The Grammarphobia Blog

When the love-light is fading

Q: I’m curious about these lines from the song “I’ll Be Home for Christmas”: Christmas Eve will find me / Where the love-light gleams. I’ve searched pretty deeply on the Internet, but I can’t pin down a good explanation of what “love-light” means. Can you help?

A: The Oxford English Dictionary never lets us down. (Or hardly ever.) It defines the poetic term “love-light” as a noun meaning “radiance (of the eyes) expressing love; an instance of this.”

The first published citation given is from this coy passage in Graham’s American Monthly Magazine in 1813: “With eyelids drooping to conceal the love-light that slept beneath them.”

The OED doesn’t mention the Christmas song by Buck Ram, Kim Gannon, and Walter Kent, but it gives these other citations:

1852, from Philip J. Bailey’s long poem Festus: “Her bright heart / With lovelight glowed.”

1907, from the Westminster Gazette: “In your dew-bright eyes … Love-light shone beaming.”

1950, from Noel Coward’s song “Sail Away”: “When the love-light is fading in your sweetheart’s eye, / Sail away, sail away.”

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