Love has been a dominant theme in poetry through the ages. One of the early poets whose love poems continue to be popular is John Donne, who was active around early 17th century. Categorized as a metaphysical poet, Donne wrote some of the best known poems on the theme of love including The Good-Morrow and A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning. Another extremely popular love poem by a metaphysical poet is The Passionate Shepherd to His Love. The love theme was well explored by William Shakespeare in his sonnets. Sonnet 116 is his most famous sonnet in the genre. Romanticism was a literary movement that was characterized by its emphasis on emotion as well as glorification of all the past and of nature. It peaked in the first half of the 19th century. Though poems of the movement were not necessarily related to love, a couple of Romantic poems do feature on the list. The best known 20th century love poems include Pablo Neruda’s Tonight I Can Write The Saddest Lines and E.E. Cummings’s I carry your heart with me. We have only included poems which specifically adhere to the theme of love and thus several well known poems have been left out. Here are the 10 most famous love poems of all time.
#10 A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning
Poet: John Donne
Metaphysical poetry is a term used to classify poems by a group of 17th-century English poets. It is characterized by use of literary elements of similes, metaphors, imagery, paradoxes, conceit and far-fetched views of reality. John Donne is the most renowned metaphysical poet and this poem is one of his best known works. It was written in 1611 or 1612 for his wife Anne More before he left on a trip to Continental Europe. The speaker of the poem is about to part from his beloved for a long duration and though he deeply loves her, he says they should not mourn their separation. He then uses a sequence of metaphors, each describing a way to look at the occasion of their separation without mourning. A Valediction: Forbidding Mourning is notable for its use of conceits and ingenious analogies to describe the couple’s relationship. It is one of the most famous poems which describe the parting of lovers.
As virtuous men pass mildly away,
And whisper to their souls to go,
Whilst some of their sad friends do say
The breath goes now, and some say, No:
So let us melt, and make no noise,
No tear-floods, nor sigh-tempests move;
‘Twere profanation of our joys
To tell the laity our love.
#9 A Red, Red Rose
Poet: Robert Burns
Robert Burns is the most widely read Scottish poet and he is celebrated not only in his country but around the world. The last ten years of his life were devoted to preserving the traditional songs of Scotland and this is one of those. The lyrics of the song describe the love of the speaker as both fresh and long lasting. They are highly evocative, including lines describing rocks melting with the sun, and the seas running dry. The song has been set to a number of tunes with the most popular being the tune of “Low Down in the Broom”. A Red, Red Rose has been widely performed by a range of musical artists in the 20th and 21st centuries. American singer songwriter Bob Dylan has called its lyrics to have been his greatest creative inspiration.
O my Luve’s like a red, red rose
That’s newly sprung in June:
O my Luve’s like the melodie
That’s sweetly play’d in tune!
As fair thou art, my bonnie lass,
So deep in love am I:
And I will love thee still, my dear,
Till a’ the seas gang dry:
#8 Le Lac
English Title: The Lake
Poet: Alphonse de Lamartine
Lamartine is considered to be the first French romantic poet and Le Lac is his best known poem. The poem is an elegy for Julie Charles, the poet’s muse and the wife of the famous physician Jacques Charles. Lamartine had met Julie in 1816 on the shores of Lake Bourget in Savoie, France. The two were supposed to meet again in August the following year but she became ill with tuberculosis and subsequently died. Lamartine went to the lake alone visiting the places they that explored together the previous year. He then recorded the experience in this poem of sixteen quatrains. Le Lac met with great acclaim on being published and inspired a generation of French Romantic poets. It is the most famous French elegy and one of the most widely read French love poems.
O Lake! Scarce has a single year coursed past.
To waves that she was meant to see again,
I come alone to sit upon this stone
You saw her sit on then.
#7 The Passionate Shepherd to His Love
Poet: Christopher Marlowe
Christopher Marlowe was one of the leading poets of the Elizabethan era. This poem by him is regarded as one of the earliest examples of the pastoral style of British poetry. Pastoral poetry romanticizes rustic or country living with a ‘back to nature’ sentiment. In this poem, the speaker is a love struck shepherd who is pleading to his beloved to spend her life with him. He paints a romantic picture of country life telling his beloved of the pleasures of nature they can experience together. The Passionate Shepherd to His Love is one of the best-known love poems in the English language with its opening line “Come live with me and be my love” being especially renowned. It has been alluded to in several later works and English writer Sir Walter Raleigh even wrote a well known reply to the poem titled “The Nymph’s Reply to the Shepherd”.
Come live with me and be my love,
And we will all the pleasures prove,
That Valleys, groves, hills, and fields,
Woods, or steepy mountain yields.
And we will sit upon the Rocks,
Seeing the Shepherds feed their flocks,
By shallow Rivers to whose falls
Melodious birds sing Madrigals.
#6 The Good-Morrow
Poet: John Donne
The Good-Morrow describes the thoughts of a lover when he wakes up next to his beloved. In the first stanza the speaker wonders what did he and his beloved did before they fell in love. He compares their life before finding true love to childhood and sleep. In the second stanza, he states that their souls have been joined in pure love and they don’t need to explore anywhere as love ‘makes one little room an everywhere.’ The final stanza highlights their harmonious union which has made them inseparable and immortal. A poem about evolving love, The Good-Morrow moves from sensual love to spiritual love, which is liberated from fear and the need to seek adventure. The Good-Morrow has been a subject of much literary interpretation and criticism. It is the most famous love poem of one the best writers in the genre.
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 I
Love so alike, that none do slacken, none can die.
#5 Annabel Lee
Poet: Edgar Allan Poe
Edgar Allan Poe is the most famous American romantic poet and one of the most influential figures in English literature. This was his last complete poem and it was published in New York Tribune on 9th October 1849, two days after his death. The poem follows one of Poe’s recurrent themes — the death of a young, beautiful and dearly loved woman. The narrator, who fell in love with Annabel Lee when they were young, believes that their love was so intense that angels became envious and caused her death. He retains his love for her even after her death and is sure they will be reunited. Annabel Lee is thought to be written by Poe in memory of his wife Virginia Eliza Clemm Poe, who had died a couple of years earlier.
But our love it was stronger by far than the love
Of those who were older than we—
Of many far wiser than we—
And neither the angels in Heaven above
Nor the demons down under the sea
Can ever dissever my soul from the soul
Of the beautiful Annabel Lee;
#4 How do I love thee?
Alternate Title: Sonnet 43
Poet: Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Sonnet 43 is part of a sonnet sequence of 44 sonnets called Sonnets from the Portuguese. It was written before Elizabeth Barrett married the famous English poet and playwright Robert Browning. In Sonnet 43, Elizabeth expresses her intense love for Robert listing the various ways in which she experiences love for her beloved. Her love, which she considers spiritual, allows her to reach extremes which are otherwise impossible. Elizabeth Barrett Browning was one of the most prominent poets of the Victorian era and How do I love thee is her most renowned sonnet. It is also one of the most famous love poems written by a woman.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace.
I love thee to the level of everyday’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candlelight.
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 use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With 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.
#3 Poem XX: Tonight I Can Write The Saddest Lines
Chilean Title: Poema XX: Puedo escribir los versos más tristes esta noche
Poet: Pablo Neruda
Pablo Neruda is regarded as one of the greatest poets of the 20th century. The poems in this collection of Neruda follow a love story from initial infatuation to passionate relationship and finally the separation. Poem 20, the penultimate poem of the collection, expresses the pain of the speaker due to the absence of his lover in his life as their relationship has fallen apart. Through the poem the speaker primarily recalls their passionate romance; mourns its loss; and expresses the difficulty he is experiencing in forgetting her. The poem brilliantly captures youthful melancholy and has a rhythmic flow due to the use of repetition by Neruda. Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair has sold over 20 million copies since its publication and it remains the best selling poetry book in the Spanish language ever. Poema 20 is the most famous poem of the most widely read poetry collection in Spanish.
Tonight I can write the saddest lines.
To think that I do not have her. To feel that I have lost her.
To hear the immense night, still more immense without her.
And the verse falls to the soul like dew to the pasture.
#2 i carry your heart with me
Poet: E.E. Cummings
E.E. Cummings is considered one of the best love poets of all time and this poem is his most famous work in the genre. His poetry is radical for its unconventional punctuation and phrasing. This poem can be compared with a sonnet due to its similar structure but Cummings does add modern twists to it. It begins with the speaker describing the ubiquitous influence of his love in his life and goes on to touch several themes including oneness, and love as the originator of life. Its popularity can be gauged from the fact that its opening line is still often tattooed by people and that its lines have been used by several artists, including in the song Ion Square by English indie rock band Bloc Party.
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go,my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate(for you are my fate,my sweet)i want
no world(for beautiful you are my world,my true)
and it’s you are whatever a moon has always meant
and whatever a sun will always sing is you
here is the deepest secret nobody knows
(here is the root of the root and the bud of the bud
and the sky of the sky of a tree called life;which grows
higher 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)
#1 Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Alternate Title: Sonnet 116
Poet: William Shakespeare
Though he is most renowned for his plays, William Shakespeare is also considered one of the most prominent sonnet writers. He wrote a sonnet sequence of 154 poems. Sonnets 1 to 126 of his collection are addressed to an unnamed young man, now referred to as “Fair Youth”; while the rest are known as the Dark Lady sequence. Sonnet 116 provides the definition of ideal love. In the first quatrain, the speaker says that love is not changeable; in the second he says that it is fixed like the north star is to sailors; in the third he says that it not a “Time’s fool”, that it does not change with time; and in the couplet he attests to the certainty of his definition by saying, “If this be error and upon me proved; I never writ, nor no man ever loved.” Sonnet 116 is regarded among the finest in Shakespeare’s entire sequence and it is perhaps the most famous poem about love.
Let me not to the marriage of true minds
Admit impediments. Love is not love
Which alters when it alteration finds,
Or bends with the remover to remove:
O, no! it is an ever-fixed mark,
That looks on tempests and is never shaken;
It is the star to every wandering bark,
Whose worth’s unknown, although his height be taken.
Love’s not Time’s fool, though rosy lips and cheeks
Within his bending sickle’s compass come;
Love alters not with his brief hours and weeks,
But bears it out even to the edge of doom.
If this be error and upon me proved,
I never writ, nor no man ever loved.