There are many interpretations and expressions of love. When love appears as an emotion, people experience a strong magnetic force pulling them to their beloved.
Most lovers complain that they cannot properly express the way they feel. For lovers who are also poets, however, the situation is different, because poetry has the power to hint at, explain, or lay bare what is unexplainable and what is intense.
This intensity of emotion comes to life in a love poem through wit, passion, eloquent phrases, imagery, symbolism, and other tools of poetry such as alliteration, assonance, rhythm, anaphora, metaphors, similes and the like.
Many types of love poetry exist in literature. The love poem of the instant addresses the falling in or out of love in one single moment. Dante Alighieri put together a love-at-first-sight poem expressing a lover’s feeling of being reborn.
La Vita Nuova
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
Another type of a love poetry carrying immediacy and impulsivity seizes the moment without caring what happens afterwards. William Shakespeare says in “O Mistress Mine”:
What is love? ‘Tis not hereafter;
Present mirth hath present laughter;
What’s to come is still unsure:
In delay there lies not plenty;
Then, come kiss me, sweet and twenty,
Youth’s a stuff will not endure.
Most commonly written love poetry, by professionals and amateurs alike, is the love tribute. Here is a good example by Oscar Wilde:
To My Wife – With A Copy Of My Poems
I can write no stately proem
As a prelude to my lay;
From a poet to a poem
I would dare to say.
For if of these fallen petals
One to you seem fair,
Love will waft it till it settles
On your hair.
And when wind and winter harden
All the loveless land,
It will whisper of the garden,
You will understand.
Another kind of a love poem puts forth a proposal to the beloved as Pablo Neruda does in Love Sonnet VII:
I said it again: Come with me, as if I were dying,
and no one saw the moon that bled in my mouth
or the blood that rose into silence.
O Love, now we can forget the star that has such thorns!
Then, there are those poets who treat love philosophically. One such poet is William Blake.
The Clod and the Pebble
Love seeketh not Itself to please,
Nor for itself hath any care;
But for another gives its ease,
And builds a Heaven in Hells despair.
So sang a little Clod of Clay,
Trodden with the cattle’s feet;
But a Pebble of the brook,
Warbled out these metres meet.
Love seeketh only Self to please,
To bind another to Its delight:
Joys in anothers loss of ease,
And builds a Hell in Heavens despite.
At times, love is one-sided. Worse yet, the beloved may not have any inkling of the lover’s feelings. Walt Whitman voices that in “To a Stranger” by writing:
Passing stranger! you do not know
How longingly I look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking,
Or she I was seeking
(It comes to me as a dream)
Sometimes, lovers have to overcome a few obstacles. Matthew Arnold says in Dover Beach:
Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.
Every so often, the beloved leaves the lover, and then, the poetry sings sadly of remembrance or regret. Thus, from centuries ago, Sappho echoes:
I have not had one word from her
Frankly I wish I were dead
When she left she wept
a great deal; she said to me This parting must be
endured, Sappho. I go unwillingly.
I said Go, and be happy
but remember (you know
well) whom you leave shackled by love
If the lover is lucky, the beloved will leave a token when he departs. Here is one such poem from Emily Dickinson.
I Held a Jewel
I held a jewel in my fingers
And went to sleep
The day was warm, and winds were prosy
I said, “Twill keep”
I woke – and chide my honest fingers,
The Gem was gone
And now, an Amethyst remembrance
Is all I own
The many faces of love has been playing peek-a-boo with the poetry lover from millenniums ago in ancient history when Solomon sang “The Rose of Sharon” to Emerson who urged us to “Give all to love” to our present day when modern day poets describe moments of epiphany and feelings of love in fragments, in concrete images, and in sound combinations obliquely, and at the same time, clearly.
Whenever we take a fleeting look, like any great art, love poetry turns out to be the most admired type of poetry that takes a human emotion and transforms it into something sacred, correct, and spiritual. I remember reading love poetry when I was in my teens. Some of those poems stick in the memory after many years and their magic still remains.