By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
It can be hard trying to find the words to tell a loved one how you feel – passionate, loved-up, longing for their touch, or just head-over-heels happy that they exist. In this post, we’ve compiled five of the best poems for boyfriends, but rather than seeing these narrowly as ‘boyfriend poems’ per se, it might be better to view them as universal love poems which might be especially suited to reading to a boyfriend or a beloved.
Sir Philip Sidney, ‘My true love hath my heart, and I have his’.
This poem, taken from Sidney’s much longer prose work the Arcadia, is one of the finest Elizabethan love poems, and also an early example of the English or ‘Shakespearean’ sonnet.
The speaker of the poem is a shepherdess, pledging her love for her betrothed, a shepherd who rests in her lap, so this is the perfect poem forthose intimate and tender moments between boyfriend and girlfriend. For those of you who can sing, it’s even been set to music!
Elizabeth Barrett Browning, ‘How Do I Love Thee? Let Me Count the Ways’.
One of the most famous love sonnets in the English language – or at least its first line is famous – this poem is perhaps the ideal love poem to read to a boyfriend because the poet who wrote it, Elizabeth Barrett Browning, wrote it for her husband, Robert Browning, whom she had courted through a series of extraordinary love letters in the 1840s.
Barrett Browning – then plain Elizabeth Barrett – was an invalid living at home on Wimpole Street with her father, who opposed her relationship with the younger Robert.
But the two lovebirds eloped, married, had children, and spent fifteen years together, in wedded bliss.
Christina Rossetti, ‘The First Day’.
Many of the greatest and most affecting love poems – even the happy ones – carry an air of regret or poignancy, and this fine, underrated poem by Christina Rossetti (1830-94) is a good example.
In ‘The First Day’, Rossetti longs to remember her first meeting with her lover, but because she didn’t know at the time what a momentous event it would turn out to be, she let it slip away ‘unrecorded’.
Wendy Cope, ‘The Orange’.
This poem by one of the most popular living female British poets is about how the simple day-to-day things – such as buying an orange and sharing it with work colleagues, or walking in the park – can make us happy when we’re in love, and are ‘glad we exist’.
The beauty of the poem is in its touching simplicity, and the faint hint of the absurd suggested by that huge orange. This delightful poem is from Cope’s 1992 collection Serious Concerns.
Carol Ann Duffy, ‘Syntax’.
At fourteen lines, this poem is a ‘sonnet’ of sorts – though its rhyme scheme and metre are unique to Duffy’s poem. First published in 2005, ‘Syntax’ is about trying to find new and original ways to say ‘I love you’. As many people have pointed out, when we say ‘I love you’ we are always, in effect, uttering a quotation.
Duffy’s poem seeks out new ways to express the sincerity of love, explored, fittingly enough, in a new sort of ‘sonnet’ (14 lines and ending in a sort-of couplet, though written in irregular free verse). A love poem for the texting generation?