It may not be the most pithy quote, or the deepest, but for the sheer Beatles level popularity and ubiquity of it there may be no quote that beats
'Tis better to have loved and lost
Than never to have loved at all.
While rivaled, surely there is no more gigantic quote.
This morning I was thinking about it. I assumed it must be by Shakespeare or something. And I was right! It is by or something.
I love getting things right.
The line is from a long poem, In Memoriam A. H. H. OBIIT MDCCCXXXIII by Lord Alfred Tennyson. I didn't know about all that, specifically, or at all, but I do know now, and I would rather look forward than dwell on the always less informed versions of my former self.
You might as well have the whole passage that concludes with these enduring lines because, though they're a bit of work, they fill it out nicely, though they don't change it at all in its basic meaning, in case you were worried.
I envy not in any moods
The captive void of noble rage,
The linnet born within the cage,
That never knew the summer woods:
I envy not the beast that takes
His license in the field of time,
Unfetter'd by the sense of crime,
To whom a conscience never wakes;
Nor, what may count itself as blest,
The heart that never plighted troth
But stagnates in the weeds of sloth;
Nor any want-begotten rest.
I hold it true, whate'er befall;
I feel it, when I sorrow most;
'Tis better to have loved and lostThan never to have loved at all.
Perhaps some small part of this quote's mighty success is that it barely exceeds saying nothing. It may as well be saying that it is better to live and die than to just be dead. It is worth the loss of anything to have something.
But despite the claims of an occasional bumper sticker of a lesser quote, love is not life. Love is better. Life fights death to a draw. But love alone triumphs over death, even as death has the last word. And that is Tennyson's claim and his genius.
I am never terribly fond of the device in books and movies where the impediment to a romance is one person's fear of loss. After all, 'tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all. But I understand it. Nothing terrifies me more than the loss of the one I love. I am sure I could not bear it. I am certain it would break me, mangle me, diminish me. It would destroy me. But like Tennyson I can look darkness in the eye. It will have its sickening victory, but I, I have won forever.