This evening, I went to hear a lecture given by Helen Fisher, Professor of Anthropology at Rutgers and author of several books on the science of why people fall in love. Her latest book, Why We Love: The Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love details her research into physiological changes in the brains of people in love as revealed by MRIs. Her work is fascinating and I'm sure that I couldn't do it justice summarizing here. If interested in details, go to her website, click on the 'more' link at the end of the first paragraph, and scroll down for a Q&A that summarizes the lecture I heard.
One of the things that interested me apart from her findings was an aside about literature. After making several references to authors and their works, Dr. Fisher commented that while other anthropologists may study pottery shards, she thought that poetry was a worthy object for the study of how people behave when infatuated, newly in love, in a life-long love relationship, or in pain over rejection and loss. She didn't quote at length from any particular work, but did recite a few lines from various poems and mentioned that she saw the world's oldest love letter (on a cuneiform-inscribed pot) in Turkey. She promised she would recite the world's "most beautiful love poem" in class tomorrow. I'm a little jealous of the students who get to hear that. She didn't give a title but said that it was native Alaskan poetry.
Poets, she said, for centuries have bled for lost love. How true. To capture a human emotion common to all humanity's experience -- love, rage, fear, sadness, joy, awe -- isn't that the objective of literature? It's why we write. And why we read.