Poems to Send the Person You're Crushing On
1. “Sonnets from the Portuguese 7: The Face” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
If Barrett Browning sounds as though she’s claiming in this poem that love saved her life, it’s because it did. Her parents treated her as an invalid right into adulthood, and it wasn’t until she eloped with poet Robert Browning at the age of 40 that her health began to improve. Love’s cure was very real, saving her from “the dreadful outer brink / Of obvious death.” Life becomes bearable: the poet appreciates “country,” “heaven,” and all of existence simply because she and her lover occupy the same realm. In the final lines, the symphonic swell of lute and angels seems perfectly up-to-date: if Barrett Browning had been writing in our day, she might have said: “Your love is the soundtrack to my life.”
2. “Knowing You Could Is Better Than Knowing You Will” by Mark Bibbins
We don’t need Carrie Bradshaw to tell us that city love moves at a faster speed. In Bibbins’s poem, love is in motion, and it moves as fast as the city that serves as its playground. The poem tours New York City with a native as guide, and the images, which range from “a chain of rollerblading kids latched onto a bus” to “swimming down by the electrical plant,” are always unexpected. When the speaker claims to be “juiced” on “horse tranquilizers,” and we wonder whether or not this is a metaphor, we know that we’ve fully entered Bibbins’s world, where love is an all-night party littered with intoxicants.
3. “For Love” by Robert Creeley
If you like J. Alfred Prufrock, you’ll love Creeley’s speaker in “For Love.” For those of you who are infatuated with someone but afraid of miscommunication (“the mind’s vague structure”) or afraid to speak your mind at all (“I cannot say it”), this poem perfectly captures the impossibility of talking about love in a way that truly conveys your feelings. Although Creeley’s love never gets a pretty little bow or a happy ending, there is some hope in the end—or, rather, in the afterlife. The poem’s final lines dismiss earthly love in favor of an eternal soul connection not linked to personality, physicality, or any other mortal obstacle.
4. “Postlude” by Noelle Kocot
Since we’re not ancient Greeks and can’t use words such as philia and agape, our old standby—love—will have to do. But as anyone who’s ever signed off from an e-mail knows, there’s a huge difference between, as Kocot puts it, “I love you,” “LOve you,” and “luv u.” How do you know, at 16, if what you feel is really love? How do you know at 36? What do you call it when love’s got you by the gut, the wrists, and the jugular? “Luv”? These are the questions Kocot explores in “Postlude” as she concerns herself with the blurry edges of our feelings, the zones where “like” bleeds into “love.”
5. “Harlem Sweeties” by Langston Hughes
You know the type: she’s an inveterate flirt but really means it this time; he’s got wandering eyes and a girl in every port. This poem celebrates the rich variety of the women of Harlem, and Hughes’s palate, as he’d say, is fine. Although he was a successful poet in his day and remains wildly popular now, this poem suggests that he might have had an equally successful career naming lipsticks—in shades like “coffee and cream,” “pomegranate,” and “molasses taffy.” While we might have hoped that Hughes would pause for a moment to explore the rainbow of inner beauty arched over Harlem, his taste is so delectable that we’re willing to cut him some slack.
6. “I Feel Horrible. She Doesn’t” by Richard Brautigan
So you’ve tossed aside Prufrock and Creeley and finally confessed your crush, but the worst-case scenario has come to pass: your beloved loves you only—brace yourself—as a friend. Not exactly the three little words you were hoping to hear. Sometimes love isn’t pretty, and Brautigan isn’t pretending otherwise. But instead of scenes of gushing tears, throbbing hearts, and fainting couches, here we get a fresh look at rejection. We don’t want to spoil it for you, but suffice it to say this poem will take you straight into the dark bowels of unrequited love.
7. “The Shirt” by Jane Kenyon
You sit behind your crush every day, and when you can’t bring yourself to say something, anything, even a weak “hi,” you’re able to get through the monotony of your daily routine because every morning, there’s the chance that he might wear that shirt. Soon daydreaming gets the best of you, and whatever is touching your crush becomes a stand-in for you: Oh to be that protractor, measuring the angles of my love, you sigh. Kenyon’s poem reminds us that whatever high-flown ideas we might profess to have about love, sometimes it’s just physical.
8. “Movement Song” by Audre Lorde
Lorde’s poem is a new riff on an old story: two people magnetically drawn to each other are star-crossed, separated by circumstances beyond their control. Physical places in “Movement Song”—schools, office elevators, cattle cars—remind us how difficult it is for love to thrive in an environment that won’t nourish it. Even in the final scene in the bedroom, the beloved is making an exit. Lorde’s repeated pleas for accurate, authentic memories announce their own futility: when she asks her beloved not to remember her “as disaster,” we grasp both the doomed nature of the relationship and love’s will to survive in spite of inevitable heartbreak.
9. “Wild nights!—wild nights!” by Emily Dickinson
This poem makes it pretty hard to stay convinced that Dickinson was the chaste, reclusive poetess you’ve heard about. And you can bet your angel-white frock that when Dickinson hopes to “moor, tonight, / In Thee!” her suggestive use of the word “moor” is far from the one that means “English countryside.” Innuendo aside, it’s undeniable that Dickinson pulls off a remarkable extended seafaring metaphor: her love has found its ideal target (“heart in port”), and needs no more guidance (“compass,” “chart”) than passion itself.
10. “When You Are Old” by W.B. Yeats
What if we never feel this happy again for the rest of our lives? Call it masochistic, but even in our most idyllic hours, a nagging voice can creep in to remind us that life is guided by nothing more than flux. Yeats’s nostalgia-soaked poem features a young speaker laden with anxieties. When we realize that this speaker is thinking of his older self thinking of his younger self, we’re dizzied. It’s easy to imagine the book in the second line as a diary, its pages telling the story that connects a single person’s many lives across time.
Becca Klaver is the author of the poetry collections Empire Wasted (Bloof Books, 2016) and LA Liminal (Kore Press, 2010), as well as several chapbooks. Born and raised in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, she earned a BA from the University of Southern California, an MFA from Columbia College Chicago, and a PhD...