Sure, it's a cliché, but poets do write about love an awful lot. And it's a rare poem that makes a convincing case that its author doesn't need all this love business. But in honor of the single people on Valentine's Day, I've tracked down a few poems you won't find in a Hallmark card.
While I didn't include any romantic poems in this column, I did choose two from the Romantic period. One by William Wordsworth, whom the critic William Hazlitt described as writing "as if there were nothing, but himself and the universe. He lives in the busy solitude of his own heart." Wordsworth himself once wrote that "Nature never did betray the heart that loved her," whereas people... people do that sort of thing. The rewards that Wordsworth gleaned from his solitary forays into nature are clear in this excerpt from his famous poem "I Wandered Lonely as a Cloud":
I wandered lonely as a cloud
That floats on high o'er vales and hills,
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils;
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,
Fluttering and dancing in the breeze.
For oft, when on my couch I lie
In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude;
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.
Lord Byron, another poet of the Romantic period, is celebrated more these days for his wit and lifestyle than for his ear, but he had a fine ear. He put it to good use in his gorgeous poem "So We'll Go No More A-Roving." Byron was the Don Juan of his time -- his candle burned at both ends, as Edna St. Vincent Millay put it -- but he was prone to fits of melancholy, and I like to think that he wrote these lines while hung over, just wanting a break from it all:
So we'll go no more a-roving
So late into the night,
Though the heart be still as loving,
And the moon be still as bright.
For the sword outwears its sheath
And the soul wears out the breast,
And the heart must pause to breathe,
And Love itself have rest.
Though the night was made for loving,
And the day returns too soon,
Yet we'll go no more a-roving
By the light of the moon.
If you're sick of chocolates and helium balloon hearts, you'll appreciate this next one. Robert Frost, in his poem "To Earthward," proclaims that he no longer craves the unabashedly sweet and beautiful. He desires a more earth-bound and well-rounded sensual and emotional experience from life. Here's an excerpt:
Now no joy but lacks salt,
That is not dashed with pain
And weariness and fault;
I crave the stain
Of tears, the aftermark
Of almost too much love,
The Sweet of bitter bark
And burning clove.
Finally, poets often critique the sputtering out of love in pained relationships, but you could argue that no one has done it as effectively as Robert Lowell did in "To Speak of Woe That Is in Marriage," which makes being single seem positively necessary:
...Each night now I tie
ten dollars and his car key to my thigh...
Gored by the climacteric of his want,
he stalls above me like an elephant.
And that's just a taste of it. So if you're going to be single this Valentine's Day, channel your inner Wordsworth and celebrate yourself and the universe. Or at least be thankful that no one will be stalled above you like (oh my) an elephant.