Buying a Valentine’s Day card for your crush, your ‘just-a-fling’ or your partner and unsure what to write in it, fearing that anything you do will just fall into cliché? Not really feeling quoting Shakespeare, Shelley or Duffy, and struggling with your own words? Impact is here to help you out by offering snippets from eight of the best alternative Valentine’s Day poems.
“Poetry is made in bed like love” – André Breton, ‘On the Road to San Romano’
Google ‘best love poems’ and you’ll see all the poems you’ll be familiar with if you studied the AQA ‘Love Through the Ages’ English literature A-level course, and tonnes of others you’ll know simply through extension of speaking the English language. Burns, Marvel and endless sonnets by Shakespeare are among the most common search results, while ‘best Valentine’s day poems’ will take you to endless web pages of six-line probably-should-be-anonymous verses which are better suited under the title of ‘greetings card rejects’ than ‘poetry’.
While many of the former may have been remarkable in their day but have since fallen into clichés – a pool of which the latter have been exclusively drawn from – many of these will fail to provoke any serious thought of admiration beside ‘Oh. That poem again’, mixed with rolling eyes, sighs, and a kiss-on-the-cheek.
So before you panic and sign a card with just your name, or go completely in the other direction and quote Romeo and Juliet, here is Impact’s list of alternative Valentine’s Day poems, carefully selected to avoid any new-age ‘alternative’ clichés (Dr John Cooper Clarke, I’m looking at you), from (largely) unknown poets. So, we’ve already had much ado – where’s the thing?
She (‘i have come to save you from the suburbs of hell’) – Deborah Levy
i have come
to save you
from the suburbs of hell
to rub my skin
the regularity of your habits
Although initially somewhat self-indulgent and almost threatening, this passage from Levy’s genius An Amorous Discourse in the Suburbs of Hell deals with the very modern issue of dissatisfaction with day to day suburban life, and the age of routine. Yes, the speaker might be talking about saving someone else, but she is also saved in turn as they both ‘rub [their] skin against’ each other’s ‘habits’, and show them new aspects of life. This poem is really about how being in a relationship can be a really enriching experience – and as it may not say so in an overly romantic way, it’s the perfect anti-cliché Valentine’s Day poem.
Beacon of Hope – Linton Kwesi Johnson
tonight you will illuminate the path of dreams
like glow-worms of the northern climes
your flashing fluorescence
are eyes of light
that pierce the dark
of my moonless starless tropical night
Although, like many of LKJ’s poems, ‘Beacon of Hope’ actually deals with racial issues, this stanza is one of the most romantic in contemporary English verse, refashioning the poetic trope of being a light in the darkness in an original way. Also, the image of a ‘moonless starless tropical night’ is enough to get anyone in the mood, right? Right?
I want to show myself naked – Joyce Mansour
I want to show myself naked to your singing eyes.
Want you to see me shout with pleasure.
Want my limbs bent under such a weight
To urge you to disgraceful acts
Blending erotica with a sincere wish to become vulnerable to someone, a major theme of surrealist love poetry is that of opening yourself up fully to another person. But mix this with frilly red underwear and the poem doesn’t have to be that deep, making this the perfect poem for long-term lovers and casual flings alike.
Never anyone but you – Robert Desnos
Never anyone but you in spite of stars and solitude
In spite of mutilated trees at nightfall
Never anyone but you will take a path which is mine also
The father you go away the greater your shadow grows
Speaking of being ‘alone like the faded ivy of suburban gardens’, this is one for the long-distance lovers, and how the couple will remain loyal to each other despite distance. On top of this, there is some beautiful language here (‘the song of nightingales in the woods of a tender green’), and ‘Never anyone but you will take a path which is mine also’ is unobtrusive poetic sincerity at its best.
To His Lost Love – Simon Armitage
Now they are no longer
any trouble to each other
A poem lamenting the end of a relationship, ‘To His Lost Love’ is about not realising what we have until it’s gone. All of the ‘unfinishable business’ the speaker can now finish, he realises, is ‘business’ to do with his ex-partner, therefore now truly ‘unfinishable’. This is a good one for those who ‘left unsaid some things he should have spoken’, a take-me-back poem or, at the very least, a sincere apology for not appreciating who we once had.
Augusta – Patrick Branwell Brontë
Augusta! Though I’m far away
Across the dark blue sea,
Still eve and morn and night and day
Will I remember thee!
Another one for those in LDR’s, no list of poetry would be complete without some Victorian lit. Though full of poetic clichés, such as ‘midnight air’ and ‘unmeasured skirts of heaven’, this nonetheless expresses in sweet and simple terms how it feels to love someone we can’t always see. Ignoring the fact that Brontë died in part due to alcoholism and drug addiction, this will sweeten up any Valentine’s Day card sent through cross-country post, with Branwell’s poetic couplets feeling like a hug to complement any boxes of chocolates eaten in front of a Skype call.
‘you might not have been my first love’ – Rupi Kaur
you might not have been my first love
but you were the one that made
all the other loves
Oh Rupi Kaur, Tumblr sweetheart, your simple poems have captured the hearts of thousands upon thousands of people. This is one of the best examples of Kaur’s style of manipulating-simple-phrases-into-a-poem-through-line-breaks-to-indicate-dramatic-pauses. Striking and unvarnished by overly poetic turns of phrase, this is perhaps one of the most moving poems on our list, full of meaning and perfect for long-term lovers and first-sight sweethearts (who just know they’ll end up together) all the same.
[i carry your heart with me (i carry it in] – E. E. Cummings
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in
my heart)i am never without it(anywhere
i go you go, my dear;and whatever is done
by only me is your doing,my darling)
no fate (for you are my fate,my sweet)
This is an exception to our list, as, if you’ve already spent serious time Googling ‘alternative love poems’ you’ll likely have stumbled onto to this not-so-hidden gem. But we couldn’t ignore Cummings’ masterpiece as it still hasn’t managed to become a cliché, and (through its clever use of parenthesis) expresses visually, verbally and more abstractly how love feels – to be penetrated well and truly by another (not in that way, you at the back!), and what it’s like to carry someone else’s heart with ours.