Who says love poems need to be all rainbows and sunshine? Sometimes death and decay can be just as romantic. If you’re tired of sappy hallmark cards and sickly sweet phrases written on candy, consider sharing some of these creepy classics with your loved ones.
- “Annabel Lee” by Edgar Allan Poe
“And so, all the night-tide, I lie down by the side
Of my darling—my darling—my life and my bride,
In her sepulchre there by the sea—
In her tomb by the sounding sea.”
I’ve mentioned this one before, in one of my early posts on my favorite gothic poems. Poe is the king of morbid love poems, since a great majority of his works blend together death and love. In fact, in his essay “The Philosophy of Composition,” Poe admitted outright that he feels the death of a beautiful woman is “the most poetical topic in the world.” Poe has a slew of poems on dead girls, including his most famous—“The Raven.” But my favorite is “Annabel Lee,” the story of a young couple whose love was so deep that the angels grew jealous and killed the woman. The man hangs around her sepulcher, mourning his bride but comforted by the remembrance of how strong their love was. Check out the full poem here.
- “I am Stretched on Your Grave”
“I am stretched on your grave
And will lie there forever…”
Speaking of dudes who like to hang out by the burial places of their dead wives, check out the beautiful Irish poem-turned-song. “Táim sínte ar do thuama” or in English, “I am Stretched on Your Grave,” is an anonymous Irish poem written sometime in the 17th century. It has been translated into English many times, but the most popular translation that was then put to music is the one by the Irish writer Frank O’Connor. In the poem, a man refuses to leave the side of his deceased bride, spending every night stretched on top of her grave and insisting that he still loves her as much as when she was alive.
The song version of this poem has been covered by many famous artists, but my favorites are the versions done by steampunk band Abney Park and darkwave group Johnny Hollow. You can also listen to a beautiful version of the original Irish here.
- “He Wishes His Beloved Were Dead” by W. B. Yeats
“O would, beloved, that you lay
Under the dock-leaves in the ground,
While lights were paling one by one.”
What if, unlike the poor fellows above, your girlfriend is still alive? You could always just write her a poem telling her you wished she was dead. Sometimes it’s simpler to love a corpse—you can idealize your love and bring it to hyperbolized heights without any fear of rejection. It’s not really a surprise that Yeats, who had all sorts of lady troubles, would long for a simplistic love like Poe’s. In this short 13-line poem, the speaker wishes his beloved were dead because he feels that she would be more accessible and tractable in this state. Romantic, right? You can read the full poem here.
- “After Death” by Christina Rossetti
“He did not love me living; but once dead
He pitied me; and very sweet it is
To know he still is warm tho’ I am cold.”
But how do all the dead girls feel about this? According to Christina Rossetti, my favorite Victorian poetess, they’re pretty happy about it. “After Death” is a short sonnet-style poem from the perspective of a dead woman as she watches her lover mourn her. Like Poe and Yeats, he seems to prefer his ladies deceased, but better late than never, right? For the full poem, click here.
- Sonnet 3 by William Shakespeare
“But if thou live rememb’red not to be,
Die single and thine image dies with thee.”
Alright, that’s quite enough romanticized dead ladies, don’t you think? Let’s wrap things up with a nice simple momento mori, mixed with some guilt tripping and manipulation. This poem was written by the Bard himself—one of the greatest masters of English poetry and the creator of such morbid love stories as Romeo and Juliet. This sonnet is one of the first in Skakespeare’s “Fair Youth” sequence—a collection of 126 sonnets addressed to a young man that the speaker is in love with. Sonnet 3 is one of the seventeen “procreation sonnets,” in which the speaker encourages the fair youth to go find some woman and have babies, because his youth and beauty won’t last forever and he needs to pass on his good looks before he gets old and dies. What better way to tell someone you love them than to remind them that they’re going to die, right? Read the whole thing here.
So which of these will you be sending to your Valentine next weekend? Are there any morbid love poems I left off my list? Please let me know in the comments!