Poems for shy people in love
October 18, 2016 9:03 AM   Subscribe

One of my favourite short love poems is Shailja Patel's 'First Dates in Utopia', which has a gentleness and loveliness to it that I associate with shy folks like myself. What are your favourite poems or lines of poetry about love that is awkward, hesitant and quiet - filled with silences and mis-timings? NOTE: I'm not looking for poems about unrequited love, but rather connections made or being made whilst shy.

Shailja Patel's poem, 'First Dates in Utopia', goes:

In this room, for one hour
let’s be easy in our skins
observe ourselves
with gentle curiosity
proffer and accept
selected morsels of our lives
posted by beijingbrown to Writing & Language (20 answers total) 63 users marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'm not sure if this is what you have in mind, but your question made me think of It's Raining In Love by Richard Brautigan.
posted by thursdaystoo at 9:21 AM on October 18, 2016 [5 favorites]

Best answer: Elizabeth Barrett Browning's Sonnets from the Portuguese is a classic example. People experience shyness in historically conditioned ways, of course, and Browning's style of anxiety and self-effacingness might not capture quite the feeling you want. I think it's all lovely, but sonnets eight through ten were what I first thought of reading your post.

What can I give thee back, O liberal
And princely giver, who hast brought the gold
And purple of thine heart, unstained, untold,
And laid them on the outside of the wall
For such as I to take or leave withal,
In unexpected largesse? am I cold,
Ungrateful, that for these most mainfold
High gifts, I render nothing back at all?
Not so; not cold, --- but very poor instead.
Ask God who knows. For frequent tears have run
The colours from my life, and left so dead
And pale a stuff, it were not fitly done
To give the same as pillow to thy head.
Go farther! let it serve to trample on.

Can it be right to give what I can give?
To let thee sit beneath the fall of tears
As salt as mine, and hear the sighing years
Re-sighing on my lips renunciative
Through those infrequent smiles which fail to live
For all thy adjurations? O my fears,
That this can scarce be right! We are not peers,
So to be lovers; and I own, and grieve,
That givers of such gifts as mine are, must
Be counted with the ungenerous. Out, alas!
I will not soil thy purple with my dust,
Nor breathe my poison on thy Venice-glass,
Nor give thee any love --- which were unjust.
Belovèd, I love only thee! let it pass.

Yet, love, mere love, is beautiful indeed
And worthy of acceptation. Fire is bright,
Let temple burn, or flax; and equal light
Leaps in the flame from cedar-plank or weed:
And love is fire. And when I say at need
I love thee ... mark! ... I love thee---in thy sight
I stand transfigured, glorified aright,
With conscience of the new rays that proceed
Out of my face toward thine. There's nothing low
In love, when love the lowest: meanest creatures
Who love God, God acceps while loving so.
And what I feel, across the inferior features
Of what I am, doth flash itself, and show
How that great work of Love enhances Nature's.

posted by vathek at 9:22 AM on October 18, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: I love this little poem by Walt Whitman:
O you whom I often and silently come where you are, that I may be with you;
As I walk by your side, or sit near, or remain in the same room with you,
Little you know the subtle electric fire that for your sake is playing within me.
posted by Orlop at 9:40 AM on October 18, 2016 [26 favorites]

Best answer: "Accelerando" by Cyril Wong:
The lovers wait to lose their balance. They would dive
gratefully into the half-dark, picking fingers, thighs, lips
and tumescent parts. But wait, let’s stick to beginnings.
Before a rustle in the chest, there were first meetings

in crowds and along unremarkable corridors. A grin, a look
and the memory shrinks to the here and now, re-playable
for future use in the hour before sleep, the hours before
they meet again. Living is an endless piece of rope.

The lovers are jaded funambulists, steady gait slowed
by the weight of loneliness. But legs quiver now, the bait
already cast. And whose heart is not a hungry fish?
posted by sevenofspades at 10:22 AM on October 18, 2016 [9 favorites]

Best answer: I loved this so much we read it at our wedding :

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond

E. E. Cummings, 1894 - 1962

somewhere i have never travelled,gladly beyond
any experience,your eyes have their silence:
in your most frail gesture are things which enclose me,
or which i cannot touch because they are too near

your slightest look easily will unclose me
though i have closed myself as fingers,
you open always petal by petal myself as Spring opens
(touching skilfully,mysteriously)her first rose

or if your wish be to close me,i and
my life will shut very beautifully,suddenly,
as when the heart of this flower imagines
the snow carefully everywhere descending;

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals
the power of your intense fragility:whose texture
compels me with the colour of its countries,
rendering death and forever with each breathing

(i do not know what it is about you that closes
and opens;only something in me understands
the voice of your eyes is deeper than all roses)
nobody,not even the rain,has such small hands
posted by goggie at 10:23 AM on October 18, 2016 [5 favorites]


Yeats' "To An Isle in the Water":

Shy one, shy one,
Shy one of my heart,
She moves in the firelight
Pensively apart.

She carries in the dishes,
And lays them in a row.
To an isle in the water
With her would I go.

She carries in the candles,
And lights the curtained room,
Shy in the doorway
And shy in the gloom;

And shy as a rabbit,
Helpful and shy.
To an isle in the water
With her would I fly.
posted by 8603 at 10:37 AM on October 18, 2016

I am not sure if this fits the bill. It looks in retrospect:

Magellan Street, 1974
by Maxine Kumin

This is the year you fall in
love with the Bengali poet,
and the Armenian bakery stays open
Saturday nights until eleven
across the street from your sunny
apartment with steep fo'c'sle stairs
up to an attic bedroom.
Three-decker tenement flank you.
Cyclone fences enclose
flamingos on diaper-size lawns.

This is the year, in a kitchen
you brighten with pots of basil
and untidy mint, I see how
your life will open, will burst from
the maze in its walled-in garden
and streak towards the horizon.
Your pastel maps lie open
on the counter as we stand here
not quite up to exchanging
our lists of sorrows, our day books,
our night thoughts, and burn the first batch
of chocolate walnut cookies.

Of course you move on,
my circumnavigator.
Tonight as I cruise past your corner,
a light goes on in the window.
Two shapes sit at the table.
posted by incolorinred at 1:29 PM on October 18, 2016 [3 favorites]

James Tate's The Blue Booby makes me think of this mood, even though it's about birds having sex? So?

The blue booby lives
on the bare rocks
of Galápagos
and fears nothing.
It is a simple life:
they live on fish,
and there are few predators.
Also, the males do not
make fools of themselves
chasing after the young
ladies. Rather,
they gather the blue
objects of the world
and construct from them

a nest—an occasional
Gaulois package,
a string of beads,
a piece of cloth from
a sailor’s suit. This
replaces the need for
dazzling plumage;
in fact, in the past
fifty million years
the male has grown
considerably duller,
nor can he sing well.
The female, though,

asks little of him—
the blue satisfies her
completely, has
a magical effect
on her. When she returns
from her day of
gossip and shopping,
she sees he has found her
a new shred of blue foil:
for this she rewards him
with her dark body,
the stars turn slowly
in the blue foil beside them
like the eyes of a mild savior.
posted by athirstforsalt at 12:33 AM on October 19, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: True facts: this poem got me my shy husband.
Catch a Body
Ilse Bendorf

Salinger, I’m sorry, but “Don’t ever tell
anybody anything” is a string of words
I would like to wrap up in canvas and sink
to the bottom of the Hudson, or extract
by laser from the ribcage of all of us
who ever believed it, who felt afraid
to miss someone, to be the last one
standing. “Tell everyone everything” is
not exactly right, but I do believe that if
your mother looks radiant in violet
you should tell her, or when a juvenile
sparrow thrashes its wings in dustpiles
and reminds you of a lover’s eyelashes,
you should say so. We are islands all of us,
but we are also boats, our secrets flares,
pyrotechnic devices by which we signal
there’s someone in here we’re still alive!
So maybe it’s, “don’t be afraid.” We can
rewrite Icarus, flame-resistant feathers,
wax that won’t melt, I mean it, I’ll draw up
a prototype right now, that burning ball
of orange won’t stop us, it’ll be everything
we dream the morning after, even if we fall
into the sea—we are boats, remember?
We are pirates. We move in nautical miles.
Each other’s anchors, each other’s buoys,
the rocket’s red, already the world entire.
posted by foxfirefey at 2:16 AM on October 19, 2016 [29 favorites]

Best answer: Romantics, Lisel Mueller

Johannes Brahms and
Clara Schumann

The modern biographers worry
“how far it went,” their tender friendship.
They wonder just what it means
when he writes he thinks of her constantly,
his guardian angel, beloved friend.
The modern biographers ask
the rude, irrelevant question
of our age, as if the event
of two bodies meshing together
establishes the degree of love,
forgetting how softly Eros walked
in the nineteenth-century, how a hand
held overlong or a gaze anchored
in someone’s eyes could unseat a heart,
and nuances of address not known
in our egalitarian language
could make the redolent air
tremble and shimmer with the heat
of possibility. Each time I hear
the Intermezzi, sad
and lavish in their tenderness,
I imagine the two of them
sitting in a garden
among late-blooming roses
and dark cascades of leaves,
letting the landscape speak for them,
leaving us nothing to overhear.
posted by Wemmick at 2:26 PM on October 23, 2016 [12 favorites]

Best answer: Late to the party here, but here are a couple that might fit the bill:


Parked in the fields
All night
So many years ago,
We saw
A lake beside us
When the moon rose.
I remember

Leaving that ancient car
Together. I remember
Standing in the white grass
Beside it. We groped
Our way together
Downhill in the bright
Incredible light

Beginning to wonder
Whether it could be lake
Or fog
We saw, our heads
Ringing under the stars we walked
To where it would have wet our feet
Had it been water

THE LANGUAGE, Robert Creeley

Locate I
love you
where in

teeth and
eyes, bite
it but

take care not
to hurt, you
want so

much so
little. Words
say everything.

love you


then what
is emptiness
for. To

fill, fill.
I heard words
and words full

of holes
aching. Speech
is a mouth.
posted by dersins at 8:18 PM on October 23, 2016 [2 favorites]

Best answer: And good god how could I forget this, excerpted from Anne Carson's Autobiography of Red (the weird line breaks are correct):


Is it a question?

I better be getting home.

They continued to sit. They were parked way out on the highway.
Cold night smell
coming in the windows. New moon floating white as a rib at the edge of the sky.
I guess I'm someone who will never be satisfied,
said Herakles. Geryon felt all nerves in him move to the surface of his body.
What do you mean satisfied?
Just—satisfied. I don't know. From far down the freeway came a sound
of fishhooks scraping the bottom of the world.
You know. Satisfied. Geryon was thinking hard. Fires twisted through him.
He picked his way carefully
toward the sex question. Why is it a question? He understood
that people need
acts of attention from one another, does it really matter which acts?
He was fourteen.
Sex is a way of getting to know someone,
Herakles had said. He was sixteen. Hot unsorted parts of the question
were licking up from every crack in Geryon,
he beat at them as a nervous laugh escaped him. Herakles looked.
Suddenly quiet.
It's okay, said Herakles. His voice washed
Geryon open.
Tell me, said Geryon and he intended to ask him, Do people who like sex
have a question about it too?
but the words came out wrong—Is it true you think about sex every day?
Herakles' body stiffened.
That isn't a question it's an accusation. Something black and heavy dropped
between like a smell of velvet.
Herakles switched on the ignition and they jumped forward onto the back of the night.
Not touching
but joined in astonishment as two cuts lie parallel in the same flesh.
posted by dersins at 8:23 PM on October 23, 2016

Best answer: FLOWERS by WENDY COPE

Some men never think of it.
You did. You’d come along
And say you’d nearly bought me flowers
But something had gone wrong.

The shop was closed. Or you had doubts –
The sort that minds like ours
Dream up incessantly. You thought
I might not want your flowers.

It made me smile and hug you then.
Now I can only smile.
But, look, the flowers you nearly brought
Have lasted all this while.
posted by *becca* at 7:11 AM on October 24, 2016 [8 favorites]

John Berryman, Dream Song 171:

Go, ill-sped book, and whisper to her or
storm out the message for her only ear
that she is beautiful.
Mention sunsets, be not silent of her eyes
and mouth and other prospects, praise her size,
say her figure is full.

Say her small figure is heavenly & full,
so as stunned Henry yatters like a fool
& maketh little sense.
Say she is soft in speech, stately in walking,
modest at gatherings, and in every thing
declare her excellence.

And forget not, when the rest is wholly done
and all of her splendors opened, one by one,
to add that she likes Henry,
for reasons unknown, and fate has bound them fast
one to another in linkages that last
and that are fair to see.
posted by lorddimwit at 10:07 AM on October 24, 2016

Just a regular old poem about a pillow, not a love poem necessarily -- but I love how shy and coy it is.

By Jana Prikryl

How solitary

and resolute you look in the morning.

A stoic in your cotton sleeve.

Do you dream of walking out

rain or shine

a truffle balanced on your sternum

and passing me on the sidewalk?

Or is that a smile

because you interpret nothing

and statelessness is where you live?

How calmly you indulge my moods.

See you tonight, by the sovereign chartreuse

ceramics at the Met.

Let’s hear what you’d do differently.
posted by Rinku at 10:09 AM on October 24, 2016

Best answer: The Quiet World

In an effort to get people to look
into each other’s eyes more,
and also to appease the mutes,
the government has decided
to allot each person exactly one hundred
and sixty-seven words, per day.

When the phone rings, I put it to my ear
without saying hello. In the restaurant
I point at chicken noodle soup.
I am adjusting well to the new way.

Late at night, I call my long distance lover,
proudly say I only used fifty-nine today.
I saved the rest for you.

When she doesn’t respond,
I know she’s used up all her words,
so I slowly whisper I love you
thirty-two and a third times.
After that, we just sit on the line
and listen to each other breathe.
posted by cudzoo at 7:43 PM on October 25, 2016 [8 favorites]

I have always interpreted The Love Song of J. Alfred Prufrock by T.S. Eliot as being basically about a shy guy trying to work up the courage to ask a woman out. YMMV.
posted by BusyBusyBusy at 4:28 AM on October 26, 2016

Best answer: This poem was the only "reading" my wife and I had in our ceremony when we got married - and all we needed. This is a common English translation; original German on Wikisource. It's by Rainer Maria Rilke.

Understand, I’ll slip quietly
away from the noisy crowd
when I see the pale
stars rising, blooming, over the oaks.

I’ll pursue solitary pathways
through the pale twilit meadows,
with only this one dream:

You come too.

posted by pinespree at 9:13 PM on October 26, 2016 [9 favorites]

Probably a few marks off of what you're looking for, Lin-Manuel Miranda's acceptance for Best Score Tony award was a (broken) sonnet:
My wife’s the reason anything gets done
She nudges me towards promise by degrees
She is a perfect symphony of one
Our son is her most beautiful reprise.
We chase the melodies that seem to find us
Until they’re finished songs and start to play
When senseless acts of tragedy remind us
That nothing here is promised, not one day.
This show is proof that history remembers
We lived through times when hate and fear seemed stronger;
We rise and fall and light from dying embers, remembrances that hope and love last longer
And love is love is love is love is love is love is love is love cannot be killed or swept aside.
I sing Vanessa’s symphony, Eliza tells her story
Now fill the world with music, love and pride.
The performance, and the related MetaFilter thread, with discussion on how it strategically breaks the sonnet pattern.
posted by filthy light thief at 2:16 PM on October 27, 2016 [1 favorite]

Love's the boy stood on the burning deck
trying to recite "The boy stood on
the burning deck." Love's the son
stood stammering elocution
while the poor ship in flames went down.

Love's the obstinate boy, the ship,
even the swimming sailors, who
would like a schoolroom platform, too,
or an excuse to stay
on deck. And love's the burning boy.

--Elizabeth Bishop
posted by the hot hot side of randy at 8:55 PM on November 12, 2016

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