Valentine’s Swoon Central: Poets Talking About Their Favorite Love Poems

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Hansen’s Team Pick:

Today, you will think about love. You may be bitter or giddy, comforted or saddened, but nevertheless, you will think about love. What better day is there than this to think about love poems?

Over on Flavorwire, 14 poets have written about their favorite love poems. Some poets name faithful favorites like Dickinson or Wordsworth. Some poets recall contemporary poems, such as Rebecca Hazelton’s pick, “Penelope’s Song” by Louise Glück. She says about the poem,

This poem, with its complicated view of love and on marriage, does all the things I want a love poem to do – when I read it, I enter the world of the lovers, see them as complex and flawed, and remember what it is to love and to be loved despite faults.

Some poets write about love poems I had never read before, such as the thirteen word poem “Seall,” by Brooklyn Copeland, a choice from Niina Pollari. It’s an interesting look into the minds of others. One poet even picks the poem of another poet on the list. No one chose completely obvious poems. Shakespeare who? Keats who? Instead, subtle references to love illuminate the way in which these poets view the incredible and overwhelming feeling of love.

Alex Dimitrov says of Plath’s “Mystic”:

Of course Plath was a romantic. Anyone faithful to something that continuously rejects and tests them is — like poetry tests the poet. And so Plath ends the poem with the line, ‘The heart has not stopped.’ And it hasn’t. We are bound to what we love. And there’s nothing romantic about it.

You can find out a lot about a person based on their favorite love poem. Mine? I’m no poet (looking back at my teen angst poetry confirms this), but I’m a sucker for classics. It’s a tough choice between Neruda, Donne, and many old, dead people, but the award has to go to “When You Are Old” by W.B. Yeats. It’s the only poem I’ve ever memorized and nothing comforts me more than repeating it in my head when I can’t write or fall asleep or I’m on a bus and feeling lonely. My heart swells at the thought of this poem. If that’s not the purpose of a love poem, I don’t know what is.

What other poems should have been on this list?

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Hansen is the DIY & Food Editor of Autostraddle.com and likes to spend most days making and cooking and writing. She is an MFA candidate in Creative Writing at Colorado State University in her free time.

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15 Comments

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    I Have to Tell You,” by Dorothea Grossman. I have a lot more cynical choices, and even a few tender ones, but this poem is short, which makes it easy to carry around in your head and for it to come back to you in a rush. It’s one of those poems I wish I wrote, and I think it’s also a great example of how simple, blank verse can be incontrovertibly a poem.

    I also really love “Those Winter Sundays” by Robert Hayden. It’s a bit more formal in structure with lots of alliteration and other sound devices. It’s also quietly, completely heart-breaking and always sticks with me. It makes me think of every way I’ve ever failed to love someone, but also illuminates those little acts of love we accept and commit without acknowledgement.

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    Adrienne, obvi.

    21 Love Poems, No. 2:

    I wake up in your bed. I know I have been dreaming.
    Much earlier, the alarm broke us from each other,
    You’ve been at your desk for hours. I know what I dreamed:
    our friend the poet comes into my room
    where I’ve been writing for days,
    drafts, carbons, poems are scattered everywhere,
    and I want to show her one poem
    which is the poem of my life. But I hesitate,
    and wake. You’ve kissed my hair
    to wake me. I dreamed you were a poem,
    I say, a poem I wanted to show someone…
    and I laugh and fall dreaming again
    of the desire to show you to everyone I love,
    to move openly together
    in the pull of gravity, which is not simple,
    which carries the feathered grass a long way down the upbreathing air.

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      I really like that poem too, but my favourite from the collection is XII,

      No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone.
      The accidents happen, we’re not heroines,
      they happen in our lives like car crashes,
      books that change us, neighborhoods
      we move into and come to love.
      Tristan and Isolde is scarcely the story,
      women at least should know the difference
      between love and death. No prison cup,
      no penance. Merely a notion that the tape-recorder
      should have caught some ghost of us: that tape-recorder
      not merely played but should have listened to us,
      and could instruct those after us:
      this we were, this is how we tried to love,
      and these are the forces we had ranged within us
      within us and against us, against us and within us.

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    Pablo Neruda’s The Dead Woman gets me every time:
    “…No, forgive me.
    If you are not living,
    if you, beloved, my love,
    if you
    have died,
    all the leaves will fall on my breast,
    it will rain upon my soul night and day,
    the snow will burn my heart,
    I shall walk with cold and fire and death and snow,
    my feet will want to march toward where you sleep,
    but
    I shall go on living,
    because you wanted me to be, above all things,
    untamable,
    and, love, because you know that I am not just one man
    but all men.”

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