John Man, exuberant singer and sudden thinker, has long enjoyed singing the classic Roger Quilter song Love’s Philosophy. As he was practising it last week in preparation for a big recital, Man realised that it might actually be a bit more rapey than he first thought.
“I know the song is supposed to be about love,” he said, “but the more I think about it, the more that love seems to be based mostly on coercion, which is not really my sort of love, I have to say.”
Until now, Man has always interpreted the joyous music and lively poetry in a traditional Romantic way, imagining that Shelley’s metaphorical pairings are a noble depiction of the mystical and unifying power of love. “But if you look closely, that’s all just a setup for some hefty emotional blackmail,” he said. “Sure, the sunlight clasps the Earth and the moonbeams kiss the sea, which is great, but he’s only saying that to force some poor girl to kiss him. Not so great.”
Scholars say that in order to unpick the meaning of the text, one must read the collected letters of Bob Dobbler, a close personal friend of the Shelleys who was with them when this poem was conceived. One particularly crucial letter explains how the inspiration for the classic poem came to pass:
Percy and Mary had commenced upon the heath what for a leisured stroll. Percy spied a quaint babbling brook, and thus pointing with arm aloft, said to Mary ‘that river flows into the ocean, so give me a kiss’ whereupon Mary, much irked, replied ‘that river is most irrelevant’ but Percy was already heard muttering various refrains that I did see published ever so tastefully in charming poesy, what did make me smile.
Even after reading this letter Man remained convinced that the text was not so much a charming love letter of grand intent as it was a passive aggressive attempt to control the thoughts and actions of another person. “The last sentence is particularly damning,” he explained. “It reads: ‘what are all these kissings worth / if thou kiss not me?’ So not only does he want to blackmail her into kissing him, he also thinks that if she chose to kiss someone other than him, that would render the entire physical universe worthless. Mate…maybe she’s just not that into you.”
Luckily, the audience at Man’s recital seemed to thoroughly enjoy the song anyway. “I like that song,” said a friend. “It goes BOM BOM BOM BOM BOMMMM at the end.”