Weird, Strange, and Funny Love Poems
Poets have been writing weird, strange and funny love poems since the dawn of love itself, or a little after. The language of love fills all manner of poem, from sonnet to epic, from haiku to madrigal.
Think of William Shakespeare, Elizabeth Browning, Charles Bukowski. All have written beautiful poems about l'amour. But some might say that most poets are a little mad and like to spice up their content from time to time, give the reader something different to chew on.
That's what this hub is all about. Celebrating the difference, without judgement.
Here are some love poems full of weird and wonderful language that might just give you fresh thoughts about Cupid and his very sharp arrows.
Poem 269 (1861)
by Emily Dickinson
Emily Dickinson's poetry reflects a truly wondrous inner world. Her sparse yet profound lines take time to sink in but when you grasp 'The Truth's superb surprise' her poems can fill you with rapture.
After leaving school early - the regime was too strictly religious and made her unhappy - she is said to have spent most of her time indoors at the family home in Amherst, Massachusetts. There she lived all her life with sister Lavinia in a strictly paternal household, writing poems and letters, never marrying.
When her father died in 1874 tensions eased somewhat and she became close friends with an older man, Otis Phillips Lord, a local judge, whose wife had passed away. There were other admirers around but this man seems to have had a special place in her heart.
It's this aspect of her life that prompts so many questions. Was Emily Dickinson ever in love? Did she express her feelings in her poetry? The answer seems to be yes.
Wild nights - Wild nights!
Were I with thee
Wild nights should be
Is she writing about her love for a man? A woman? God? She seems to suggest a longing; her wild nights haven't yet materialised.
Futile - the winds -
To a Heart in port -
Done with the Compass -
Done with the Chart!
Rowing in Eden -
Ah - the Sea!
Might I but moor - tonight -
She's imagining this scenario where - as Eve - the first woman - she might meet up with her lover and spend the night together. Just one night? This will be uncharted territory. Who knows where they'll end up?
In real life Emily never did tie the knot and her true relationships with men, and love, remain an enigmatic mystery. Her relationship to poetry was never in doubt.
The Skunk (1979)
This Irish icon of verse, well known for his historical and cultural poems, uses rich textured language in his poetry, which is usually quietly spoken and varied in form. He's very much a man who prefers the familiarity of home, so it's fascinating to see how he responds when out of his comfort zone so to speak.
The Skunk is set in the present in the USA and focuses on the visits of a skunk, an animal noted for its legendary scent and clumsy meanderings. But, Heaney is a long way from home and missing the physical presence of his wife.
..........The beautiful, useless
Tang of eucalyptus spelt your absence.
The aftermath of a mouthful of wine
Was like inhaling you off a cold pillow.
The slightly erotic musings of a man in a foreign land follow.
'After eleven years I was composing/ love-letters again'...
Heaney is away on holiday - in California - so the nightly visits of a female skunk become an event. The poet rather comically compares this creature to his wife! In stanza one he notes the tail of the skunk, 'Up, black, striped.. ..' whilst in the last two lines of the final sixth stanza he writes,
Your head-down, tail-up hunt in a bottom drawer
For the black plunge-line nightdress .
From the air of California to the familiar bedroom of home.
It's interesting to see how Heaney weaves the language of love into the poem, whilst tongue-in-cheek seeing his wife in the antics of the animal. This poem is a very human story of a man many miles away from his partner, 'mutating' his thoughts, tense as a voyeur , alone with only a skunk for company.
by Stephanie Brown
'What's love got to do with it?' sang Tina Turner in the 1980s. In this poem she might well ask - What's a jar of peanut butter got to do with it?
This short poem's opening line could double as a stand up comedienne's jokey first utterance:
One day my husband came home with a jar of generic peanut butter,'
We've got a man and a woman and free verse here, which is liberating but could take us anywhere.
It turns out the peanut butter isn't for any kind of romantic or exotic use: it's for using on mouse traps. The kitchen's full of vermin! Surely she'll appreciate his concern? Not a chance. The poem descends into a full blown misunderstanding between herself and her better half.
He kills 6 mice. This upsets the wife who then wants to make peanut cookies. He doesn't like peanut cookies. She remembers him telling her how he liked them.
'He said, I don't remember.'
'He says, you need to be more strong.'
You can picture the two in the kitchen, half dead mice all over the place, peanut butter cookies left uneaten on the table, their marriage summed up in the metaphor of mousetrap.
'He doesn't know that this will never make sense to me.
I'm not interested in being strong, as he is not interested in remembering.'
Seems these two will never get on. Perhaps the poem is suggesting that, for some, marriage means never seeing eye to eye or knowing what the peanut butter is for. Especially when you've mice running around the house.
Happily married couples take note!
The Flea (1600?)
John Donne, being a very religious man, wrote many sacred poems - the Holy Sonnets being the most famous - but he also wrote love poems, some with erotic associations. The Flea is an intriguing example of the latter. Basically, Donne is attempting to persuade his lover to accept his advances by concentrating on the lifestyle of a flea. Not an uncommon exercise in Donne's time!
Mark but this flea, and mark in this,
How little that which thou deniest me is;
It sucked me first, and now sucks thee,
And in this flea, our two bloods mingled be;
And pampered swells with one blood made of two,
And this, alas, is more then we would do.
Something as trivial and annoying as a flea takes on a far more important role as the poet advances his argument in the second stanza. He asks the woman not to kill the flea because the flea represents a holy place in his eyes, holding three lives in one, and it would be sacrilege to destroy it.
This flea is you and I, and this
Our marriage bed, and marriage temple is;
Finally the flea is killed by the woman but this act doesn't quieten the poet's insistent voice. In fact he twists the logic around in a desperate attempt to get his way.
Cruel and sudden, hast thou since
Purpled thy nail, in blood of innocence?
You can picture the scene - a young man on his knees pleading with his lover to submit - she adamant that there will be no union, holding a burst flea between her fingers. Although this is a serious subject there is a comic side to this poem. Donne manages to slow down proceedings enough in this third stanza as the near thwarted male attempts to convince he that she doesn't have that much to lose!
Tis true, then learn how false, fears be;
Just so much honour, when thou yield'st to me,
Will waste, as this flea's death took life from thee.
by Carol Ann Duffy
Riddle. I am like a moon wrapped in brown paper. What am I? Answer. An onion. And instead of a rose or a heart as a gift for Valentine's Day you can give me away.
Carol Ann's very poignant poem is subtle yet powerful. She really does want to give an ex lover, husband, partner a nice big onion.
It will blind you with tears
like a lover.
It will make your reflection
a wobbling photo of grief.
Notice the up to date language. Here. And now. We're very much present at this giving of the onion. Some one is terribly upset and only the act of giving an onion will suffice.
Its platinum loops shrink to a wedding-ring,
if you like.
No crocodile tears for this Valentine. No cute card, red rose, kissagram. You can see the layers peeling off, slowly, 'like the careful undressing of love.' The onion as metaphor for lost love, the gradual realisation of raw feelings exposed. The heart cut out.
Its scent will cling to your fingers,
cling to your knife.
Modern Love (1862)
by George Meredith
A novelist and man of letters George Meredith's 50 sixteen line sonnet sequence contains what must be the first attempt to poeticise Darwin's theory of evolution! The whole poem is the story of the break up of a marriage reflecting Meredith's own real life experiences - his wife left him for a painter when he was 29 years old.
Like sculptured effigies they might be seen
Upon their marriage-tomb, the sword between;
Each wishing for the sword that severs all.
The story gathers momentum. Third person becomes first person. Impersonal to personal. By sonnet 17 the gap between the two is irrevocable. The man describes a dinner party where :
With sparkling surface-eyes we ply the ball:
It is in truth a most contagious game:
HIDING THE SKELETON, shall be its name.
Such play as this the devils might appall!
The still married couple manage to dupe their guests into thinking that all's well. Their act is one of pretence however and as the wine flows the man's inner voice sums up the painful truth.They're nothing but hypocrites. Being amongst friends only makes the situation worse.
Dear guests, you now have seen Love's corpse-light shine.
Eventually we're told about the woman's secret love affair. The desperate husband, distraught, wants to forgive her and for a time it seems they can paper over the cracks and become reconciled. But when in a sudden twist of the story the man confesses to also having had a lover on the side the wife, 'this agony of flesh' runs away!
So much for 'the pure daylight of honest speech'. He catches up with her in sonnet 49 and, soap opera like, they spend a last night together.
About the middle of the night her call
Was heard, and he came wondering to the bed.
"Now kiss me, dear! it may be, now!" she said.
Lethe had passed those lips, and he knew all.
Yes, Lethe, whose waters make everyone forget, temporarily at least. All's not well that ends, well, with the couple parting; 'this ever diverse pair' enjoying one last fling before the inevitable farewell. In real life, George never did get his wife back but managed to cling on to his reputation into old age.
U.A. Fanthorpe has produced some interesting poetry over the years. Born in London in 1929 she's one of the more mature poets who is still prolific. This love poem of 17 lines starts out in traditional couplets, unrhymed, then moves on into a block of 7 lines of varying length. She seeks a strong maintenance man, who can also double as Atlas. Check out the opening pair:
There is a kind of love called maintenance,
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;
You somehow sense that this poem will take you to places not quite as romantic as others! Say into a garage, or workshop! You wouldn't be far wrong. As you continue you may want to don a pair of overalls and prepare for a list of domestic chores.
Is her lover a handyman, a mechanic, a butler, a DIY enthusiast?
And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing
To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring.
I get it. This lover has to be, above all, practically minded, and probably trained in the art of climbing ladders. They'll also need a strong back and shoulders if they're to carry 'upright in the air' this poet's 'structures of living.'
Sounds a bit like a punishment to me!
She Was a Phantom of Delight (1807)
by William Wordsworth
In his younger years William Wordsworth was a rebel and a would be revolutionary. He was one of the innovative poets of his generation, with, as he claimed, 'a greater knowledge of human nature, and a more comprehensive soul.'
This curious ephemeral love poem is essentially the study of a ghost:
A lovely Apparition, sent
To be a moment's ornament;
It's as if the poet is seeing beyond mere flesh and into some kind of spiritual aura. This is more than just a romantic vision, it's a glimpse into another world.
Her household motions light and free,
And steps of virgin-liberty;
A countenance in which did meet
Sweet records, promises as sweet;
Wordsworth builds an idealised picture of a perfect woman, still pure but one who the poet knows must still experience everyday life and fundamental emotions. The poem attempts to bridge the gap between the real world and an imagined one. There's no hint of lust or physicality in any of the three stanzas. It's not a sacred poem.
Wordsworth it appears has met:
A perfect Woman, nobly planned,
To warn, to comfort, and command;
And yet a Spirit still, and bright
With something of angelic light.
I wonder if this poem was penned before or after he got married?
The Dream Songs (4) (1964)
'No poet worth his salt is going to be handsome;if he or she is beautiful there's no need to create the beautiful.'
So said John Berryman, the alcoholic poet who as a young man 'walked with verse as if in a trance' and once whilst studying in England had tea with none other than his hero W.B. Yeats, then in his seventies.
The Dream Songs are 18 line free verse creations, a mix of opinion, inner fantasy, comical asides and desperate longings. They're about a man called Henry, an invented character who has suffered an irreversible loss and can't seem to shift 'the plights and gripes' that fill his life.
These poems, there are 385 in total, took thirteen years to complete. Full of sudden twists and turns, they're a ragbag of rambling adventures into the soul of a manic lovelorn middle aged man. The language is both coarse and refined, fractured and sometimes messy, but always has you on the edge of your seat.
Dream Song 4 sees Henry in a restaurant, eyeing up a beautiful woman.
'Filling her compact & delicious body
with chicken paprika, she glanced at me
Poor Henry starts to think he's in with a chance of landing this gorgeous woman. He eats his spumoni, stuffing it in whilst describing her.
-Black hair, complexion Latin, jeweled eyes
downcast....The slob beside her feasts.....What wonders is
she sitting on, over there?'
Henry is fainting with interest in the busy restaurant, he wants to spring on her or fall at her little feet but deep inside knows there is no chance for him.
'She might as well be on Mars.'
'Where did it all go wrong? There ought to be a law against Henry.'
You'll be relieved to know that there is.
The Waking (1985)
by Galway Kinnell
Kinnell is a past winner of the Pulitzer prize and has many notable poems to his credit, some strongly influenced by none other than Walt Whitman. The Waking is a love poem, roughly of iambic pentameter, 90 lines long. It's about two lovers, love-making and owls, which sounds as if it could be vaguely romantic and have hooting in it somewhere.
The first line literally takes your breath away, it's that long. Fifty one words long. Perhaps that's a device cleverly used because the couple are just getting up. (One of Kinnell's contemporaries, W.S. Merwin, did away with all forms of punctuation many years ago and writes poems that consist of clean lines only, with no indication for the reader of where to pause stop continue or end)
You may think this poem a bit pretentious, flowery and, what's the word, over the top. But that was the 1980s for you.
These lovers have been at it a long time.
'The moment's memory of what has just happened
is their proof for life of the actual existence
The bed, caressed
threadbare, worn almost away....'
Is this a pine bed or a metal framed bed? Sexual erosion is I suppose a theory best worked out in practice. But the owl whoots are nice and so are the pink flamingos which get a mention as the lovers lie with heads touching. Then:
which love the eyes and shuts them to sleep,
open. This is a bed. That is a fireplace.
That is last morning's breakfast tray...
And one leg hangs off the bed, about to stick a toe into a pot of strawberry jam! True. This poem has everything, including stickiness.
Not to mention violin strings, Bleecker, Carmine, Avenue of the Americas and some beggarmen. Some passages of this micro epic echo paragraphs you might read in an upmarket Mills&Boon. It's a little too sweet and neat but tries hard to be cutting edge by including words like **** in line 15. Why ****?
know they don't 'make' love, but are earthlings
who **** - here no other word will do -
one another forever if possible across the stars.'
Wow. This poet really knows how to make his lines last. This is cosmic love making.
If you love birds, as I do, you'll appreciate the 'owls of paradise', the flamingos and the river birds, all part of 'the ordinary day' these two busy lovers exist in.
The Disappointment (1680)
Aphra Behn was quite a celebrity in her time. A playwright as well as a poet she was also a spy for the English against the Dutch (she was married briefly to a Dutchman) and spent time in prison as a debtor!
In her poem, a pastoral, Lysander meets Cloris 'in a lone thicket made for love'. All goes well for the first four stanzas. The male, Lysander, 'kisses her mouth, her neck, her hair' and she seems responsive in every respect.
Yet there's trouble in store for poor Lysander. As Cloris becomes more and more 'a victim to love's sacred flame' he is 'unable to perform the sacrifice.'
Things aren't looking too good for the rustic shepherd.
'In vain he toils, in vain commands;
the insensible fell weeping in his hand.'
By stanza number ten Lysander has completely blown it. Cloris is disappointed, to say the least. Both were ready to taste a thousand joys but are left as cold as flowers bathed in the morning dew.
'And from Lysander's arms she fled,
Leaving him fainting on the gloomy bed.'
Lysander couldn't maintain the pace.
What more can be said?
Questions & Answers
© 2013 Andrew Spacey