The subject of love has been written about for centuries. One of the oldest pieces of real magic left in the world, love itself is not picky and has a habit of materialising when you least expect it.
Explore the musings of these old poets as they articulate love and all they perceived it to be, perfect for when you’re lost for words or need some encouragement this Valentine’s Day. Featuring beautiful prose from the likes of Emily Dickinson, John Keats, William Shakespeare and more, read 14 of the Best Love Poems for Valentine’s Day, and spread the love, wherever you are.
In this famous poem, Elizabeth Barrett Browning proclaims her unending love for her beloved, how deeply her love goes, and how her love will continue even after she is gone. A prolific poet of her time, Browning’s work has influenced the likes of Emily Dickinson, who is said to have had the poet’s portrait hanging in her room.
‘How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.’
When You are Old is a poem by Irish poet, William Butler Yeats, asking his love to look forward to old age, in an attempt to secure his adoration in return. It’s said to be about the poet’s relationship with Irish actress Maud Gonne after he fell in love with her in 9 short days.
‘When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;’
First published in 1794, A Red, Red Rose was written in the form of a ballad, intended to be sung aloud. Here Burns is proclaiming his love to his ‘bonnie lass’. A love that is so everlasting, it will last even when the planet itself has gone.
‘O my Luve is like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June;
O my Luve is like the melody
That’s sweetly played in tune.
So fair art thou, my bonnie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.’
William Shakespeare is the king of sonnets, and this one is particularly romantic. Loved equally to Sonnet 18 (Shall I compare thee to a summers day), Sonnet 116 attempts to define love and the ever-changing magical form that it is.
‘Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove.
O no! it is an ever-fixed mark
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wand’ring bark,’
I Loved You First by Christina Rossetti defines that feeling of oneness that comes with meeting the right person. It’s consuming, and confusing, and often out-bid by the love of the person that you share it with.
‘I loved you first: but afterwards your love
Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song
As drowned the friendly cooings of my dove.
Which owes the other most? my love was long,
And yours one moment seemed to wax more strong;
I loved and guessed at you, you construed me
And loved me for what might or might not be –
Nay, weights and measures do us both a wrong.’
This famous poem by Romantic poet Lord Byron attempts to capture the sense of the external beauty of a particular woman, proclaiming that her outer beauty represents her inner goodness and virtue.
‘She walks in beauty, like the night
Of cloudless climes and starry skies;
And all that’s best of dark and bright
Meet in her aspect and her eyes:
Thus mellowed to that tender light
Which heaven to gaudy day denies.’
Sarojini Naidu was an Indian activist and feminist poet, nicknamed ‘The Nightingale of India’ for her contribution to poetry, she was also the first Indian woman to be president of India National Congress. Her poem If You Call Me is a short poem describing the intense feeling of her love and her complete devotion to her lover.
‘If you call me I will come
Swifter, O my Love,
Than a trembling forest deer
Or a panting dove,
Swifter than a snake that flies
To the charmer’s thrall . . .
If you call me I will come
Fearless what befall.’
Wild Nights – Wild Nights! is one of Emily Dickinson’s most famous poems. This short poem focusses on the pure ecstacy of a night spent with one’s love. The ambiguity allows for personal interpretation, however the intimacy that she writes about is continually questioned as Dickinson was a well known recluse.
‘Wild nights – Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Futile – the winds –
To a Heart in port –
Done with the Compass –
Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden –
Ah – the Sea!
Might I but moor – tonight –
Written in the 1590s, this well-loved poem was one of the most popular of the English Renaissance. It is a poem of seduction, with the author attempting to use the description of rural life, full of beautiful and intense sensual pleasure, to woo his love.
‘Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.
And we will sit upon the Rocks,
Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow Rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.’
In this beautiful love song by the Bengali poet Rabindranath Tagore, he articulates his unending adoration for his beloved. Going on to explain the lengths and depth that his love goes, until it concludes everlasting and immortal.
‘I seem to have loved you in numberless forms, numberless times…
In life after life, in age after age, forever.
My spellbound heart has made and remade the necklace of songs,
That you take as a gift, wear round your neck in your many forms,
In life after life, in age after age, forever.’
Percy Bysshe Shelley is one of the most famous of the English Romantic poets. In this poem, he presents a playful argument for the union of him and his beloved, using the unity and beauty of nature as an explanation for his philosophy of love.
‘The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the ocean,
The winds of heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine?—’
The Kiss by Sara Teasdale is a poem explaining the romantic enormity of a lover’s first kiss. She compares it to elements far beyond the reaches of humanity, and how she is eternally bound to her lover – ever changed from their first encounter.
‘Before you kissed me only winds of heaven
Had kissed me, and the tenderness of rain—
Now you have come, how can I care for kisses
Like theirs again?
I sought the sea, she sent her winds to meet me,
They surged about me singing of the south—
I turned my head away to keep still holy
Your kiss upon my mouth.’
Quite possibly Walt Whitman’s most loved romantic poems, A Glimpse, is about a connection between two people who have a mutual understanding that they love one another. Simply content in each other’s company, they render their busy surroundings redundant, as if the world around them stops with one ‘glimpse’ of the other.
‘A long while, amid the noises of coming and going–of drinking and
oath and smutty jest,
There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little,
perhaps not a word.’
Written for his new bride in the months before they were married, Mark Twain articulates what he sees marriage as, more than a contract of devotion, but as a bond between two people that gives life a new sense of beauty and meaning.
‘A marriage makes of two fractional lives a whole;
It gives two purposeless lives a work,
And doubles the strength of each to perform it.
It gives to two questioning natures a reason for living
And something to live for.
It will give new gladness to the sunshine,
A new fragrance to the flowers, a new beauty to the earth
And a new mystery to life.’
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