Happy Valentine’s Day! I thought this year I’d share my top 10 best love poems ever written. Of course, this is not an exhaustive (or even overly authoritative) list. It’s just my favorites, and I encourage everyone to share their favorites in the comments below.
I guess I should explain what I look for in a love poem. For me, an excellent love poem balances literary proficiency with honest sentiment. But at the end of the day, it’s that feeling that the poem evokes in the reader. The poems below all give me the feels.
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10 Best Love Poems Ever
So without further ado, let’s look at my top 10 list of the best love poems ever. I’ve tried to find a version of each poem online. Just click the links.
- “How Do I Love Thee?,” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning. Let’s start with a classic. It begins, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” And well, the rest of this sonnet counts the ways, ending with, “I shall but love thee better after death.” Loving beyond this life is pretty epic.
- “When You Are Old,” by William Butler Yeats. Here’s another goodie. The poem is about love remembered and turns on the line, “But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you.” Bittersweet, this poem ends with Love fleeing and hiding “his face amid a crowd of stars.”
- “Sonnet 116,” by William Shakespeare. So many great sonnets could’ve made this list, but this is a favorite of mine. In it, Shakespeare says what love is by examining what it is not. And it finishes on, “If this be error and upon me proved, / I never writ, nor no man ever loved.” (By the way, the link for this sonnet has some interesting analysis under the poem.)
- “[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in],” by e.e. cummings. One of the first poets I read in my teenage years that wasn’t tied to a school assignment, I’ve always had a soft spot in my heart for cummings. This poem is filled with sentiment, but he uses his unique literary conventions to make the poem fresh.
- “Love Sonnet XI,” by Pablo Neruda. Ever since I first read The Captain’s Verses, I’ve been a fan of Neruda’s love poems. One aspect of Neruda’s poems that I love is the leaps of logic he takes in eating “the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body” and becoming himself a puma. Also, it’s hard to ignore the sonnet continually popping up on this list as if it’s a poetic form made for love.
- “When I Too Long Have Looked Upon Your Face,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. I never studied Millay in school and remained outside her orbit for a long time. But when I finally did start reading her poetry, I was swept off my feet. In this poem (another sonnet!), Millay compares looking her beloved’s face to looking upon the blinding light of the sun–which is both a compliment and a punishment.
- “Valentine,” by Carol Ann Duffy. Not everyone on this list is dead. In this poem, Duffy offers her valentine an onion, “a moon wrapped in brown paper.” But as Duffy continues, an onion “blinds you with tears” and ultimately “Its scent will cling to your fingers, / cling to your knife.”
- “Unending Love,” by Rabindranath Tagore. Apparently, Audrey Hepburn’s favorite poem was written by this Bengali poet. And it’s easy to see why she loved it. Personally, I’m drawn to a good refrain in a poem. But what really catches me is the epic nature of this love poem that somehow finishes with, “The memories of all loves merging with this one love of ours – / And the songs of every poet past and forever.” I mean, that’s going big, right?
- “Romantics,” by Lisel Mueller. I love this poem about the relationship between Johannes Brahms and Clara Schumann. It’s so evocative, and I can hear the music playing over the words. Plus, it’s an argument against the sort of “rude, irrelevant” truths that biographers seek versus the truths that transcend facts and figures. And isn’t that the essence of poetry? Of romance?
- “Good Bones,” by Maggie Smith. Love isn’t just about saying, “I love you, I love you.” No, in this poem, Smith shares a truth of love is protective love. Optimistic love. Love that seeks to find and inspire the potential in those that we love, especially our children.
And because I love throwing in an extra offering, I’m going to link to Wendy Cope’s “Another Valentine.” Not only is it a great little love poem, and it is, but it’s also a triolet (with a little poetic license taken with the form).
Of course, I know I left off some great love poems. But you know, please share my omissions in the comments below. And again, Happy Valentine’s Day!
Robert Lee Brewer is Senior Content Editor of the Writer’s Digest Writing Community and author of Solving the World’s Problems (Press 53). Obviously, he loves love poems. Follow him on Twitter @RobertLeeBrewer.