Arts and Sciences
Today, when we think about expressing how we feel about someone, we think about hearts – a red or pink or purple emoji sent over text, a predictive-text abbreviation for “love,” even a Facebook like. Online, a heart-shaped response can span the gulf between vague interest and genuine commitment, between acknowledging comments on Instagram posts and celebrating something you think might be love. It’s really easy, too, to send a heart when you don’t actually know what to say; when you want to show someone you care, but you just don’t know how best to label your relationship on the spectrum of human connection. They’re ubiquitous symbols, for better or for worse.
But those aren’t the only symbols. Take a poignant scene from Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull.” Gloomy playwright Treplev shoots the titular bird and presents it solemnly at the feet of ingenue Nina, the object of his unrequited love. “What do you mean by this?” asks Nina in response, confused at both the dead bird and the ceremony with which Treplev has laid it at her feet. “Is this a symbol or something?” she seems really to be asking. She’s not just exposing the futility of Treplev’s love for her, she’s also calling attention to the outsized role that symbols play in how we connect with and show our love to each other.
“We always find something,” posits one of Samuel Beckett’s quixotic protagonists in “Waiting for Godot,” “to give us the impression we exist, [don’t we]?” “Yes, yes, we’re magicians,” snaps the other in response, before reaching down to wedge a pair of boots on his compatriot’s feet.
To give us the impression we exist.
“Nature’s first green is gold,” writes Robert Frost in “Nothing Gold Can Stay,” admiring in tandem the beauty and the transience of changing autumn leaves, “her hardest hue to hold.”
Few poets wrote more eloquently about New England fall than Robert Frost. His most famous poem, “The Road Not Taken,” nestles the speaker’s introspection into a “yellow wood,” amid the pensiveness of the fall foliage. And not to mention his ode “October,” which sings the season’s praises: “O hushed October morning mild [...] Retard the sun with gentle mist; / Enchant the land with amethyst.”