Well, love is in the air, and although I’m a little late for Valentine’s, there’s never a wrong time to read a love poem. Today I’m bringing you five of my favourites, including my all-time favourite love poem ever. Hope you enjoy them as much as I do!
First up is short, but beautifully sweet. It was written in the 15th century. I always find it so strangely moving that a writer who lived hundreds of years ago can suffer exactly the same emotions as we do today. We may be surrounded by technology and motor cars…but we can still long for our loved ones and our own beds.
WESTRON WYNDE (Anonymous)
Westron wynde when wyll thow blow?
The smalle rayne downe can rayne;
Chryst, yf my love wer in my armes
And I yn my bed agayne.
Doesn’t that say everything today about homesickness and longing, as it did five hundred years ago?
I like the next one because the poet seems to have been such an eccentric guy, and I love writers who are a little bit bonkers. He was a Victorian, living in London, with an opium addiction, and was also homeless for a time. He fell in love with a girl whose parents (understandably) weren’t too keen for her to be with him, so his answer was to write this passionately melodramatic poem, set in his Victorian idea of Arabia. It’s wild and romantic, and I love it.
An Arab Love-Song, by Francis Thompson
The hunchèd camels of the night
Trouble the bright
And silver waters of the moon.
The Maiden of the Morn will soon
Through Heaven stray and sing,
Now while the dark about our loves is strewn,
Light of my dark, blood of my heart, O come!
And night will catch her breath up, and be dumb.
Leave thy father, leave thy mother
And thy brother;
Leave the black tents of thy tribe apart!
Am I not thy father and thy brother,
And thy mother?
And thou – what needest with thy tribe’s black tents
Who hast the red pavilion of my heart?
Francis Thompson’s wild longing speaks for itself. If I were his girl, I’d be packing my bags straightaway.
The next one is by Robert Graves, with a more gentle type of love:
She tells her love while half asleep
She tells her love while half asleep,
In the dark hours,
With half words whispered low:
As earth stirs in her winter sleep
And puts out grass and flowers
Despite the snow,
Despite the falling snow.
Robert Graves fought in the trenches in the first world war and I find it moves me to the depths that after everything he’s witnessed, he can still write a poem so full of gentle hope.
And Robert Graves also wrote my all-time favourite love poem, which is this one:
O Love, be fed with apples while you may,
And feel the sun and go in royal array,
A smiling innocent on the heavenly causeway,
Though in what listening horror for the cry
That soars in outer blackness dismally,
The dumb blind beast, the paranoiac fury:
Be warm, enjoy the season, lift your head,
Exquisite in the pulse of tainted blood,
That shivering glory not to be despised.
Take your delight in momentariness,
Walk between dark and dark—a shining space
With the grave’s narrowness, though not its peace.
I absolutely love this poem so much. I love Graves’ exhortation to take our delight in momentariness, and his image of love as “a shining space” between dark and dark. The whole poem is a mixture of terror at the thought of loss, mixed with the sheer beauty to be found in the fleeting time of love. For anyone who has lost a loved one, for whatever the reason, this poem is disturbing, moving and comforting all at once. For those who haven’t loved and lost, make sure to heed Graves warning to “Be warm, enjoy the season, lift your head” …and revel in the beauty of the moment, the space between dark and dark.
And now if all that is too intense, I’ll end with a poem that’s equally intense in its own way, but will put a smile on your face. I hope you’ve enjoyed my selection!
‘Celia, Celia’, by Adrian Mitchell
When I am sad and weary
When I feel all hope is gone
When I walk down High Holborn
I think of you with nothing on
What did you think to my selection? Do you have a a favourite love poem? Or any poet that you really love? If so, please let me know in the comments. I’d love to hear from you!