By Dr Oliver Tearle (Loughborough University)
Poetry can be used to say all sorts of things which affect us deeply: the love we feel for that special someone, or the gratitude we hold for someone who has been there and supported us. And so poems for best friends – best friends forever or ‘BFF’ in particular – are especially useful when we wish to reach out and tell our closest friends just how much they mean to us.
Below, we select and introduce ten of the very best poems about best friends: poems which are ideal to share with that special ‘best friend forever’.
1. William Shakespeare, Sonnet 104.
To me, fair friend, you never can be old,
For as you were when first your eye I eyed,
Such seems your beauty still. Three winters cold
Have from the forests shook three summers’ pride,
Three beauteous springs to yellow autumn turned
In process of the seasons have I seen,
Three April perfumes in three hot Junes burned,
Since first I saw you fresh, which yet are green …
This poem is addressed to a ‘fair friend’ of Shakespeare’s: one who was ‘fair’ in several senses – he has beautiful, fair-haired (or blond), and good and honourable. Shakespeare recalls the day he first met that close friend for whom he harbours a deep love, the Fair Youth to whom many of the early sonnets are dedicated.
The poem plays with a familiar trope in the Sonnets: the way time will lay us all low, and Shakespeare’s pen is the one bastion against its ravages.
2. Katherine Philips, ‘To my Excellent Lucasia, on our Friendship’.
I did not live until this time
Crowned my felicity,
When I could say without a crime,
I am not thine, but thee.
This carcass breathed, and walked, and slept,
So that the world believed
There was a soul the motions kept;
But they were all deceived …
Philips (1632-64), also known as ‘the Matchless Orinda’, was an Anglo-Welsh poet and translator in an age where few women had the chance to succeed at either. ‘To my Excellent Lucasia’ (Lucasia being the alter ego of Philips’ friend Anne Owen) is, like Shakespeare’s sonnet, a poem addressed to a close friend which appears to cross the line and become a love poem addressed to a person of the same sex.
3. Emily Brontë, ‘Love and Friendship’.
Love is like the wild rose-briar,
Friendship like the holly-tree—
The holly is dark when the rose-briar blooms
But which will bloom most constantly?
Love and friendship, as we saw above, tend to form a natural double-act in classic friendship poetry, yet in this poem, the Wuthering Heights author contrasts the two.
Many poems see love and friendship as a natural partnership, but in this poem, Emily Brontë sees them as related but substantially different. Love is like the rose briar (reminding us of the old poets’ adage, ‘every rose has its thorn’: love has a dangerous as well as thrilling side) whereas friendship is like the holly tree. She reminds us that when we fall in love, in that first flush of excitement when we first meet someone and fall for them, we neglect our friends, but friendship, unlike love, will not desert us.
4. Emily Dickinson, ‘I Should Not Dare to Leave My Friend’.
I should not dare to leave my friend,
Because – because if he should die
While I was gone – and I – too late –
Should reach the Heart that wanted me …
David Sylvian, erstwhile lead singer of the pop group Japan, has set this poem to music, and it lends itself to song with its use of repetition and its trademark Dickinsonian quatrain structure, echoing the ballad form. What if a loved one who needed your friendship and support spent their dying hours without your help and comfort? This is the situation Dickinson considers in this poem about the importance of ‘being there’ as a friend.
5. Robert Frost, ‘A Time to Talk’.
Told in Frost’s trademark direct and clear style, ‘A Time to Talk’ is a short poem about finding time for that special friend, to catch up with them and talk to them. Frost’s poem is a reminder that we are social beings and that friendship and conversation are an important aspect of our lives, and something we shouldn’t neglect of overlook.
6. Stevie Smith, ‘The Pleasures of Friendship’.
A nice short quatrain from one of the twentieth century’s finest English poets, ‘The Pleasures of Friendship’ celebrates spending time with friends. How quickly the hours pass when we are accompanied by our best friend, because we are enjoying their company so much! The rhyme of exquisite and visit, verging on the comical, brilliantly conveys the exuberant excitement of spending time with a close friend.
7. Richard Brautigan, ‘Your Catfish Friend’.
A remarkably tender poem which posits a hypothetical case: if the speaker were a catfish in the bottom of a pond, and the poem’s addressee were to come along, he would love her (him?) and be her (his?) friend. That explains the poem’s title, if not its rather surreal setup. Surreal it may be; touching it is.
8. Freya Manfred, ‘Old Friends’.
Manfred (born 1944) is an American poet who, in this poem, celebrates the mellow familiarity of old friends who know you through and through. Such a best friend is like ‘steady spring rain’ or ‘late summer sunshine’ as it begins to edge into autumn.
We love the way Manfred turns to an old friend and addresses them personally, telling them that she knew them even before they met. A wonderful and evocative summary of the meaning of friendship that spans many years.
9. James Fenton, ‘In Paris with You’.
One of W. H. Auden’s finest heirs, the English poet James Fenton (born 1949) writes beautifully here about being on the rebound after the end of a relationship and living in the moment with a new friend in the city of Paris. Although Paris is the city of love, the emphasis is here on best friends and the happy moments they share.
10. Matt Hart, ‘The Friend’.
Published in 2015, this contemporary example of a poem about best friends seems like a fitting note on which to conclude this pick of poems for that special friend in our lives. The way Hart unfolds a series of statements about ‘the friend’ is masterly, as we find the specific and the universal experiences of friendship colliding and coinciding. As the concluding lines observe, we can find a ‘higher power’ in such a friend.