The feelings of romantic love are pretty universal -- even if it seems like nobody could ever have felt the way you do; that's universal, too. And that's why songs and poems often say just what you're feeling -- only better than you can express it.
If you want to tell your sweetheart just how you feel about him or her, whether it's Valentine's Day or any old day, but you can't quite find the just the right words, maybe these classic poems from some of the greatest poets in the English language might fit the bill or give you some ideas.
Here's a line that is so famous -- and expresses such universality -- that it has become part of the language. It's from Christopher Marlowe's "Hero and Leander," and he wrote this in 1598: "Whoever loved, that loved not at first sight?" Timeless.
Sonnet 18 by William Shakespeare
Shakespeare's Sonnet 18, written in 1609, is one of the most famous and quoted love poems of all time. Its obvious use of metaphor in the comparison of the subject of the poem to a summer's day is hard to miss -- the subject being much superior to that grandest of seasons. The poem's most famous lines are at the beginning, with the metaphor in full view:
"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… "
'A Red, Red Rose' by Robert Burns
Scottish poet Robert Burns wrote this to his love in 1794, and it is one of the most quoted and famous love poems of all time in the English language. Throughout the poem, Burns uses simile as an effective literary device to describe his feelings. The first stanza is the most well-known:
"O my Luve's like a red, red rose,
That's newly sprung in June:
O my Luve's like the melodie,
That's sweetly play'd in tune."
'Love's Philosophy' by Percy Bysshe Shelley
Once again, a metaphor is the literary device of choice in a love poem by Percy Bysshe Shelley from 1819, a prominent English Romantic poet. He uses metaphor again and again, to great effect, to make his point -- which is crystal clear. Here's the first stanza:
"The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the Ocean,
The winds of Heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine
In one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine?-"
Sonnet 43 by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
This sonnet by Elizabeth Barrett Browning, published in the collection "Sonnets From the Portuguese" in 1850, is one of 44 love sonnets. This one is without a doubt the most famous and most quoted of her sonnets and also in all of the poems in the English language.
She was married to the Victorian poet Robert Browning, and he is the subject of these sonnets. This sonnet is a metaphor upon metaphor and extremely personal, which is likely why it resonates. The first lines are so well-known that nearly everyone recognizes them:
"How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace."
'In Excelsis' by Amy Lowell
In this much more modern take on the poetic form, written in 1922, Amy Lowell uses simile, metaphor, and symbolism to express this most powerful feeling of romantic love. The imagery is more potent and elemental than that of earlier poets, and the writing resembles the stream of consciousness style. The first few lines give a hint of what's to come:
Your shadow is sunlight on a plate of silver;
Your footsteps, the seeding-place of lilies;
Your hands moving, a chime of bells across a windless air."