10. ‘Wild Nights’ by Emily Dickinson
A leading American poet (1830 – 1836), she is one of the most accessible and popular poets. This selection is not typical of her output and is surprisingly passionate for a woman of those times. Dickinson led a secluded life and it’s not certain for whom these lines were intended, ‘might I but moor tonight with thee’. Biographers believe that she may have created a fantasy for herself.
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
To-night in thee!
9. ‘We Are Made One with What We Touch and See’ by Oscar Wilde
Of course, it’s well known that Wilde’s romantic exploits got him into trouble, resulting in a two-year sentence for hard labour. He’s better known for his comedic plays and witty quotes than for his poems. This poem has the joyful line; ‘we draw the spring into our hearts and feel that life is good’. Read the full poem.
We shall be notes in that great Symphony
Whose cadence circles through the rhythmic spheres,
And all the live World’s throbbing heart shall be
One with our heart, the stealthy creeping years
Have lost their terrors now, we shall not die,
The Universe itself shall be our Immortality!
8. ‘Bright Star’ by John Keats
A leading figure amongst the English Romantic poets, many of Keats’ poems are melancholic. He was a doomed man, dying of TB at the age of 26 in a house in Rome where he had gone to improve his health. The house, next to the Spanish Steps, is now a museum dedicated to his life and the life of Shelley. He wrote his poetry in a brief five-year period. Sensual love is celebrated in the line, ‘pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast’.
Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art–
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite,
The moving waters at their priestlike task
Of pure ablution round earth’s human shores,
Or gazing on the new soft-fallen mask
Of snow upon the mountains and the moors–
No–yet still stedfast, still unchangeable,
Pillow’d upon my fair love’s ripening breast,
To feel for ever its soft fall and swell,
Awake for ever in a sweet unrest,
Still, still to hear her tender-taken breath,
And so live ever–or else swoon to death.
7. ‘Another Valentine’ by Wendy Cope
This is from the point of view of a couple that have been together a long time. At first, Cope seems slightly resentful that she is being forced into making a romantic declaration just because a certain date in the calendar demands it, but she gets into the spirit of the occasion and her love for her partner shines through. They are sure of each other, as shown by ‘you know I’m yours and I know you are mine’.
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.
6. ‘A Drinking Song’ by W.B. Yeats
The title does not suggest a love poem and it’s debatable as to how much alcohol consumption is playing a part! Nevertheless, it is a romantic poem. The opening lines are ‘wine comes in at the mouth and love comes in at the eye’ Let’s hope they don’t regret it in the morning.
Wine comes in at the mouth
And love comes in at the eye;
That’s all we shall know for truth
Before we grow old and die.
I lift the glass to my mouth,
I look at you, and I sigh.
5. ‘Valentine’ by John Fuller
Perhaps the least well known poet on the list, he is an English writer, born in 1937, and is the son of the feted poet, Roy Fuller. This is a sensual poem, which celebrates the physical features of his beloved; ‘I like it when you tilt your cheek up’. It’s a gently teasing poem with fun lines such as ‘I’d like to find you in the shower and chase the soap for half an hour’. Read the full poem.
The things about you I appreciate may seem indelicate:
I’d like to find you in the shower
And chase the soap for half an hour.
I’d like to have you in my power and see your eyes dilate.
I’d like to have your back to scour
And other parts to lubricate.
Sometimes I feel it is my fate
To chase you screaming up a tower or make you cower
By asking you to differentiate Nietzsche from Schopenhauer.
I’d like to successfully guess your weight and win you at a féte.
I’d like to offer you a flower.
4. ‘Love Is’ by Adrian Henri
The late Henri, along with his fellow Liverpool poets, Roger McGough and Brian Patten, brought poetry to a new generation in their 1967 anthology, ‘The Mersey Sound’. It’s a poem about everyday love between everyday people but is strangely touching. ‘Love is a fan club with only two fans’ and ‘love is what happens when the music stops’.
Love is feeling cold in the back of vans
Love is a fanclub with only two fans
Love is walking holding paintstained hands
Love is fish and chips on winter nights
Love is blankets full of strange delights
Love is when you don’t put out the light
Love is the presents in Christmas shops
Love is when you’re feeling Top of the Pops
Love is what happens when the music stops
Love is white panties lying all forlorn
Love is pink nightdresses still slightly warm
Love is when you have to leave at dawn
Love is you and love is me
Love is prison and love is free
Love’s what’s there when you are away from me
3. ‘How Do I Love Thee’ by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Browning had the advantage of a good education, not given to most Victorian women in England. She blossomed as a poet and found love with fellow writer, Robert Browning. They married against her father’s wishes and eloped to Italy. It doesn’t get any more romantic than that. The opening lines to this poem are often quoted; ‘how do I love thee, let me count the ways’.
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 everyday’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 a 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.
2. ‘A Red, Red Rose’ by Robert Burns
This is both a poem and a song, first published in 1794. Burns is one of the most famous Scotsmen in the world and the anniversary of his birth, January 25th, is celebrated around the world with recitations, whisky and haggis (for those that can stomach it). Burns Night undoubtedly features this poem and the lines, ‘O, my love is like a red, red, rose, that is newly sprung in June’.
O my Luve’s like a red, red rose,
That’s newly sprung in June:
O my Luve’s like the melodie,
That’s sweetly play’d in tune.
As fair art thou, my bonie lass,
So deep in luve am I;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry.
Till a’ the seas gang dry, my dear,
And the rocks melt wi’ the sun;
And I will luve thee still, my dear,
While the sands o’ life shall run.
And fare-thee-weel, my only Luve!
And fare-thee-weel, a while!
And I will come again, my Luve,
Tho’ ’twere ten thousand mile!
1. ‘Love Sonnet 130’ by William Shakespeare
The most revered playwright in history also found time to compose 154 sonnets, published in 1609. The sonnets are a great source for quotations on the theme of love and passion. He was constantly preoccupied with the relationships between men and women in his writing. Number 130 glories in lines, such as ‘and yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare as any she belied with false compare’.
My mistress’ eyes are nothing like the sun;
Coral is far more red than her lips’ red;
If snow be white, why then her breasts are dun;
If hairs be wires, black wires grow on her head.
I have seen roses damask’d, red and white,
But no such roses see I in her cheeks;
And in some perfumes is there more delight
Than in the breath that from my mistress reeks.
I love to hear her speak, yet well I know
That music hath a far more pleasing sound;
I grant I never saw a goddess go;
My mistress, when she walks, treads on the ground:
And yet, by heaven, I think my love as rare
As any she belied with false compare