Well, it’s that time of year again. Roses and cheesy movies and even cheesier public displays of affection that no one in particular wants to see. Love, and showing love, have become somewhat of a competition to see who can make the showiest gesture on social media. What happened to good old fashioned mixtapes that you embarrassingly hand to your crush? However, who am I to judge how people express their love? Valentine’s Day’s virtue is in allowing people to tell others they love them, which is wonderful in itself. Not to mention, love is more than just overly romantic Hallmark films. Love has many forms— so many, in fact, that the Ancient Greeks had several words denoting certain types of love. If you want to show someone you love that you’re thinking of them today, here are six poems for all kinds of love. Send one to your preferred person, or do a dramatic reading of the poem, or just enjoy these by yourself.
Now, this is the traditional romantic (and erotic), passionate love many people are searching for. “The one,” someone you can be intimate with on all levels, etc, etc. Audre Lorde describes eros perfectly with her poem “Recreation.” Audre Lorde is one of my favorite poets, and I picked this one because as a queer woman, I wanted to include a poem that related to my love life (though it can certainly be read by anyone).
my body / writes into your flesh / the poem / you make of me
Philia is platonic love, such as with a best friend. Here, Emily Brontë predates the phrase “bros before hos” with her poem “Love and Friendship.” Most people only know her work in Wuthering Heights, so I thought I’d share some of her poetic talent as well.
Agape is altruistic love, selfless love for everyone around you. Shel Silverstein’s “Hug o’ War” describes his desire for everyone to get along, converting tug-of-war into a big old hugfest. Shel Silverstein may be a children’s writer, but it’s his nostalgic tone and childlike wonder that connects with kids and adults alike.
Storge is a familial love, especially between parents and children. Robert Hayden’s poem “Those Winter Sundays” instantly came to mind for me, as the narrator reflects on everything his father did for him that he took for granted, proving actions show love just as much as words do. I think that oftentimes we don’t realize all of the sacrifices our parents make for us, whether it’s getting out of bed early in the morning to start a fire and keep the house warm, or something larger. This poem is beautiful in its subtlety and language.
What did I know, what did I know / of love’s austere and lonely offices?
Commonly known as self-love. Loving yourself is probably the most important love you should have in your life—since you’re always going to be there for you. Derek Walcott writes about loving oneself after a breakup in “Love After Love.” If you’re looking for another poem in a similar tone, try “Lovesong” by Tara Betts.
Lastly, pragma is mature love. It’s the stuff your grandparents probably have. It’s having wisdom in love, using your head over your heart sometimes, and being pragmatic. It is endless patience and lasting (I know I have to work on pragma too, trust me). E.E. Cummings describes pragma in his poem “[love is more thicker than forget].”
Of course, these poems’ meanings are up to interpretation, but I believe they represent each type of love in their own way. Now, go on, and tell someone you love them!
Lili Fishman is the Long River Review interviews editor and a fiction panel reader. She can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.