Valentine’s Day is almost upon us, and with it comes that seasonal barrage of ads promoting lovers’ gifts: chocolates, roses, diamonds, anything pink or red. For those in search of gifts beyond the classics, however, consider mixing things up and wooing your significant other — or prospective significant other — with the language of love: poetry!
Below we’ve rounded up some of the most romantic, swoon-worthy collections of all time, perfect for both serious lovers of poetry and those new to this amorous art form.
While Pablo Neruda may have been writing long after the Romantic era, he is undoubtedly one of the romantic poets of the modern age. The Nobel Laureate is known for his sensual, even erotic perspective on love and the deep capacity of the human heart. And for that extra piece of fantastical allure, Neruda penned these poems while in exile with his lover, Matilde Urrutia, on the beautiful Italian island of Capri. The language within is seemingly drenched in heated, paradisal wonder, exploring the beauty of both the body and the natural world.
Rumi was a thirteenth century Persian poet whose works have endured throughout the ages and found an audience in many different cultures. Passionate and sweeping, oozing with desire and exploring the bounds of religion and philosophy, the works of Rumi continue to find new relevance. This translation by Coleman Barks is the definitive collection of the poet’s most beloved works. “There are lovers who are content with longing,” wrote Rumi. “I am not one of them.” How’s that for a declaration?
So seminal were the writings of the Greek poet Sappho that the sole remains of her original poems, mere scraps and fragments, are still studied and lauded today. These little windows into once broad works have taken on a beauty of their own in their sparsity — an accidental minimalism, owed to antiquity, that has continued to earn the fragments a cult status of fascination. This translation by Anne Carson is perhaps the finest ever undertaken; Carson, a poet herself, lends an exacting eye to the original texts and presents us with a rendering of Sappho’s poetry that is equal parts electric and gentle, paying homage to the wondrous women for whom Sappho put pen to papyrus.
Adrienne Rich broke grounds in the ’60s and ’70s for her bold, unapologetic poetry and its antiwar, feminist perspective. In the 2000 Anthology of American Poetry, Rich is named “one of the most widely read and influential poets of the second half of the 20th century.” This collection, published in 1978, was written following her coming out in 1976; the second section of the volume, entitled “Twenty-one Love Poems,” challenges cultural notions surrounding love and its legitimacy. These poems hover between dream and reality, exploring the beauty and the banal of love and domesticity.
It’s hard to go wrong with Shakespeare, and if your notions of the Bard’s approach to love only go so far as Romeo and Juliet, prepare to swoon. These sonnets have been so formative on our idioms and language that you’ll likely find yourself reading the familiar — you know these poems because they’re ingrained in our daily conversations. While much has been debated in the academic world regarding the identity of Shakespeare’s elusive subjects and the extent of the sonnets’ autobiographical nature, this book will help you give voice to love and find words for the things lovers long to communicate.
Sri Lankan-born Canadian writer Michael Ondaatje is one of Canada’s most esteemed living authors, perhaps best known internationally for his 1992 novel The English Patient, which was adapted into an Oscar-winning film of the same name in 1996. The poem for which this new collection is named is a sensory exploration of love and possession. (“If I were a cinnamon peeler/I would ride your bed/and leave the yellow bark dust/on your pillow.”) Other pieces in this volume are selections of work from between 1963 and 1990, including poetry from his most recent collection, Secular Love.
“I dream of you walking at night along the streams/of the country of my birth, warm blooms and the nightsongs/of birds opening around you as you walk./You are holding in your body the dark seed of my sleep.” Thus begins the title poem of Wendell Berry’s The Country of Marriage, and continues as a deeply romantic exploration of relationships between lovers and the natural world. Published in 1971, this collection from poet and farmer Berry will have you and your lover craving an escape to a moonlit wooded clearing.
Mary Oliver sadly passed away last month at the age of eighty-three, but the works of a poet described by The New York Times as “far and away, this country’s bestselling poet” live on in this recent collection. The Pulitzer Prize-winning poet wrote with one finger on the human pulse and both eyes firmly fixed on the wonders of nature. Animals, flora and fauna, and deep love and desire fill the pages of this collection, compiled by Oliver herself and spanning fifty years of works.
We’d be hard-pressed to talk about romantic poetry without including a collection from the late Leonard Cohen, whose lusty songs and poetry bridge the saccharine and the sardonic. Book of Longing was published following a twenty-two-year hiatus following 1984’s Book of Mercy. This collection is erotic and witty, containing one hundred and sixty-seven previously-unpublished poems and quirky sketches by Cohen himself. This is the perfect romantic gift for lovers of Cohen’s sultry music — throw on New Skin for the Old Ceremony and read this one together.
Our last collection comes from Instagram poetry sensation Charly Cox, who writes with a youthful, contemporary perspective on the pains of love and womanhood in the modern age. As always, Cox writes through the lens of mental health, seeking to destigmatize it and pull the proverbial veil away. This funny, honest, heartfelt collection makes a great gift for those who try to steer clear of the sentimentality of Valentine’s Day — and hey, it would also make a great gift for single friends!