Friends Like These

Friends Like These

This week’s choices are about friendship and the deep bond we feel with the best of friends.

Henry David Thoreau explores the depths of the bonds forged in a close “Friendship”; Emily Brontë compares “Love and Friendship” and finally A.E. Housman briefly touches on the close connection between the two in “You Smile Upon Your Friend Today”.

Comments (from original post)

  • Roger Till: Good choices Matt.

Poem 148. Friendship

And close connecting link
‘Tween heaven and earth

Henry David Thoreau (1817—1862)
I think awhile of Love, and while I think,
Love is to me a world,
Sole meat and sweetest drink,
And close connecting link
‘Tween heaven and earth.
I only know it is, not how or why,
My greatest happiness;
However hard I try,
Not if I were to die,
Can I explain.
I fain would ask my friend how it can be,
But when the time arrives,
Then Love is more lovely
Than anything to me,
And so I’m dumb.
For if the truth were known, Love cannot speak,
But only thinks and does;
Though surely out ’twill leak
Without the help of Greek,
Or any tongue.
A man may love the truth and practise it,
Beauty he may admire,
And goodness not omit,
As much as may befit
To reverence.
But only when these three together meet,
As they always incline,
And make one soul the seat,
And favourite retreat,
Of loveliness;
When under kindred shape, like loves and hates
And a kindred nature,
Proclaim us to be mates,
Exposed to equal fates
And each may other help, and service do,
Drawing Love’s bands more tight,
Service he ne’er shall rue
While one and one make two,
And two are one;
In such case only doth man fully prove
Fully as man can do,
What power there is in Love
His inmost soul to move
Two sturdy oaks I mean, which side by side,
Withstand the winter’s storm,
And spite of wind and tide,
Grow up the meadow’s pride,
For both are strong.
Above they barely touch, but undermined
Down to their deepest source,
Admiring you shall find
Their roots are intertwined

Thoreau speaks in this poem of the deep affection we feel for our dearest friends.

He says that although it is impossible to voice the strength of his feelings for our friends, this affection is apparent in everything we do together, in the close similarities of our natures, and in the easy exchange of favours and assistance.

Like a pair of sturdy trees, friends stand with each other against the tempests that come against them and even if outwardly we are seldom together, our roots have grown to intimate closeness through a chain of shared experience.

Poem 149. Love and Friendship

The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?

Emily Brontë (1818—1848)
Love is like the wild rose-briar,
Friendship like the holly-tree—
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?
The wild rose-briar is sweet in spring,
Its summer blossoms scent the air;
Yet wait till winter comes again
And who will call the wild-briar fair?
Then scorn the silly rose-wreath now
And deck thee with the holly’s sheen,
That when December blights thy brow
He still may leave thy garland green.

This poem compares love and friendship by likening them to a wild rose and a holly tree, and Emily Brontë asks which is most constant? The rose blooms and broadcasts its scent in spring and summer but is bare and stunted in winter, but the holly tree, an evergreen, remains the same all year. So, she says, the holly is like a friendship of long standing which is constantly present unlike the vagaries of an ephemeral love.

Emily Brontë was solitary and reclusive, preferring birds and beasts to human companionship and I suspect she had a very limited experience of friendship and love, so her opinions on the subject are open to question, but the poem itself is lovely and is a legitimate point of view—one might well prefer an enduring friendship to a passionate but passing love affair.

Poem 150. You Smile Upon Your Friend To-day

’Tis late to hearken, late to smile,
But better late than never

A.E. Housman (1859—1936)
You smile upon your friend to-day,
To-day his ills are over;
You hearken to the lover’s say,
And happy is the lover.
’Tis late to hearken, late to smile,
But better late than never:
I shall have lived a little while
Before I die for ever.

This brief elegiac poem expresses the idea that even if one has only a little time to live, it is still not too late to love and if one can do so, one can die content with having lived a little through that love.

It seems to me that the friend of the narrator is mortally ill and has few days left but has fallen in love at this last extremity and is telling the narrator that although it is rather late to listen to love and to smile, the friend nonetheless feels happy that some semblance of profitable existence has been theirs.