Love Letter #45: Beyond Words – a Valentine’s Gift

It’s Valentine’s day, or Galentine’s day, or simply Love Day; a day to celebrate love in all its forms and flavors (but let’s not limit ourselves to one day, okay?). 

Thirty years ago I was given a wonder-filled poem written by a friend and mentor, Harry Johnson titled, Beyond Words.. He wrote this for a talk he was giving and he told me he wrote it with me in mind. It is one of the most beautiful and thoughtful gifts I’ve ever received. 

It was framed and hanging in my home for years, but it was also printed on copy paper and eventually faded, but not before I took a photo of it. 

I had lost touch with Harry many years ago, and recently learned that he passed in 2018. I’ve not shared this poem with many people before today, but it feels like the right time to regift these words to you. I do so in loving memory of Harry, and also to let these words serve as a reminder that you are the beloved and your beauty is truly beyond words. 


I  heard mention of a small publishing company called Beyond Words. It seemed to me a wonderfully witty name to have chosen, since, in my experience, the most memorable moments of our lives are, indeed, beyond words.  No matter how skillful one is in the use of language; no matter what delight one takes in its form and feel, its tone and texture; no matter how adept one is at its manipulation, still our most profound experiences nearly always defy reduction to mere words. Always, it seems, we stand inarticulate in the defining moments of our lives. There are not words sufficient to describe the landscape of loneliness, to rescue us from the isolation of great loss. Hurt and humiliation strike at a depth beyond the reach of language. The cry of anguish is rendered in cadences so universal they belong to no one in particular. When I am confronted with great beauty, I am reduced to nearly primitive utterances of delights. When I am in the presence of the beloved, no word can do justice to what I feel. When I have descended from the crest of the ecstatic experience, my attempts to describe it seem embarrassingly inadequate. Simply put, what I feel in such moments is beyond words. Curiouser still, the greater my command of language, the greater my frustration with its inadequacies. Perhaps the purpose of language is not to capture the moment, but to approximate it – to recall not the moment itself, but my experience of the moment. I can extract juice from the grape and nectar from the rose, but the essence of the moment is the exclusive property of the moment. It does not travel well. Know then, beloved, when I say I love you, I do so with great timidity, depending always on your experience of love to cast light into the corners left dark by my declaration.

Harry Johnson, April 21, 1993

With Love,

Did you know you can listen to A Year of Love Letters on Spotify.

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