I was surfing the web last night and stumbled upon an old article about the lost art of love letter writing which I wrote for the Philippine Daily Inquirer in 2004. I’m re-posting this as a tribute to my abiding love for the written words.
What were love and courtship like in the pre-cyberspace and text-messaging era? Aside from the old-fashioned panunuyo, with men doing manual labor in order to woo coy females, and singing serenades or harana, writing elaborate love letters was also considered an important step in melting Filipino ladies’ hearts.
In the old days, experts say, writing love letters was considered an art, and masters at this form of writing even used special parchment paper, wrote with a quill, sealed the envelope in wax and tied it with a special ribbon-much like what Winona Ryder did in the 1993 movie, “Age of Innocence.”
Fifty-one years ago, Kislap magazine held a love letter writing contest, which was participated in by more than 4,000 contestants all over the country.
Those letters, including those written by the two editors, V. Briones and F. Feliciano in 1953, were recently published in book form. Edited by Dr. Isagani Cruz, “Love Stories of the Fifties” (Bookmark Inc., 1990, 143 pp.) is a jewel of a book, offering glimpses into the romantic introspections of people during that time when the country was in a reconstructive mood and healing from the horrors of World War II.
“Many of the letters were copies of treasured letters sent to the contestants by their suitors or lovers,” writes Dr. Cruz in his introduction. “In other words, many of the letters were authentic, expressing real feelings of real people towards real objects of love.”
There were two second prizes (no first prize), and a third prize, while three entries received special mention.
Mushy romance and passion are enmeshed in the featured letters from the salutation (e.g. “Chiquita, my little moon,” “Nenita, Pearl of my love,” “Chona, my enchanting Belle,”) up to the complimentary close (e.g. “Your loving slave,” “In abject despair,” “a lonely Romeo,”). Each letter told a different story and spoke of the various permutations of romance: loss, thrill, joys, separation, desire, etc.
Reading through the letters is a lesson in ornate romantic writing. For example, one of the two second prize winners, submitted by a certain Claudia Buyson-Carrel, is a sad goodbye written by a man who was heartbroken after his girlfriend’s decision to obey her parent’s wish for her to study in a finishing school abroad.
The writer, who calls himself Mering, expresses his pain and writes the following at the end: “But this heart can never die. Ere long, it will return to dust, and when it does, its thousand fragments will cover the earth in all its splendor to proclaim to the world and to eternity that it lived to love, it learned to love, and that love was you. Goodbye.”
Another letter, submitted by Jaime B. Ramirez, speaks of the magical thrill of falling in love: “Yes, I have been in love with you-a love that bathes my world with beauty, sweetness and song. It transforms the simplest things into rarities of delight; it changes time into whispers of divine music. Ah, the ecstasy of my heart when I think of you!”
Reading the book is like eating a rich and delicious piece of chocolate cake. The first bite teases your taste buds immediately and carries you to various levels of pleasure. And then you’re drawn, lost in the maze of sweetness and indulgence.
It is sad to realize that the art of love letter writing has been eclipsed by high-tech communication wizardry. “Love letters of the Fifties” takes readers back to the days when love was pure, harder to pursue and eternally nurtured and cherished.
Thank you, Google images for the photo.