10 classic Valentine poems selected by Dr Oliver Tearle
The association between Valentine’s Day and love is long-standing, and many poets have written about love and romance. But how many have written about the day itself? Are there any classic Valentine’s Day poems? The following top ten list is our pick of some of the best poetic Valentines from over six centuries of English poetry.
Geoffrey Chaucer, ‘The Parliament of Fowls’. Did Geoffrey Chaucer invent Valentine’s Day? The answer, as we’ve revealed elsewhere, is, in a way, both ‘yes’ and ‘no’; but this poem, an example of the popular medieval debate poem, certainly helped to popularise the connection between romance or love and the 14th of February. The Parlement of Foules’ was written some time in the 1380s, possibly in 1382, and features a parliament, or assembly, of birds, which have gathered together in order to choose their mates. As Chaucer’s narrator remarks, ‘For this was on seynt Volantynys day / Whan euery bryd comyth there to chese his make.’ So it seems like the natural place to begin this selection of the best Valentine’s Day poems.
John Clare, ‘Valentine’. This poem from one of English poetry’s greatest nature poets details how the poet picked a nosegay of fine spring flowers for his beloved, Mary, to act as her valentine. Like several of Clare’s poems – ‘First Love’ is another prominent example – the poem deals with early love when the poet was in the first flush of youth.
Edgar Allan Poe, ‘A Valentine’. Poe was fond of cryptography and codes, and this poem takes the form of an acrostic with a difference, spelling out the name of the poem’s dedicatee, Frances Sargent Osgood. This is revealed when we look at the first letter of the first line, the second letter of the second, the third letter of the third, and so on.
James Russell Lowell, ‘A Valentine’. In this poem, the American Romantic poet James Russell Lowell (1819-91) celebrates being in love and having ‘my happy Valentine’. It’s a tender and understated account of being ‘loved up’ for Valentine’s Day.
Christina Rossetti, ‘February 14. 1883’. Rossetti wrote several famous poems celebrating love – ‘A Birthday’ is probably the most famous example – but this short Valentine’s Day poem is not so well-known. We include the full poem below – what a perfect poem for Valentine’s Day!
A world of change & loss, a world of death,
Of heart & eyes that fail, of labouring breath,
Of pains to bear & painful deeds to do:—
Nevertheless a world of life to come
And love; where you’re at home, while in our home
Your Valentine rejoices having you.
Lewis Carroll, ‘Valentine’. This poem by one of the Victorian era’s great nonsense poets carries the footnote: ‘Sent to a friend who had complained that I was glad enough to see him when he came, but didn’t seem to miss him if he stayed away.’
E. Nesbit, ‘St. Valentine’s Day’. Although Nesbit (1858-1924) is best-remembered for the string of classic children’s novels she wrote, such as Five Children and It, The Story of the Treasure Seekers, and The Railway Children (we’d also add the criminally underappreciated The Magic City), she was a versatile writer who also wrote poems – such as this, celebrating the idyllic surroundings of the house ‘Warm-lit for my love and me.’
Elinor Wylie, ‘Valentine’. Wylie (1885-1928) was a popular American poet and novelist. This poem, about the speaker eating her own heart, is one of several unconventional Valentine’s Day poems on this list, but for our money it’s one of the best Valentine poems.
Wendy Cope, ‘Valentine’. In some of her best poems, Wendy Cope likes to take a word or phrase and then try to think up multiple funny rhymes for it – and here, ‘My heart has made its mind up’ leads to lines ending with ‘lined up’ and ‘signed up’, in a humorous Valentine’s Day poem about unrequited – and probably unsolicited – love.
Carol Ann Duffy, ‘Valentine’. This poem, from Duffy’s 1993 collection Mean Time, centres on the speaker’s gift to her Valentine, not of a red rose or a cute card but an onion, of all things – because it cuts through the clichéd conventions of Valentine’s Day and, oddly, captures what true love is far more accurately, because it will induce tears but its memory will also linger long on your lips.
We hope you enjoyed this pick of some of the best poems for Valentine’s Day. For more Valentine’s Day-themed poetry, check out our pick of the very best short love poems. Looking for some classic love poems to woo that special someone? The best anthology of love poetry is, in our opinion, The New Faber Book of Love Poems.
The author of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literary critic and lecturer in English at Loughborough University. He is the author of, among others, The Secret Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey Through Curiosities of History and The Great War, The Waste Land and the Modernist Long Poem.