Poems about love: 10 of the best
Love and poetry have long been inextricably linked. From world-famous classics to modern writings, Hannah Lewis selects 10 of the best poems about love
From the earliest-known poets to the modern masters, one subject has united them all: love. Every form and aspect of love has inspired poetry; its ups, its downs and everything in between. Love and verse are inextricably linked, perhaps due to the very nature of poetry; as with love, everyone has their own interpretation and experience of it.
From internationally-renowned sonnets to contemporary writings that turn the genre on its head, these 10 poems about love offer different views on love, each of them beautiful in their own way.
1. The Presence of Love by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
The Presence of Love is one of Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s most moving poems. He skilfully captures the all-encompassing power of love. Love for Coleridge makes its presence felt in everything we do and see and leaves us with a renewed appreciation for life.
The Presence of Love
And in Life’s noisiest hour,
There whispers still the ceaseless Love of Thee,
The heart’s Self-solace and soliloquy.
You mould my Hopes, you fashion me within;
And to the leading Love-throb in the Heart
Thro’ all my Being, thro’ my pulse’s beat;
You lie in all my many Thoughts, like Light,
Like the fair light of Dawn, or summer Eve
On rippling Stream, or cloud-reflecting Lake.
And looking to the Heaven, that bends above you,
How oft! I bless the Lot that made me love you.
2. Scaffolding by Seamus Heaney
Seamus Heaney’s Scaffolding is an ode to lasting love. He doesn’t romanticise or pretend there won’t be obstacles to overcome. Instead, he appreciates the beauty of love that has built over time and can weather any storm.
Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;
Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.
And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.
So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me
Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall.
3. Sonnet 116 by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare’s Sonnet 116 is one of the most famous poems about love, and likely to sound familiar even if you don’t know it well. It’s not an ode to a lover, more an attempt to put down in words the elusive quality of unconditional love. It’s famous for a reason.
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,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
4. i carry your heart with me by E E Cummings
This poem by E E Cummings may seem simple, but it perfectly encapsulates the complete intertwining of lives between true partners. It also captures the feeling that whatever came before was simply leading to this love.
i carry your heart with me
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher than soul can hope or mind can hide)
and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart
i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)
5. She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron
Lord Byron’s She Walks in Beauty is an ode to the most beautiful woman he has ever seen. It is considered by many to be one of the best Romantic poems of all time and as a poetic declaration of love, it has rarely been matched.
She Walks in Beauty
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.
One shade the more, one ray the less,
Had half impaired the nameless grace
Which waves in every raven tress,
Or softly lightens o’er her face;
Where thoughts serenely sweet express,
How pure, how dear their dwelling-place.
And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,
So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,
The smiles that win, the tints that glow,
But tell of days in goodness spent,
A mind at peace with all below,
A heart whose love is innocent!
6. Another Valentine by Wendy Cope
Another Valentine may not be one of the typically sentimental poems about love, but Wendy Cope’s portrait of a lasting relationship is completely lovely. Even in the tired tropes of commercial ‘love’ she is reminded of her own, which is real and strong, and that itself is romantic.
Today we are obliged to be romantic
And think of yet another valentine.
We know the rules and we are both pedantic:
Today’s the day we have to be romantic.
Our love is old and sure, not new and frantic.
You know I’m yours and I know you are mine.
And saying that has made me feel romantic,
My dearest love, my darling valentine.
7. The Good-Morrow by John Donne
That everything past, present and future can be changed and shaped by a new love: this is a concept that has found its way into countless poems over the centuries. Few have captured it in words so beautifully as John Donne.
I wonder, by my troth, what thou and I
Did, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?
But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?
Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?
’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.
If ever any beauty I did see,
Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.
And now good-morrow to our waking souls,
Which watch not one another out of fear;
For love, all love of other sights controls,
And makes one little room an everywhere.
Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,
Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,
Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.
My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,
And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;
Where can we find two better hemispheres,
Without sharp north, without declining west?
Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;
If our two loves be one, or, thou and I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.
8. Valentine by Carol Ann Duffy
In Valentine, Carol Ann Duffy rejects traditional poetic metaphors – a rose, a heart – in favour of an onion. Line after line, she transforms this unremarkable vegetable into an original and compelling symbol of love. This is one of the poems about love for anyone who says they don’t like love poetry.
Not a red rose or a satin heart.
I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.
I am trying to be truthful.
Not a cute card or a kissogram.
I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring,
if you like.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.
9. I loved you first: but afterwards your love by Christina Rossetti
Christina Rossetti’s sonnet considers the complexities of being in a couple: of moving from thoughts of ‘I’ and ‘You’ to ‘we’. It may be more than a century old, but the message remains as true now as it was then.
I loved you first: but afterwards your love
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.
For verily love knows not ‘mine’ or ‘thine;’
With separate ‘I’ and ‘thou’ free love has done,
For one is both and both are one in love:
Rich love knows nought of ‘thine that is not mine;’
Both have the strength and both the length thereof,
Both of us, of the love which makes us one.
10. How Do I Love Thee? by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
The opening line of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet – How do I love thee? Let me count the ways – is probably one of the most famous lines of poetry ever written. Dedicated to her future husband, the poet Robert Browning, the verse is stunning in its honestly and simplicity, and without a doubt one of the most beautiful poems about love of all time.
How Do I Love Thee?
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.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
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