Love poems have tried to capture the essence of love since the dawn of poetry itself. Because love is a highly personal and variable experience, no two love poets will approach the topic in quite the same way. As a result, a corpus of beautiful love poems has emerged throughout our many millennia of writing and sharing poetry.
Whether you’re looking for inspiration, preparing for Valentine’s day, or trying to write love poems of your own, the examples included in this article will help you express the fantastic complexity of love. Along the way, we’ll discuss how to capture this convoluted emotion in language, and provide tips on how to write a love poem of your own.
Before we examine romantic love poems, let’s address the hardest part first. How do you write about love?
At the touch of a lover, everyone becomes a poet.
How to Write About Love
Love is complicated, ineffable, and constantly changing. It is a feeling, an experience, and a decision you constantly make. Our interpretations of love vary across languages, cultures, religions, time periods, and individuals. Love can transform, destroy, renew, and strip down. And no two loves are ever the same. How do we write about it?
Take these two excerpts from love poems, which describe the experience in vastly different ways:
All I want is to finally
take off my cowboy hat and show you my jeweled
horns. If we slow dance I will ask you not to tug
on them but secretly I will want that very much.
—From “My Kingdom for a Murmur of Fanfare” by Kaveh Akbar
Compare this with the following:
I feel kind of, I don’t know, like my inner space heater
and TV and washing machine are all going at once.
—From “Party” by Kim Addonizio
These two excerpts come from poems that approach love from different directions. Kaveh Akbar’s poem acknowledges the sense of monstrosity inherent to being loved: the desire to hide the worst parts of yourself from your lover, but also to have those parts undressed by them.
Kim Addonizio’s poem, by contrast, looks at the experience of falling in love with someone and feeling your entire brain and heart activated by them.
Both poems make use of metaphor and imagery to expand upon the poet’s experience of love. Additionally, each poem focuses on a singular aspect of love. Rather than trying to fit every dimension of love into a single piece, these beautiful love poems dwell on the specific, utilizing particular details, events, and images to connect to broader romantic experiences.
To summarize, the best love poems do the following when talking about love:
- Utilize metaphor and imagery.
- Focus on specific events, details, and experiences.
- Connect personal experiences to universal emotions through poetic forms and devices.
Love Poems and Clichés
A popular concern for writers working on love poems is the unintentional use of clichés. A cliché is an already-written phrase that has been overused in literature and conversation, to the point that nearly everyone recognizes the phrase instantly.
As you would expect, there are countless clichés about love. Roses are red, violets are blue; absence makes the heart grow fonder; love is blind; love at first sight; love comes when you least expect it, etc. These sayings are trivial, overused, and, quite frankly, they are often untrue.
How do we avoid them? Sometimes we can’t. But in our own love poems, what we can do is subvert clichés or rewrite them to our advantage.
Take the below excerpt, from the poem “One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop:
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
This is, essentially, the cliché “It is better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Yet, it isn’t that cliché at all: the poet has imbued this stanza with specificity and emotional depth. She suggests that, though loss seems to be disaster, it is anything but. While she cannot tell the reader what loss means to them, there is a sense of hope here, a sense that loss does not have to be disaster, no matter the pain.
In your own love poems, rely on depth and specificity. A cliché becomes cliché when it is too universal, describing similar experiences without any emotion or detail. Let your words take the form of the love you’re describing, and you won’t need clichés to communicate what is your own unalterable voice.
Examples of Romantic Love Poems
Let’s take a look at how poets have addressed the question of love in their writing. From short love poems to long ones, from the romantic to the anti-love, and from the works of classic and contemporary poets, let’s examine some poems that are almost as infinite as love itself.
Romantic Love Poems
These romantic love poems perfectly transcribe the poet’s experiences of romance, while also giving the reader a window into that experience.
“The Two Times I Loved You the Most In a Car” by Dorothea Grossman
It was your idea
to park and watch the elephants
swaying among the trees
at that make-believe safari
I didn’t know anything that big
could be so quiet.
And once, you stopped
on a dark desert road
to show me the stars
climbing over each other
like an orchestra
thrashing its way
through time itself
I never saw light that way
Grossman’s poem connects the specific to the universal. By describing two specific moments in time that the poet experienced with the person she loves, this poem shows the reader what it’s like to have your perception transformed, quite literally, as a result of love itself.
“Other Lives and Dimensions and Finally a Love Poem” by Bob Hicok
My left hand will live longer than my right. The rivers
of my palms tell me so.
Never argue with rivers. Never expect your lives to finish
at the same time. I think
praying, I think clapping is how hands mourn. I think
staying up and waiting
for paintings to sigh is science. In another dimension this
is exactly what’s happening,
it’s what they write grants about: the chromodynamics
of mournful Whistlers,
the audible sorrow and beta decay of Old Battersea Bridge.
I like the idea of different
theres and elsewheres, an Idaho known for bluegrass,
a Bronx where people talk
like violets smell. Perhaps I am somewhere patient, somehow
kind, perhaps in the nook
of a cousin universe I’ve never defiled or betrayed
anyone. Here I have
two hands and they are vanishing, the hollow of your back
to rest my cheek against,
your voice and little else but my assiduous fear to cherish.
My hands are webbed
like the wind-torn work of a spider, like they squeezed
something in the womb
but couldn’t hang on. One of those other worlds
or a life I felt
passing through mine, or the ocean inside my mother’s belly
she had to scream out.
Here, when I say I never want to be without you,
somewhere else I am saying
I never want to be without you again. And when I touch you
in each of the places we meet,
in all of the lives we are, it’s with hands that are dying
When I don’t touch you it’s a mistake in any life,
in each place and forever.
Hicok’s poem meanders from idea to idea like light orbiting a black hole, but when the poem reaches the center, everything clarifies. The speaker’s contemplation of different realities brings us to the point: any dimension where the speaker doesn’t have the object of his love is a wasted dimension.
“How Do I Love You?” by Mary Oliver
How do I love you?
Oh, this way and that way.
Oh, happily. Perhaps
I may elaborate by
like this and
no more words now
Tender as ever, Mary Oliver’s poem is certainly up for interpretation, but each “like this” seems to represent a kiss for the poet’s lover. The fact that the poem ends without a period suggest something open-ended and ongoing about this love, and for the reader, each “like this” might suggest some different but equally meaningful demonstration of desire.
Other romantic love poems include:
- “Want” by Joan Larkin
- “Name” by Carol Ann Duffy
- “Macrophobia (Fear of Waiting)” by Jamaal May
- “Love Letter” by Nathalie Handal
- “Love” by Samuel Taylor Coleridge
- “Every Day You Play” by Pablo Neruda
Short Love Poems
Brief and sweet like a mid-winter kiss, these short love poems will warm your heart in the coldest of months.
“On a Train” by Wendy Cope
The book I’ve been reading
rests on my knee. You sleep.
It’s beautiful out there –
fields, little lakes and winter trees
in February sunlight,
every car park a shining mosaic.
Long, radiant minutes,
your hand in my hand,
still warm, still warm.
This short free verse poem captures a small moment in time in which life—still, tranquil, and mundane—abounds with the beauty of love and warmth.
“Hummingbird” by Raymond Carver
Suppose I say summer,
write the word “hummingbird,”
put it in an envelope,
take it down the hill
to the box. When you open
my letter you will recall
those days and how much,
just how much, I love you.
Although Carver’s short poem is deeply personal—the reader doesn’t understand what “summer” or “hummingbird” specifically refers to—we can still connect to the poem’s themes of nostalgia and epistolary love.
“Coda” by Octavio Paz
Perhaps to love is to learn
to walk through this world.
To learn to be silent
like the oak and the linden of the fable.
To learn to see.
Your glance scattered seeds.
It planted a tree.
I talk because you shake its leaves.
Paz’s poem acknowledges a certain humanness to love. We are not born with perfect capability to love and be loved; we must learn how to love, and constantly work at that learning. But, when we learn to love, it “plants a tree”—it propagates, scatters seeds, flourishes between two lovers’ eyes.
Other short love poems include:
Sonnet Love Poems
A sonnet is a 14 line poem with a “volta,” or surprising shift in language, that usually occurs between lines 6-8. Depending on the time period and location of the poet, the sonnet may have additional requirements, like certain meters or rhyme schemes. While sonnets can discuss many things, they have a history as short love poems, so let’s take a look at romance in 14 lines.
“Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare
Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.
One of the most famous love poems in literature, “Sonnet 18” begins with the time immemorial line “Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?” The poem compares the speaker to a beautiful day, yet makes one key distinction: while summer days are transitory and impermanent, the object of the speaker’s desire will be eternally beautiful, for the speaker’s love imbues her with a loveliness not even death can steal.
“Entanglement” by Carmen Giménez Smith
We love what’s best in our beloved, what’s worst in them.
You have to like what time does. Each day I talk to the part
of me that is my beloved from a tiny telephone in me.
I communicate in the clicks and beeps of our abbreviated tongue.
Love is a long trial, a wending, and an uneven effort.
I hate the word faith, but that’s all there is. Only
the last one standing knows the score. Think of the types
of violence on a continuum, and toward the mildest
end is love. I’m torn by you! I scream when my beloved
pulls at our bond. I’m an alien host or we are two yous
subsumed by a single body. The beloved says, You changed
my brain; and I am at that mercy, which is meant
as a warranty for longevity, but there is no real promise:
you keep knowing each other and knowing each other.
Few love poems are as all-encompassing as this sonnet. The speaker describes love’s many contradictions: loving the best and worst in people; equal partnership versus unequal efforts; love versus violence; self and other versus the singularity of two lovers; trust and faith versus a lack of promise. At the end of it all, love is a constant act of learning about each other as both people, inevitably, grow and change.
“Maundy Thursday” by Wilfred Owen
Between the brown hands of a server-lad
The silver cross was offered to be kissed.
The men came up, lugubrious, but not sad,
And knelt reluctantly, half-prejudiced.
(And kissing, kissed the emblem of a creed.)
Then mourning women knelt; meek mouths they had,
(And kissed the Body of the Christ indeed.)
Young children came, with eager lips and glad.
(These kissed a silver doll, immensely bright.)
Then I, too, knelt before that acolyte.
Above the crucifix I bent my head:
The Christ was thin, and cold, and very dead:
And yet I bowed, yea, kissed – my lips did cling.
(I kissed the warm live hand that held the thing.)
On Maundy Thursday (the Thursday before Easter), Christians line up to kiss the feet of the crucified Jesus Christ, which represents, among other things, the washing of Jesus’ feet and the loving humility which Jesus commanded. This poem boldly subverts that religious tradition, as the speaker offers forbidden love to the boy holding the crucifix, rather than the crucifix itself. Much can be interpreted from this symbolic gesture, but regardless of interpretation, this poem’s proclamation of queer desire (in the United Kingdom during World War 1, no less) proves both transgressive and deeply romantic.
Other sonnets include:
- “Sonnet 29” by William Shakespeare
- “Sonnet VII” by Hartley Coleridge
- “How Do I Love Thee?” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Lost Love Poems
Like love, heartbreak is a deeply personal experience, and no two heartbreaks are the same. Nonetheless, these lost love poems might provide a bit of solace.
“Are All the Break-Ups in Your Poems Real?” by Aimee Nezhukumatathil
If by real you mean as real as a shark tooth stuck
in your heel, the wetness of a finished lollipop stick,
the surprise of a thumbtack in your purse—
then Yes, every last page is true, every nuance,
bit, and bite. Wait. I have made them up—all of them—
and when I say I am married, it means I married
all of them, a whole neighborhood of past loves.
Can you imagine the number of bouquets, how many
slices of cake? Even now, my husbands plan a great meal
for us—one chops up some parsley, one stirs a bubbling pot
on the stove. One changes the baby, and one sleeps
in a fat chair. One flips through the newspaper, another
whistles while he shaves in the shower, and every single
one of them wonders what time I am coming home.
Deftly moving between humor and heartbreak, this poem fills the emptiness of lost love with wit and imagination. Imagining a home filled with ex-lovers-turned-husbands, the poet reflects on what it means to feel desired, regardless of the factual nature of these relationships. By writing this poem in the form of a sonnet, Nezhukumatathil subverts many conventions of love poetry, getting to the core of love—whether real or imaginary.
“The Paleontologist’s Blind Date” by Philip Memmer
You have such lovely bones, he says,
holding my face in his hands,
and although I can almost feel
the stone and the sand
sifting away, his fingers
like the softest of brushes,
I realize after this touch
he would know me
years from now, even
in the dark, even
without my skin.
Thank you, I smile—
then I close the door
and never call him again.
The use of “blind date” in the title of this contemporary sonnet is a very effective pun. While the poem itself might be describing a blind date, what’s more compelling is the speaker’s assertion that this almost-lover would know the speaker even if blinded, “in the dark.” The speaker’s decision to never call this almost lover demonstrates a certain fear of being known, or perhaps, a fear of the quickness with which he would have been known.
“One Last Poem for Richard” by Sandra Cisneros
December 24th and we’re through again.
This time for good I know because I didn’t
throw you out — and anyway we waved.
No angry doors.
We folded clothes and went
our separate ways.
You left behind that flannel shirt
of yours I liked but remembered to take
Where are you tonight?
Richard, it’s Christmas Eve again
and old ghosts come back home.
I’m sitting by the Christmas tree
wondering where did we go wrong.
Okay, we didn’t work, and all
memories to tell you the truth aren’t good.
But sometimes there were good times.
Love was good.
I loved your crooked sleep
beside me and never dreamed afraid.
There should be stars for great wars
There ought to be awards
and plenty of champagne for the survivors.
After all the years of degradations,
the several holidays of failure,
there should be something
to commemorate the pain.
Someday we’ll forget that great Brazil disaster.
Till then, Richard, I wish you well.
I wish you love affairs and plenty of hot water,
and women kinder than I treated you.
I forget the reason, but I loved you once,
Maybe in this season, drunk
and sentimental, I’m willing to admit
a part of me, crazed and kamikaze,
ripe for anarchy, loves still.
Among break up poems, this one reigns supreme. The poem’s honesty, vulnerability, and insight into the speaker’s relationship drudges feelings of tenderness and nostalgia—and this despite the many years of anger and frustration described in the poem.
Other lost love poems include:
- “An Empty House is a Debt” by Diana Khoi Nguyen
- “Postcard I almost send to an almost lover” by Emily Wilson
- “To the Dead” by Frank Bidart
Love Poems About Yearning
It is only natural to want the people we do not have. Whether seeking past loves or future ones, these are some of the best love poems about yearning.
“Warming Her Pearls” by Carol Ann Duffy
for Judith Radstone
Next to my own skin, her pearls. My mistress
bids me wear them, warm them, until evening
when I’ll brush her hair. At six, I place them
round her cool, white throat. All day I think of her,
resting in the Yellow Room, contemplating silk
or taffeta, which gown tonight? She fans herself
whilst I work willingly, my slow heat entering
each pearl. Slack on my neck, her rope.
She’s beautiful. I dream about her
in my attic bed; picture her dancing
with tall men, puzzled by my faint, persistent scent
beneath her French perfume, her milky stones.
I dust her shoulders with a rabbit’s foot,
watch the soft blush seep through her skin
like an indolent sigh. In her looking-glass
my red lips part as though I want to speak.
Full moon. Her carriage brings her home. I see
her every movement in my head…. Undressing,
taking off her jewels, her slim hand reaching
for the case, slipping naked into bed, the way
she always does…. And I lie here awake,
knowing the pearls are cooling even now
in the room where my mistress sleeps. All night
I feel their absence and I burn.
The speaker of this poem uses her mistress’ pearls as a symbol for unmet desires. Notice how the speaker never has direct physical contact with her lover, but that the pearls are the primary vehicle for touch. The warmed pearls are the speaker’s way of expressing love to her mistress, taking the place of the affection she desires but cannot have.
“Little Crazy Love Song” by Mary Oliver
I don’t want eventual,
I want soon.
It’s 5 a.m. It’s noon.
It’s dusk falling to dark.
I listen to music.
I eat up a few wild poems
while time creeps along
as though it’s got all day.
This is what I have.
The dull hangover of waiting,
the blush of my heart on the damp grass,
the flower-faced moon.
A gull broods on the shore
where a moment ago there were two.
Softly my right hand fondles my left hand
as though it were you.
It’s hard not to include every poem Mary Oliver has ever written in this article. No, she’s not a love poet by trade, but her work explores what it means to be alone in the world, and how that loneliness can be a wellspring of both isolation and connection, both joy and despair, both emptiness and beauty. This poem is no different: in the slow, dim moments of waiting for love, the speaker still manages to find beauty and connection in the soft but certain motions of nature.
“Scheherazade” by Richard Siken
It is equally difficult not to include every piece by queer poet Richard Siken in this section about yearning. Siken’s poems abound with obsession, desire, and self-destruction—though at the center of these emotions, writes Louise Glück, lies an immovable sense of “panic.” In “Scheherazade,” the speaker yearns for a love that will ruin both him and the object of his affection, perhaps because that is the only type of love he has ever known (or believes he deserves).
Other Beautiful Love Poems
Although the following poems are a little harder to categorize, they are equally valuable contributions to the age-old conversation about love.
- “Corpse Song” by Margaret Atwood
- “O Small Sad Ecstasy of Love” by Anne Carson
- “Turing Test_Love” by Franny Choi (live reading)
- “I Think Love is Something That Happens to Other People” by Michael Gray
- Aubade Beginning in Handcuffs by torrin a. greathouse
- “Detail of the Fire” by Richard Siken
How to Write a Love Poem
Before reading this, you may want to read our guide on how to write a poem. It covers the basics of poetry writing, and how to distill emotions, experiences, and images into language. We will be approaching the topic of how to write a love poem in much the same way: clarifying emotions, delving into experiences, and sharpening images.
Do you want to write a poem for your beloved? Here are some tips to keep in mind.
“Every love has its landscape.”
How to Write a Love Poem: Write About Specific Moments
What moments stand out to you in the history of your relationship? Often, the best love poems start from these key moments. Additionally, eschew the urge to write about grand, sweep-you-off-your-feet love. It is often the mundane and quotidian which reveals to us the true nature of our love.
For reference, read the above love poems “On a Train” by Wendy Cope and “The Two Times I Loved You the Most In a Car” by Dorothea Grossman.
How to Write a Love Poem: Magnify Your Emotions
Love is not a singular emotion. When we love someone, it raises all sorts of emotions, and we often experience our feelings in a sort of constantly-moving kaleidoscope. What the poem does for us is freeze the kaleidoscope in place and magnify our feelings, crystalizing them in language.
How do certain moments with your beloved make you feel? “Zoom in” on those feelings with imagery, metaphor, and other literary devices. In Bob Hicok’s poem about alternate realities, he writes “When I don’t touch you it’s a mistake in any life, / in each place and forever.” A literary theorist might describe this as a hyperbole, but to poets, we know precisely the intensity of this feeling.
How to Write a Love Poem: Consider Sound
Sound often sets the mood of the poem, and considering your word choice will help you refine your piece. Unless you’re writing a heartbreak poem, focus on building euphony, which is sweet-sounding language built upon consonance, assonance, rhyme, meter, and rhythm.
A great example of euphonious love poetry comes from “Coda” by Octavio Paz: “Your glance scattered seeds. / It planted a tree. / I talk because you shake its leaves.” The combination of rhyme, rhythm, and “s” sounds makes this a delightful set of lines, capable of repeating themselves over and over again in your heart.
How to Write a Love Poem: Be Vulnerable and Imperfect
Pardon the use of this cliché, but really, write from the heart. Romantic love poems are built on honesty and vulnerability. It can often feel embarrassing to admit the intensity of our feelings, but our intensities belong in poetry.
Take any of the above love poems. Imagine each poet shared their poem with the object of their desire. Would the poet feel secure and self-satisfied? Have you met poets?
Take a risk, write what you feel, and be vulnerable with the page. Don’t strive for perfect, strive for real. It is when we can be honest with ourselves that true, meaningful, productive love can form, both with ourselves and with the people we love most.
Write the Best Love Poems at Writers.com
Sharpen your craft and write honest, beautiful love poems at Writers.com. Whether you take our workshop on love poetry or one of our upcoming poetry classes, you’ll discover all the possibilities that poetry offers to you, your emotions, and the words you wish to send to your beloved.