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Writing

How to Write a Love Poem: 4 Examples of Love Poetry

Written by MasterClass

Last updated: Jan 28, 2020 • 5 min read

Love is one of the most common poetry topics, but writing a good love poem for the first time—one that doesn’t feel clichéd or sappy—can be a real challenge.

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How to Write a Love Poem

If you want to write a love poem, a good place to start is to collect some of your favorite love poems and see what they have in common. The best love poems say more than “I love you.” They often communicate a specific aspect of being in love and tend to have a universality that goes beyond one person. Once you’ve spent some time with romantic poems, you can use creative writing techniques to write your own poem for a loved one.

  1. Focus on form. Collecting your favorite love poems can help you decide whether you want to write sonnets like William Shakespeare and Pablo Neruda, sestinas like William Butler Yeats, or free verse like Maya Angelou. You can always experiment with different poetic forms to find what feels right for you.
  2. Find a controlling image. Most poems rely on imagery and sensory detail to create a visual for their readers. In love poetry, imagery, symbolism, and figurative language are especially important. Often an inanimate object or natural phenomenon stands in as a symbol for love. (“My love is like a red, red rose,” is an example of simile from Robert Burns.) On the flip side, romantic love itself sometimes serves as a symbol for other themes—such as patriotism or the life of an artist—in poems that seem like love poems on the surface but are really about something different. Whether your poem uses an extended metaphor or imagery, most love poems will benefit from some grounding in the physical world.
  3. Go big. Hyperbole and exaggeration are common features in love poetry. When trying to describe intense emotions, it makes sense to make outrageous comparisons (“I love you to the moon and back”). Another technique when writing love poetry is to do the opposite: Focus on a very small detail—a physical detail that only someone very close to the subject would pay attention to.

4 Examples of Love Poems

If you’re getting into romantic poetry for the first time, start with the classics.

“Sonnet 18” by William Shakespeare (1609)
In what is perhaps William Shakespeare’s most famous poem, the controlling image is presented in the very first line: The speaker is going to compare a person to a summer’s day. Like all sonnets, this one ends with a rhyming couplet that provides a resolution or twist. In this poem, it’s the idea that the beloved’s beauty is immortalized in the text of the poem. Here’s the full text of the poem:

Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?
Thou art more lovely and more temperate:
Rough winds do shake the darling buds of May,
And summer’s lease hath all too short a date;
Sometime too hot the eye of heaven shines,
And often is his gold complexion dimm’d;
And every fair from fair sometime declines,
By chance or nature’s changing course untrimm’d;
But thy eternal summer shall not fade,
Nor lose possession of that fair thou ow’st;
Nor shall death brag thou wander’st in his shade,
When in eternal lines to time thou grow’st:
So long as men can breathe or eyes can see,
So long lives this, and this gives life to thee.

“When You Are Old” by W. B. Yeats (1893)
Like “Sonnet 18,” and many other love poems, “When You Are Old” is written in the second person. Although the theme of the poem is somewhat dark—the regret of lost love—it has a sing-song quality due to the ABBA rhyme scheme of the poem and iambic pentameter construction. “When You Are Old” is a good reminder that love poems don’t require a happy ending. Here’s the full text of the poem:

When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;

How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;

And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.

“Love” by William Carlos Williams (1909)
Like “When You Are Old,” this William Carlos Williams poem follows a regular rhyme scheme (ABAB). Unlike our other examples of love poetry, “Love” is addressed to no single subject. Written in the third person, it is instead a theory on the duality (passion and pain) of love in general. Here’s the full text of the poem:

Love is twain, it is not single,
Gold and silver mixed to one,
Passion ‘tis and pain which mingle
Glist’ring then for aye undone.

Pain it is not; wondering pity
Dies or e’er the pang is fled;
Passion ‘tis not, foul and gritty,
Born one instant, instant dead.

Love is twain, it is not single,
Gold and silver mixed to one,
Passion ‘tis and pain which mingle
Glist’ring then for aye undone.

“El Beso” by Angelina Weld Grimké (1909)
Grimké’s love poem takes the familiar route of referencing natural phenomena (twilight, the stars) and, rather than make grandiose comparisons, simply places them next to the features of the speaker’s beloved (teeth, hair, eye, lip, mouth). Grimké uses internal rhyme (“languor, surrender”), repetition (“yearning, yearning;” “madness, madness”), alliteration (“snare of the shine;” “space of a sigh”), and consonance (“tremulous, breathless, flaming”) to create a rhythm that feels almost physical. Here’s the full text of the poem:

Twilight—and you
Quiet—the stars;
Snare of the shine of your teeth,
Your provocative laughter,
The gloom of your hair;
Lure of you, eye and lip;
Yearning, yearning,
Languor, surrender;
Your mouth,
And madness, madness,
Tremulous, breathless, flaming,
The space of a sigh;
Then awakening—remembrance,
Pain, regret—your sobbing;
And again, quiet—the stars,
Twilight—and you.

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