My Favorite Love Poems
A good love poem is hard to pull off, and I certainly haven’t been able to. With Valentine’s Day coming up, I figured I’d get a little festive by sharing the love poems I look to most for inspiration.
“Love at First Sight” by Wislawa Zymborska
They’re both convinced
that a sudden passion joined them.
Such certainty is beautiful,
but uncertainty is more beautiful still.
Since they’d never met before, they’re sure
that there’d been nothing between them.
But what’s the word from the streets, staircases, hallways—
perhaps they’ve passed by each other a million times?
I want to ask them
if they don’t remember—
a moment face to face
in some revolving door?
perhaps a “sorry” muttered in a crowd?
a curt “wrong number” caught in the receiver?—
but I know the answer.
No, they don’t remember.
They’d be amazed to hear
that Chance has been toying with them
now for years.
Not quite ready yet
to become their Destiny,
it pushed them close, drove them apart,
it barred their path,
stifling a laugh,
and then leaped aside.
There were signs and signals,
even if they couldn’t read them yet.
Perhaps three years ago
or just last Tuesday
a certain leaf fluttered
from one shoulder to another?
Something was dropped and then picked up.
Who knows, maybe the ball that vanished
into childhood’s thicket?
There were doorknobs and doorbells
where one touch had covered another
Suitcases checked and standing side by side.
One night, perhaps, the same dream,
grown hazy by morning.
is only a sequel, after all,
and the book of events
is always open halfway through.
Ironically enough, I first encountered this poem while reading View with a Grain of Sand in the midst of a breakup. I really love the concept of this poem: all the ways you might have interacted with someone before actually meeting. The enjambment echoes those close calls as fate dances down the page.
“Letter to N.Y.” by Elizabeth Bishop
For Louise Crane
In your next letter I wish you'd say
where you are going and what you are doing;
how are the plays, and after the plays
what other pleasures you're pursuing:
taking cabs in the middle of the night,
driving as if to save your soul
where the road goes round and round the park
and the meter glares like a moral owl,
and the trees look so queer and green
standing alone in big black caves
and suddenly you're in a different place
where everything seems to happen in waves,
and most of the jokes you just can't catch,
like dirty words rubbed off a slate,
and the songs are loud but somehow dim
and it gets so terribly late,
and coming out of the brownstone house
to the gray sidewalk, the watered street,
one side of the buildings rises with the sun
like a glistening field of wheat.
—Wheat, not oats, dear. I'm afraid
if it's wheat it's none of your sowing,
nevertheless I'd like to know
what you are doing and where you are going.
This is not only one of my favorite love poems, but also an all-time favorite. I read it for a class my sophomore year of college. It took me a bunch of times reading it to understand what was really happening, and I still feel like I see something new every time. I think that’s what makes a really great poem.
“Living in Sin” by Adrienne Rich
She had thought the studio would keep itself;
no dust upon the furniture of love.
Half heresy, to wish the taps less vocal,
the panes relieved of grime. A plate of pears,
a piano with a Persian shawl, a cat
stalking the picturesque amusing mouse
had risen at his urging.
Not that at five each separate stair would writhe
under the milkman’s tramp; that morning light
so coldly would delineate the scraps
of last night’s cheese and three sepulchral bottles;
that on the kitchen shelf amoong the saucers
a pair of beetle-eyes would fix her own–
envoy from some village in the moldings…
Meanwhile, he, with a yawn,
sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard,
declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror,
rubbed at his beard, went out for cigarettes;
while she, jeered by the minor demons,
pulled back the sheets and made the bed and found
a towel to dust the table-top,
and let the coffee-pot boil over on the stove.
By evening she was back in love again,
though not so wholly but throughout the night
she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming
like a relentless milkman up the stairs.
I’m a total homebody. I think there’s something uniquely special about occupying a shared space with someone, and that sentiment is expressed so well here.
“[Things feel partial. My love for things is partial. Mikel on his last legs, covered]” by Diane Seuss
Things feel partial. My love for things is partial. Mikel on his last legs, covered
in KS lesions demanded that I see the beauty of a mass of chrysanthemums. Look,
he demanded. I lied that I could see the beauty there but all I saw was a smear
of yellow flowers. I wanted to leave that place. I wanted to leave him to die
without me. And soon that’s what I did. Even the molecule I allowed myself to feel
of our last goodbye made me scream. What would have happened if I’d opened
my heart all the way as I was told to do if I wanted Jesus to live inside one of its
dank chambers? Whitman told me to unscrew the locks from the doors and the doors
themselves from the jambs. Let love come streaming in like when the St. Joe flooded
Save-A-Lot and drove it out of business. The only store in town. Don’t put my ashes
in the river Mikel said. Put them in a tributary. I did. I put them in a tributary without
touching them. Now I want to chalk my fingerprints with them but it’s too late.
I want to hold them like he held me and touched my upper lip and called it cupid’s
cusp, a phrase that made me wince. I felt love all the way then, and never since.
This is a sad one. I blubbered like a baby the first time I read it (I suggest following the link to this one because the lineation is funky here). I don’t think I’ve ever had such an intense, immediate reaction to a poem the first time as I did with this one.
“Steps” Frank O’Hara
How funny you are today New York
like Ginger Rogers in Swingtime
and St. Bridget's steeple leaning a little to the left
here I have just jumped out of a bed full of V-days
(I got tired of D-days) and blue you there still
accepts me foolish and free
all I want is a room up there
and you in it
and even the traffic halt so thick is a way
for people to rub up against each other
and when their surgical appliances lock
they stay together
for the rest of the day (what a day)
I go by to check a slide and I say
that painting's not so blue
where's Lana Turner
she's out eating
and Garbo's backstage at the Met
everyone's taking their coat off
so they can show a rib-cage to the rib-watchers
and the park's full of dancers with their tights and shoes
in little bags
who are often mistaken for worker-outers at the West Side Y
the Pittsburgh Pirates shout because they won
and in a sense we're all winning
the apartment was vacated by a gay couple
who moved to the country for fun
they moved a day too soon
even the stabbings are helping the population explosion
though in the wrong country
and all those liars have left the UN
the Seagram Building's no longer rivalled in interest
not that we need liquor (we just like it)
and the little box is out on the sidewalk
next to the delicatessen
so the old man can sit on it and drink beer
and get knocked off it by his wife later in the day
while the sun is still shining
oh god it's wonderful
to get out of bed
and drink too much coffee
and smoke too many cigarettes
and love you so much
That ending though. Those are some of my favorite lines in all the poems, ever. Also, can you tell I like poems about New York?
That’s all from me. Let me know your favorites in the comments below!