with a heart like thy selfe.
. . . When I am gone, no doubt you shall be sought for by many, for the world thinkes I was very rich. But take heed of the pretences of men, and their affections, for they last not but in honest and worthy men . . . . I speake not this (God knowes) to dissuade you from marriage, for it will be best for you, both in respect of the world and of God. As for me I am no more yours, nor you mine, death hath cut us asunder: and God hath divided
me from the world, and you from me.
Yours that was, but now not my own.
Other than the fact he was such a terrible speller he got his own name wrong, this expands on the sigh approach by adding the masterstroke of imminent execution to cement the guilt the writer is trying to impart on the reader. Raleigh thought the hour for his execution was near but, oops! he was kept in the Tower of London till 1616, then released to search for gold. When he failed to find it, he was then beheaded. His last words to his love, scrawled on a piece of parchment: "Er, see previous note."
Wonderful man, where are you tonight? Your letter came only an hour ago -- a cruel hour -- I had hoped you would spend it with me.
I cannot live apart from you now -- your words, even when bitter, dispel all the cares of the world and make me happy; my art has been nourished by them and rocked in their soft cradle. They are as necessary to me as sunlight and air. Your words are my food,
your breath my wine. You are everything to me.
Playwright and poet Sardou was the great love of Bernhardt's life. This rare mixture of blurt and sigh in a single letter -- known as a Captain Bligh -- scandalized the world. I beseech you now with all my heart definitely to let me know your whole mind as to the love between us; for necessity compels me to plague you for a reply, having been for more than a year now struck by the dart of love . . . if it please you to do the duty of a true, loyal mistress and friend, and to give yourself body and heart to me, who have been, and will be, your very loyal servant (if your rigour does not forbid me), I promise you that not only the name will be due to you, but also to take you as my sole mistress, casting off all others than yourself out of my mind and affection, and to serve only you . . . . Written by the hand of him who would willingly remain your
What can one say about the man who single-handedly invented the blurt? Hanky, as his wives called him, pursued Anne Boleyn )) for six years, marrying her in 1533. Tragically, three years later he accidentally cut off her head while cleaning his ax. Grief-stricken, he cut back to a thousand love letters a month and died with only six wives to his name.
To Josephine, in Milan,
I love you no longer; on the contrary, I detest you. You are a wretch, truly perverse, truly stupid, a real Cinderella. You never write to me at all, you do not love your husband; you know the pleasure that your letters give him yet you cannot even manage to write him half a dozen lines, Dashed off in a moment!
. . . In truth, I am worried, my love, to have no news from you; !! write me a four-page letter instantly made up from those delightful words which fill my heart with emotion and joy.
I hope to hold you in my arms before long, when I shall lavish upon you a million kisses, burning as the equatorial sun.
While the blurtatious style is wide open, phrases like "I detest you" are to be avoided in love letters, especially in the opening sentence. It makes it very difficult to get future dates -- except in those rare occasions when you control the world. Boney's "equatorial sun," on the other hand, is an almost guaranteed invite for a nightcap. It made me terribly homesick when I talked with you yesterday morning. It seemed as if you were just around the corner, if 6,000 miles can be just around the corner. I spent the day after the call trying to think up reasons why I should bust up the conference and go home.
Less, of course, is always more, and Harry "The Sigh" Truman was always a master of subtlety -- except of course for that atomic bomb incident.
This morning, I'm ambitious, proud, energetic and very madly in love with you . . . If I had a box, I would almost make a speech
It's important in any love letter -- especially a bald, brusque blurt like this one -- to stick to one topic (love, for example), and leave other matters for other letters. As it turned out, LBJ did have a box and did make a speech and later wrote a letter to Lady Bird asking if it was as good for her as it was for him. My own dear boy -- Your sonnet is quite lovely and it is a marvel that those red roseleaf lips of yours should be made no less for the music of song than for the madness of kissing. Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry. I know that Hyacinthus, whom Apollo loved so madly, was you in Greek days. . . . Always with undying love,
Anytime you can work in a reference to Greeks -- whether in the sighing or blurting mode -- you're ahead of the game. Beware, though, of Greeks bearing gifts.
Ogden Nash to Frances Rider Leonard, his future wife (1929)
This is a peculiarly gifted and intelligent pen. Look what it's writing now: I love you . . . I was told tonight on what seemed to be the best authority that you are fond of me. Can you confirm this rumor?
Only Baltimore's own adopted son Ogden Nash could break every rule of love-letter writing and invent what has since been known as the "informed source" approach. The advantages are endless: Before you commit to loving someone, you cleverly find out what the someone is feeling about you. If the reply is "Rumors discounted," the return message is a painless "Drop dead."
On my return from Philadelphia, yesterday . . . I found your last letter. I was so tired and sleepy, having ridden all night, that I could not answer it till today; and now I have to do so in the [House of Representatives]. The leading matter in your letter, is your wish to return to this side of the Mountains [Washington, D.C]. Will you be a good girl in all things, if I consent? Then come along, and that as soon as possible. Having got the idea into my head, I shall be impatient till I see you . . . Come on just as soon as you can. I want to see you, and our dear -- dear boys very much. . . . Affectionately
As a young congressman, Lincoln had been living in a boarding room in Washington with his wife and two sons. He found it very hard to concentrate, so his wife and children went to stay with relatives in Kentucky. Abe started this letter with a characteristic heavy sigh. But the unpredictable Lincoln pulled a revolutionary switch, with a mild attack of blurting, while still managing to sound presidential at the end. Livy darling! what an access of love, a little separation brings! I have such a longing for you these days; & the lesson it teaches, is, separate yourselves every now & then. When I have been away from you 2 days, I am wild to see you. So I mean to go away every now & then, just to renew that feeling -- but never more than 48 hours. As long as we live I hope it will never be more than 48 hours that will intervene between our seeing each other. It seems that it will be a whole age before I see you again.
This letter smacks of a man who has stayed out too late shooting pool with the boys and is trying to get on the good side of the missus. Known as "The Butterball" approach, it is seldom used ** anymore because real men are too sensitive and real women too used to real men.
. . . I can never get over the wonder of it, darling, that you can think and feel so about me. It makes me so happy and yet it humbles me so deeply too; for how can I help knowing and feeling how far short I fall of that description. Ah, how I long to be all that you think of me -- all that my darling's wife should be. May God help me to grow into that likeness. . .
Ellen Wilson had a very upbeat tone to her sighs. Men, of course, love upbeat sighs, although too many will surely spoil them. So, ladies, keep the melancholy handy just in case. . . . I wish I could have seen more of you, or not have seen, at all -- for our short acquaintance has set me thinking wildly, Bless you dear friend, O, how I wish I could understand you, Tell me (and from your heart) do you think the least little bit of me. . .
From the collection of Louise and Barry Taper
Booth weighs in here with the mewling, puking version of the sigh approach, heavily favored for some reason by the assassin community. It almost invariably results in disappointment for the writer, with the most common reply being "Let me make this crystal clear pal: You suck mud through rocks." From now on you are but a guest in your family. . . . For has it not been laid down since time immemorial that the woman shall leave father and mother and follow the man she has chosen? You must not take it too hard, Marty, you cannot fight against it; no matter how much they love you I will not leave you to anyone, and no one deserves you; no one else's love compares with mine.
Marty's reply, heretofore unknown, was, "You're one sick poodle. Get help." Darling kid,
You know what would happen if you came over here? I would take you and keep you forever, that's what would happen. And even if you didn't come over here and I ever found you anywhere else in the world -- I'd keep you, too. So you see, I love you!
Swell to have your letter. But listen -- were you any more serious than I was? And how did I know I was so much going to miss the hell out of you after you went South to dance or I came half a world away from you? But I do miss you -- lots more than you miss me, I guess, -- and I want you, Sylvia baby, more than anyone else in the world, believe it or not. I love you. . . .
A classic blurt, penned in the ever popular "I'm-a-guy-and-you're-a-babe-so-let's-make-some-Borscht" tone. Hughes, by the way, was in Russia when he wrote this letter to dancer Sylvia Chen, whom he'd met in Moscow the previous year. She was away on a dance tour. His passion for her inexplicably waned and she eventually married another American.