Previously, we offered five classic poems for boyfriends, aware of the difficulties in trying to pick poems ‘for’ a particular gender over another. Here, we’ve been guided by literary tradition as much as anything: what have (mostly male) poets tended to write about, or for, their female beloveds? What have the great poets throughout history written about their girlfriends? Here are five poems which, we believe, are ideal for reading to a girlfriend to express all those feelings which are often so hard to put into words oneself: to remind them how beautiful they are, or how much we value them, or how much they are loved.
William Shakespeare, Sonnet 29. We could have gone for the obvious one here – Sonnet 18, ‘Shall I compare thee to a summer’s day?’ is a popular poem, especially for men keen to woo their girlfriends by paying homage to their beloved’s beauty – but we think this poem, about cursing your lot only to recall that you have the love of that special someone, speaks more immediately to most people’s experience of being in love and the love of a good woman. How often do we count our blessings and remember that, among those blessings, we can say we are loved?
Lord Byron, ‘She Walks in Beauty’. Perhaps Byron’s best-loved and most widely anthologised lyric poem, ‘She Walks in Beauty’ is quoted in Dead Poets Society as an attempt to seduce a young woman, and it epitomises the Romantic poem idolising (and idealising) a woman’s beauty, as the first lines make clear: ‘She walks in beauty, like the night / Of cloudless climes and starry skies; / And all that’s best of dark and bright / Meet in her aspect and her eyes …’ Whilst we’re not sure how many women have been wooed by the poem, we’d say it’s one of the best poems to read to a girlfriend when wanting to remind her how beautiful you find her, and can’t find the words.
Alfred, Lord Tennyson, ‘Now Sleeps the Crimson Petal’. This short fourteen-line song from Tennyson’s long narrative poem or ‘medley’, The Princess, is a version of the Persial ghazal form. Here, Tennyson offers a sensual, even erotic love poem whose ‘fire-fly’ evokes the burning passion of the speaker, while the reference to Danaë suggests sexual union through its reference to Zeus’s coupling with Danaë, with the Greek god disguised as a shower of gold. This poem didn’t make our pick of the best seduction poems, but it could easily have been included on that list.
W. B. Yeats, ‘He Wishes for the Cloths of Heaven’. If the previous two poems have been more focused on beauty and desire than the deeper love felt for the girl in question, this Yeats poem returns us to a more spiritual and intellectual plane. The gist of this poem, one of Yeats’s most popular poems, is straightforward: if I were a rich man, I’d give you the world and all its treasures. If I were a god, I could take the heavenly sky and make a blanket out of it for you. But I’m only a poor man, and obviously the idea of making the sky into a blanket is silly and out of the question, so all I have of any worth are my dreams. And dreams are delicate and vulnerable – hence ‘Tread softly’. This is one of the finest very short love poems written by a man for a woman, and perfect for those tender moments between boyfriend and girlfriend.
E. E. Cummings, ‘i carry your heart with me(i carry it in’. Cummings (or perhaps we should write ‘cummings’, as the poet styled himself) was one of the greatest love poets of the twentieth century, who also had one of the most distinctive styles. In this tender poem, the idiosyncratic American poet offers a tribute to his loved one, saying he carries her heart with him and is never without it. What better poem to send, or even recite to, a beloved girlfriend than this?