Love is a common theme for poetry. Many poets have sought to describe the feeling of falling in love, being in love, loving someone you shouldn’t, or loving someone who doesn’t return that affection. Love is universal: it can be personal romantic love or even the love of all one’s fellow human beings.
So ‘love’ and ‘poetry’ are pretty much synonymous, in many ways. Yet the romantic poet faces a substantial hurdle when writing their love poem.
There just aren’t that many rhymes for ‘love’ in the English language.
But there are some. Let’s take a look at some of the best rhymes for the word ‘love’, as well as some of the most useful ‘love’ near-rhymes or pararhymes.
Perhaps the most obvious ‘love’ rhyme is DOVE. They are perfect rhymes, differing only in their initial letter and sound, and they are both instantly comprehensible to the reader or listener.
What’s more, semantically they chime together well: that is to say, their meanings are not a million miles apart. The dove is a bird associated with peace, harmony, and (in Christianity) with the Holy Spirit, which is often portrayed as a dove. And so doves suggest peace and love, universal love and harmony, and divine love from God.
In the Book of Genesis, after he had (unsuccessfully) sent out a raven to look for dry land following the Flood, Noah sent out a dove, which came back bearing the olive branch it had found. The Flood was over. Ever since, the olive branch, too, has been a symbol of peace, but the dove also symbolises this quality.
Countless poets have reached for the pairing of love and dove when writing their poetry. In his early poem ‘The Miller’s Daughter’, Tennyson (1809-92) used the rhyme of love/dove:
And oft I heard the tender dove
In firry woodlands making moan;
But ere I saw your eyes, my love,
I had no motion of my own.
In one of his ‘Lucy’ poems, William Wordsworth (1770-1850) rhymed love with Dove – the latter word being a reference to Dove Cottage in the Lake District, where Wordsworth lived:
She dwelt among the untrodden ways
Beside the springs of Dove,
A Maid whom there were none to praise
And very few to love:
Fittingly enough, Dove Cottage was originally a public house, first recorded as the ‘Dove and Olive’, after the two symbols of peace from the Noah story.
However, because the rhyme of love and dove is so obvious, it’s been used a great deal over the centuries and has, as the cliché has it, been done to death. The poor dove is dead. Or at least, more or less. Perhaps, if you feel that reviving him is beyond you, you can choose another love rhyme …
ABOVE is less specific than dove and so may suit your purposes better. As with dove, it’s proved a popular choice of rhyme for love, with many poets using it. However, because it’s not a noun and can instead, as a rather colourless and general preposition, be used in a wide variety of contexts, it’s less of a hackneyed choice of rhyme.
Here’s Shakespeare, in his Sonnet 110, using the love/above rhyme:
Alas! ’tis true, I have gone here and there,
And made my self a motley to the view,
Gor’d mine own thoughts, sold cheap what is most dear,
Made old offences of affections new;
Most true it is, that I have look’d on truth
Askance and strangely; but, by all above,
These blenches gave my heart another youth,
And worse essays prov’d thee my best of love.
Of course, because above would have to be at the end of a line for it to be a rhyme, that does present a problem – one which Shakespeare here circumvents by using the word as part of a phrase that means ‘by heaven’ or ‘by God’: ‘by all above’. But otherwise, one can always use enjambment or run-on lines so that ‘above’ leads straight into the next line of verse, as Christina Rossetti does in her ‘Winter Rain’:
Weave a bower of love
For birds to meet each other,
Weave a canopy above
Nest and egg and mother.
GLOVE is another potential choice of love rhyme. This one is harder to work into a poem without it seeming tokenistic, as if the only reason for a glove being in the poem is so that it can furnish a rhyme for love. So poets have used the word as part of a phrase, such as fits like a glove or hand in glove, and obviously talking about something fitting perfectly is somewhat … well, somewhat fitting for a love poem. The love/glove rhyme also has a nice detail, which is that the word ‘glove’ contains love, as if love has fit snugly into glove, as a hand fits into a real glove.
There’s always SHOVE, too, which is the last of the perfect, full rhymes for love. But that is perhaps best reserved for lighter poems.
‘Love’ pararhymes or near-rhymes
Because there are relatively few perfect rhymes for love, but love is such an important and ubiquitous topic for poetry, poets have often reached for pararhyme – that is, words which share some of the sounds of the word love without fully rhyming with them.
Consider, for instance, MOVE – or, for that matter, REMOVE. In Shakespeare’s time, it appears, these actually rhymed with love: we may pronounce move as moove but people in Shakespeare’s day would most probably have said muhve, much as we say luhve. For instance, in his Sonnet 25 Shakespeare rhymed belov’d with remov’d:
Then happy I, that love and am belov’d,
Where I may not remove nor be remov’d.
The same goes for all of the prove words such as PROVE and DISPROVE, IMPROVE, REPROVE, APPROVE and DISAPPROVE. Consider the end of Shakespeare’s famous Sonnet 116:
If this be error, and upon me prov’d,
I never writ, nor no man ever lov’d.
This would have been perfect rhyme in England four centuries ago, but now can function as effective pararhyme.
ROVE (meaning to wander) and WOVE (the past tense of to weave) are other possible love pararhymes, as are GROVE (a clearing in a forest), CLOVE (the spice), STOVE (the oven), and DROVE (past tense of to drive).
LIVE (as in ‘to live one’s life’), LIVE (as in a live concert or broadcast), ALIVE, LIFE, LEAVE, and even LAVE (to wash) are all useful pararhymes for love.
ENOUGH is also a multi-purpose general word which can be used to rhyme (or nearly rhyme) with love, as Emily Dickinson demonstrated:
That I did always love,
I bring thee proof:
That till I loved
I did not love enough.
Even a short word like OF (or one of its slightly more formal compound formations, THEREOF or WHEREOF) can ‘rhyme’ effectively with love, as Emily Dickinson shows once again:
You left me, sweet, two legacies, —
A legacy of love
A Heavenly Father would content,
Had He the offer of;
And as well as of, there’s always OFF, of course.