Someday time will die and love will bury it.
If there’s one truth that lingers between all of us, one universal belief held sacred, it’s that love is an all-consuming hell of a beast. It’s a force that has the power to, not only rid us of our sanity and possess our beings in a way that unravels the world before it, but can also provide the most immense and profound pleasure humanly possible. Its depths of despair and highs of potent sensation drive us mad and leave us helpless in its clutches.
Yes, love can be the most isolating and desolate ache that rests between your bones, but when its reciprocated, when you’re entrenched in a passionate mutual affection, it’s the world’s most delicious experience—and one that we desire forever. Love isn’t just a feeling but something we hold within us, even in the pain it inflicts. And whether it’s the elation of love’s ecstasy or the harrowing heartbreak it may cause, most of the best poetry—and art overall—has stemmed from those very sentiments.
So as Valentine’s Day is this Saturday and the world begins to fall into a tinted state of pink, let’s peruse some of the best poems about love—its sorrows and its triumphs, from Anne Sexton and Richard Brautigan to Charles Bukowski and Pablo Neruda. Grab yourself a whiskey and break out the tissues.
LOVE SONG by Ted Hughes
He loved her and she loved him
His kisses sucked out her whole past and future or tried to
He had no other appetite
She bit him she gnawed him she sucked
She wanted him complete inside her
Safe and sure forever and ever
Their little cries fluttered into the curtains
Her eyes wanted nothing to get away
Her looks nailed down his hands his wrists his elbows
He gripped her hard so that life
Should not drag her from that moment
He wanted all future to cease
He wanted to topple with his arms round her
Off that moment’s brink and into nothing
Or everlasting or whatever there was
Her embrace was an immense press
To print him into her bones
His smiles were the garrets of a fairy palace
Where the real world would never come
Her smiles were spider bites
So he would lie still till she felt hungry
His words were occupying armies
Her laughs were an assassin’s attempts
His looks were bullets daggers of revenge
His glances were ghosts in the corner with horrible secrets
His whispers were whips and jackboots
Her kisses were lawyers steadily writing
His caresses were the last hooks of a castaway
Her love-tricks were the grinding of locks
And their deep cries crawled over the floors
Like an animal dragging a great trap
His promises were the surgeon’s gag
Her promises took the top off his skull
She would get a brooch made of it
His vows pulled out all her sinews
He showed her how to make a love-knot
Her vows put his eyes in formalin
At the back of her secret drawer
Their screams stuck in the wall
Their heads fell apart into sleep like the two halves
Of a lopped melon, but love is hard to stop
In their entwined sleep they exchanged arms and legs
In their dreams their brains took each other hostage
In the morning they wore each other’s face.
HAVING A COKE WITH YOU by Frank O’Hara
is even more fun than going to San Sebastian, Irún, Hendaye, Biarritz, Bayonne
or being sick to my stomach on the Travesera de Gracia in Barcelona
partly because in your orange shirt you look like a better happier St. Sebastian
partly because of my love for you, partly because of your love for yoghurt
partly because of the fluorescent orange tulips around the birches
partly because of the secrecy our smiles take on before people and statuary
it is hard to believe when I’m with you that there can be anything as still
as solemn as unpleasantly definitive as statuary when right in front of it
in the warm New York 4 o’clock light we are drifting back and forth
between each other like a tree breathing through its spectacles
and the portrait show seems to have no faces in it at all, just paint
you suddenly wonder why in the world anyone ever did them
at you and I would rather look at you than all the portraits in the world
except possibly for the Polish Rider occasionally and anyway it’s in the Frick
which thank heavens you haven’t gone to yet so we can go together the first time
and the fact that you move so beautifully more or less takes care of Futurism
just as at home I never think of the Nude Descending a Staircase or
at a rehearsal a single drawing of Leonardo or Michelangelo that used to wow me
and what good does all the research of the Impressionists do them
when they never got the right person to stand near the tree when the sun sank
or for that matter Marino Marini when he didn’t pick the rider as carefully
as the horse
it seems they were all cheated of some marvelous experience
which is not going to go wasted on me which is why I am telling you about it
ADMONITIONS TO A SPECIAL PERSON by Anne Sexton
Watch out for power,
for its avalanche can bury you,
snow, snow, snow, smothering your mountain.
Watch out for hate,
it can open its mouth and you’ll fling yourself out
to eat off your leg, an instant leper.
Watch out for friends,
because when you betray them,
as you will,
they will bury their heads in the toilet
and flush themselves away.
Watch out for intellect,
because it knows so much it knows nothing
and leaves you hanging upside down,
mouthing knowledge as your heart
falls out of your mouth.
Watch out for games, the actor’s part,
the speech planned, known, given,
for they will give you away
and you will stand like a naked little boy,
pissing on your own child-bed.
Watch out for love
(unless it is true,
and every part of you says yes including the toes) ,
it will wrap you up like a mummy,
and your scream won’t be heard
and none of your running will end.
Love? Be it man. Be it woman.
It must be a wave you want to glide in on,
give your body to it, give your laugh to it,
give, when the gravelly sand takes you,
your tears to the land. To love another is something
like prayer and can’t be planned, you just fall
into its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.
if I were you I’d pay no attention
to admonitions from me,
made somewhat out of your words
and somewhat out of mine.
I do not believe a word I have said,
except some, except I think of you like a young tree
with pasted-on leaves and know you’ll root
and the real green thing will come.
Let go. Let go.
Oh special person,
this typewriter likes you on the way to them,
but wants to break crystal glasses
when the dark crust is thrown off
and you float all around
like a happened balloon.
I CRAVE YOUR MOUTH by Pablo Neruda
I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.
I hunger for your sleek laugh,
your hands the color of a savage harvest,
hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,
I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.
I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,
and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
hunting for you, for your hot heart,
Like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.
BOO, FOREVER by Richard Brautigan
Spinning like a ghost
on the bottom of a
I’m haunted by all
the space that I
will live without
HAUNTED by Sam Shepard
I’m haunted by your scent
When I’m talking to someone else
I’m haunted by your eyes
In the middle of brushing my teeth
I’m haunted by your hair
By your skin
When you’re not around
Are you visiting me
Am I dreaming you up
SONG FOR LOTTA by Frank O’Hara
You’re not really sick
if you’re not sick with love
there is no medicine
the busy grass can grow
again but love’s a witch
that poisons the earth
you’re not really sick
if you think of love as
a summer’s vacation
I’m going to die unless
my love soon chases
the clouds away
and the azure smiles
and browns my strong
belief that love is.
LOVE CROSSES ITS ISLANDS by Pablo Peruda
Love crosses its islands, from grief to grief,
it sets its roots, watered with tears,and no one––
no one––can escape the heart’s progress
as it runs, silent and carnivorous.
You and I search for a wide valley, for another planet
where the salt wouldn’t touch your hair,
where sorrows couldn’t grow because of anything I did,
where bread could live and not grow old.
A planet entwined with vistas and foliage,
a plain, a rock, hard and unoccupied:
we wanted to build a strong nest
with our own hands, without hurt or harm or speech,
but love was not like that: love was a lunatic city
with crowds of people blanching on their porches.
FOR JANE: WITH ALL THE LOVE I HAD, WHICH WAS NOT ENOUGH by Charles Bukowski
I pick up the skirt,
I pick up the sparkling beads
this thing that moved once
and I call God a liar,
I say anything that moved
could never die
in the common verity of dying,
and I pick
up her lovely
all her loveliness gone,
and I speak to all the gods,
Jewish gods, Christ-gods,
chips of blinking things,
idols, pills, bread,
rats in the gravy of two gone quite mad
without a chance,
hummingbird knowledge, hummingbird chance,
I lean upon this,
I lean on all of this
and I know
her dress upon my arm
they will not
give her back to me.
THE INVENTORY OF GOODBYE by Anne Sexton
I have a pack of letters,
I have a pack of memories.
I could cut out the eyes of both.
I could wear them like a patchwork apron.
I could stick them in the washer, the drier,
and maybe some of the pain would float off like dirt?
Perhaps down the disposal I could grind up the loss.
Besides – what a bargain – no expensive phone calls.
No lengthy trips on planes in the fog.
No manicky laughter or blessing from an odd-lot priest.
That priest is probably still floating on a fog pillow.
Blessing us. Blessing us.
Am I to bless the lost you,
sitting here with my clumsy soul?
Propaganda time is over.
I sit here on the spike of truth.
No one to hate except the slim fish of memory
that slides in and out of my brain.
No one to hate except the acute feel of my nightgown
brushing my body like a light that has gone out.
It recalls the kiss we invented, tongues like poems,
meeting, returning, inviting, causing a fever of need.
Laughter, maps, cassettes, touch singing its path –
all to be broken and laid away in a tight strongbox.
The monotonous dead clog me up and there is only
black done in black that oozes from the strongbox.
I must disembowel it and then set the heart, the legs,
of two who were one upon a large woodpile
and ignite, as I was once ignited, and let it whirl
into flame, reaching the sky
making it dangerous with its red.
ROMEO AND JULIET by Richard Brautigan
If you will die for me,
I will die for you
and our graves will be like two lovers washing
their clothes together
in a laundromat
If you will bring the soap
I will bring the bleach.
POEM (TO A) by Harold Pinter
I shall miss you so much when I’m dead,
The loveliest of smiles,
The softness of your body in our bed.
My everlasting bride,
Remember that when I am dead,
You are forever alive in my heart and my head.
EXTINGUISH BOTH MY EYES: I SEE YOU STILL by Rainer Maria Rilke
Extinguish both my eyes: I see you still;
Slam shut my ears: I can still hear you talking;
Without my mouth i can implore your will
And without feet: Towards you i keep on walking.
Break off my arms: I shall still hold you tight;
My heart will yet embrace you all the same.
Suppress my heart: My brain knows no deterrent;
And if at last you set my brain aflame
I carry you still on my bloodstream’s current.
ANIMALS by Frank O’Hara
Have you forgotten what we were like then
when were were still first rate
and the day came fat with an apple in its mouth
it’s no use worrying about Time
but we did have a few tricks up our sleeves
and turned some sharp corners
the whole pasture looked like our meal
we didn’t need speedometers
we could manage cocktails out of ice and water
I wouldn’t want to be faster
or greener than now if you were with me O you
were the best of all my days
TILL THEN MY WINDOWS ACHE by Pablo Neruda
Matilde, where are you? Down there I noticed,
under my necktie and just above the heart,
a certain pang of grief between the ribs,
you were gone that quickly.
I needed the light of your energy,
I looked around, devouring hope.
I watched the void without you that is like a house,
nothing left but tragic windows.
Out of sheer taciturnity the ceiling listens
to the fall of the ancient leafless rain,
to feathers, to whatever the night imprisoned:
so I wait for you like a lonely house
till you will see me again and live in me.
Till then my windows ache.
SOMEWHERE I HAVE NEVER TRAVELLED, GLADLY BEYOND by e.e. cummings
somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond
any experience, your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near
your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully, mysteriously) her first rose
or if your wish be to close me, i and
my life will shut very beautifully, suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;
nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility: whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing
(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens; only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody, not even the rain, has such small hands
THE HARBOR by Richard Brautigan
Torn apart by the storms of love
and put back together by the calms
I lie here in a harbor
that does not know
where your body ends
and my body begins.
Fish swim between our ribs
and sea gulls cry like mirrors
to our blood.
FOR JOHN WHO BEGS ME NOT TO ENQUIRE FURTHER by Anne Sexton
Not that it was beautiful,
but that, in the end, there was
a certain sense of order there;
something worth learning
in that narrow diary of my mind,
in the commonplaces of the asylum
where the cracked mirror
or my own selfish death
And if I tried
to give you something else,
something outside of myself,
you would not know
that the worst of anyone
can be, finally,
an accident of hope.
I tapped my own head;
it was a glass, an inverted bowl.
It is a small thing
to rage in your own bowl.
At first it was private.
Then it was more than myself;
it was you, or your house
or your kitchen.
And if you turn away
because there is no lesson here
I will hold my awkward bowl,
with all its cracked stars shining
like a complicated lie,
and fasten a new skin around it
as if I were dressing an orange
or a strange sun.
Not that it was beautiful,
but that I found some order there.
There ought to be something special
in this kind of hope.
This is something I would never find
in a lovelier place, my dear,
although your fear is anyone’s fear,
like an invisible veil between us all…
and sometimes in private,
my kitchen, your kitchen,
my face, your face.
Sonnets 04: Only Until This Cigarette Is Ended by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Only until this cigarette is ended,
A little moment at the end of all,
While on the floor the quiet ashes fall,
And in the firelight to a lance extended,
Bizarrely with the jazzing music blended,
The broken shadow dances on the wall,
I will permit my memory to recall
The vision of you, by all my dreams attended.
And then adieu,—farewell!—the dream is done.
Yours is a face of which I can forget
The color and the features, every one,
The words not ever, and the smiles not yet;
But in your day this moment is the sun
Upon a hill, after the sun has set.
THE LOVERS by Rainer Maria Rilke
See how in their veins all becomes spirit:
into each other they mature and grow.
Like axles, their forms tremblingly orbit,
round which it whirls, bewitching and aglow.
Thirsters, and they receive drink,
watchers, and see: they receive sight.
Let them into one another sink
so as to endure each other outright.
PARIS by Harold Pinter
The curtain white in folds,
She walks two steps and turns,
The curtain still, the light
Staggers in her eyes.
The lamps are golden.
Afternoon leans, silently.
She dances in my life.
The white day burns.
FINISH by Charles Bukowski
We are like roses that have never bothered to
bloom when we should have bloomed and
it is as if
the sun has become disgusted with
RAW WITH LOVE by Charles Bukowski
little dark girl with
when it comes time to
use the knife
I won’t flinch and
I won’t blame
as I drive along the shore alone
as the palms wave,
the ugly heavy palms,
as the living does not arrive
as the dead do not leave,
I won’t blame you,
I will remember the kisses
our lips raw with love
and how you gave me
everything you had
and how I
offered you what was left of
and I will remember your small room
the feel of you
the light in the window
our morning coffee
our noons our nights
our bodies spilled together
the tiny flowing currents
immediate and forever
your leg my leg
your arm my arm
your smile and the warmth
who made me laugh
little dark girl with kind eyes
you have no
knife. the knife is
mine and I won’t use it
SONNET 147 by William Shakespeare
My love is as a fever longing still,
For that which longer nurseth the disease;
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
The uncertain sickly appetite to please.
My reason, the physician to my love,
Angry that his prescriptions are not kept,
Hath left me, and I desperate now approve
Desire is death, which physic did except.
Past cure I am, now Reason is past care,
And frantic-mad with evermore unrest;
My thoughts and my discourse as madmen’s are,
At random from the truth vainly expressed;
For I have sworn thee fair, and thought thee bright,
Who art as black as hell, as dark as night.
REAL ESTATE by Richard Brautigan
I have emotions
that are like newspapers that
I go for days at a time
trapped in the want ads.
I feel as if I am an ad
for the sale of a haunted house:
ghosts and all.
IT IS HERE by Harold Pinter
What sound was that?
I turn away, into the shaking room.
What was that sound that came in on the dark?
What is this maze of light it leaves us in?
What is this stance we take, To turn away and then turn back?
What did we hear?
It was the breath we took when we first met.
Listen. It is here.
LOVE INCARNATE by Frank Bidart
To all those driven berserk or humanized by love this is offered,
for I need help deciphering my dream.
When we love our lord is LOVE.
When I recall that at the fourth hour of the night, watched by shining stars,
LOVE at last became incarnate, the memory is horror.
In his hands smiling LOVE held my burning heart,
and in his arms, the body whose greeting pierces my soul,
now wrapped in blood red, sleeping.
He made him wake. He ordered him to eat my heart.
He ate my burning heart.
He ate it submissively, as if afraid, as LOVE wept.
IF YOU FORFET ME by Pablo Neruda
I want you to know
You know how this is:
if I look
at the crystal moon, at the red branch
of the slow autumn at my window,
if I touch
near the fire
the impalpable ash
or the wrinkled body of the log,
everything carries me to you,
as if everything that exists,
aromas, light, metals,
were little boats
toward those isles of yours that wait for me.
if little by little you stop loving me
I shall stop loving you little by little.
you forget me
do not look for me,
for I shall already have forgotten you.
If you think it long and mad,
the wind of banners
that passes through my life,
and you decide
to leave me at the shore
of the heart where I have roots,
that on that day,
at that hour,
I shall lift my arms
and my roots will set off
to seek another land.
if each day,
you feel that you are destined for me
with implacable sweetness,
if each day a flower
climbs up to your lips to seek me,
ah my love, ah my own,
in me all that fire is repeated,
in me nothing is extinguished or forgotten,
my love feeds on your love, beloved,
and as long as you live it will be in your arms
without leaving mine.