For this particular reader, there are few things more romantic than a heartfelt and well-written love poem. Oh, a diamond ring is an absolute darling. But terrific poetry? Now, that is forever.
In the spirit of Valentine’s Day, I’ve compiled a list of the most romantic poems of all time. Admittedly, personal preference did come into play (a lot) during this selection process. So, if your favorite love poems failed to make the initial cut, just chime in. This is just the first of a two-part series—I’ll be happy to include your suggestions in the next list.
So, without further ado (and in no particular order), here are the most romantic poems of all time. Read and enjoy.
On Marriage by Kahlil Gibran
You were born together, and together you shall be forevermore.
You shall be together when the white wings of death scatter your days.
Ay, you shall be together even in the silent memory of God.
But let there be spaces in your togetherness,
And let the winds of the heavens dance between you.
This excerpt from Kahlil Gibran’s immensely popular book, The Prophet, is one of the most popular wedding readings today. It’s a piece that encourages husband and wife to stand together in love but also to retain a semblance of individuality. Or, as Gibran puts it:
Give your hearts, but not in each other’s keeping.
For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts.
And stand together yet not too near together:
For the pillars of the temple stand apart,
And the oak tree and the Cyprus grow not in each other’s shadows.
[i carry your heart with me(i carry it in] by E. E. Cummings
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 the 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)
Fact: many of E.E. Cummings’s most well-known poems are very avant-garde in terms of style. Also a fact: These works carry universal appeal, hence their enduring popularity. In [i carry your heart with me(i carry it in], Cummings gives the traditional love poem a fresh twist with his experimental use of punctuation and syntax.
(see my review of E. E. Cummings’s poem, l(a here.)
Love’s Philosophy by Percy Bysshe Shelley
And the sunlight clasps the earth
And the moonbeams kiss the sea:
What is all this sweet work worth
If thou kiss not me?
Now, here’s a poem about unrequited love. Love’s Philosophy was written by Percy Bysshe Shelley in 1820. In this poem, the speaker tries to convince his beloved to return his feelings by pointing out how everything in nature is interconnected and intermingles. As Shelley puts it:
All things by a law divine
In one another’s being mingle; —
Why not I with thine?
Pretty compelling argument right there, if you ask me.
Sonnet 43 (How Do I Love Thee) by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
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.
Sonnet 43, also known as How Do I Love Thee, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, is the second to the last poem in the poet’s love sonnets collection, Sonnets from the Portuguese. In this poem, the persona proclaims the extent of her love for her partner—which according to the poem is pretty much limitless. It’s a declaration of an unbounded, inexhaustible, and infinite love. The poem is also said to have been written for Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s husband, Robert Browning.
Sonnet XVII by Pablo Neruda
I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where,
I love you straightforwardly without complexities or pride;
This is one of my favorite poems from the Chilean poet, Pablo Neruda. It’s a poem that conveys the truth about love—that it is not always perfect but it is all-encompassing.
See my analysis of Sonnet XVII here.
Sonnet 116: Let me not to the marriage of true minds by William Shakespeare
…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;
No list of love poems is complete without this gem from the Bard of Avon. In Sonnet 116, Shakespeare gives us a beautiful definition of what Love truly means. According to Shakespeare, real love is unchanging—it is an ‘ever-fixed mark’ in the face of ‘tempests.’
Another Valentine by Wendy Cope
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.
Another Valentine by Wendy Cope is just the poem for those of us in long-term relationships. The poem starts out with the persona seemingly complaining about Valentine’s Day. “Today we are obliged to be romantic.” But as you can see, her tune changes soon enough. It’s a short, humorous, and sweet piece that’s a delight to read.
She Walks in Beauty by Lord Byron
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;
She Walks in Beauty might just be the sweetest poem ever written. The way Lord Byron describes the poem’s subject—her beauty, her charm, and her grace—is nothing short of swoon-worthy. Now, according to several sources, the poem was inspired by the mesmerizing good looks of Mrs. Anne Beatrix Wilmot—the wife of Byron’s first cousin.
Valentine by Carol Ann Duffy
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.
In Valentine, Carol Ann Duffy does away with the usual representations of love like the red rose and the satin heart. She goes for a more faithful symbol instead—the onion. Like the onion, true love has its many layers. Its sting can blind you with tears, its fierce kiss is possessive and faithful, and its scent is one that clings.
High points for accuracy.
To My Valentine by Ogden Nash
I love you more than a wasp can sting,
And more than the subway jerks,
I love you as much as a beggar needs a crutch,
And more than a hangnail irks.
Humor is key to this lovely and lively little poem from Ogden Nash. With its unflattering imagery and easy rhymes, To My Valentine exudes the same innocent and childlike vibe as that old nursery rhyme that goes—“dogs and snails and puppy dog tails.” But the beauty of this poem is that underneath the uncomplimentary visuals it presents is a persona just reassuring his valentine of his immense love.