Poems for Valentine’s Day

Image by Joanna Kosinska.
Image by Joanna Kosinska.

Around this time last year, I published a list of 10 of my favorite love poems. That post got such a good response from you guys that I decided I’d do another list this year. Without my really planning it that way, last year’s list skewed a little more heavily toward older poetry, whereas this one skews a little more toward modern poetry. Hopefully, they’ll make good complements to each other.

1: “A Birthday” by Christina Rossetti

A classic of classics: short, sweet, and beautiful as only Christina Rossetti can do.

2: “I am in love, hence free to live” by Vera Pavlova

My metaphorical hat is off to Suzannah Rowntree for introducing me to this poet and this poem. In case you’ve never heard of her, Vera Pavlova is a contemporary Russian poet and one of the bestselling authors in Russia. Her poems tend to follow a pattern similar to this one: brief but passionate, and often dealing with love or relationships.

3: “To Hold” by Li-Young Lee

Lee is another of my favorite contemporary poets. Here, he does what all the good poets do: takes something very ordinary and mundane—in this case, the ritual of making a bed—and lets us see it in a new and beautiful way.

4: “The Good Morrow” by John Donne

And speaking of looking at things in a new way, Donne—in true Metaphysical fashion—here appeals to the worlds of history, science, and global exploration to communicate the depths of his love.

5: “The Underground” by Seamus Heaney

Inspired by a honeymoon trip, a Greek myth, and his wife’s ruined coat, this has quickly become one of my favorite poems from my favorite poet.

6: “Variation on the Word Sleep” by Margaret Atwood

Christopher Adamson mentioned this one in the comments of my last Valentine’s Day post and I’m so glad he did. I think it pairs especially well with the Heaney poem because, while it doesn’t reference any specific myth, it does take on the atmosphere of a mythical underworld, similar to “The Underground.”

7: “Poetry” by Don Paterson

As the (largely) self-taught owner of a middling book blog, I’m usually not inclined to make dogmatic statements about literature. But I will be dogmatic and say that Don Paterson is one of the greatest living poets in the world. This sonnet—a love poem about writing love poetry—helps prove it, I think.

8: “Adam’s Curse” by W. B. Yeats

I tried to keep the tone of this list relatively light, but it’s actually quite difficult to find love poems that aren’t sad. This one, for instance, has a mournful attitude, but Yeats wears it so well I thought I’d include this poem anyway.

9: “Near the Wall of a House” by Yehuda Amichai

One of the reasons why I love Amichai’s work is because much of it is so beautiful and profound while using simple, unadorned language. “Near the Wall of a House” is one of those poems, talking about love and transcendence while still giving us a grounding in what’s familiar.

10: “Marriage of Many Years” by Dana Gioia

Another poet who knows how to make words count is Dana Gioia. Here, he writes about how love progresses past the limits of language.

That’s all for now. Let me know what you think of any or all of these in the comments and feel free to chime in with your favorite love poems.

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