This Friday, we celebrate Valentine’s Day, and that makes me think about love poems. Mind you, love poems are among the hardest to write because the pitfalls of clichés, triteness, and sentimentality are ever present, not to mention the fact that pouring intense emotion into written language can present some interesting challenges.
These days, it seems that love poems occupy a place somewhere between hot fudge sundaes and oatmeal. Poets of the past often wrote love poems and there are hundreds for us to read, but there’s not much contemporary interest in moonbeams through willows and the “archaic” romantic meanderings of yesterdays poetic styles.
So, what does make a love poem special by today’s standards? What makes a love poem unique? What gives a love poem the power to touch readers? What makes a love poem more than personal? What makes a love poem universally meaningful? How do modern love poems affirm without sentimentality? One of the best ways to consider these questions is to read numerous examples of contemporary love poems.
1. Write a poem to someone you love.
2. Write a poem to someone who loves you.
3. Write a poem to a beloved pet.
4. Write a love poem to an inanimate object. (You might try for humor with this one, maybe a limerick.)
5. Write a poem about unrequited love.
6. Write a poem to or about your first love.
7. Write a poem about an unhappy romance.
8. Write a poem about platonic love.
9. Write a love poem to nature or a particular aspect of the natural world (perhaps an ode).
10. Write a poem based on this quotation from Pablo Neruda: “Let us forget with generosity those who cannot love us.”
11. Write a poem in which you examine how falling in love creates a new and surprising sense of mortality and fear of death.
13. Write a parody of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s famous “How Do I Love Thee?” (Sonnet 43).
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.
1. The sonnet form is often associated with love poems. Try writing your poem in sonnet form. Work on the form in your early drafts and don’t worry if you decide to scrap it.
2. Write a ghazal (originally an Arabic verse form dealing with loss and romantic love). To learn about ghazal form, try the following links:
3. Work your thoughts through imagery and be sure that you show and not tell about the love in your poem. Images should be crisp and original.
4. Watch out for clichés and “saccharine” expressions, and steer clear of sentimentality. It’s easy to fall into such things when writing love poems. Dare to be different, mysterious, distinctive …
5. If your subject matter is romantic love, try to create an intensity of feeling without using words like beautiful and love. Work toward a subtle sensuality without saying anything overt.
6. Try beginning your love poem with a subordinating conjunction as a way of attracting reader interest and a way of drawing readers into your poem. “Because I loved from a distance …” “Because he/she would never know …” “Because my reason for leaving was never told …”
(Remember Emily Dickinson’s “Because I could not stop for Death/he kindly stopped for me.”)
7. Although the feelings you write about will be personal, work on making your poem universally meaningful.
To All of You from Chaucey and Me
P.S. Click here to hear the Beatles song from which this prompt's title comes ("All You Need I Love").