With a sentiment similar to the more modern “You don’t know what you’ve got until it’s gone”, this proverb has a history of over 2,000 years.
Recently my husband had to take a job in another area for a few months. During this time, I felt the insight of the proverb “Absence makes the heart grow fonder” more than ever. I used to think that was a bit of an affected saying, but now that I’ve fully experienced it, I don’t have that feeling anymore.
Incredibly, this proverb has been with the western world for over 2,000 years. As with most proverbs, its history is fascinating and allows us to appreciate not only the long process of its transmission to us, but also the many eras of civilization which it has survived.
From Rome to England
We can trace the earliest form of the proverb to a Roman poet named Sextus Aurelius Propertius, who lived from around 50 BC. AD to 15 BC. as well as sometimes being rendered in the modern form of the proverb we know – can be translated as “Passion is always warmer towards absent lovers”.
Over time it has taken different forms and appeared in a variety of contexts – poetry, songs, etc. With such an ancient proverb, it’s hard to say exactly when it started appearing regularly in its current form. But the 1600s saw several appearances of it, in various forms, in print.
The first time it appeared in print in English may have been in 1602 as part of an anonymous poem in Francis Davison’s anthology Poetical Rhapsody. And in 1616 a variant was published in Thomas Overbury’s “Characters,” in which he wrote: “Absence sharpens love; the presence reinforces it.
By then, perhaps she was beginning to catch on – or perhaps her various appearances simply reflected shared human experience – as another variant appeared in 1650, this time in James’s ‘Familiar Letters’. Howell: “Distance sometimes makes friendship endearing, and absence sweetens that.” (Speaking of sweetness, what a sweet rendition!)
There is one thing, however, that scholars agree on: a song from the 1800s called “Isle of Beauty” played a key role in popularizing our current version of the proverb. In his 1844 volume, titled “Songs, Ballads, and Other Poems,” Thomas Haynes Bayly writes:
What wouldn’t I give to wander
Where do my former companions live;
Absence makes the heart grow fonder,
Island of Beauty, “farewell! »
The beautifully written song has been released in various hymnsand with that, the talented Bayly may have made this line an eternal proverb of the English language.
“You don’t know what you have until it’s gone”
Thinking about it, I realized that “absence makes the heart grow fonder” contains a sentiment similar to the more modern, but also very insightful, “you don’t know what you have until it’s gone “. But after re-reading Bayly’s poem, this modern saying isn’t quite as satisfying to read, is it? So it’s an example of why it’s good for the world – for all of us – to keep these precious old proverbs alive.
It’s so true that when you temporarily don’t have something you used to have, you see its virtues more clearly.
In recent years, I think each of us has experienced a nuance of it. And that’s thanks to COVID-19. Yes, a little silver lining in an otherwise dark time.
During the pandemic, when we couldn’t see our friends, family, or even co-workers as much as usual, we learned to appreciate the human connection more than ever. And to appreciate – but perhaps also hate – the technological connection that kept us going.
Ditto for in-person events such as concerts, sports, worship, etc. It’s just not the same via video, no matter how hard people try. The beauty and energy of the music, the atmosphere of a cheering crowd, and the depth of spiritual connection simply cannot be replicated by technological means. There are invisible bonds that unite us all, wherever we are, but we feel them more fully in person.
When my husband was away recently, I learned to appreciate our relationship much more. I reflected on the stories of wives who waited for their husbands for long periods of time. There are the wives of the military, of those who work at sea and of those who can only make ends meet by living apart. I once read an ancient story from China about a woman who faithfully waited for her husband – deployed for military service and totally incommunicado – for 18 years!
Ultimately, “Absence Makes the Heart Loving” not only conveys a truth, but also teaches a little moral lesson: to appreciate those around you and cherish your friendships and relationships as long as you can, because they won’t last forever.