SINGLE IN THE CITY: The lost art of love letters

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First Posted: 2/10/2014

Sitting down to write a letter to your beloved may seem a tad old fashioned, but, in our age of e-mails, text messages, and other technological innovations, it remains more relevant than ever. And with more communication opportunities, saying “I love you” has never been easier.

That said, however, a certain charm exists in writing a love letter… longhand. Receiving a text or Facebook message or e-mail from your beloved may be nice, but does it compare to a handwritten letter? I argue it does not, since the handwritten love letter remains a classic gesture, one that has endured through the ages. And let’s face it: receiving a letter makes us feel good, if nothing else.

Consider the following examples:

John Keats, the 19th century British romantic, for instance, famously wrote to his love, Fanny Brawne, with the utmost eloquence. The book “Bright Star: Love Letters and Poems of John Keats to Fanny Brawne,” published in 2009, documents Keats’ passionate prose.

“My Dearest Girl,” Keats begins. “I wish you could invent some means to make me at all happy without you. Every hour I am more and more concentrated in you.”

The poet wrote volumes of letters to Ms. Brawne, documenting his passion. Tragically, Keats died young — he was 25 years old — in 1821.

Another noteworthy love letter writer, Edgar Allan Poe, known for works such as “The Raven” and “The Tell-Tale Heart,” could really turn a phrase. Writing in 1848, Poe penned a letter to his romantic interest, Sarah Helen Whitman, which still endures.

“Since [we met] I have never seen nor heard your name without a shiver, half of delight, half of anxiety,” Poe explains.

Finally, Marquis de Lafayette, the French military officer who, during the American Revolution, helped train and lead the disorganized American colonists, could also write. In 1777, at the beginning of the war, Lafayette penned a letter to his wife, Madame de Lafayette, which includes:

“I would give at this moment half my existence for the pleasure of embracing you again and telling you with my own lips how well I love you.”

The modern day love letter writer does not need to have the eloquence of Keats, Poe, and Lafayette. Yet, a certain charm, a certain immortality, remains in their words. Here are a few tips for composing the perfect love letter:

• Keep it short. Sometimes a simple “I love you” works. A letter need not be a long treatise on why you care for someone. A page or less will suffice.

• Learn from the masters. Pick up a copy of “The World’s Greatest Love Letters” (2011), compiled by Michael Kelahan. This book contains dozens of edited letters, from Keats to Napoleon Bonaparte to Beethoven, which will melt your heart.

• Be honest (with yourself). While it’s important to cultivate honesty with your partner, it remains important, too, to cultivate honesty within yourself. Look within, and dig deep. You may surprise yourself.