On Reading Well
Karen Swallow Prior
The Death of Ivan Ilych
By Leo Tolstoy
And now these three remain: faith, hope and love. But the greatest of these is love.
~1 Corinthians 13:13
Chapter Six of Karen Swallow Prior’s On Reading Well examines the virtue of love with examples drawn from Leo Tolstoy’s Ivan Ilych. In this continuance of the theological virtues, we are at once expert and amateur. Beyond that, we struggle with adequate tools of expression.
As Karen wrote
When it comes to love, we who communicate with the English language are at a great disadvantage. We have essentially one word to cover a wide variety of loves. We love our children; we love our dogs; we love mint-chip ice cream (at least, I do!); we love summer; and we love our spouses. All of these are, obviously, different kinds of loves. We have to rely on context in order to know that the word love when we talk about “making love” does not have the same meaning as when we say we “love” our grandmother. (Nor did it as far back as 1880, when Henry James used the phrase “making love” in Portrait of a Lady.)
Other languages have more words for love. The Indian language of Boro has a word for the kind of love that is temporal. Chinese has a word for the kind of love that is eternal. Danish has a word for the sense of falling in love. Hindi has a word for the realization of love that comes only from being separated. Portuguese has a word for the love felt for someone who was part of your past. Spanish has a word for the love of things, as opposed to people. And Greek has several words for the forms of love that define various human relationships.
Do you borrow from multiple languages when you talk about love?