People who know me might be confused by this post. I don’t come off as one overly sentimental, especially when it comes to love or love poems. But I think love is part of the human experience, and thus, like anything that makes us human, is ripe to be explored in poetry and art.
While I agree with Melanie that it is annoying for all people to assume when one says “I write poetry,” that it is mushy-love based flowery poetry, I still think love poetry is a valid and wonderful form of poetry. There are many kinds of love, and many ways of expressing that love through poetry.
Familial love is often celebrated in poems, such as W.B. Yeats’s poem A Prayer for my Daughter written about the birth of his daughter and his hopes for her in the future, or Dylan Thomas’s poem Do not go gentle into that good night written to his father to encourage his dad to fight against his death. Langston Hughes also wrote a poem titled Mother to Son, about a mother summing up her fight for equality and passing the fight and her fire onto her boy.
Brotherly love, or bromance (which is actually a word now, so I don’t feel bad using it), is another theme often explored in poetry. Shakespeare did it in the first 126 sonnets of his 154 sonnet sequence (although, these poems can also be read as being about more than platonic love but there are many subtle things, such as Shakespeare encouraging the youth he admires to procreate and marry so that Shakespeare and the world can admire his offspring, that point to a more platonic reading for me). The best example of brotherly love from Shakespeare’s sequence comes in the form of Sonnet 30, a sonnet that explores how Shakespeare would mourn for his friend in his friend’s death. Robert Frost wrote A Time to Talk about the values of slowing life down to appreciate a chat with friends. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow also wrote a poem The Arrow and the Song about how our actions, both physical in the way of an arrow and spiritual in the way of a song, take root in the world around us and are often carried by those we are close to when we feel that these things are lost.
Women also write about love in the form of friendship, such as Emily Bronte’s poem Love and Friendship. This poem explores the idea that friendship can weather more disasters than romance can. Anne Finch, in her poem Friendship between Ephelia and Ardalia explores what love and friendship means. Ella Wheeler Wilcox, in her poem Friendship After Love, echoes Emily Bronte’s assertion that friendship outlasts romance, but for Wilcox this friendship is one that came after romance had faded rather than as a separate entity outside of the romance.
Now we’re moving onto the mushy stuff (you have been warned, although, these aren’t really all that mushy). William Carlos Williams wrote A Love Song and it is a poem full of longing, nostalgia, and regret for a love that has not been fulfilled. Caroline Elizabeth Sarah Norton wrote I Do Not Love Thee seems to echo Hamlet’s assertion that “The lady doth protest too much.” While Norton protests that she does not love the subject of the poem, yet paints her own feelings as romantic, the poem is easily interpreted as the denial of her own feelings to herself, possibly out of fear of rejection by the man that she protests is not her love. Elizabeth Bishop, in her poem One Art, explores how easily things – like keys and watches, and even love, are lost.
And now we move onto the REALLY mushy stuff. These are straight-up love poems, and I love them for what they are. These are not overly mushy or sentimental, despite my jokes. E. E. Cummings is a favorite of mine, as are two of his love poems – [i carry your heart with me (i carry it in] and [love is more thicker than forget]. Peter Gizzi also writes a beautiful love poem in Lines Depicting Simple Happiness. Walt Whitman knew love when he caught it in A Glimpse and Margaret Atwood knows that passion is the key to Habitation. Even punk-poets like John Cooper Clarke embrace the love-poem, such as his work I wanna Be Yours….
And, no list about love poetry would be complete without poems about sex. After all, sex is the consummation of love, is it not? Well, sometimes it is. And in these poems sex is depicted as such, sort-of. Pablo Neruda’s Sonnet XXVII explores the passions and venerability of the body. Robert Frost also offers up a thinly veiled poem titled Putting in the Seed which is about, well, procreation. And, short and to the point, John Donne’s poem Hero and Leander about the post-coital bliss.
I guess my conclusion is to celebrate, through poetry and all things artistic, the feelings and emotions that make us human – from love in the form of family and friendship to unrequited love and the consummation of love at last.