Sanskrit has 96 words for love; ancient Persian has 80 and English only one…

Sanskrit has 96 words for love; ancient Persian has 80, Greek three, and English only one. This is indicative of the poverty of awareness or emphasis that we give to that tremendously important realm of feeling.

Eskimos have 30 words for snow, because it is a life-and-death matter to them to have exact information about the element they live with so intimately. If we had a vocabulary of 30 words for love … we would immediately be richer and more intelligent in this human element so close to our heart. An Eskimo probably would die of clumsiness if he had only one word for snow; we are close to dying of loneliness because we have only one word for love. Of all the Western languages, English may be the most lacking when it comes to feeling.” – Robert Johnson, “The Fisher King and the Handless Maiden

‘I love you!’ a mother bellows to her child at the school gates. It’s her first day of school.

‘I love you’, she squeals as she opens the gift, cherry-picked with careful hands.

‘I love you’, whispers the lover as he boards the plane.

We encounter so many different types of love in our daily lives; in the home, with our friends, in films.

It is romantic love that we most often encounter in culture; it drives our TV programmes, our advertisements, the lyrics in that song on the radio that you’re nodding your head along to as you make your way home.

Trying to define love’s varying subtleties has been one of the great occupations of English poetry. Perhaps that is why our love poetry is so rich; for hundreds of years, we’ve been spinning sentences rich with metaphor and meaning in order to define what other languages can articulate with the shape of one word. For example, in the Philippines, the word ‘Gigil’ defines the urge to pinch something or someone that is irresistibly cute. The Inuit word ‘Iktsuarpok’ defines the feeling of excitement when you’re waiting for someone to come over to your house. ‘Viraag’ in Hindi is the emotional pain of being separated from the ones you love.

At this year’s Wise Words festival, we will be taking inspiration from the Greeks, who had a multiplicity of different words for love which are commonly simplified to four: agapē (love for humankind), eros (sexual love), phileō (love for a friend), and storgē (familial love). Wise Words this year will explore the nature of agape — that love we can feel for those beyond our immediate family and friends – love’s power when present and the impact felt by its absence. Agape was later translated into Latin as caritas, which is the origin of our word “charity”. Often heard and spoken of in Christian contexts, this love is as Paulo Coelo says, a ‘love that devours’; a love for community and one that is best represented by an unmitigated zeal for life, a sense of selflessness, and a consuming feeling of kindness.

The festival will be an exploration of love in all of its varying guises and varieties – encouraging us to embrace difference; to nurture a sense of empathy and to connect with those beyond our  immediate circle of friends; to rekindle the passion in our relationships and to value and make time for those we love.