The 100 Best Love Poems of All Time


By Leslie Pockell

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Here in this portable treasury are the 100 most moving and memorable love poems of all time, each accompanied by an illuminating introduction.

Words of Love…and seduction, heartbreak, adoration, and passion. Revisit the Classics:

"He Is More Than a Hero" by Sappho Sonnet 18 ("Let Me Not to the Marriage of True Minds") by William Shakespeare "She Walks in Beauty" by Lord Byron Enjoy Old Favorites: "To My Dear and Loving Husband" by Anne Bradstreet "The Owl and the Pussycat" by Edward Lear "When I Was One and Twenty" by A. E. Housman Make Surprising Discoveries: "Your Catfish Friend" by Richard Brautigan "To Alice B. Toklas" by Gertrude Stein "Valentine" by Donald Hall "True Love" by Judith Viorst Carry this book wherever you go. It's a perfect companion to read alone or to share with that special person in your life. The 100 Best Love Poems of all Time.


In The 100 Best Love Poems
of All Time

you'll find . . .

Seductive pleas...

Wild nights—wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Our luxury!

from "Wild Nights" by Emily Dickinson

Heart-wrenching tributes...

Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone.
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone.

from "Funeral Blues" by W. H. Auden

Poignant vignettes...

While my hair was cut straight across my forehead
I played about the front gate, pulling flowers.
You came by on bamboo stilts, playing horse,
You walked about my seat, playing with blue plums.

from "The River Merchant's Wife" by Li Po

Passion's hidden face...

How can I keep my soul in me, so that it doesn't touch your soul?
How can I raise it high enough, past you, to other things?

from "Love Song" by Rainer Maria Rilke

A lover's delirium...

I do not love you as if you were salt-rose, or topaz,
or the arrow of carnations the fire shoots off.
I love you as certain dark things are to be loved,
in secret, between the shadow and the soul.

from "I Do Not Love You" by Pablo Neruda

Ardent devotion...

And the beauty of Susanna Jones in red
Burns in my heart a love-fire sharp like pain.

from "When Sue Wears Red" by Langston Hughes

Also Edited by Leslie Pockell

The 100 Best Poems of All Time

The 13 Best Horror Stories of All Time


As with this book's predecessor, The 100 Best Poems of All Time, our primary objective in assembling these works has been to provide a small, easily portable volume that would contain the essential works that most readers would expect to find in a book of this kind, along with a few discoveries. Love poetry down the years seems to have been written along a spectrum ranging from idealistic romanticism to passionate sensuality, and in this collection we have gathered what we feel are the best examples of both extremes and every variation in between. The poems are arranged in a roughly thematic sequence, including poems of love at first sight, passionate attachment, mutual affection, marriage, and, sadly but inevitably, loss and remembrance. They include representatives from virtually every major language group and date from the early classic period of Greece and Rome up to the present day. Most poems included are complete, but a few are extracts from larger works. Some are examples of high art; others exemplify popular culture.

To maximize the breadth of the collection, while maintaining a convenient format suitable for browsing through or dipping into at an appropriate moment, we decided to include no more than one poem per poet, with the exception of William Shakespeare, whose Sonnet 18 ("Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?") is included primarily as a reference for Howard Moss's delightful modern gloss of the same title. As the juxtaposition of these two poems suggests, neither the historical period in which a poem is written nor the poetic tradition nor even the language it is written in affect the immediacy with which a great love poem instantly communicates emotion to the contemporary reader. Human nature after all does not change, and first love is as exhilarating and painful today as it was when Sappho wrote almost three thousand years ago "If I meet you suddenly, I can't speak"; passion today is as overwhelming as when Baudelaire wrote a century and a half ago of love that "was deep and gentle as the seas/And rose to her as to a cliff the tide."

The best love poems are those to which we respond by thinking, "That's the way it was for me!" Not every poem here will strike every reader in that way, since so many of love's diverse manifestations are represented. But each of these poems carries within it that same truth, expressed in different ways, for the reader who is, was, or hopes to be in love (which is all of us). And so it is our hope that this collection will speak to every reader, and reassure them that what they feel or felt is as universal as life itself.

This book would not have been possible without the early and enthusiastic support of Maureen Egen, Jamie Raab, and Amy Einhorn. Karen Melnyk and Sarah Rustin provided essential editorial contributions.

La Vita Nuova

Dante Alighieri

This is a brief excerpt from a larger work blending prose and poetry, in which Dante celebrates his idealized love for Beatrice. Even after seven hundred years it is easy to understand how a new life can seem to begin when lovers meet for the first time.

In that book which is

My memory . . .

On the first page

That is the chapter when

I first met you

Appear the words . . .

Here begins a new life.

Shakespeare is the only poet to receive double recognition in this collection, in this case to supply a reference to Howard Moss's delightful contemporary version of his classic sonnet. Moss, for many years poetry editor of the New Yorker magazine, casts off traditional meter and rhyme in exchange for a colloquial style that expresses a heartfelt exuberance.

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?

William Shakespeare

Shall I compare thee to a Summer's day?

Thou are 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.

Shall I Compare Thee to a Summer's Day?

Howard Moss

Who says you're like one of the dog days?

You're nicer. And better.

Even in May, the weather can be gray,

And a summer sub-let doesn't last forever.

Sometimes the sun's too hot;

Sometimes it is not.

Who can stay young forever?

People break their necks or just drop dead!

But you? Never!

If there's just one condensed reader left

Who can figure out the abridged alphabet,

    After you're dead and gone,

    In this poem you'll live on!

Who Ever Loved

Christopher Marlowe

Marlowe, Shakespeare's only real contemporary rival, is mostly remembered for his powerful verse dramas, such as Dr. Faustus. This perceptive verse shows that he was also an eloquent poet and a keen psychologist of desire.

It lies not in our power to love or hate,

For will in us is overruled by fate.

When two are stripped, long ere the course begin,

We wish that one should lose, the other win;

And one especially do we affect

Of two gold ingots, like in each respect:

The reason no man knows; let it suffice

What we behold is censored by our eyes.

Where both deliberate, the love is slight:

Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?

From Paradise Lost (Book IV)

John Milton

In this tender monologue Eve tells Adam how none of the beauties and wonders of nature mean anything to her without him. Milton's gorgeous evocation of the pleasures of love in paradise makes the coming temptation and fall of the first man and woman seem all the more poignant.

With thee conversing I forget all time,

All seasons and their change, all please alike.

Sweet is the breath of morn, her rising sweet,

With charm of earliest birds; pleasant the sun

When first on this delightful land he spreads

His orient beams, on herb, tree, fruit, and flower,

Glistring with dew; fragrant the fertile earth

After soft showers; and sweet the coming on

Of grateful evening mild, then silent night

With this her solemn bird and this fair moon,

And these the gems of heav'n, her starry train:

But neither breath of morn when she ascends

With charm of earliest birds, nor rising sun

On this delightful land, nor herb, fruit, flower,

Glistring with dew, nor fragrance after showers,

Nor grateful evening mild, nor silent night

With this her solemn bird, nor walk by moon,

Or glittering starlight without thee is sweet.

To Helen

Edgar Allan Poe

Poe softens his customary pounding rhythms and repetitive rhymes in this delicately romantic evocation of classicism. The poem is an almost prayer-like adoration of a beloved figure, viewed from afar.

Helen, thy beauty is to me

  Like those Nicéan barks of yore,

That gently, o'er a perfumed sea,

  The weary, way-worn wanderer bore

  To his own native shore.

On desperate seas long wont to roam,

  Thy hyacinth hair, thy classic face,

Thy Naiad airs have brought me home

  To the glory that was Greece,

  And the grandeur that was Rome.

Lo! in yon brilliant window-niche

  How statue-like I see thee stand,

The agate lamp within thy hand!

  Ah, Psyche, from the regions which

  Are Holy-Land!

A Red, Red Rose

Robert Burns

This lyric by Scotland's greatest poet breathes life into a series of similes that sound as natural as a song, and as sincere as a prayer.

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 played in tune.

As fair art thou, my bonnie lass,

  So deep in luve am I;

And I will luve 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:

O I will love thee still, my dear,

  While the sands o' life shall run.

And fare thee weel, my only luve,

  And fare thee weel awhile!

And I will come again, my luve,

  Though it were ten thousand mile.

She Tells Her Love while Half Asleep

Robert Graves


On Sale
Jan 1, 2003
Page Count
144 pages

Leslie Pockell

About the Author

Leslie Pockell is the editor of The 100 Best Poems of All Time.

Learn more about this author