With its origins in the religious feast day of a martyred Roman saint, we’re a little fuzzy on how exactly Valentine’s Day evolved over the centuries into a popular secular celebration of love, romance, and chocolate. But no matter if you embrace the day with gusto or scoff at the oversized expectations it brings, devoted Bas Bleu readers can’t deny the power of a great love poem! Whether you’re looking to restore your faith in love, searching for the perfect words to inscribe in your sweetheart’s valentine, or turning your focus inward after a relationship ends, these fourteen poems for Valentine’s Day will make your literature-lovin’ heart beat a little faster. As always, feel free to share your favorite love poems in the comments section below. (To read each poem in full, click on the graphic.)
I loved you first: but afterwards your love
Outsoaring mine, sang such a loftier song
As drowned the friendly cooings of my dove.
Which owes the other most? my love was long,
And yours one moment seemed to wax more strong;
I loved and guessed at you, you construed me
And loved me for what might or might not be –
Nay, weights and measures do us both a wrong.
For verily love knows not ‘mine’ or ‘thine;’
With separate ‘I’ and ‘thou’ free love has done,
For one is both and both are one in love:
Rich love knows nought of ‘thine that is not mine;’
Both have the strength and both the length thereof,
Both of us, of the love which makes us one. —Christina Rossetti, “I loved you first, but afterwards your love”
The sky was lit
by the splendor of the moon
I fell to the ground
has made me sure
I am ready to forsake
this worldly life
to the magnificence
of your Being —Rumi, “Defeated by Love”
Masons, when they start upon a building,
Are careful to test out the scaffolding;
Make sure that planks won’t slip at busy points,
Secure all ladders, tighten bolted joints.
And yet all this comes down when the job’s done
Showing off walls of sure and solid stone.
So if, my dear, there sometimes seem to be
Old bridges breaking between you and me
Never fear. We may let the scaffolds fall
Confident that we have built our wall. —Seamus Heaney, “Scaffolding”
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 every day’s
Most 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 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. —Elizabeth Barrett Browning, “How Do I Love Thee?” (Sonnet 43),
The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other’s welcome,
and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you
all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,
the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life. —Derek Walcott, “Love After Love”
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