There's nothing quite as dark and twisted as a really good love poem, is there? After all, there's something impossible about trying to capture that most epic yet ephemeral sentiment with something as humble but permanent as mere language. It's a fool's journey, it can seem; a Sisyphean task.
And yet: Sisyphus never gave up, did he? Of course not, he had no choice! And neither, it seems, do poets who strive to capture the beauty and tragedy inherent to the kind of wild, unhinged love most worth writing about. Unlike Sisyphus, though, many poets achieve the impossible; they push the impossible object over the precipice; they trap the sublime in a few lines of verse; they rend our hearts and unleash our minds and destroy us completely, in the best possible way.
Here then, are some of the most beautiful love poems that fulfill all of our dark, twisted, emotional fantasies. There's nothing sweet about these; they drip with desire and walk the cliff's sharp edge, daring you to fall over, clutching at nothing but the neck, the shoulders, the arms of the one you love for balance, knowing that you'll probably fall anyway. That's okay, though. What's the fun of standing on your own two feet anyway? Give us a trip through the clouds any day.
The Autobiography of Red by Anne CarsonThis book in verse is a long beautiful ache; Carson masterfully tells the love story of the monster Geryon and the object of his affection, Herakles. Here is one of its most perfect passages:
When they made loveGeryon liked to touch in slow succession each of the bones of Herakles' backas it arched away from him into who knows what dark dream of its own, running both hands all the way downfrom the base of the neckto the end of the spine which he can cause to shiver like a root in the rain.
"Song (Is It Dirty)" by Frank O'HaraYes. Yes, it is dirty. Gloriously, exuberantly so.
Is it dirtydoes it look dirtythat's what you think of in the city
does it just seem dirtythat's what you think of in the cityyou don't refuse to breathe do you
someone comes along with a very bad characterhe seems attractive. is he really. yes. veryhe's attractive as his character is bad. is it. yes
that's what you think of in the cityrun your finger along your no-moss mindthat's not a thought that's soot
and you take a lot of dirt off someoneis the character less bad. no. it improves constantlyyou don't refuse to breathe do you
"To a Dark Moses" by Lucille Clifton She might not be consumed, but we sure are.
you are the onei am lit for.Come with your rodthat twistsand is a serpent.i am the bush.i am burningi am not consumed.
"Every Day You Play" by Pablo NerudaThis poem's kicker is one of the most famously sexy lines in all of modern poetry, so people often forget that it includes this beauty: "While the sad wind goes slaughtering butterflies/ I love you, and my happiness bites the plum of your mouth." Read it in full, below.
Every day you play with the light of the universe.Subtle visitor, you arrive in the flower and the water.You are more than this white head that I hold tightlyas a cluster of fruit, every day, between my hands.
You are like nobody since I love you.Let me spread you out among yellow garlands.Who writes your name in letters of smoke among the stars of the south?Oh let me remember you as you were before you existed.
Suddenly the wind howls and bangs at my shut window.The sky is a net crammed with shadowy fish.Here all the winds let go sooner or later, all of them.The rain takes off her clothes.The birds go by, fleeing.The wind. The wind.I can contend only against the power of men.The storm whirls dark leavesand turns loose all the boats that were moored last night to the sky.
You are here. Oh, you do not run away.You will answer me to the last cry.Cling to me as though you were frightened.Even so, at one time a strange shadow ran through your eyes.
Now, now too, little one, you bring me honeysuckle,and even your breasts smell of it.While the sad wind goes slaughtering butterfliesI love you, and my happiness bites the plum of your mouth.
How you must have suffered getting accustomed to me,my savage, solitary soul, my name that sends them all running.So many times we have seen the morning star burn, kissing our eyes,and over our heads the gray light unwind in turning fans.
My words rained over you, stroking you.A long time I have loved the sunned mother-of-pearl of your body.I go so far as to think that you own the universe.I will bring you happy flowers from the mountains, bluebells,dark hazels, and rustic baskets of kisses.I wantto do with you what spring does with the cherry trees.
"Lines on a Young Lady's Photograph Album" by Philip LarkinA few stanzas from Larkin's heady masterpiece, including one of my favorite lines of all time: "I choke on such nutritious images." Same, Philip, same.
At last you yielded up the album, which,Once open, sent me distracted. All your agesMatt and glossy on the thick black pages!Too much confectionery, too rich:I choke on such nutritious images.My swivel eye hungers from pose to pose -In pigtails, clutching a reluctant cat;Or furred yourself, a sweet girl-graduate;Or lifting a heavy-headed roseBeneath a trellis, or in a trilby hat(Faintly disturbing, that, in several ways) -From every side you strike at my control,Not least through these disquieting chaps who lollAt ease about your early days:Not quite your class, I'd say, dear, on the whole.
"Admonitions to a Special Person" by Anne SextonEverything Sexton writes is touched with shadow, particularly when she writes about love. This painfully lovely poem is no exception; here are some of the most darkly telling stanzas.
Watch out for love(unless it is true,and every part of you says yes including the toes) ,it will wrap you up like a mummy,and your scream won't be heardand none of your running will end.
Love? Be it man. Be it woman.It must be a wave you want to glide in on,give your body to it, give your laugh to it,give, when the gravelly sand takes you,your tears to the land. To love another is somethinglike prayer and can't be planned, you just fallinto its arms because your belief undoes your disbelief.
"Sii Romantico, Seidel, Tanto Per Cambiare" by Frederick SeidelWhen it comes to poems that are fucking funny and just plain about fucking, nobody does it as well as Seidel. Who else could pull off including the word Viagra in a poem? No one. Here's the incredible beginning of this masterful work.
Women have a playground slideThat wraps you in monsoon and takes you for a ride.The English girl Louise, his latest squeeze, was being snide.Easy to derideThe way he stayed alive to stay insideHis women with his puffed-up pride.The pharmacy suppliedThe rising fire truck ladder that the fire did not provide.The toothless carnivore devoured Viagra and Finasteride(Which is the one that shrinks the American prostate nationwideAnd at a higher dosage grows hair on the bald) to stem the tide.Not to die had been his way to hideThe fact that he was terrified.He could not tell them that, it would be suicide.It would make them even more humidified.The women wrapped monsoon around him, thunder-thighed.
"The Platonic Blow" by W.H. AudenNot enough poems are about blow jobs, in our humble opinions. But also, we kind of just like this poem because it's not... all that good? And we actually love Auden, ordinarily. But this poem is not great. Which almost makes it even hotter. Here's a couple of stanzas so that you can see what we mean.
We aligned mouths. We entwined. All act was clutch,All fact contact, the attack and the interlockOf tongues, the charms of arms. I shook at the touchOf his fresh flesh, I rocked at the shock of his cock.
Straddling my legs a little I inserted his divinePerson between and closed on it tight as I could.The upright warmth of his belly lay all along mine.Nude, glued together for a minute, we stood.
"Iva's Pantoum" by Marilyn HackerAhhh... every line of this poem just digs in deep, like shards of glass buried into your skin though you weren't even aware you'd broken anything. Here's its beginning, just for a taste.
We pace each other for a long time.I packed my anger with the beef jerky.You are the baby on the mountain. I amin a cold stream where I led you.
I packed my anger with the beef jerky.You are the woman sticking her tongue outin a cold stream where I led you.You are the woman with spring water palms.
You are the woman sticking her tongue out.I am the woman who matches sounds.You are the woman with spring water palms.I am the woman who copies.
You are the woman who matches sounds.You are the woman who makes up words.You are the woman who copiesher cupped palm with her fist in clay.
I am the woman who makes up words.You are the woman who shapesa drinking bowl with her fist in clay.I am the woman with rocks in her pockets.
"Recreation" by Audre LordeMaybe don't read this in public. It could get uncomfortable, in the best possible way. Here is its ending, which is just enough to leave us reeling.
Touching you I catch midnightas moon fires set in my throatI love you flesh into blossomI made youand take you madeinto me..