In past years, Slate’s Robert Pinsky has marked Valentine’s Day with a small anthology of love poems that go beyond the Hallmark sweetness of teddy bears with pink boxers or mail-order flowers.
In 2005, he explored how love is linked to the art of persuasion and presented an eclectic batch of poems to read to your sweetheart. The next year, Pinsky turned his attention to tales of frustration and exasperation with love. He pointed out that, sometimes, “conflict and even insult can be forms of courtship,” as with Shakespeare’s famous “Three sorts of serpents” sonnet, which opens: “Three sorts of serpents do resemble thee/ That dangerous eye-killing cockatrice/ The enchanting siren, which doth so entice/ The weeping crocodile—these vile pernicious three.” Try using that line on your special someone! Finally, in 2007, Pinsky explored love in its most physical form: sex.
One poem from each year is reprinted below:
From 2005: Persuasion
MY TRUE LOVE HATH MY HEART AND I HAVE HISMy true love hath my heart and I have his,
By just exchange one for another given;
I hold his dear, and mine he cannot miss,
There never was a better bargain driven.
My true love has my heart and I have his.His heart in me keeps him and me in one,
My heart in him his thoughts and senses guides;
He loves my heart, for once it was his own,
I cherish his, because in me it bides.
My true love hath my heart and I have his.—Sir Phillip Sidney
From 2006: Impatience
MADAM, WITHOUTEN MANY WORDSMadam, withouten many words,
Once I am sure ye will or no;
And if ye will, then leave your bourdes,
And use your wit and show it so.And with a beck ye shall me call;
And if of one that burneth alway
Ye have any pity at all,
Answer him fair with yea or nay.If it be yea, I shall be fain;
If it be nay, friends as before;
Ye shall another man obtain,
And I mine own, and yours no more.—Sir Thomas Wyatt
From 2007: Sex
THE EXPENSE OF SPIRIT (129)The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
Is lust in action; and till action, lust
Is perjured, murderous, bloody, full of blame,
Savage, extreme, rude, cruel, not to trust;
Enjoyed no sooner but despised straight;
Past reason hunted and no sooner had,
Past reason hated as a swallowed bait
Laid on purpose to make the taker mad:
Mad in pursuit, and in possession so;
Had, having, and in quest to have, extreme;
A bliss in proof, and proved, a very woe;
Before, a joy proposed; behind, a dream.
…All this the world well knows; yet none knows well
…To shun the heaven that leads men to this hell.—William Shakespeare