Love [Analogies, Metaphors, and Similes]
Love Is an Exploding Cigar We Willingly Smoke
In his 1995 novel Corelli’s Mandolin, Louis de Bernieres tells the story of Pelagia Iannis, a young beauty who lives with her physician father on the small Greek island of Cephalonia. When the island is overtaken by Italian troops in the early days of World War II, Dr. Iannis and his daughter are forced to billet the officer in command, Captain Antonio Corelli, in their house. Corelli is a handsome and cultured man who always travels with his prized mandolin. His passion for music is matched by a disdain for military life, which he demonstrates by replying “Heil Puccini” whenever he is offered the Nazi greeting “Heil Hitler.” The beautiful Pelagia soon falls for Corelli, even though she is betrothed to a young Greek fisherman who has left to fight in the war. The developing love affair gravely concerns her father, who sits her down one day and says:
Love is a kind of dementia
with very precise and oft-repeated clinical symptoms.
After ticking off some of the “symptoms” that he has observed in the young lovers, Dr. Iannis launches into an extended analogy. I was captivated when I first read the passage, and I hope you will enjoy it as well:
Love is a temporary madness, it erupts like volcanoes and then subsides.
And when it subsides you have to make a decision. You have to work out
whether your roots have so entwined together that it is inconceivable
that you should ever part. Because this is what love is.
Love is not breathlessness, it is not excitement,
it is not the promulgation of promises of eternal passion, it is not
the desire to mate every second minute of the day, it is not lying awake
at night imagining that he is kissing every cranny of your body. . . .
That is just being “in love,” which any fool can do.
Love itself is what is left over when being in love has burned away,
and this is both an art and a fortunate accident. Your mother and I had it,
we had roots that grew towards each other underground,
and when all the pretty blossoms had fallen from our branches,
we found that we were one tree and not two.
In the first portion of the passage, Dr. Iannis offers one of history’s oldest metaphors: love is mental illness. Plato may have been the first to express it:
Love is a grave mental disease.
In As You Like It, Shakespeare has Rosalind say it this way: “Love is merely a madness.” And over the centuries, many others have echoed the theme:
Love, n. A temporary insanity curable by marriage or by removal of the patient from the influences under which he incurred the disorder.
AMBROSE BIER CE
Love is a pardonable insanity.
NICOL AS C HAMFORT
Well, love is insanity. The ancient Greeks knew that.
It is the taking over of a rational and lucid mind by delusion . . . .
You lose yourself, you have no power over yourself,
you can’t even think straight.
MARILYN FRENC H
Romantic love is mental illness. But it’s a pleasurable one.
It’s a drug. It distorts reality, and that’s the point of it.
It would be impossible to fall in love with someone that you really saw.
Returning to Dr. Iannis’s lecture to his daughter, you will notice that he moves from one metaphor—love is mental illness—to another: love is the intertwining of roots. Out of the ashes of a passionate love, he argues, a deep-rooted and intertwined love often emerges, turning separate individuals into one entity. It ’s a beautiful passage and a nice reminder that after the fireworks of the early years, the most important dynamics of love are not obvious but go on beneath the surface. In his 1978 book Thoughts in a Dry Season, Gerald Brenan said it this way:
Married love is a stream that, after a certain length of time,
sinks into the earth and flows underground.
Something is there, but one does not know what.
Only the vegetation shows that there is still water.
In the first century B.C., Ovid was the most popular writer in the Roman Empire. Born into an old and respectable family, the young Ovidius—his formal Latin name—showed early academic promise and was educated by the best teachers of the day. While he showed great potential as an orator, he turned to writing instead, ultimately focusing on love and amorous intrigue. He described the dynamics of love in such a captivating way that his first book, Amores, was devoured by the sophisticated and pleasure-seeking society in which he lived. The book was so popular it was followed by what we now call sequels: The Art of Love, The Art of Beauty, and Remedies for Love. Ovid was married three times, finally finding contentment in his third marriage. But his first two marriages were short-lived and not particularly harmonious, giving special relevance to a line that appeared in The Art of Love:
Love is a kind of warfare.
Ovid carried the metaphor further when he suggested that the wounds of love are as common as the wounds of war—and just as lethal:
As many as the shells that are on the shore,
so many are the pains of love;
the darts that wound are steeped in much poison.
Ovid was one of the first people in history to say that love is war, which rivals love is mental illness as the most popular metaphor on the subject. After Ovid, the theme has been pursued by many others:
Love does not begin and end the way we seem to think it does.
Love is a battle, love is a war; love is a growing up.
JAMES B ALDWIN
If it is your time, love will track you down like a cruise missile.
If you say, “No! I don’t want it right now,”
that’s when you’ll get it for sure.
Love will make a way out of no way.
LYNDA B ARRY
Love and war are the same thing,
and stratagems and policy are as allowable in the one as in the other.
MIGUEL DE CERVANTES
It is the same in love as in war; a fortress that parleys is half taken.
MARGUERITE DE VA LOIS
Love is like war: easy to begin but very hard to stop.
H. L. MENCKEN
In addition to insanity and war, fire is another common metaphor for the passion of love. The notion also goes back to ancient times. In the first century B.C. the Roman poet Virgil wrote the Aeneid, an epic poem that contains this line:
I feel again a spark of that ancient flame.
That ancient flame—the flame of love—has been a central theme in world literature. In The Divine Comedy, written in the early 1300s, Dante used the metaphor to suggest that a great passion can spring from a modest beginning:
A great flame follows a little spark.
In the seventeenth century, an English proverb commonly attributed to English cleric Jeremy Taylor continued the theme and became one of history’s most popular observations:
Love is friendship set on fire.
As the centuries passed, scores of writers have continued to compare love to fire. Lord Byron saw love as a kind of celestial fire, calling it “a light from heaven, a spark of that immortal fire.” Honoré de Balzac wrote that “Love is like the devil,” adding “Whom it has in its clutches it surrounds with flames.” And the Chilean poet and 1971 Nobel Prize winner Pablo Neruda expressed it this way:
To feel the love of people whom we love is a fire that feeds our life.
Henry Ward Beecher, one of America’s most influential preachers, found the concept helpful in explaining the difference between youthful and mature love:
Young love is a flame;
very pretty, often very hot and fierce, but still only light and flickering.
The love of the older and disciplined heart is as coals,
While the hot and fierce flame of love blazes gloriously, it too often burns out. The phenomenon has been commonly described in literature, but rarely as simply and starkly as in this 1862 passage from Ivan Turgenev’s Fathers and Sons:
But within a month it was all over:
the fire had kindled for the last time and had died for ever.
Of all the love is fire metaphors in my collection, though, my favorite comes from a woman who is best remembered for her great acting ability and her not-so-great parenting skills. In 1943, actress Joan Crawford was quoted as saying:
Love is a fire.
But whether it is going to warm your hearth
or burn down your house, you can never tell.
So far, we ’ve seen love likened to mental illness, war, and fire. In the rest of the chapter you’ll see many more love metaphors. For centuries, as love has been rhapsodized by the romantics, skewered by the cynics, and demonized by the disillusioned, it has been done with an extraordinary array of analogies, metaphors, and similes. Whatever your views on love, you’ll find support for your position, and maybe have your thinking stimulated along the way.
Without love our life is . . . a ship without a rudder.
Love is a net that catches hearts like a fish MUHAMMAD ALI
This appeared in a 2004 Esquire magazine article titled “What I’ve Learned.” The piece contains many sayings that Ali did not author (like “Wisdom is knowing when you can’t be wise”) but that he says have guided his life.
Love received and love given comprise the best form of therapy.
GORDON W. ALLPORT
Love as a healing force is a tenet of modern psychology. Karl Menninger put it this way: “Love is a medicine for the sickness of the world; a prescription often given, too rarley taken.” Eric Berne added succinctly, “Love is nature ’s psychotherapy.”
Love is like a virus. It can happen to anybody at any time.
Love is, above all, the gift of oneself.
This is from the novel Ardèle (1948), where Anouilh also wrote: “Oh, love is real enough; you will find it someday, but it has one arch-enemy— and that is life.”
Love has its own instinct, finding the way to the heart,
as the feeblest insect finds the way to its flower,
with a will which nothing can dismay nor turn aside.
HO NORÉ DE B ALZAC
Balzac also wrote, “Love may be the fairest gem which Society has filched from Nature.”
Love is an exploding cigar which we willingly smoke.
LYNDA B ARRY
What is irritating about love is that it is a crime that requires an accomplice.
CHARLES B AUDELAIRE
Love is the wine of existence HENRY WARD BEECHER
Beecher, the brother of Harriet Beecher Stowe of Uncle Tom’s Cabin fame, also wrote, “Love cannot endure indifference. It needs to be wanted. Like a lamp, it needs to be fed out of the oil of another’s heart, or its flame burns low.”
Memory is to love what the saucer is to the cup.
In this extremely interesting analogy, Bowen suggests that it is the memories of lovers that form the foundation for love.
To fall in love is to create a religion that has a fallible god.
JORGE LUIS BORGES
When success comes in the door, it seems, love often goes out the window.
DR. JOYCE BROTHERS
Love doesn’t drop on you unexpectedly;
you have to give off signals, sort of like an amateur radio operator.
HELEN GURLEY BROWN
Love is the wild card of existence.
RITA MAE BROWN
One of the best things about love— the feeling of being wrapped, like a gift, in understanding.
As the cat lapses into savagery by night,
and barbarously explores the dark,
so primal and titanic is a woman with the love-madness.
Once love is purged of vanity,
it resembles a feeble convalescent, hardly able to drag itself about.
Love is more pleasant than marriage for the same reason that novels are more amusing than history.
Chamfort’s point is that novels are fiction and history is reality—and the fictions surrounding love are more pleasant than the realities surrounding marriage.
In love as in art, good technique helps.
Love is an alliance of friendship and of lust:
if the former predominates, it is a passion exalted and refined;
but if the latter, gross and sensual.
CHARLES CALEB COLTON
Love is a friendship set to music.
E. JOSEPH COSSMAN
Love is not enough. It must be the foundation, the cornerstone— but not the complete structure. It is much too pliable, too yielding.
Love never dies of starvation, but often of digestion.
NINON DE LENCLOS
Love is an ocean of emotions, entirely surrounded by expenses.
The pain of love is the pain of being alive. It’s a perpetual wound.
Love ain’t nothin’ but sex misspelled.
HARL AN ELLISON
Ellison balanced this cynical observation with a sweet one: “Romantic love is the cloud of perfume through which you pass when you’re in a movie theater, and it reminds you of an aunt who hugged you when you were three years old.”
Of all the icy blasts that blow on love,
a request for money is the most chilly and havoc-wreaking.
GUST AVE FL AU BERT
Love’s tongue is in the eyes.
This observation captures the role that beauty plays in love. The eyes almost drink in great beauty, much like the tongue savors a great wine. Sometimes, though, the wine that looks so full and hearty turns out to be thin and insipid. Emerson said it all in a famous analogy: “Beauty without grace is the hook without the bait.”
On the banks of the grey torrent of life, love is the only flower.
E. M. FORSTER
Love letters are the campaign promises of the heart.
Love is often nothing but a favorable exchange between two people
who get the most of what they can expect,
considering their value on the personality market.
ERIC H FROMM
Love, like a running brook, is disregarded, taken for granted; but when the brook freezes over, then people begin to remember how it was when it ran, and they want it to run again.
This comes from a letter Gibran wrote to Mary Haskell, the head of a private girls’ school in Boston and a woman Gibran deeply loved. He proposed marriage to her, but she refused, feeling that it was not in his best interest to be married. Instead, she devoted her life to encouraging him to develop his talent.
We love because it’s the only true adventure.
Love is a snowmobile racing across the tundra and then suddenly
it flips over, pinning you underneath. At night, the ice weasels come.
This quotation is usually presented as if it reflected Groening’s personal opinion, but it is in reality his darkly comic version of Friedrich Nietzsche ’s view of love. The quote comes from Groening’s pre-Simpsons days, when it appeared in his underground comic strip Life is Hell. Two other philosophers were featured under the heading What the Great Philosophers Have Said Vis-à-vis Love:
“Love is a slippery eel that bites like hell.” Bertrand Russell
“Love is a perky elf dancing a merry little jig and then suddenly he turns on you with a miniature machine-gun.” Kierkegaard
Love is a fan club with only two fans.
Love fattens on smooth words.
Love is the master-key that opens the gates of happiness,
of hatred, of jealousy, and, most easily of all, the gates of fear.
OLIVER WENDELL HOLMES , SR.
I have met on the street a very poor man who was in love.
His hat was old, his coat was out at the elbows,
the water passed through his shoes, and the stars through his soul.
This is from the 1862 classic Les Misérables, where Hugo also wrote, “To love another person is to see the face of God.” In yet another memorable metaphor, Hugo wrote, “Life is the flower for which love is the honey.”
Love, I find, is like singing.
Everybody can do enough to satisfy themselves,
though it may not impress the neighbors as being very much.
ZORA NEALE HURSTON
Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.
ZORA NEALE HURSTON
Elizabeth Bowen was describing a similar phenomenon when she wrote: “When you love someone, all your saved-up wishes start coming out.”
Love is . . .
the perfume of that wondrous flower, the heart.
ROBERT G. INGERSOLL
Love’s like the measles—
all the worse when it comes late in life.
in an 1859 book
Forty years later, in 1889, Jerome K. Jerome wrote, “Love is like the measles; we all have to go through it. Also like the measles, we take it only once.”
I’m not sure at all If love is salve Or just A deeper kind of wound I do not think it matters.
ERICA JO NG
Love didn’t grow very well in a place where there was only fear,
just as plants didn’t grow very well in a place where it was always dark.
This comes from King’s 1978 horror classic The Stand, as the character Tom reflects on the absence of love in Las Vegas.
The truest comparison we can make of love is to liken it to a fever.
FRANÇOIS DELAROC HEFOUCAULD
La Rochefoucauld was a seventeenth-century nobleman who, until age fifty, was known more for political intrigue than anything else. In 1665, he published Maximes, a volume of about five hundred quotable quotes on a host of subjects. History’s greatest aphorist, he approached affairs of the heart with a keen metaphorical eye:
“Love, like fire, cannot survive without continual movement, and it ceas
es to live as soon as it ceases to hope or to fear.” “Love is to the soul of him who loves what the soul is to the body.” “It is with true love as with ghosts; everyone talks of it, but few have
We love in another’s soul whatever of ourselves we can deposit in it; the greater the deposit, the greater the love.
IRVING L AYTON
Love is like a friendship caught on fire.
In the beginning a flame,
Very pretty, often hot and fierce
But still only light and flickering.
As love grows older, our hearts mature
And our love becomes as coals,
Deep burning and unquenchable.
BRU CE LEE
According to Lee ’s Widow, Lucy Lee Cadwell, Lee wrote this poem for her during their marriage. It first appeared in her 1975 book Bruce Lee: The Man Only I Knew. In the poem, Lee was clearly borrowing from both Jeremy Taylor and Henry Ward Beecher, whose observations we saw earlier.
Love doesn’t just sit there, like a stone,
it has to be made, like bread; remade all the time, made new.
URSULA K. LE GUIN
Love is like a precious plant.
You can’t just accept it and leave it in the cupboard
or just think it’s going to get on by itself.
You’ve got to keep watering it.
You’ve got to really look after it and nurture it.
JOHN LENNO N, from a 1969 interview
Anger is the fluid that love bleeds when you cut it.
C . S . LEWIS
He is in love with an Ideal,
A creature of his own imagination,
A child of air; an echo of his heart;
And like a lily on a river floating,
She floats upon the river of his thoughts!
HENRY WADSWORTH LONGFELLOW
As the best wine doth make the sharpest vinegar,
so the deepest love turneth to the deepest hate.
JOHN LY LY
Love is like playing checkers. You have to know which man to move.
JACKIE “MOMS” MABLEY
In the arithmetic of love, one plus one equals everything, and two minus one equals nothing.
To be in love is merely to be in a state of perceptual anesthesia—
to mistake an ordinary young man for a Greek god
or an ordinary young woman for a goddess.
H. L. MENCKEN
Mencken, one of America’s great curmudgeons, railed at the folly of love for decades. He also wrote that “Love is the delusion that one woman differs from another” and “Love is the triumph of imagination over intelligence.”
Love matches, as they are called,
have illusion for their father and need for their mother.
Several decades after Nietzsche wrote these words, the Spanish philosopher Miguel de Unamuno continued the theme in his 1913 classic The Tragic Sense of Life: “Love is the child of illusion and the parent of disillusion.”
Love never dies a natural death.
It dies because we don’t know how to replenish its source.
It dies of blindness and errors and betrayals. It dies of illness and wounds;
it dies of weariness, of witherings, of tarnishings.
Love is much like a wild rose,
Beautiful and calm,
But willing to draw blood in its defense.
MARK A. OVERBY
When the roses are gone, nothing is left but the thorns.
Love is the cheapest of religions.
People who are not in love fail to understand how an intelligent man
can suffer because of a very ordinary woman.
This is like being surprised that anyone should be stricken with cholera
because of a creature so insignificant as the comma bacillus.
No, this is not a typo (common misspelled as comma). Comma bacillus is the term for a microscopic, comma-shaped bacteria that causes Asiatic cholera in humans.
Love rules his kingdom without a sword.
ENGLISH PRO VERB
Other memorable proverbs on the subject include these:
“Love is the bridge between two hearts.” (American)
“Love, and a cough, cannot be hid.” (English)
“Love teaches even donkeys to dance.” (French)
“The eyes are the doors of love.” (German)
“Love is a game in which both players cheat.” (Irish)
“Love cures the wound it makes.” (Latin)
The lover is a monotheist
who knows that other people worship different gods
but cannot himself imagine that there could be other gods.
Love is like an hourglass, with the heart filling up as the brain empties.
Love is the ultimate outlaw. It just won’t adhere to any rules.
The most any of us can do is sign on as its accomplice.
A love song is just a caress set to music.
Falling in love consists merely in uncorking the imagination and bottling the common-sense.
HELEN ROW LAND
Love must have wings to fly away from love, And to fly back again.
ED WIN ARLINGTON ROBINSON
Love should be a tree whose roots are deep in the earth, but whose branches extend into heaven.
I know I am but summer to your heart,
And not the full four seasons of the year.
EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY
This is from a 1922 sonnet. The passage poignantly describes the feeling of sadness when one ’s heartfelt love for another is only partially reciprocated.
Love is a cunning weaver of fantasies and fables.
Perhaps the old monks were right when they tried to root love out;
perhaps the poets are right when they try to water it.
It is a blood-red flower, with the color of sin;
but there is always the scent of a god about it.
To say the truth, reason and love keep little company together now-a-days.
WILLIAM SHAKESPEARE, from A Midsummer Night ’s Dream
In his 1636 play El Cid, Pierre Corneille has a character say it this way: “Reason and love are sworn enemies.”
Love comforteth like sunshine after rain, SHAKESPEARE, from Venus and Adonis
There lives within the very flame of love
A kind of wick or snuff that will abate it.
SHAKESPEARE, from Hamlet
Therefore is love said to be a child Because in choice he is so oft beguiled.
SHAKESPEARE, from A Midsummer Night ’s Dream
The child reference here is to Cupid. In the same play, Shakespeare also writes: “Love looks not with the eyes, but with the mind; And therefore is winged Cupid painted blind.”
Love is the only disease that makes you feel better.
Love is like a game of poker.
The girl, if she wants to win a hand that may affect her whole life,
should be careful not to show her cards before the guy shows his.
A very small degree of hope is sufficient to cause the birth of love.
Love is a fruit, in season at all times and within the reach of every hand.
Anyone may gather it and no limit is set.
Love must be as much a light as a flame.
HENRY DAVID THOREAU
To say that you can love one person all your life is like
saying that one candle will continue to burn as long as you live.
There is the same difference in a person before and after he is in love
as between an unlighted lamp and one that is burning.
The lamp was there and was a good lamp,
but now it is shedding light, too, and that is its real function.
VINCENT VAN GOGH,
in a letter to brother Theo
To love and be loved is to feel the sun from both sides.
Love is a canvas furnished by Nature and embroidered by Imagination.
Love . . . wears a bandage which conceals the faults of the beloved.
He has wings; he comes quickly and flies away the same.
In this passage from the Philosophical Dictionary (1764), Voltaire uses the word bandage in a manner that is closer in meaning to the English word blindfold.
Love is like a cigar. If it goes out, you can light it again, but it never tastes quite the same.
A man in love is like a clipped coupon—it’s time to cash in.
All love that has not friendship for its base, Is like a mansion built upon the sand.
ELL A WHEELER WILCOX
Love’s chemistry thrives best in equal heat.
That is, one-sided love is a pale imitation of the real thing. If one person heats up and the other doesn’t, there can be no chemical reaction.
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
WILLIAM BUTLER YEATS
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