02/13/2011 11:08 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Love Poems Your Valentine Probably Hasn't Read

If you're still searching for the right words to use on Valentine's Day, and want to be a little more creative than, "How do I love thee? Let me count the ways," consider the following lesser-known love poems by Marvell, Rilke, Yeats, Lawrence, Neruda, and Bob Dylan. Your valentine probably hasn't read them, though all bets are off if she was an English major.


"To His Coy Mistress" by Andrew Marvell

This is a good choice if you want to go with something classic that you'll never hear at a wedding. One can read the poem as an eloquent (17th Century) attempt to get a woman into bed -- the poem is structured as an argument to that effect, with passages like:

Had we but world enough, and time,
This coyness, Lady, were no crime

But it's hard to resist the power of Marvell's language when he gets rolling. I love the stubborn, transcendent final couplet:

Thus, though we cannot make our sun
Stand still, yet we will make him run.


"Pathways" by Rainer Maria Rilke

You might know Rilke for his sprawling, passionate Duino Elegies. "Pathways," in contrast, is brief and considerably softer, with a heartwarming turn at the end.


"A Drinking Song" by William Butler Yeats

I wrote about this Yeats poem a few years back. It's one of my favorite love poems: understated, timeless, and just perfect.


"The Elephant Is Slow to Mate" by D.H. Lawrence

Yes, it's a love poem about elephants mating, but give it a chance. The poor elephants wait so long before they consummate their elephant love, waiting, Lawrence writes,

for the sympathy in their vast shy hearts
slowly, slowly to rouse

You'll be so won over by the beasts that you won't even wince when they "touch in flood" at the end. You might even be touched yourself.


"Love Sonnet XI" by Pablo Neruda

In contrast to Lawrence's poem, this Neruda sonnet is aggressive and brimming over with sensuality. It's another one that uses animal imagery well.

I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
hunting for you, for your hot heart,
like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.


"Love Minus Zero/No Limit" by Bob Dylan

Technically, these are song lyrics, but Dylan is a talented poet. And if you or your significant other get a little jaded this time of year, you'll love lines like this:

My love she laughs like the flowers

Valentines can't buy her


Enjoy your Valentine's Day. And feel free to your own recommendations in the comments section below.