February is a month known for many things, but chiefly famous for a single date: Valentine’s Day. On February 14th, suitors across the nation came up with ways to please their beloveds, frequently with chocolates, candies, and roses. Are you one of those suitors? Are you wracking your brain for something original but romantic? If so, I have a solution for you: a classic love poem. Don’t lose sleep trying to think of your own words; let famous poets do all the work for you.
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.
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.
This poem features lots of anaphora, or repetition, all in answer to the rhetorical question that opens the poem. The anaphora adds structure to a poem that already has a strong rhyme scheme – ABBA for the first two quatrains (the beginning octet), and CDCDCD for the remaining sestet, making it a Petrarchan Sonnet. In addition, the poem has iambic pentameter, like many sonnets, making it pleasant to read aloud. This poem is particularly suitable for modification, if you happen to be an inspired poet. Merely swap out some of the phrases for your own words and you’ll have an excellent love poem, delivered straight from the bottom of your heart. Of course, remember to MLA cite the source you got the poem from; there’s nothing worse than your crush finding out that you plagiarized.
The Passionate Shepherd To His Love
By Christopher Marlowe
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.
And we will sit upon the Rocks,
Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow Rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.
And I will make thee beds of Roses
And a thousand fragrant posies,
A cap of flowers, and a kirtle
Embroidered all with leaves of Myrtle;
A gown made of the finest wool
Which from our pretty Lambs we pull;
Fair lined slippers for the cold,
With buckles of the purest gold;
A belt of straw and Ivy buds,
With Coral clasps and Amber studs:
And if these pleasures may thee move,
Come live with me, and be my love.
The Shepherds’ Swains shall dance and sing
For thy delight each May-morning:
If these delights thy mind may move,
Then live with me, and be my love.
This poem features beautiful imagery, from “melodious birds singing madrigals” to “a kirtle embroidered all with leaves of myrtle.” It is in the pastoral genre, meaning that it features an idealized interpretation of nature. The shepherd doesn’t seem like a terribly practical person, offering a thousand fragrant posies and a cap made of flowers, two things that won’t last long. But who cares about practicality when you’re in love? Edit the poem to be more heartfelt by incorporating things you might actually offer to your beloved, such as the aforementioned chocolates, candies, and roses.
The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd
By Sir Walter Raleigh
If all the world and love were young,
And truth in every Shepherd’s tongue,
These pretty pleasures might me move,
To live with thee, and be thy love.
Time drives the flocks from field to fold,
When Rivers rage and Rocks grow cold,
And Philomel becometh dumb,
The rest complains of cares to come.
The flowers do fade, and wanton fields,
To wayward winter reckoning yields,
A honey tongue, a heart of gall,
Is fancy’s spring, but sorrow’s fall.
Thy gowns, thy shoes, thy beds of Roses,
Thy cap, thy kirtle, and thy posies
Soon break, soon wither, soon forgotten:
In folly ripe, in reason rotten.
Thy belt of straw and Ivy buds,
The Coral clasps and amber studs,
All these in me no means can move
To come to thee and be thy love.
But could youth last, and love still breed,
Had joys no date, nor age no need,
Then these delights my mind might move
To live with thee, and be thy love.
Perhaps you have received unwanted advances this Valentine’s Day. In that case, allow me to suggest this tasteful way to reject your potential suitor. This poem cites not petty personal issues as a reason for rejection, but a complex blend of carpe diem and tempus fugit – we must be prudent, not rash, for time flies. Failure to have foresight will only lead to painful disaster. In addition, the poem strikes an attitude of world-weariness and distrustfulness, illustrating that not only is the speaker far from a naïve nymph, she also knows of the hardships in a world where nothing gold can stay, and shepherds have even been known to lie to their nymphs. Not only will you seem worldly-wise and streetsmart, you’ll also dispel any notions of your own naivete.
From Sweethearts candies to Hallmark cards, poetry has long been part of the tradition of Valentine’s Day. What’s your favorite love poem? Share in the comments below!