In Depth

Love poems: 21 romantic classics

Sentimental odes and witty ditties that capture the meaning of romance

Writing a love letter can be a daunting prospect, so if you’re struggling to pen a romantic message for your beloved that goes beyond “roses are red, violets are blue”, then these romantic classics could be the inspiration you need.

Poets from William Shakespeare through Lord Byron to Emily Dickinson all had plenty to say on affairs of the heart and we’ve gathered a few of the classic poems that capture the essence of love.

But if grandiose odes and sonnets sound a little intense, there are also more light-hearted verses by the likes of Ogden Nash and John Cooper Clarke, whose To My Valentine promises that he loves the object of his affection more than “a criminal hates a clue” and “more than a grapefruit squits”.

A Red, Red Rose

Robert Burns

My love is like a red, red roseThat’s newly sprung in June :My love is like the melodyThat’s sweetly played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,So deep in love am I:And I will love 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 love thee still, my dear,While the sands o’ life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only love,And fare thee weel a while!And I will come again, my love,Thou‘ it were ten thousand mile.

Bright star! would I were steadfast as thou art

John Keats

BRIGHT star! would I were steadfast 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 steadfast, 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.

To Celia

Ben Jonson

Drink to me only with thine eyesAnd I will pledge with mine.Or leave a kiss but in the cupAnd I’ll not look for wine.

The thirst that from the soul doth riseDoth ask a drink divine;But might I of Jove’s nectar sup,I would not change for thine.

I sent thee late a rosy wreath,Not so much hon’ring thee As giving it a hope that thereIt could not withered be;

But thou thereon did’st only breathe,And sent’st it back to me,Since when it grows and smells, I swearNot of itself, but thee.

Sonnet 43

Elizabeth Barrett Browning

How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.I love thee to the depth and breadth and heightMy soul can reach, when feeling out of sightFor the ends of being and ideal grace.I love thee to the level of every day’sMost 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 useIn my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.I love thee with a love I seemed to loseWith 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.

She Walks in Beauty

Lord Byron

She walks in beauty, like the night   Of cloudless climes and starry skies;And all that’s best of dark and bright   Meet in her aspect and her eyes;Thus mellowed to that tender light   Which heaven to gaudy day denies. 

One shade the more, one ray the less,   Had half impaired the nameless graceWhich waves in every raven tress,   Or softly lightens o’er her face;Where thoughts serenely sweet express,   How pure, how dear their dwelling-place. 

And on that cheek, and o’er that brow,   So soft, so calm, yet eloquent,The smiles that win, the tints that glow,   But tell of days in goodness spent,A mind at peace with all below,   A heart whose love is innocent!

At Last

Elizabeth Akers Allen

At last, when all the summer shineThat warmed life’s early hours is past,Your loving fingers seek for mineAnd hold them close - at last - at last!Not oft the robin comes to buildIts nest upon the leafless boughBy autumn robbed, by winter chilled, -But you, dear heart, you love me now.Though there are shadows on my browAnd furrows on my cheek, in truth, -The marks where Time’s remorseless ploughBroke up the blooming sward of Youth, -Though fled is every girlish graceMight win or hold a lover’s vow,Despite my sad and faded face,And darkened heart, you love me now!I count no more my wasted tears;They left no echo of their fall;I mourn no more my lonesome years;This blessed hour atones for all.I fear not all that Time or FateMay bring to burden heart or brow, -Strong in the love that came so late,Our souls shall keep it always now!

Sylvia

George Etherege

The Nymph that undoes me, is fair and unkind;No less than a wonder by Nature designed.She's the grief of my heart, the joy of my eye;And the cause of a flame that never can die!

Her mouth, from whence wit still obligingly flows,Has the beautiful blush, and the smell, of the rose.Love and Destiny both attend on her will;She wounds with a look; with a frown, she can kill!

The desperate Lover can hope no redress;Where Beauty and Rigour are both in excess!In Sylvia they meet; so unhappy am I!Who sees her, must love; and who loves her, must die!

Sonnet XLIX, ’Cien sonetos de amor‘  

Pablo Neruda

It’s today: all of yesterday dropped awayamong the fingers of the light and the sleeping eyes.Tomorrow will come on its green footsteps;no one can stop the river of the dawn.

No one can stop the river of your hands,your eyes and their sleepiness, my dearest.You are the trembling of time, which passesbetween the vertical light and the darkening sky.

The sky folds its wings over you,lifting you, carrying you to my armswith its punctual, mysterious courtesy.That is why I sing to the day and to the moon,to the sea, to time, to all the planets,to your daily voice, to your nocturnal skin. 

It’s today: all of yesterday dropped awayamong the fingers of the light and the sleeping eyes.Tomorrow will come on its green footsteps;no one can stop the river of the dawn.

It’s today, it’s today...

i carry your heart with me (i carry it in)

e. e. cummings

i carry your heart with me(i carry it inmy heart)i am never without it(anywherei go you go,my dear;and whatever is doneby only me is your doing,my darling)

                                                      i fearno fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i wantno world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meantand whatever a sun will always sing is youhere is the deepest secret nobody knows(here is the root of the root and the bud of the budand the sky of the sky of a tree called life; which growshigher than soul can hope or mind can hide)and this is the wonder that’s keeping the stars apart

i carry your heart(i carry it in my heart)

That I did always love

Emily Dickenson

That I did always loveI bring thee ProofThat till I lovedI never lived—Enough—

That I shall love alway—I argue theeThat love is life—And life hath Immortality—

This—dost thou doubt—Sweet—Then have INothing to showBut Calvary—

Sonnet 147                       

William Shakespeare

My love is as a fever, longing stillFor that which longer nurseth the disease,Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,Th’ uncertain sickly appetite to please.My reason, the physician to my love,Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,Hath left me, and I desperate now approveDesire is death, which physic did except.Past cure I am, now reason is past care,And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,At random from the truth vainly expressed:For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.

I Love You

Ella Wheeler Wilcox

I love your lips when they’re wet with wineAnd red with a wild desire;I love your eyes when the lovelight liesLit with a passionate fire.I love your arms when the warm white fleshTouches mine in a fond embrace;I love your hair when the strands enmeshYour kisses against my face.

Not for me the cold, calm kissOf a virgin’s bloodless love;Not for me the saint’s white bliss,Nor the heart of a spotless dove.But give me the love that so freely givesAnd laughs at the whole world’s blame,With your body so young and warm in my arms,It sets my poor heart aflame.

So kiss me sweet with your warm wet mouth,Still fragrant with ruby wine,And say with a fervor born of the SouthThat your body and soul are mine.Clasp me close in your warm young arms,While the pale stars shine above,And we’ll live our whole young lives awayIn the joys of a living love.

I Am Not Yours

Sara Teasdale

I am not yours, not lost in you,Not lost, although I long to beLost as a candle lit at noon,Lost as a snowflake in the sea.

You love me, and I find you stillA spirit beautiful and bright,Yet I am I, who long to beLost as a light is lost in light.

Oh plunge me deep in love - put outMy senses, leave me deaf and blind,Swept by the tempest of your love,A taper in a rushing wind.

Sonnet 18

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 fadeNor 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.

The Good-Morrow

John Donne

I wonder, by my troth, what thou and IDid, till we loved? Were we not weaned till then?But sucked on country pleasures, childishly?Or snorted we in the Seven Sleepers’ den?’Twas so; but this, all pleasures fancies be.

If ever any beauty I did see,Which I desired, and got, ’twas but a dream of thee.And now good-morrow to our waking souls,Which watch not one another out of fear;For love, all love of other sights controls,And makes one little room an everywhere.

Let sea-discoverers to new worlds have gone,Let maps to other, worlds on worlds have shown,Let us possess one world, each hath one, and is one.My face in thine eye, thine in mine appears,And true plain hearts do in the faces rest;Where can we find two better hemispheres,Without sharp north, without declining west?

Whatever dies, was not mixed equally;If our two loves be one, or, thou and ILove so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.

To My Valentine

Ogden Nash

More than a catbird hates a cat,Or a criminal hates a clue,Or the Axis hates the United States,That’s how much I love you.

I love you more than a duck can swim,And more than a grapefruit squirts,I love you more than a gin rummy is a bore,And more than a toothache hurts.

As a shipwrecked sailor hates the sea,Or a juggler hates a shove,As a hostess detests unexpected guests,That’s how much you I love.

I love you more than a wasp can sting,And more than the subway jerks,I love you as much as a beggar needs a crutch,And more than a hangnail irks.

I swear to you by the stars above,And below, if such there be,As the High Court loathes perjurious oathes,That’s how you’re loved by me.

Rondel of Merciless Beauty

Geoffrey Chaucer

Your two great eyes will slay me suddenly;Their beauty shakes me who was once serene;Straight through my heart the wound is quick and keen. Only your word will heal the injuryTo my hurt heart, while yet the wound is clean—Your two great eyes will slay me suddenly;Their beauty shakes me who was once serene. Upon my word, I tell you faithfullyThrough life and after death you are my queen;For with my death the whole truth shall be seen.Your two great eyes will slay me suddenly;Their beauty shakes me who was once serene;Straight through my heart the wound is quick and keen.

A Glimpse

Walt Whitman

A glimpse through an interstice caught,Of a crowd of workmen and drivers in a bar-room around the stove late of a winter night, and I unremark’d seated in a corner,Of a youth who loves me and whom I love, silently approaching and seating himself near, that he may hold me by the hand,A long while amid the noises of coming and going, of drinking and oath and smutty jest,There we two, content, happy in being together, speaking little, perhaps not a word.

All love letters are

Fernando Pessoa

All love letters areRidiculous.They wouldn’t be love letters if they weren’tRidiculous.In my time I also wrote love lettersEqually, inevitablyRidiculous.Love letters, if there’s loveMust beRidiculous.But in factOnly those who’ve never writtenLove lettersAreRidiculous.If only I could go backTo when I wrote love lettersWithout thinking howRidiculous.The truth is that todayMy memoriesOf those love lettersAre what isRidiculous.(All more-than-three-syllable words,Along with unaccountable feelings,Are naturallyRidiculous.) 

I Wanna Be Yours...

John Cooper Clarke

I wanna be your vacuum cleanerbreathing in your dust I wanna be your Ford CortinaI will never rustIf you like your coffee hotlet me be your coffee potYou call the shotsI wanna be yoursI wanna be your raincoatfor those frequent rainy daysI wanna be your dreamboatwhen you want to sail awayLet me be your teddy beartake me with you anywhereI don’t careI wanna be yoursI wanna be your electric meterI will not run outI wanna be the electric heateryou’ll get cold withoutI wanna be your setting lotionhold your hair in deep devotionDeep as the deep Atlantic oceanthat’s how deep is my devotion

When We Are Old And These Rejoicing Veins

Edna St. Vincent Millay

When we are old and these rejoicing veinsAre frosty channels to a muted stream,And out of all our burning their remainsNo feeblest spark to fire us, even in dream,This be our solace: that it was not saidWhen we were young and warm and in our prime,Upon our couch we lay as lie the dead,Sleeping away the unreturning time.O sweet, O heavy-lidded, O my love,When morning strikes her spear upon the land,And we must rise and arm us and reproveThe insolent daylight with a steady hand,Be not discountenanced if the knowing knowWe rose from rapture but an hour ago.

And one final quote...

Antoine de Saint-Exupery

Life has taught us that love does not consist of gazing at each other, but in looking outward together in the same direction.

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