soft but biting
November 27, 2018 6:58 AM   Subscribe

Give me your bittersweet love poems.

Your poems for starting something that you know is a bad idea, your poems for ending something that was fun nonetheless. Your poems for bad decisions and throwing caution to the wind. The taste in your mouth, the pounding of your heart, the jumping in despite.
posted by quadrilaterals to Writing & Language (25 answers total) 20 users marked this as a favorite
And: when your heart will get hurt, and: when you do it anyway.
posted by quadrilaterals at 7:00 AM on November 27, 2018

Robert Browning, "The Last Ride Together"

Byron, "When We Two Parted"
posted by Bardolph at 7:28 AM on November 27, 2018

Matthew Arnold, Dover Beach
posted by holborne at 7:38 AM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Erich Fried, What it is

Philip Larkin, An Arundel Tomb

One of my favourites is Ingeborg Bachmann, Erklär mir Liebe. Sadly I coudn't quickly find a good English translation to link to.
posted by sohalt at 7:51 AM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Stanley Kunitz, After the Last Dynasty
posted by drlith at 7:53 AM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Okay, the Larkin poem doesn't particularly fit the brief, but it's argueably bitter and sweet and about love.
posted by sohalt at 7:58 AM on November 27, 2018

Mary Oliver


Not anyone who says, “I’m going to be
careful and smart in matters of love,”
who says, “I’m going to choose slowly,”
but only those lovers who didn’t choose at all
but were, as it were, chosen
by something invisible and powerful and uncontrollable
and beautiful and possibly even
unsuitable —
only those know what I’m talking about
in this talking about love.
posted by lydhre at 8:00 AM on November 27, 2018 [8 favorites]

The time will come
when, with elation
you will greet yourself arriving
at your own door, in your own mirror
and each will smile at the other's welcome,

and say, sit here. Eat.
You will love again the stranger who was your self.
Give wine. Give bread. Give back your heart
to itself, to the stranger who has loved you

all your life, whom you ignored
for another, who knows you by heart.
Take down the love letters from the bookshelf,

the photographs, the desperate notes,
peel your own image from the mirror.
Sit. Feast on your life.

--Derek Walcott
posted by humph at 8:02 AM on November 27, 2018 [5 favorites]

Elizabeth Bishop, One Art
posted by FencingGal at 8:07 AM on November 27, 2018 [3 favorites]

Passer Mortuus Est by Edna St. Vincent Millay
posted by soelo at 8:31 AM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]


but you know how to raise it in me
like a dead girl winched up from a river. How to
wash off the sludge, the stench of our past.
How to start clean. This love even sits up
and blinks; amazed, she takes a few shaky steps.
Any day now she'll try to eat solid food. She'll want
to get into a fast car, one low to the ground, and drive
to some cinderblock shithole in the desert
where she can drink and get sick and then
dance in nothing but her underwear. You know
where she's headed, you know she'll wake up
with an ache she can't locate and no money
and a terrible thirst. So to hell
with your warm hands sliding inside my shirt
and your tongue down my throat
like an oxygen tube. Cover me
in black plastic. Let the mourners through.

Kim Addonizio
posted by nebulawindphone at 8:35 AM on November 27, 2018 [6 favorites]

A Story About The Body, by Robert Haas
The young composer, working that summer at an artist’s colony, had watched her for a week. She was Japanese, a painter, almost sixty, and he thought he was in love with her. He loved her work, and her work was like the way she moved her body, used her hands, looked at him directly when she mused and considered answers to his questions. One night, walking back from a concert, they came to her door and she turned to him and said, “I think you would like to have me. I would like that too, but I must tell you that I have had a double mastectomy,” and when he didn’t understand, “I’ve lost both my breasts.” The radiance that he had carried around in his belly and chest cavity-like music-withered quickly, and he made himself look at her when he said, “I’m sorry I don’t think I could.” He walked back to his own cabin through the pines, and in the morning he found a small blue bowl on the porch outside his door. It looked to be full of rose petals, but he found when he picked it up that the rose petals were on top; the rest of the bowl--she must have swept the corners of her studio--was full of dead bees.
posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 9:01 AM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Wendy Cope has some great ones, in order of bitter to sweet:
Bloody Men
After the lunch
posted by JonB at 9:51 AM on November 27, 2018 [4 favorites]

Margaret Atwood:

You fit into me
like a hook into an eye

a fish hook
an open eye
posted by Empidonax at 11:41 AM on November 27, 2018 [7 favorites]

Paul Celan: Corona
posted by 15L06 at 11:45 AM on November 27, 2018

Any fool can get into an ocean, by Jack Spicer.

What it looks like to us and the words we use, by Ada Limón.
posted by DSime at 11:48 AM on November 27, 2018 [1 favorite]

Hmm, I reckon most leonard cohen lyrics fit this bill to a greater or lesser degree...
posted by elgee at 2:01 PM on November 27, 2018

Oh yes. Looks like it's Shakespeare o'clock.

A bunch of the late sonnets are basically like: "This is a terrible idea and I'm going to do it anyway" and "This was a terrible idea and we did it, oh shit."

Bear in mind that Shakespeare wrote all of these while his wife and kids were back in Stratford.

Sonnet 129: The expense of spirit in a waste of shame
The ultimate "bad idea but here I go" sonnet. Spirit meant semen; to spend it meant... yeah, that. You KNOW you want it; you KNOW that 2 seconds afterwards you'll plunge into regret and shame.

Sonnet 138:
When my love swears that she is made of truth
I do believe her, though I know she lies

Sonnet 144: Two loves I have, of comfort and despair
Shakespeare suspects that his ex?-boyfriend may be shagging his current mistress

Sonnet 147:
My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease

Shakespeare didn't know the word "addiction", but this is about that. Final couplet is a zinger.

Sonnet 152: In loving thee thou know'st I am forsworn
We're both cheating on other people. This can't last. I'm kind of disgusted with both of us.

While we're at it, some more Renaissance dudes:

John Donne, Go and catch a falling star: no woman is faithful, like ever

Sir Philip Sidney: "Desiring naught but how to kill desire" is an AMAZING sonnet. Just.... read it.

Michael Drayton, ending something that was fun:
Since there's no help, come let us kiss and part.
Nay, I have done, you get no more of me

posted by Pallas Athena at 2:49 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Failing and Flying by Jack Gilbert is a personal favourite.

Everyone forgets that Icarus also flew.
It’s the same when love comes to an end,
or the marriage fails and people say
they knew it was a mistake, that everybody
said it would never work. That she was
old enough to know better. But anything
worth doing is worth doing badly.
Like being there by that summer ocean
on the other side of the island while
love was fading out of her, the stars
burning so extravagantly those nights that
anyone could tell you they would never last.
Every morning she was asleep in my bed
like a visitation, the gentleness in her
like antelope standing in the dawn mist.
Each afternoon I watched her coming back
through the hot stony field after swimming,
the sea light behind her and the huge sky
on the other side of that. Listened to her
while we ate lunch. How can they say
the marriage failed? Like the people who
came back from Provence (when it was Provence)
and said it was pretty but the food was greasy.
I believe Icarus was not failing as he fell,
but just coming to the end of his triumph.
posted by dostoevskygirl at 5:04 PM on November 27, 2018 [6 favorites]

Richard Siken, Litany in Which Certain Things Are Crossed Out
posted by karayel at 7:13 PM on November 27, 2018

The Uses of Sorrow, by Mary Oliver

(In my sleep I dreamed this poem)

Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
posted by BeeJiddy at 10:06 PM on November 27, 2018 [2 favorites]

Favoriting the ones that I love.

No one’s fated or doomed to love anyone.
The accidents happen, we’re not heroines,
they happen in our lives like car crashes,
books that change us, neighborhoods
we move into and come to love.
Tristan und Isolde is scarcely the story,
women at least should know the difference
between love and death. No poison cup,
no penance. Merely a notion that the tape-recorder
should have caught some ghost of us: that tape-recorder
not merely played but should have listened to us,
and could instruct those after us:
this we were, this is how we tried to love,
and these are the forces they had ranged against us,
and these are the forces we had ranged within us
within us and against us, against us and within us.

-- Adriene Rich
posted by quadrilaterals at 12:26 AM on November 28, 2018 [2 favorites]

Dorothy Parker has a LOT of bittersweet love poems (emphasis on the bitter, and some of them are cheekier than others) but this one is my favorite, although maybe more sad and unrequited love-oriented than what you were looking for:

After Spanish Proverb

Oh, mercifullest one of all,
Oh, generous as dear,
None lived so lowly, none so small,
Thou couldst withhold thy tear:

How swift, in pure compassion,
How meek in charity,
To offer friendship to the one
Who begged but love of thee!

Oh, gentle word, and sweetest said!
Oh, tender hand, and first
To hold the warm, delicious bread
To lips burned black of thirst.
posted by helloimjennsco at 7:56 AM on November 28, 2018

In the Desert

In the desert
I saw a creature, naked, bestial,
Who, squatting upon the ground,
Held his heart in his hands,
And ate of it.
I said, “Is it good, friend?”
“It is bitter—bitter,” he answered;

“But I like it
“Because it is bitter,
“And because it is my heart.”
posted by the man of twists and turns at 9:06 AM on November 28, 2018

“Everything Good between Men and Women”

has been written in mud and butter
and barbecue sauce. The walls and
the floors used to be gorgeous.
The socks off-white and a near match.
The quince with fire blight
but we get two pints of jelly
in the end. Long walks strengthen
the back. You with a fever blister
and myself with a sty. Eyes
have we and we are forever prey
to each other’s teeth. The torrents
go over us. Thunder has not harmed
anyone we know. The river coursing
through us is dirty and deep. The left
hand protects the rhythm. Watch
your head. No fires should be
unattended. Especially when wind. Each
receives a free swiss army knife.
The first few tongues are clearly
preparatory. The impression
made by yours I carry to my grave. It is
just so sad so creepy so beautiful.
Bless it. We have so little time
to learn, so much… The river
courses dirty and deep. Cover the lettuce.
Call it a night. O soul. Flow on. Instead.

-C. D. Wright, “Everything Good between Men and Women” from Steal Away: New and Selected Poems
posted by Cozybee at 1:45 AM on December 2, 2018 [1 favorite]

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