The Most Romantic Poems of All Time (Part I)

16465384_1820377678223365_1406129647980118016_n

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.

(See Part 2 of this list here)

Featured Poem: Morning Song by Sylvia Plath

16585681_310892649313014_8592281465209749504_n

(Due to copyright issues, I won’t be posting the poem. But click here to view “Morning Song” in its entirety.)

Sylvia Plath is one of the finest poets the world has ever seen. There is this incredible, almost unnerving frankness and viciousness to her works. She had a way of squeezing every drop out of life at every instance and skillfully capturing passing notions and emotions. She’d weave them into beautiful and oftentimes jarring tapestries of poetry and stark reality. For many readers, myself included, her finely penned confessions/poems possess a magnetic pull. We are drawn into her world just as effectively as we are asked to examine ours.

In Morning Song, Plath captures the burgeoning love of a mother for her newborn. The poem, written shortly after her own child’s birth, speaks of how mother and child start off almost as if they were strangers before inevitably developing a connection that binds them for life.

Note how in the poem, she addresses her child as if she were speaking to another adult. There is no cooing, no profuse proclamations of a life-changing love—nothing to intimate the cosmic connection between them, at least at first.

In the first line, she even likens the child to a “fat gold watch.” Although the watch was set into motion by love, the ticking watch can also be seen as a reminder of a person’s mortality.  To be specific, if not the death of the person, the demise of the self. The third stanza reads:

“I am no more your mother

Than the cloud that distills a mirror to reflect its own slow

Effacement at the wind’s hand.”

Interesting use of the word effacement, which in medical terms refer to the thinning of the cervix in preparation for the child’s delivery. But attach the word ‘self’ to effacement, and what you have is the deliberate act of taking the background, almost as if allowing the self to fade away, much like how condensation dissipates into thin air. Again, a ticking clock and effacement at the wind’s hand.

Take into consideration that from a purely evolutionary perspective—strictly gene’s eye level—the purpose of gene carriers is to ensure the continuation of their respective genetic lines, i.e. man must “go forth and multiply.”

And while, historically speaking, “securing heirs” was a weight carried by both men and women, there’s no arguing that women were left to shoulder the brunt of that weight. Go back less than a century to Plath’s own time and a large section of society still thought that a woman’s primary purpose was to bear children and rear them. Women were already working then, but the concept of ‘family first’ for women wasn’t so much a suggestion as it was an accepted rule.

Now, Sylvia Plath was a woman with grand literary ambitions and while motherhood was something she welcomed completely, when faced with the newness of the situation, it must have given her a bit of a pause. Motherhood was a jump into the uncertain, which carried with it great joy and tremendous challenges.

On the second stanza, she describes the parents’ reaction to the baby’s arrival—

“Our voices echo, magnifying your arrival. New statue.

In a drafty museum your nakedness

Shadows our safety. We stand round blankly as walls.”

There it is, the pause. A sense of detachment. Strangers meeting for the first time. And yet, towards the end, the poem changes its tune quite drastically to show a mother’s devotion to her child. Plath speaks of waking to listen to her child’s breathing. She talks of how:

“One cry, and I stumble from bed, cow-heavy and floral

In my Victorian nightgown.”

Those words transform the persona from a watchful observer to a dedicated and loving mother.

Now, in my humble opinion, what makes Morning Song timeless is how it challenges the traditional idea that all women react the same way to motherhood. While ideally, it would be love at first sight between mother and newborn—that their bond is present and sealed after the final push—it’s not an always case. Sometimes it takes a while for that bond to be established. And that’s okay. Sometimes going through that journey of getting to know and arriving to love their children is just a journey some of the best mothers have had to undertake.

Villanelle: How to Carve a Roast Baby.

20130527_122217

 

DISCLAIMER: Here’s a quick disclaimer, lest I seem more morbid than I actually am—the subject matter is not to be taken literally. I do not condone cannibalism in ANY way, nor do I believe that it is a solution to poverty. There is no intention to offend anyone. It is merely my 22-year-old self’s poor attempt at satire and my first go at creating a villanelle. That being said, on with the show.

 

How to Carve a Roast Baby.

By Kristel Marie Pujanes 

Everyone is a secret-sadist butcher;

Craving for little carvings of baby on a platter.

(If it’s below three, I don’t consider it murder.)

Mothers are natural meat carvers,

Trained from teen years to pierce flesh with a skewer,

Everyone is a secret-sadist butcher.

Grilled baby’s meat is always succulent and tender,

It drips with gravy, to keep separate in a saucer.

(If it’s below three, I don’t consider it murder.)

The only way to check if it’s dead is with an iron poker,

To gouge soup eyes and serve on a dish made of pewter.

Everyone is a secret-sadist butcher.

 

I checked for bones under my mother’s bed of flowers,

To see if I had there a family of little brothers.

(If it’s below three, I don’t consider it murder.)

Large families grow poor, until they make life better,

But to cook a few babies shouldn’t be quite a disaster.

Everyone’s a secret-sadist butcher.

(If it’s below three, I don’t consider it murder.)

(2008)

 

Villanelle defined: A villanelle, also known as a villanesque, is a poetic form that consists of 19 lines. It contains five tercets followed by a quatrain. It normally follows an A-B-A rhyming sequence for the first five tercets, then the rhyming becomes A-B-A-A at the quatrain. There’s a refrain that’s repeated throughout the piece. The first and third lines of the first tercet is added alternatingly in the tercets and found complete at the last two lines of the quatrain.

 

First published in my old blog: http://theobliterated.blogspot.com/2008/02/how-to-carve-roast-baby.html

 

Featured Poem: The Lover Tells of the Rose in His Heart by WB Yeats

20130516_081950

The Lover Tells of the Rose in His Heart by William Butler Yeats (1892)

All things uncomely and broken, all things worn out and old,
The cry of a child by the roadway, the creak of a lumbering cart,
The heavy steps of the ploughman, splashing the wintry mould,
Are wronging your image that blossoms a rose in the deeps of my heart.
The wrong of unshapely things, is a wrong too great to be told;
I hunger to build them anew, and sit on a green knoll apart,
With the earth and the sky and the water, re-made like a casket of gold
For my dreams of your image that blossoms a rose in the deeps of my heart.

Notes and Analysis:

Back in freshman year in college, about a decade ago, the class was asked to pick a poem from our poetry book and to present our analysis of said work. I picked The Lover Tells of the Rose in His Heart by William Butler Yeats. Having had little exposure to W.B. Yeats’s works and little access to the World Wide Web, I ended up with a rather rudimentary and straightforward assessment of what I would later discover to be a historically rich piece.

Armed with handwritten notes, acetate film, and a projector, I proceeded to tell the class my limited understanding of the work. I spoke of how the simplicity of the every day becomes an affront to a man in love. The lover speaks of wanting to rebuild the world to suit the perfection of his loved one. The “wrongness” of the commonplace when set beside the luxurious line “re-made like a casket of gold,” implies the wealth of emotion the speaker feels for the addressed. How the mundane quality of everyday things pales in comparison to the depth of his emotions and the beauty of “the rose in the deeps of his heart.”  And while there may be some merit to this surface-level analysis, there are certain themes I feel I’ve missed. Consider this an attempt to correct my earlier report.

W.B. Yeats was born in 1865 in Dublin, Ireland. When he was a child, his family moved to London to help further his father’s career as an artist. Much of his youth and early adulthood was then spent in the capital city of England. In fact, Yeats purportedly wrote The Lover Tells of the Rose in His Heart during his stay in Bedford Park in 1892. Despite the long years spent abroad, Yeats seems to have remained profoundly devoted to his homeland. Closer examination of the abovementioned poem even discloses allusions to life in Ireland—“the cry of a child by the roadway, the creak of a lumbering cart/the heavy steps of the ploughman, splashing the wintry mould/Are wronging your image that blossoms a rose in the deeps of my heart.”

Could the “you” being portrayed here be something other than a person? Could it, in fact, be the land itself? He speaks of a “hunger to build them anew,” these “unshapely things.” Consider “you” to be Ireland, and the poem takes on a whole new meaning. This makes it altogether possible that the poem isn’t so much about romantic love as it is about nationalistic ideals—the desire to connect with and improve a country that is much beloved though distant. That’s one idea that can be explored.

The other, is that the piece is, in fact, really just a wonderfully written love poem dedicated to Yeats’s long-term love; the English-born feminist, actress, and Irish revolutionary, Maud Gonne. Maud figured heavily in Yeats’s writings throughout the span of his infatuation. She is said to have inspired works like “No Second Troy,” “This, This Rude Knocking,” and “A Man Young and Old.” The poet was so enamored with the Irish revolutionary that he proposed marriage to her, no less than five times (in 1891, 1899, 1900, 1901, and once again in 1916). Though by the time of the last proposal, the romance had reportedly long since fizzled out. It must have been an amicable break because that same year, the 52-year-old Yeats also proposed marriage to Maud’s 22-year-old daughter, Iseult. She also turned him down. When seen in this context, the straightforward analysis of yore works.

And here’s a personal observation from my 28-year-old self: how terribly prophetic that Yeats would use “re-made like a casket of gold” in a poem dedicated to Maud—how a grand gesture could in fact signal the end of a grand, long-standing romance, as one reads too much into the word “casket.” But that’s overreaching and over-reading, as a lover of words is wont to do.

The last idea, which is my favorite, is that like all great works from master wordsmiths, The Lover Tells of the Rose in His Heart is actually a complex combination of these ideas, and more. It’s a love poem written for both a ‘dream lover’ and the ‘dream of a better nation.’ I could also say that it’s an example of how great poetry works—with its ever-shifting meanings borne of the reader’s active imaginings.

The Sylvia Plath Connection: At this point, it’s no great secret that I am a big fan of Sylvia Plath’s works. It was Sylvia Plath’s “Mirror” which awoke my desire to write for a living. Being also a fan of W.B. Yeats’s writings, imagine my surprise when I found out that the two shared something other than great talent. At the time of Sylvia Plath’s death, she was living in a flat where William Butler Yeats once lived. She had taken it as a sign of greater things.

And that concludes today’s lengthy ramblings.

Featured Poem: The Rival by Sylvia Plath

the rival by sylvia plath

The Rival by Sylvia Plath

If the moon smiled, she would resemble you.

You leave the same impression

Of something beautiful, but annihilating.

Both of you are great light borrowers.

Her O-mouth grieves at the world; yours is unaffected,

 

And your first gift is making stone out of everything.

I wake to a mausoleum; you are here,

Ticking your fingers on the marble table, looking for cigarettes,

Spiteful as a woman, but not so nervous,

And dying to say something unanswerable.

 

The moon, too, abuses her subjects,

But in the daytime, she is ridiculous.

Your dissatisfactions, on the other hand,

Arrive through the mailslot with loving regularity,

White and blank, expansive as carbon monoxide.

 

No day is safe from news of you,

Walking about in Africa maybe, but thinking of me.

Note: The Rival is one of the most well-known poems featured in Sylvia Plath’s highly acclaimed posthumous work, Ariel. It was also one of the first poems I’ve read from Plath that really struck a chord with me. While Plath is known for the maelstrom of emotions her work produces, this one in particular encapsulated the universal idea of slow simmering resentment—the kind that’s forged over years of tempering and tolerance. The masterful comparison between the “addressed” and the moon speaks of a waxing and waning of emotions that suggests a long-term attempt to put up with the “addressed.” It also implies the ever-present nature of the subject, for “No day is safe from news of you,| Walking about in Africa maybe, but thinking of me.” These words have led to the popular speculation that the poem is about Plath’s mother, Aurelia.

This theory is further strengthened by the lines: “Your dissatisfactions, on the other hand,| Arrive through the mailslot with loving regularity.” In 1975, about 12 years after Plath’s death, Aurelia Schober Plath agreed to publish the abundance of letters Sylvia had written to her from 1950 to 1963. The collection, Letters Home, had not only given its readers insight into the mind of Sylvia Plath, it also gave them a glimpse of the complex relationship between mother and daughter—something that’s also clearly visible in the poem.

For while the initial wave of meaning that one experiences upon reading The Rival highlights resentment, the lack of action when it comes to severing ties with the subject also speaks volumes about the writer’s frame of mind regarding the “addressed.” Is the passivity in the piece caused by “resignation,” acceptance of “what is,” or does it underscore the dependency that comes with unconditional love? Whatever it implies, what makes The Rival such an enduring piece of literature is how it showcases Plath’s ability to capture the complexity of human emotions and relations.

Poetry Review: Sonnet XVII by Pablo Neruda

IMG_20130514_205339

 

Poetry Review: Sonnet XVII by Pablo Neruda

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,

Or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.

I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,

In secret, between the shadow and the soul.

 

I love you, as the plant that never blooms,

But carries in itself the light of hidden flowers.

Thanks to your love, a certain solid fragrance,

Risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body.

 

I love you without knowing how, or when, or from where.

I love you straightforwardly, without complexities or pride;

Therefore, I love you, because I know no other way

 

Than this: where I does not exist, nor you,

So close that your hand on my chest is my hand,

So close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

 

I am not a romantic. Or at least, I’d like to think I’m not. And yet, and yet, and yet, I can recite Pablo Neruda’s Sonnet XVII from memory, without pausing to grasp for the right words. Though not particularly a fan of Neruda’s, I’ve always considered this poem one of the most poignant poems written in the 20th century. From imagery to flow to word choice to message, everything feels fluid, resonant, and relevant. All the words fall into their proper places, and what the reader is left with is this beautiful and moving piece that captures the essence of loving someone.

At first glance, the poem may seem somewhat unromantic. The writer speaks of his love as someone not necessarily vibrant or brilliant the way salt-rose, topaz, and embers imply undeniable beauty. Instead, he likens his love to ‘dark things,’ and a ‘plant that never blooms.’ He justifies these comparisons by speaking of a love that resides in the whole of his being (‘as certain dark things are to beloved/in secret, between the shadow and the soul’); a love full of  promise (‘as the plant that never blooms, but carries in itself the light of hidden flowers’).He describes his love as unshakeable and constant (‘a certain solid fragrance/risen from the earth, lives darkly in my body), uncomplicated and absolute.

I think these thoughts are best summed up by the final stanza. Where the thought breaks off as “Therefore, I love you, because I know no other way,” follows:

Than this: where I does not exist, nor you,

So close that your hand on my chest is my hand,

So close that your eyes close as I fall asleep.

Now, if that isn’t good romance, I don’t know what is.

Free Verse: Letter to Sylvia – by Kristel Marie Pujanes

dried

An Open Letter to Sylvia Plath – by Kristel Marie Pujanes

I

 

Sylvia, dear Sylvia,

Where do you hide?

I have rifled through the leaves of your memory,

Hunting down words, unearthing

Your anagrams, the loose codes

Of your alliterations, mounting the apex

Of your imagination. Thumbing through

Text, I have expanded my parentheses;

Cut thumbs with metaphors—

Bled disappearing ink: written letters

You’ll never receive. I’ve buried

Each and every note—under

Beds, under stairs, under stars,

I have hallooed the Sandman and sent

My regards. And still,

Your meaning eludes me.

 

II

 

Sylvia, dear Sylvia,

Where do you hide?

I have sought for your person

In every sylph of a woman,

Every self of a child.

I have scoured through

Each and every disguise.

Now every intersection is another dimension

Where they say you’ve lived,

Where they say you’ll die. Over

And over again.

I refuse their ill substance,

Their ill-timed lies: yours is a truth that cannot die.

It becomes the valley, the trenches, the sky.

And the tree that knows

Every spectrum of color, every pulse of light.

 

III

 

Sylvia, dear Sylvia,

Why must you hide?

I have grown grey traversing

the avenues of your memory,

the grand maze of your mind.

I have chased your shadow

For miles and miles. Seeking your tone

In every conversation that starts with “I…”

Or every phrase that ends with “wither,” or

“pure,” or “white.”

The years thin over time.

I tire of this barren pursuit. Crouched:

I grow cold for your solitary moon—

Your solid weight. Your promised effacement,

The delivery of my child, my fate.

And still I wait.