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Guide Picks – Collections of Love Poems

Selected by Margery Snyder

By

From the very beginnings of human culture, poets have provided the words people use to express love both sacred and sexual. Here are anthologies and single poet collections of love poetry, classic and contemporary, from ancient and modern cultures all over the world, recommended by your guide. Choose one as a gift for the person you love, or better yet, explore the world of love by reading the poems to each other.

Shakespeare’s Sonnets

Shakespeare’s Sonnets, Folger Shakespeare Library edition
Washington Square Press

(ed. Barbara A. Mowat & Paul Werstine, Washington Square Press, 2004) The density, innovation and age of Shakespeare’s language requires concentration and study from its readers, but its complex beauty and his unfailing insight into the varieties and vagaries of human nature repay the reader’s work most bountifully. These sonnets are simply the best love poems ever written in English, and this edition from the Folger Shakespeare Library provides facing-page annotations to help you appreciate them.

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You Drive Me Crazy: Love Poems for Real Life

You Drive Me Crazy: Love Poems for Real Life, ed. Mary D. Esselman and Elizabeth Ash Vélez
Grand Central Publishing (cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)

(ed. Mary D. Esselman and Elizabeth Ash Vélez, Grand Central Publishing, 2005) The editors of this delightful down-to-earth collection have gathered poems from all over—Shakespeare to Akhamatova, Rumi to e.e. cummings, Philip Larkin to Dorothy Parker, Sylvia Plath to Wallace Stevens, James Wright to Jane Hirshfield—grouping them into sections titled with the various aspects and stages of love relationships—Ecstasy, Stability, Monotony, Uncertainty, Misery and Clarity.

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Rumi: The Book of Love, Poems of Ecstasy and Longing

Rumi: The Book of Love, Poems of Ecstasy and Longing, trans. Coleman Barks
HarperSanFrancisco (Cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)
(Selected and translated by Coleman Barks, HarperSanFrancisco, 2005) Barks introduces this, his collection of translations from the poems of 13th century Sufi mystic and poet Jalaluddin Rumi, with a warning: “This is not Norman Vincent Peale urging cheerfulness, conventional morality, and soft-focus, white-light, feel-good... New Age tantric energy exchange. This is giving your life to the one within that you know as LORD....” It’s extreme love, ecstasy, mystery, discipline, “sudden wholeness”....
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Sonnets from the Portuguese, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning

Sonnets from the Portuguese, by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Harper Collins (Cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)

(ed. William S. Peterson & Julia Markus, Harper Perennial, 1998) These are the poems E.B. Browning wrote to her husband during their courtship (he called her “my little Portugese”), and they have long been the best-known love poems written in English, including that most famous line, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” In this edition, the 44 sonnets are enhanced and “illuminated” by excerpts from the love letters exchanged by the Brownings and commentary by biographer Julia Markus.

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Love’s Witness: Five Centuries of Love Poetry by Women

Love’s Witness: Five Centuries of Love Poetry by Women, ed. Jill Hollis
Carroll & Graf (Cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)

(ed. Jill Hollis, Carroll & Graf, 2nd edition 2005) Women’s work is too often overlooked by the anthology-makers. This collection counters that tendency by gathering women’s voices from the 15th century to the present: Queen Elizabeth I, Emily Dickinson, Christina Rossetti, Emily Brontë, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Mary Coleridge, Mary Shelley, Edith Wharton, Katherine Mansfield, Stevie Smith, Amy Lowell, George Eliot, Margaret Atwood, Louise Gluck, Dorianne Laux and others you’ve never heard of.

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100 Love Sonnets/Cien Sonetos De Amor, by Pablo Neruda

100 Love Sonnets/Cien Sonetos De Amor, by Pablo Neruda
University of Texas Press (Cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)

(bilingual ed., English trans. Stephen Tapscott, University of Texas Press, 1986) “Joyfully, playfully erotic...” “passionate and imaginative...” these poems written for Neruda’s third wife, Matilde Urrutia, are among his most appealing works, justly counted as classics. And don’t forget Twenty Love Poems and a Song of Despair (trans. W.S. Merwin, Viking Penguin reprint, 1993), the book that sparked his international fame as a poet and remains an enduring favorite, full of spectacular romanticism.

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Haruko/Love Poems, by June Jordan

Haruko/Love Poems, by June Jordan
High Risk Books (Cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)

(High Risk Books, 1994) June Jordan was all about passion, and this selection reveals the extraordinary range of her passion in sensuality, lyricism, obsession, anger, the full gamut... It begins with a series of poems written to her female lover, Haruko, followed by love poems selected from 20 years’ work by Adrienne Rich. It’s a deeply moving book; as Publisher’s Weekly said, “...so effective that readers find themselves mouthing the words. It’s impossible to sit silently back.”

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Love Poems, by Nikki Giovanni

Love Poems, by Nikki Giovanni
Harper Collins (Cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)
(William Morrow, 1997) Nikki Giovanni reaches out to people with her poetry both political and personal—she is among the most popular of contemporary American poets because of the direct honesty and immediate address of her work. Some have denigrated this collection of love poems as silly and inconsequential; others find its truthfulness engaging, its witty humor endearing, its hip intimacy inspiring.
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Bittersweet within my Heart: The Love Poems of Mary, Queen of Scots

(translated from the French & edited by Robin Bell, Chronicle Books, 1993) This is a lovely little book, gathering English translations of all the poems written by that most romantically tragic figure, Mary, Queen of Scots. (She wrote in the French she learned growing up in the court of France, where she studied with Pierre de Ronsard.) There are poems of passion and jealousy, a sonnet addressed to her sister Elizabeth I, poems written during her long imprisonment and on the morning of her execution.
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Love Poems (Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets)

Love Poems (Everyman’s Library Pocket Poets)
Knopf Publishing Group (Cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)

(Selected and edited by Peter Washington and Sheila Kohler, Everyman’s Library, 1993) A wide-ranging gathering of poems on love in all its aspects: “Definitions and Persuasions,” “Love and Poetry,” “Praising the Loved One,” “Pleasures and Pains,” “Fidelity and Inconstancy,” “Absence, Estrangement and Parting,” “Love Past.” Catullus and Sappho, Li Po, Marlowe and Marvell, Dickinson and Yeats, Akhmatova and Neruda, Shakespeare, Dorothy Parker... this anthology has all the classics and some surprises.

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The 100 Best Love Poems of All Time

100 Best Love Poems of All Time, ed. Leslie Pockell
Grand Central Publishing (Cover image courtesy of Pricegrabber)
(ed. Leslie Pockell, Warner Books, 2003) We think the “100 Best” title is off-putting and hokey, but we can’t deny the richness of this anthology. It begins with Dante (from La Vita Nuova) and Shakespeare (“Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?”), Marlowe (“Who ever loved, that loved not at first sight?”) and Burns (“O, my luve’s like a red, red rose”), but also includes a pair of poems by Ted Hughes and Sylvia Plath, as well as Anne Bradstreet, Ogden Nash, Charles Bukowski and Sandra Cisneros.
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