The Age-Old Problem of Unrequited Love

4 Mar
Available in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store

Available in my Teachers Pay Teachers Store

Love is a concept and state of being with which we humans have no end of difficulty. Navigating the waters of relationships can be nerve-wracking, to say the least. Crushes are a feature of school life (and life ever after) that create endless drama. Students are intensely sensitive as to whether or not they are being accepted by their peers—and they feel romantic yearnings throughout their schooldays. Within the relationship dramas that evolve, feelings can be hurt and callous behavior can amount to bullying. Difficulties in love plague us throughout life…and how much better to be able to enter into a consideration of problems and solutions early on.

In the next series of posts, I share with readers some wise, humorous, creative student letters of advice to the lovelorn from my recent Artists in the Schools visit to four Grade Six classrooms in Winnipeg’s Henry G. Izaat school. I found these letters so thoroughly entertaining, as did the students, and I felt hope for the human condition as one after another student brought lively insight to bear on the age-old problem of unrequited love. Readers of all ages will find lively messages that delight and instruct.

During this artist visit, I led the wonderfully imaginative and responsive students through a set of activities that turned students’ usual Valentine’s Day focus away from the romantic idealization of the other to an emphasis on self-love. As I reminded students, in order to truly love another, we have to love ourselves! To immerse students in the concepts, I introduced them to Ovid’s two thousand year old book, The Metamorphoses of Ovid (translated by Mary M. Innes, England, Penguin Books Ltd., 1955), in particular to the tale of Narcissus and Echo, a tale of teenage love gone wrong.

Baby Narcissus Adored by All

Baby Narcissus Adored by All

To recap the story for readers, the baby, Narcissus (born to the river god Cephisus and the nymph Liriope) was so beautiful that everyone around him fell in love with him.

When Narcissus was in his mid-teens, a young nymph named Echo was one of the many who fell in love with him. Her problem was that she had been cursed by Juno into always repeating the words of others. She followed Narcissus and wished to tell him of her love, but she had to wait until he spoke words she could imitate. Narcissus heard her echoing his words, and challenged her to come out of hiding, which she did, with arms outstretched to hug him. Full of pride, Narcissus said he would rather die than be touched by Echo. Humiliated, Echo hid in caves, where she wasted away until all that was left of her was her voice that endlessly repeated the words of others.

Echo Hiding in a Cave

Echo Hiding in a Cave

Meanwhile, Narcissus went on scorning and shaming others when they fell in love with him, until one of those shamed people prayed to the gods that Narcissus would fall in love with someone who wouldn’t return his love. The goddess of revenge, Nemesis, answered the prayer.

So it was that Narcissus, on a hot day, went into the forest to hunt deer. He came upon a still, mirroring pool, and knelt to take a cold drink. There, he saw his reflection for the first time, and thought the beautiful being was someone else. He fell immediately in love with himself, and reached forward to hug himself, but the watery surface broke the image.

Narcissus Falls in Love with Himself

Narcissus Falls in Love with Himself

Time and again he tried to reach himself, wailing and crying and despairing as time passed. For days, he pined away, not eating or drinking, until at last, he lay down on the shore, and died. Echo loved him until the end, echoing the mourners in their cries of grief. In his death, Narcissus was transformed into a narcissus flower (otherwise known of as a daffodil or jonquil), with a circle of white petals round a yellow centre.

Narcissus is Transformed into a Daffodil

Narcissus is Transformed into a Daffodil

After students read and absorbed the myth, they went on to answer questions about Narcissus’s and Echo’s choices and behavior, after which they reflected on the nature of true love and self love. In my next post, see the wonderful student color work on pictures I provided and read their animated letters of advice to Narcissus and Echo….


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