ready, set, compile!

Originally uploaded by megan @ flickr.

Is it just me, or do your blogs consistently get hits from people looking for love poems? And when your friends get married, are you as the resident poet obliged to find sappy poems for them? I’d like to make a big list of good but less clichéd love poems. No Bible. No Khalil Gabran.

My initial thoughts are: e.e. cummings; Andre Breton; Elizabeth Barrett Browning

EBB gets excerpted and overplayed but it is still really fine love poetry. This also applies to Shakespeare– the populace gets stuck on one or two sonnets and they’re not necessarily even the best ones.

Anyway, suggestions?


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27 Responses to ready, set, compile!

  1. Steven Fama says:

    I’ve thought about this before, and I think it is very difficult to find love poems suitable for most weddings.

    It’s not entirely laziness that the friggin’ passage from Corinthians gets trotted out so often. It’s hard to find anything else any good that even comes close to working for a wedding.

    Consider Andre Breton, for instance. “Free Union” is a heck of a love poem, of its kind. It is about a man’s feelings for a woman, and as such is not really a poem about a couple’s feelings towards each other. And the lines about the woman’s breasts, buttocks, and “sex” are probably a bit too carnal for most wedding crowds.

    There is a whole book of poems for weddings, edited by Robert Hass, but most everything in there strikes me as pretty unexciting.

    It is much easier to find love poems that are suitable for, shall we say, seduction.

  2. K. Silem Mohammad says:

    Rodney Koeneke and Lesley Poirier had a lovely Ashbery poem read at their wedding. I can’t remember which one offhand. Which poem, I mean, not which wedding. There was only one wedding.

  3. Dan Coffey says:

    My wife and I had a friend read part of the eponymous poem from Mark McMorris’ The Blaze of the Poui at our wedding. It seemed to fit in ways I still can’t explain. I found it in that anthology of new love/romantic poems by younger writers. I can’t remember the name of it.

  4. Jessica Smith says:

    C’mon guys… all this half-hearted information?

  5. csperez says:

    i’ve always likes Stevens’ ‘The Restatement of Romance’, tho perhaps not such a good wedding poem

    have a good one

  6. derek beaulieu says:

    i think that bpNichol’s “two words: a wedding” is pretty damn good…
    — derek

  7. Steven Fama says:

    Sorry my response was taken as half-hearted. I’ve tried time and again at this task, and repeatedly failed.

    I’m intrigued to check out the specific poems that some have suggested here. Especially the suggestion by derek b of “two words: a wedding” since he was so spot-on right with his suggestions a few weeks back when I aksed about Canadian prose poetry.

    I’m hoping derek might know — and post here — which book that poem can be found in, as I can’t identify that information via Google.

  8. Gillian says:

    I imagine you could find a beautiful, non-cynical love poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Pablo Neruda is probably also a good choice. Specific examples, suitable for framing, here.

  9. Dan Coffey says:

    Jessica said: “C’mon guys… all this half-hearted information?”

    Mine wasn’t half-hearted; I meant it. Incomplete and half-assed, maybe…

  10. Sandra says:

    Not sure this would work at a wedding–the raccoons in muck might be too distracting. But here is one I read and reread. I’m putting hard returns between each line, since the comments box can make line breaks hard to see, but the original is written as one enjambed stanza:

    Tear It Down
    by Jack Gilbert

    We find out the heart only by dismantling what

    the heart knows. By redefining the morning,

    we find a morning that comes just after darkness.

    We can break through marriage into marriage.

    By insisting on love we spoil it, get beyond

    affection and wade mouth-deep into love.

    We must unlearn the constellations to see the stars.

    But going back toward childhood will not help.

    The village is not better than Pittsburgh.

    Only Pittsburgh is more than Pittsburgh.

    Rome is better than Rome in the same way the sound

    of raccoon tongues licking the inside walls

    of the garbage tub is more than the stir

    of them in the muck of the garbage. Love is not

    enough. We die and are put into the earth forever.

    We should insist while there is still time. We must

    eat through the wildness of her sweet body already

    in our bed to reach the body within the body.

    Jeffrey McDaniel has a poem called “The Archipelago of Kisses” that you can find here:
    I think it would work well as a toast for a wedding because of the humor, but probably not as part of the formal ceremony.

  11. François says:

    My friends don’t get married. They get divorced.

  12. K. Lorraine Graham says:

    Neruda, yes. But what about some of Bernadette Mayer and Lee Ann Brown. How about Stein’s Lifting Belly? And Frank O Hara to, some of it. I’ve always loved “Morning,” which I wrote a rip off of/homage to once. It is a very good poem for pining:


    I’ve got to tell you
    how I love you always
    I think of it on grey
    mornings with death

    in my mouth the tea
    is never hot enough
    then and the cigarette
    dry the maroon robe

    chills me I need you
    and look out the window
    at the noiseless snow

    At night on the dock
    the buses glow like
    clouds and I am lonely
    thinking of flutes

    I miss you always
    when I got to the beach
    the sand is wet with
    tears that seem mine

    although I never weep
    and hold you in my
    heart with a very real
    humor you’d be proud of

    the parking lot is
    crowded and I stand
    rattling my keys the car
    is empty as a bicycle

    what are you doing now
    where did you eat your
    lunch and were there
    lots of anchovies it

    is difficult to think
    of you without me in
    the sentence you depress
    me when you are alone

    Last night the stars
    were numerous and today
    snow is their calling
    card I’ll not be cordial

    there is nothing that
    distracts me music is
    only a crossword puzzle
    you know how it is

    when you are the only
    passenger if there is a
    place further from me
    I beg you do not go

  13. Steven Fama says:

    I don’t think the O’Hara works. It’s a great poem, but the gestalt brought on by its images wouldn’t seem to fit in a wedding attended by a variety of family and friends: death in the mouth, cigarettes, an empty car, lots of anchovies in the lunch, even the begging at the end seems too much, for a wedding.

    It is a tremendous pining poem — that’s for sure.

  14. Jessica Smith says:

    Well I don’t think it necessarily has to be a love poem to be delivered publicly at a wedding.
    – not all loves are codified/legitimized/written by marriage,
    – not all marriages are public
    – not all love poems need to be shared b/t more than two– or even more than one– person.
    i think we can stick with “really good love poems,” not necessarily “poems you’d read to your friends at a wedding.” i see the latter as a subset.

    thanks gillian, sandra and lorraine for typing out your suggestions so we can all read them. klg, the stanza (strophe?) with anchovies breaks my heart.

    (i still can’t get stanza and strophe straight.)

    as i was telling gillian on her blog, i like zukofsky’s valentines to celia, and would certainly give them as valentines, though not deliver them publicly or aloud.

  15. derek beaulieu says:

    “two words: a wedding” is in bpNichol’s _As Elected: Selected Writing_ Nichol & David, eds. Vancouver: Talonbooks, 1980.

    — derek

  16. Steven Fama says:

    Thanks derek, for the info on the bpNichol book.

  17. Mark says:

    The only ethical choice for a hetero wedding is one of John Wieners’ or Gerrit Lansing’s love poems.

  18. K. Lorraine Graham says:

    Yes yes. O Hara is for pining.

  19. Tawrin says:

    “Love is no comforter, rather a nail in the

    In all seriousness, Dryden did a fantastic translation of the opening of De Rerum Naturae by Lucretius, an invocation to Venus.

  20. theseus says:

    The great, and mostly forgotten, French poet Yvan Goll has an untitled poem which begins with the line…

    “Your hair is like the last burning light of the century”

    and goes on from there, with lines more poetic than my meagre memory can reproduce.


  21. François says:

    I wouldn’t say Yvan Goll is forgotten. He was on my orals list for my French baccalauréat.

  22. a.raw says:

    yeah, ee cummings has been requested reading from me twice —

    i carry your heart

  23. Jessica says:

    Oh! Yeah– this is one of the first poems given to me by one of my first boyfriends. e.e.cummings can be very tender.

  24. LBehrendt says:

    I always liked this and consider it a love poem:

    The Ivy Crown
    William Carlos Williams

    The whole process is a lie,
    crowned by excess,
    It break forcefully,
    one way or another,
    from its confinement—
    or find a deeper well.
    Antony and Cleopatra
    were right;
    they have shown
    the way. I love you
    or I do not live
    at all.

    Daffodil time
    is past. This is
    summer, summer!
    the heart says,
    and not even the full of it.
    No doubts
    are permitted—
    though they will come
    and may
    before our time
    overwhelm us.
    We are only mortal
    but being mortal
    can defy our fate.
    We may
    by an outside chance
    even win! We do not
    look to see
    jonquils and violets
    come again
    but there are,
    the roses!

    Romance has no part in it.
    The business of love is
    cruelty which,
    by our wills,
    we transform
    to live together.
    It has its seasons,
    for and against,
    whatever the heart
    fumbles in the dark
    to assert
    toward the end of May.
    Just as the nature of briars
    is to tear flesh,
    I have proceeded
    through them.
    the briars out,
    they say.
    You cannot live
    and keep free of

    Children pick flowers.
    Let them.
    Though having them
    in hand
    they have no further use for them
    but leave them crumpled
    at the curb’s edge.

    At our age the imagination
    across the sorry facts
    lifts us
    to make roses
    stand before thorns.
    love is cruel
    and selfish
    and totally obtuse—
    at least, blinded by the light,
    young love is.
    But we are older,
    I to love
    and you to be loved,
    we have,
    no matter how,
    by our wills survived
    to keep
    the jeweled prize
    at our finger tips.
    We will it so
    and so it is
    past all accident.

  25. LBehrendt says:

    oops. the indents were lost in williams’ poem above. Probably for most poets these days the poem is considered trite & ooky. But I still like it. It was read at my first wedding and read at my first husband’s funeral.

  26. Jessica Smith says:

    Somehow that reminds me of this:

    It’s no use
    Mother dear, I
    can’t finish my
    You may
    blame Aphrodite

    soft as she is

    she has almost
    killed me with
    love for that boy


    and here’s something nice from Psalms:

    I am poured out like water.
    All my bones are out of joint.
    My heart is like wax;
    it is melted within me. (22:14)

    it’s from the bible, but not hackneyed.

    here’s a good wedding one, again from sappho (#90, “Lucky” in my book, “The Love Songs of Sappho”)

    There never was
    Another girl like this

  27. Jessica Smith says:

    Sharon Harris sent me this one by Robert Priest:

    Go, Gather Up the Love

    Go, gather up the love
    I know now what we must do
    It is in your eyes and my eyes
    Go, and gather it up, look by look,
    gaze by gaze,
    one flame in a hand, one holy flame–
    two flames gathered up–
    Gather up the love in our children
    Gather it through slum and hovel
    through mansion and factory
    with great gentleness, go
    taking a spark here a glow there
    turning down none of it
    Gather it up and free it
    if even just in your own lips
    through your own heart
    by being strong
    by going always beyond your limits
    Gather it to saturation
    long past your centre
    deeper than the full depth of you
    Gather it up in beads
    in blue flames, in fierce bonfires
    Let there be a leap of love
    in the centre of the earth–
    a flame higher than the heavens
    a leap of our commitment
    of our will
    a leap of fire
    straight into the stars

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