Writing About Love, by Georgie Tennant

Let me challenge you to a quiz. We all love quizzes, don’t we? And, let’s face it, there’s still not much other excitement in our lives and probably won’t be for a while yet!

Name the love poems from which these lines originate – and their authors, too, for bonus points (2 marks per question – possible total, 14):

1. “Let me not to the marriage of true minds admit impediments…”

2. “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways…”

3. “She walks in beauty, like the night, Of cloudless climes and starry skies…”

Did you get those ones? Reasonably famous, I think. How about these?

4. “Not a red rose, or a satin heart. / I give you an onion."

5. "I am very bothered when I think of all the bad things I’ve done in my life…"

6. “I wanna be your vacuum cleaner, breathing in your dust…”

7. “On Waterloo bridge, where we said our goodbyes, / The weather conditions bring tears to my eyes…”

How did you do (answers at the bottom of this post)? More modern and slightly more obscure? I’m sure you will have spotted the theme of the quiz by now and I hope it hasn’t sent you scurrying off for a bucket, if you’re not romantically inclined. 

I am not a huge fan of Valentine’s Day myself, but, with romance in the air, this week, it did get me thinking about love poetry, and, more specifically, the challenge of writing about love without being clichéd. What is considered clichéd changes over time, of course (as an A-Level English teacher, I have had the enjoyment of teaching a Unit called “Love Through the Ages,” to my students – a fascinating undertaking) – and it is the challenge of the writer to find new and fresh ways to express this overwhelming, universal-yet-unique-to-the-individual emotion.

The writer of Ecclesiastes proclaims that “there is nothing new under the sun,” (Ecclesiastes 1 v 9) and this is a real problem for poets and writers seeking fresh expression in this genre. Carol Ann Duffy goes some way to exploring this, poetically, in “The Love Poem,” from her 2005 collection, “Rapture.” If you enjoyed my quiz, read “The Love Poem,” here and see how many allusions you can spot. She makes the point well, I think, that it’s hard to find new words to express age-old concepts.

It impresses me when writers of love poetry surprise with new and fascinating angles – “Timer,” by Tony Harrison takes the unlikely perspective of a son collecting his mother’s ashes from a crematorium to reflect on the eternal nature of love. “One Flesh,” by Elizabeth Jennings portrays an elderly couple, their passion a distant memory now, but still connected, somehow, by threads that hold them together. Do look them up, if you’ve never read them.

Shakespeare himself was frustrated by clichés, as far back as the sixteenth century. Teaching Sonnet 130 to groups of fifteen year olds has hilarious results, as they slowly realise that the lines that sound like insults, turn around, by the closing couplet, to be complimentary after all.

It’s not just a problem for writers of Romance. How do we, as Christian writers, portray God’s love in our writing without becoming cheesy or clichéd? How can we pass on what we have experienced in our own lives, to others, who may have never have thought to associate God with love at all? I admire writers in this group like Angela Hobday, Fiona Veitch-Smith, K.A. Hitchins and Sue Russell who weave glimpses of that love, compassion, forgiveness and grace into their fiction, without being preachy or clichéd.

I would love to hear your thoughts on this post. Have you ever written in the Romance genre, prose or poetry? If so, how did you navigate the minefield of avoiding cliché? What about portraying God’s love? Do share any tips or tricks you have learned over the years.  Do you have any favourite love poems? And finally – we’re all dying to know – what was your score in the quiz? 

QUIZ ANSWERS - no cheating! 😉

1. Sonnet 116 - Shakespeare (2 marks)

2. Sonnet 43 – Elizabeth Barrett-Browning (2 marks)

3. She Walks in Beauty – Lord Byron (2 marks)

4. Valentine – Carol Ann Duffy (2 marks)

5. I Am Very Bothered – Simon Armitage (2 marks)

6. I Wanna Be Yours – John Cooper Clarke (2 marks)

7. After the Lunch – Wendy Cope. (2 marks)

Georgie Tennant is a secondary school English teacher in a Norfolk Comprehensive.  She is married, with two sons, aged 12 and 10 who keep her exceptionally busy. She writes for the ACW ‘Christian Writer’ magazine occasionally, and is a contributor to the ACW-Published ‘New Life: Reflections for Lent,’ and ‘Merry Christmas, Everyone,’ and, more recently, has contributed to a phonics series, out later this year. She writes the ‘Thought for the Week’ for the local newspaper from time to time and also muses about life and loss on her blog: www.somepoemsbygeorgie.blogspot.co.uk


  1. Ha - I hang my head in shame as I only got 8. My memory for matching poets to lines is not good. A great post - it made me sad not to be teaching poetry at A level any more, although with my score of 8, students are probably safer that I'm not.

  2. Great post! I did alarmingly badly in that quiz...I love Wendy Cope's poem 'The Orange', which you only find out is a love poem in the last line. She skips the cliches brilliantly while still encapsulating how it feels to be in love.

  3. I adored this line “I wanna be your vacuum cleaner, breathing in your dust…” and I love Wendy Cope. Thanks for the recommendations too. 'Timer' and 'one flesh' sound really powerful. I did rubbish on the quiz, especially as I got 1 and 2 the wrong way round!

    I'm not sure if you saw my blog post on the 9, but if you have any favorite ballads, then I'd love to hear them.

  4. I'm totally ashamed to say, Georgie, that I got nothing! So more to be ashamed of than Fran. I even thought the vacuum cleaner one could be by Pam Ayres!! I think my favourite love poems are probably written by John Donne and love poems to God, Gerard Manley Hopkins. Note to self: once my MA is over, read more poetry.

  5. I only got 6! Love Wendy Cope and Carol Ann Duffy. This is a great post, Georgie! I love a quiz. And I am going to look up the ones of which you speak immediately.

  6. Super post, Georgie! Funny, I read 'as an A-Level English teacher' as 'as a loved English teacher' and I am sure you are a MUCH loved teacher! I had never heard Quote 4 but really like it. Sorry Carol Ann but I'm not much of a poetry lover, apart from Shakespeare's which I adore. Yes, a real challenge to portray God's love in a non-cheesy, relatable way. Fabulous post x

  7. Great post, Georgie, and thanks for the mention! I didn't even try the quiz; I knew I would fail dismally.

  8. Brilliant post, Georgie and highlights my ignorance in all things poetry. Will try harder! Xxx

  9. I got none of them right - I couldn't even guess, except the Shakespeare. I loved the line - "Not a red rose, or a satin heart. / I give you an onion." think I'd enjoy that one. I can't help but write about the love of God - I make it as real as it is to me, but maybe it could appear cheesy or weird to someone who doesn't know Jesus. I do try to not use cliches, and it's a good reminder to reread through this next manuscript to check for that. Thank you.


Post a Comment