This is not a love poem...
July 10, 2023 9:41 AM   Subscribe

...well, actually, it is. I'm asking you all for your favorite love poem that isn't all "I love you love you love you." Which is not to say that it should be equivocal or love/hate or anything like that. A love poem that subtly expresses love between two adults who aren't siblings, parent/child, etc. Thanks.
posted by the sobsister to Media & Arts (54 answers total) 44 users marked this as a favorite
e.e. cummings
posted by LionIndex at 10:00 AM on July 10 [3 favorites]

John Donne, The Sun Rising
posted by praemunire at 10:14 AM on July 10

Edwin Muir, The Confirmation
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 10:18 AM on July 10

An absolute favorite would change depending on the day you asked but here are a few contenders today:

Dorianne Laux, "Music in the Morning"
Bob Hicok, "Going Big."
Ali Shapiro, "Pittsburgh"
posted by Stacey at 10:25 AM on July 10 [6 favorites]

U A Fanthorpe, Atlas
There are many others ...
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 10:32 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

De León, In the Plaza We Walk.
posted by cobaltnine at 10:35 AM on July 10

Poem by Langston Hughes

I loved my friend.
He went away from me.
There’s nothing more to say.
The poem ends,
Soft as it began,—
I loved my friend.
posted by mezzanayne at 10:37 AM on July 10 [6 favorites]

Pathways by 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 ImproviseOrDie at 10:43 AM on July 10 [18 favorites]

Two of my favorites:

Happiness, by William Dickey
Oranges, by Wendy Cope

The latter is a bit explicit (it outright says "I love you" in the last line) but still in my mind it captures a mood somewhere between happily in love and dearly enfriended.
posted by gauche at 10:53 AM on July 10 [5 favorites]

Leonard Cohen's "sweetest little song": you go your way//I'll go your way too

Billy Collins' Litany?

Maybe too much "I love you"ness, but Mary Oliver's Felicity?
posted by adekllny at 11:00 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

I Wanna Be Yours by John Cooper Clarke.
posted by HandfulOfDust at 11:10 AM on July 10

It's a song (which IMHO is its own kind of poetry) - but Got You by Noah Reid:

Well if I fall behind don't wait up for me I will catch up to you
Darling I'll be fine, I won't be far behind
And if you're fallin' down I'll remember that it's not only up to me
You don't need someone to protect you
But you got me and I get you
And you get me and I got you

Oh and don't it feel sometimes like the whole damn world is conspiring against you?
And ain't justice blind? Oh and ain't life unkind?
But don't you ever doubt, don't you ever question my love for you
I will help you out if you let me
'Cause I got you - do you get me?
Oh I'm gonna get you like you got me
posted by okayokayigive at 11:16 AM on July 10 [1 favorite]

Love Poem With Toast

Some of what we do, we do
to make things happen,
the alarm to wake us up, the coffee to perc,
the car to start.

The rest of what we do, we do
trying to keep something from doing something,
the skin from aging, the hoe from rusting,
the truth from getting out.

With yes and no like the poles of a battery
powering our passage through the days,
we move, as we call it, forward,
wanting to be wanted,
wanting not to lose the rain forest,
wanting the water to boil,
wanting not to have cancer,
wanting to be home by dark,
wanting not to run out of gas,

as each of us wants the other
watching at the end,
as both want not to leave the other alone,
as wanting to love beyond this meat and bone,
we gaze across breakfast and pretend.
—Miller Williams
posted by CMcG at 11:17 AM on July 10 [5 favorites]

Except for the body
of someone you love,
including all its expressions
in privacy and in public,

trees, I think,
are the most beautiful
forms on the earth.

Though, admittedly,
if this were a contest,
the trees would come in
an extremely distant second.
— Mary Oliver
posted by thebots at 11:22 AM on July 10 [7 favorites]

A Man Meets a Woman in the Street by Randall Jarrell. Hopefully not too on the nose? It ends thus:

...We've no need
To start out on Proust, to ask each other about Strauss.
We first helped each other, hurt each other, years ago.
After so many changes made and joys repeated,
Our first bewildered, transcending recognition
Is pure acceptance. We can't tell our life
From our wish. Really I began the day
Not with a man's wish: "May this day be different,"
But with the birds' wish: "May this day
Be the same day, the day of my life."
posted by Gamera4President at 11:23 AM on July 10

Hovis Presley, I Rely on You
posted by Martha My Dear Prudence at 11:27 AM on July 10

Response by poster: These are awesome! Thanks to everyone so far.
posted by the sobsister at 11:40 AM on July 10

Galway Kinnell's After Making Love We Hear Footsteps might fit the bill:

For I can snore like a bullhorn
or play loud music
or sit up talking with any reasonably sober Irishman
and Fergus will only sink deeper
into his dreamless sleep, which goes by all in one flash,
but let there be that heavy breathing
or a stifled come-cry anywhere in the house
and he will wrench himself awake
and make for it on the run—as now, we lie together,
after making love, quiet, touching along the length of our bodies,
familiar touch of the long-married,
and he appears—in his baseball pajamas, it happens,
the neck opening so small he has to screw them on—
and flops down between us and hugs us and snuggles himself to sleep,
his face gleaming with satisfaction at being this very child.

In the half darkness we look at each other
and smile
and touch arms across this little, startlingly muscled body—
this one whom habit of memory propels to the ground of his making,
sleeper only the mortal sounds can sing awake,
this blessing love gives again into our arms.
posted by Well I never at 12:07 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]

My Felisberto by James Tate
posted by stinker at 12:08 PM on July 10

Sleeping With You by Ellen Bass

Is there anything more wonderful?
After we have floundered
through our separate pain

we come to this. I bind myself to you,
like otters wrapped in kelp, so the current
will not steal us as we sleep.

Through the night we turn together,
rocked in the shallow surf,
pebbles polished by the sea.

In the Middle of This Century by Yehuda Amichai, translated by Assia Gutmann

In the middle of this century we turned to each other
With half faces and full eyes
like an ancient Egyptian picture
And for a short while.

I stroked your hair
In the opposite direction to your journey,
We called to each other,
Like calling out the names of towns
Where nobody stops
Along the route.

Lovely is the world rising early to evil,
Lovely is the world falling asleep to sin and pity,
In the mingling of ourselves, you and I,
Lovely is the world.

The earth drinks men and their loves
Like wine,
To forget.
It can't.
And like the contours of the Judean hills,
We shall never find peace.

In the middle of this century we turned to each other,
I saw your body, throwing shade, waiting for me,
The leather straps for a long journey
Already tightening across my chest.
I spoke in praise of your mortal hips,
You spoke in praise of my passing face,
I stroked your hair in the direction of your journey,
I touched your flesh, prophet of your end,
I touched your hand which has never slept,
I touched your mouth which may yet sing.

Dust from the desert covered the table
At which we did not eat
But with my finger I wrote on it
The letters of your name.

for you by Eileen Myles

the shape
of this

&her smell

&the shine in the small
lit room
to the boy

replace him
w you &
let me love
that shine
in you

let me.

This Sugar by Aimee Nezhukumatathil

When you ask me to split a dessert with you, I wince
because I don’t like to share my restaurant food

and there is the matter of who pays for what.
If I don’t order a drink and just have a salad,

always the person in the group who gobbled steak,
a glass of wine, and two appetizers says, Let’s just split

the check equally! But you, you raise your eyebrows when
the waitress mentions a brambleberry tart and maybe

so do I. When she places the piping-hot pie dish
with two funnels of steam and two spoons, you look

at me and say: dig in. We have already tasted
from each other’s lips when we’ve shared cold glasses

before. I’m fairly certain across this table across the slide
of the fork, even the knife we both use—this is how

thumbnail-sized coquina clams feel when they tumble
and toss into the shoreline from an impending storm—

how they gasp and slide their feet trying to brace
themselves, then thwap—another wave. And after

that tumble, the sunlight glows below you, and then
above you, where it should be, and I wipe my mouth

with the pink napkin and in the folds of that napkin
is a lipstick kiss where the kiss should be—never

between your neck and shoulder. Our mouths will press
only on this sugar, this glaze, and this caramelized topping.

The Embrace by Mark Doty

You weren’t well or really ill yet either;
just a little tired, your handsomeness
tinged by grief or anticipation, which brought
to your face a thoughtful, deepening grace.

I didn’t for a moment doubt you were dead.
I knew that to be true still, even in the dream.
You’d been out—at work maybe?—
having a good day, almost energetic.

We seemed to be moving from some old house
where we’d lived, boxes everywhere, things
in disarray: that was the story of my dream,
but even asleep I was shocked out of the narrative

by your face, the physical fact of your face:
inches from mine, smooth-shaven, loving, alert.
Why so difficult, remembering the actual look
of you? Without a photograph, without strain?

So when I saw your unguarded, reliable face,
your unmistakable gaze opening all the warmth
and clarity of —warm brown tea—we held
each other for the time the dream allowed.

Bless you. You came back, so I could see you
once more, plainly, so I could rest against you
without thinking this happiness lessened anything,
without thinking you were alive again.

Poem by Mikko Harvey

The number
of hours
we have
together is
actually not
so large.
Please linger
near the
door uncomfortably
instead of
just leaving.
Please forget
your scarf
in my
life and
come back
later for it.
posted by wicked_sassy at 12:58 PM on July 10 [5 favorites]

If songs are ok:
Max Stalling - Running Buddy

Hey, runnin' buddy, what'll you say to a twelve pack?
Hey, runnin' buddy, whatcha say to runnin' some lines?
Hey, runnin' buddy, don't you remember the good times we had
Before you hooked up with that San Antonio girl?

Well, we never just go drink beer like we used to
Road hunt, shoot signs, or shoot the breeze
Every weekend, he loads up and goes to see her
I guess that old gal's just way more fun than me

Velocity Girl - Audrey's Eyes
And she doesn't even know
Just how beautiful she is
And she doesn't even see
Just how beautiful she is
To me

When I looked into Audrey's eyes
That day my whole world capsized
The day she left so far away from me

Please drop me a line
If you're so inclined
At least then I would know that you're alive
posted by The_Vegetables at 1:42 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]

A Summer's Day, by Tom Leonard:

Yir eyes ur
a mean yir
pirrit this wey
ah a thingk yir
byewtifl like ehm
fact a thingk yir
ach a luvyi that’s
jist thi wey it iz like
thahts ehm
aw ther iz ti say
posted by Ballad of Peckham Rye at 1:44 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]

Theodore Roethke: I knew a woman, lovely in her bones
posted by Pallas Athena at 2:06 PM on July 10

Friendship by Elizabeth Jennings
posted by Cheese Monster at 2:25 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]

What a fun ask! I present you with two of my favorites.

Variations on the Word Sleep by Margaret Atwood.


I would like to be the air
that inhabits you for a moment
only. I would like to be that unnoticed
& that necessary.


Richard Brautigan's poem:

Romeo and Juliet

If you will die for me,
I will die for you

and our graves will
be like two lovers washing
their clothes together
in a laundromat.

If you will bring the soap,
I will bring the bleach.

posted by dearadeline at 3:32 PM on July 10 [3 favorites]

There’s a poem I’ve always sort of half remembered, and I could swear it was Charles Simic, but maybe not? Short, perfect, and something along the lines of:

Do not die
In the next world
They might put you
Further away from me
posted by Ghidorah at 3:48 PM on July 10

Natural History
by E.B. White

The spider, dropping down from twig,
Unfolds a plan of her devising,
A thin premeditated rig
To use in rising.

And all that journey down through space,
In cool descent and loyal hearted,
She spins a ladder to the place
From where she started.

Thus I, gone forth as spiders do
In spider's web a truth discerning,
Attach one silken thread to you
For my returning.
posted by gudrun at 5:36 PM on July 10

Peeling an Orange

Between you and a bowl of oranges I lie nude
Reading The World’s Illusion through my tears.
You reach across me hungry for global fruit,
Your bare arm hard, furry and warm on my belly.
Your fingers pry the skin of a navel orange
Releasing tiny explosions of spicy oil.
You place peeled disks of gold in a bizarre pattern
On my white body. Rearranging, you bend and bite
The disks to release further their eager scent.
I say “Stop, you’re tickling,” my eyes still on the page.
Aromas of groves arise. Through green leaves
Glow the lofty snows. Through red lips
Your white teeth close on a translucent segment.
Your face over my face eclipses The World’s Illusion.
Pulp and juice pass into my mouth from your mouth.
We laugh against each other’s lips. I hold my book
Behind your head, still reading, still weeping a little.
You say “Read on, I’m just an illusion,” rolling
Over upon me soothingly, gently unmoving,
Smiling greenly through long lashes. And soon
I say “Don’t stop. Don’t disillusion me.”
Snows melt. The mountain silvers into many a stream.
The oranges are golden worlds in a dark dream.”

― Virginia Adair, Ants on the Melon: A Collection of Poems
posted by woot at 5:50 PM on July 10

I wish I were close
To you as the wet skirt of
A salt girl to her body.
I think of you always.

-- Yamabe no Akahito
posted by dobbs at 6:35 PM on July 10

Others may forget you, but not I.
I am haunted by your beautiful ghost.

-- The Empress Yamatohime
posted by dobbs at 6:52 PM on July 10

In the empty mountains
The leaves of the bamboo grass
Rustle in the wind.
I think of a girl
Who is not here.

-- Hitomaro
posted by dobbs at 6:54 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]

Also Richard Brautigan:

Forget love.
I want to die in your yellow hair.
posted by dobbs at 7:16 PM on July 10

Beneath My Hands
by Leonard Cohen

Beneath my hands
your small breasts
are the upturned bellies
of breathing fallen sparrows.

Wherever you move
I hear the sounds of closing wings
of falling wings.

I am speechless
because you have fallen beside me
because your eyelashes
are the spines of tiny fragile animals.

I dread the time
when your mouth
begins to call me hunter.

When you call me close
to tell me
your body is not beautiful
I want to summon
the eyes and hidden mouths
of stone and light and water
to testify against you.

I want them
to surrender before you
the trembling rhyme of your face
from their deep caskets.

When you call me close
to tell me
your body is not beautiful
I want my body and my hands
to be pools
for your looking and laughing.
posted by dobbs at 7:25 PM on July 10

Answer - Carol Ann Duffy

If you were made of stone,
your kiss a fossil sealed up in your lips,
your eyes a sightless marble to my touch,
your grey hands pooling raindrops for the birds,
your long legs cold as rivers locked in ice,
if you were stone, if you were made of stone, yes, yes.

If you were made of fire,
your head a wild Medusa hissing flame,
your tongue a red-hot poker in your throat,
your heart a small coal glowing in your chest,
your fingers burning pungent brands on flesh,
if you were fire, if you were made of fire, yes, yes.

If you were made of water,
your voice a roaring, foaming waterfall,
your arms a whirlpool spinning me around,
your breast a deep, dark lake nursing the drowned,
your mouth an ocean, waves torn from your breath,
if you were water, if you were made of water, yes, yes.

If you were made of air,
your face empty and infinite as sky,
your words a wind with litter for its nouns,
your movements sudden gusts among the clouds,
your body only breeze against my dress,
if you were air, if you were made of air, yes, yes.

If you were made of air, if you were air,
if you were made of water, if you were water,
if you were made of fire, if you were fire,
if you were made of stone, if you were stone,
or if you were none of these, but really death,
the answer is yes, yes.
posted by dobbs at 7:28 PM on July 10 [2 favorites]

Separation” by W.S. Merwin - a tiny, perfect poem.
posted by Empidonax at 8:24 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]

I Love You Sweatheart, by Thomas Lux

A man risked his life to write the words.
A man hung upside down (an idiot friend
holding his legs?) with spray paint
to write the words on a girder fifty feet above
a highway. And his beloved,
the next morning driving to work…?
His words are not (meant to be) so unique.
Does she recognize his handwriting?
Did he hint to her at her doorstep the night before
of "something special, darling, tomorrow"?
And did he call her at work
expecting her to faint with delight
at his celebration of her, his passion, his risk?
She will know I love her now,
the world will know my love for her!
A man risked his life to write the words.
Love is like this at the bone, we hope, love
is like this, Sweetheart, all sore and dumb
and dangerous, ignited, blessed - always,
regardless, no exceptions,
always in blazing matters like these: blessed.
posted by ActionPopulated at 9:22 PM on July 10 [1 favorite]

Frank O'hara - Present

This one makes me teary eyed every time.
posted by flod at 12:06 AM on July 11 [1 favorite]

Twenty-One Love Poems [Poem III] by Adrienne Rich

Since we’re not young, weeks have to do time
for years of missing each other. Yet only this odd warp
in time tells me we’re not young.
Did I ever walk the morning streets at twenty,
my limbs streaming with a purer joy?
did I lean from any window over the city
listening for the future
as I listen here with nerves tuned for your ring?
And you, you move toward me with the same tempo.
Your eyes are everlasting, the green spark
of the blue-eyed grass of early summer,
the green-blue wild cress washed by the spring.
At twenty, yes: we thought we’d live forever.
At forty-five, I want to know even our limits.
I touch you knowing we weren’t born tomorrow,
and somehow, each of us will help the other live,
and somewhere, each of us must help the other die.
posted by wicked_sassy at 3:39 AM on July 11 [4 favorites]

(Bruce Springsteen)

We said we'd walk together, baby, come what may;
That come the twilight, should we lose our way
If as we're walking a hand should slip free,
I'll wait for you; should I fall behind, wait for me

We swore we'd travel, darling, side by side
We'd help each other stay in stride
But each lover's steps fall so differently
But I'll wait for you; and if I should fall behind, wait for me

Now everyone dreams of love lasting and true
But you and I know what this world can do
So let's make our steps clear, that the other may see
And I'll wait for you; and if I should fall behind, wait for me

Now there's a beautiful river in the valley ahead
There 'neath the oak's bough, soon we'll be wed
Should we lose each other in the shadow of the evening trees
I'll wait for you, should I fall behind wait for me
Darling, I'll wait for you; should I fall behind, wait for me

[I am partial to Linda Ronstadt's version)
posted by I_Love_Bananas at 9:35 AM on July 11

Response by poster: Thanks again to everyone for sharing their poem(s). These are terrific.
posted by the sobsister at 12:10 PM on July 11

What language is this
that equates I love you
with I love turnips?
Can we not have another word
for passion, steady passion,
the agony that launched a thousand ships?
And let it be fresh,
yet one we're used to:
I home you. You breathe me. We stallion.
If you cannot be a singer, be a story.
If you cannot be a story, be a song.
Say it, now,
to yourself, your love, your other:
I Rome you.
You Pompeii me.
I wouldn't Judas you.

-Joseph Fasano
posted by ocherdraco at 3:02 PM on July 11 [2 favorites]

One of my favorite love poems (can't convince me otherwise) is only two lines:
Toad sat and did nothing.
Frog sat with him.

posted by xedrik at 4:51 PM on July 11 [6 favorites]

In Defense of Our Overgrown Garden
posted by oldnumberseven at 7:22 PM on July 11 [1 favorite]

Two more, both from Kim Addonizio:

“First Poem for You”

I like to touch your tattoos in complete
darkness, when I can’t see them. I’m sure of
where they are, know by heart the neat
lines of lightning pulsing just above
your nipple, can find, as if by instinct, the blue
swirls of water on your shoulder where a serpent
twists, facing a dragon. When I pull you

to me, taking you until we’re spent
and quiet on the sheets, I love to kiss
the pictures in your skin. They’ll last until
you’re seared to ashes; whatever persists
or turns to pain between us, they will still
be there. Such permanence is terrifying.
So I touch them in the dark; but touch them, trying.

"To the Woman Crying Uncontrollably in the Next Stall"

If you ever woke in your dress at 4am ever
closed your legs to someone you loved opened
them for someone you didn’t moved against
a pillow in the dark stood miserably on a beach
seaweed clinging to your ankles paid
good money for a bad haircut backed away
from a mirror that wanted to kill you bled
into the back seat for lack of a tampon
if you swam across a river under rain sang
using a dildo for a microphone stayed up
to watch the moon eat the sun entire
ripped out the stitches in your heart
because why not if you think nothing &
no one can / listen I love you joy is coming
posted by wicked_sassy at 6:33 AM on July 12 [4 favorites]

From Kahlil Gibran's "The Prophet":

"Let there be spaces in your togetherness, And let the winds of the heavens dance between you. Love one another but make not a bond of love: Let it rather be a moving sea between the shores of your souls. Fill each other's cup but drink not from one cup. Give one another of your bread but eat not from the same loaf. Sing and dance together and be joyous, but let each one of you be alone, Even as the strings of a lute are alone though they quiver with the same music. Give your hearts, but not into each other's keeping. For only the hand of Life can contain your hearts. And stand together, yet not too near together: For the pillars of the temple stand apart, And the oak tree and the cypress grow not in each other's shadow."
posted by Quietgal at 12:29 PM on July 12 [1 favorite]

"I can see you clearly now,
In the morning light...
After the spent warmth
Of the quiet night.
And now that I can see you,
In the morning sun...
I find you're more beautiful
Than I thought when we were one."

I've never looked this poem up; it was hand written and given to me by my first love, and I've treasured it for the last 40 years. I don't know if it was his or something he came across but it's my favorite love poem.
posted by annieb at 6:12 PM on July 12

Valentine, by Carol Ann Duffy

Not a red rose or a satin heart.

I give you an onion.
It is a moon wrapped in brown paper.
It promises light
like the careful undressing of love.

It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.

I am trying to be truthful.

Not a cute card or a kissogram.

I give you an onion.
Its fierce kiss will stay on your lips,
possessive and faithful
as we are,
for as long as we are.

Take it.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding ring,
if you like.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.
posted by madamepsychosis at 8:49 AM on July 21

The Shampoo
Elizabeth Bishop

The still explosions on the rocks,
the lichens, grow
by spreading, gray, concentric shocks.
They have arranged
to meet the rings around the moon, although
within our memories they have not changed.

And since the heavens will attend
as long on us,
you've been, dear friend,
precipitate and pragmatical;
and look what happens. For Time is
nothing if not amenable.

The shooting stars in your black hair
in bright formation
are flocking where,
so straight, so soon?
--Come, let me wash it in this big tin basin,
battered and shiny like the moon.
posted by palace hi-fi at 10:28 AM on July 21 [1 favorite]

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