I love poetry.
I always have and I always will.
I’ve also written some poems back in my day…
Some of my favorite poets are people like John Keats, Pablo Neruda and Federico Lorca to name just a few.
And one of the themes you find so often in the greatest poems ever written is love.
It got me to ask myself:
Why is love a popular subject in poetry?
What is it about love, and the concept of love, that moves sensitive souls and the poetic imagination more than, say, delicious food, or sex, or wonderful weather?
To be sure, many poems have been written about feasts, lustful adventures, and beautiful sunny climes.
But the amount and intensity don’t come anywhere close to the cascade of beautiful words that have spilled from the poet’s pen on that grandest subject of all: love, amore (Italian), alhubu (Arabic), kjærlighet (Norwegian), ādaraya (Sinhalese), Ài (Mandarin), uthando (Zulu).
What is it about love that makes the poet’s soul overflow onto the page?
What is it about love that makes even studios poets lose their cool and gush forth with emotion?
As the American poet Sara Teasdale wrote in “I Am Not Yours”:
“Oh plunge me deep in love — put out my senses, leave me deaf and blind, swept by the tempest of your love, a taper in a rushing wind.”
I’m right on my way Sara, just let me close the curtains first…
Here’s why love is such a popular subject in poetry
1) Lifted by love
If you’ve ever been in love then you know that it lifts you up.
To be sure, love also crushes you down when things hit an obstacle.
But when it’s going well or your fantasies are at their zenith, you’re just about as high as you’ll ever be.
And when poets feel euphoric they tend to grab a writing implement and translate their thoughts into verse and rhyme.
The power of love moves them to great heights, expressing those powerful emotions that many of us find harder to put into words.
There’s a reason that people often recite heartfelt love poems at weddings or send love poems to a girl or guy they like.
It’s because poems are a way of describing the deepest emotions we feel in a short amount of words but with a profound level of emotion and meaning.
The best poets have a way of encapsulating those amazing moments of love and attraction that change our lives forever.
As 19th Century English Romantic poet John Clare wrote in his poem “First Love”, the impact of first experiencing love can be permanent and profound and is something we never forget for the rest of our lives:
I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling place
And can return no more.
2) Overcome by passion
Poets tend to be romantic souls, driven by passion, anger, euphoria, jealousy, and sadness.
They drink from the draughts of the cup of life but also yearn for that drink that will quench every thirst.
They revel in the beauty of the world while simultaneously hoping for some kind of eternal truth and salvation that could save their soul and satisfy their thirst.
For some, that’s faith and God, but for many poets, the closest thing they find on earth is romantic love and the enrapturing experience of falling completely for another human being.
From Lord Byron to Taoism founder Lao Tzu, poets are philosophers and lovers, sensualists and seekers of ascetic purity and divine truth.
These two things are the opposite, but…
Poets are often paradoxical creatures.
They long after the pure and ideal but simultaneously get swept up at the moment, seeking to drain the last drop of succor from love’s golden cup.
Why is love a popular subject in poetry? Because when you’re overwhelmed with passion you want to let it out.
Sometimes you have the blessing of being able to express it with the object of your desire. But in many cases, they are far away, unrequited, or even lost from your grasp forever.
That’s when you sit down by the light of the moon and pour your heart out on a piece of parchment.
Sometimes you are already in the middle of the love affair, overcome by passion, and still feel an overwhelming need to express it all the more.
It’s no wonder love is such a common subject in poetry!
Read the savagely beautiful lines of Neruda’s “Love Sonnet XI”:
I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.
3) Vocalizing vivid inspiration
Love can be hard to find the words for but poets are those who manage to fuse the divine and the earthly in their descriptions.
Often using metaphors and similes from nature and the outer world, the most talented poets of history bring compelling imagery to bear and transport us to a world of wonder and excitement.
They show us the vivid colors of love and inspire us to never give up on the dream of love.
The poets of old were very close to the love songs of today:
Popular, accessible, and well-known verses and rhymes that summarized people’s deepest heartfelt emotions and the love they dedicated their life to.
Even in old times that we can sometimes stereotype as backward, joyless, or obsessed with “duty” and social station, there was far more passionate love than we can imagine.
This is especially true of the Romantic movement, which sprang up across Europe between the 1790s to the 1830s to celebrate the beauty and pain of life and love.
Let’s take a look at the wonderful words of Percy Bysshe Shelley in “Love’s Philosophy”:
The fountains mingle with the river
And the rivers with the Ocean,
The winds of Heaven mix for ever
With a sweet emotion;
Nothing in the world is single;
All things by a law divine in one spirit meet and mingle.
Why not I with thine?
4) Energized by high hopes
In the end, love is a favorite subject of poets because love is profound.
Not all of us will have long relationships or the same experiences in life when it comes to love and it’s no contest anyway.
But the beauty of romantic love is that its value can’t be measured or divided up like a product or a service.
The value of love is immeasurable and even one week of true love could outweigh a lifetime of loneliness or false hope.
No matter how much we move on from love and the idea of it, all of us have a spark inside that’s energized by high hopes and romantic dreams.
We all find love and experience heartache in our own way and nobody’s life path is the same, but it’s always full of lessons and beauty.
For some, the depth of love is not just contained to this lifetime either and stretches back into time immemorial and past lives.
Reading the incredible words of Bengali poet and philosopher Rabindranath Tagore in his poem “Unending Love” is enough to bring a heart of stone to tears:
Whenever I hear old chronicles of love, its age-old pain,
Its ancient tale of being apart or together.
As I stare on and on into the past, in the end you emerge,
Clad in the light of a pole-star piercing the darkness of time:
You become an image of what is remembered forever.
You and I have floated here on the stream that brings from the fount.
At the heart of time, love of one for another.
We have played along side millions of lovers, shared in the same
Shy sweetness of meeting, the same distressful tears of farewell-
Old love but in shapes that renew and renew forever.