101 Ways to Say “I Love You”

  1. Just say it: “I. Love. You.”love-you
  2. Say it with flowers, chocolates, or Hallmark.
  3. Say it with poetry.

(#4 – #101: all the different ways you can say it with poetry–guess what this post is about!)

Poetry has been around as long as language has–in fact, it’s the world’s oldest literary form.  Of all the poetry that’s ever been written, a significant percentage is love poems.  Of all the poetry written by amateurs and song writers, a significant majority is love poems.

Love is a great thing–some people even think it makes the world go ’round.  But love is also a mighty big word, referring to feelings expressed by and for God, parents, husbands and wives, teenage crushes, a boy to his dog, a girl to her horse, a patriot to his country,  Expressions of love can be grand and glorious, so much so that they lose focus.  A very famous example is Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s tribute to her husband Robert (himself a poet of renown):

How to I love thee? Let me count the ways.

I love thee to the depth and breath and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of Being and ideal Grace . . .

Here’s a more recent example–one of Petulah Clark’s greatest hits (trust me, she was very big in the sixties):

 My love is warmer than the warmest sunshine

            Softer than a sigh;

My love is deeper than the deepest ocean,

            Wider than the sky.

 And so on.  The problem with these grand expressions is that sometimes they can sound like “just words.”  Love is a great thing, but usually expressed in little ways.  If my love never gets the chance to sacrifice his life for me, will he at least take out the trash twice a week?

The key to writing effective love poems is the same key to writing effective anything: BE SPECIFIC!  Every love relationship shares some common characteristic: affection for the other person, wanting the best for him or her, sharing problems and joys.  But since everybody is different, every relationship has its own personality, private jokes, small irritations, individual quirks.

So here’s the deal: Valentine’s Day is coming, and the retail community is trying to make you feel guilty.  Unless you buy flowers, candy or cards–at the very least–or a spa vacation or cruise at the most, how will your beloved know what’s really in your heart?  It’s an obvious attempt to calculate affection by how much money you spend, but you don’t have to fall for it!  Just write a poem.  It’s personal, heartfelt, unique, and doesn’t cost a thing.  (Even though it wouldn’t hurt to pony up for chocolate.)

That is, doesn’t cost a thing but agony as you start sweating out what to say and how to say it.  But there’s no need to sweat.  Here’s your problem: love is such a huge subject it’s hard to get a grip on it.  The solution is, you start with small things and everyday details.  Here are three ways you might do it, with “poem starters” included.  (Thanks to Jack Prelutsky, whose book Read a Rhyme, Write a Rhyme furnished the idea of poem starters.)

  1. Focus on the object of your love, using details.

Don’t think of qualities, like loyalty or punctuality (often the qualities that draw us to our spouse is the very thing that irritates us later!).  Think little things, small kindnesses, helpful words.  Here’s a simple poem start for kids, called “Because.”

Because you stay up with me when I’m sick;

Because you set limits and make them stick;

Because you make little sacrifices, day by day

   to provide what I need and teach me God’s way . . .

Or, in a more romantic vein for grownups:

Because of the way you comb your hair,

Because of that sway when you walk down stairs . . .

End the poem with a short couplet (two rhyming lines) that sum it up, such as

Because you’re you

I’m stuck like glue!

(Couplets, incidentally, are the easiest rhyme scheme for beginning poets.)

  1. Focus on how your love affects you.

Here’s one for those people who don’t like to go all mushy.  Imagine the object of your poem as an inanimate object (several objects, actually), and then say what you would do in response.  For instance:

If you were a basketball I’d dribble you;

If you were a cookie, I’d nibble you.

If you were a pizza, I’d savor you;

If you were a sore foot, I’d favor you . . .

And so on, for as long as your imagination holds out.  End with a summing-up couplet beginning

Since you’re none of those things, then here’s what I’ll do:

______________________________________________

(And surely you can think of a final line, maybe with “you” at the end?  Or blue, few, dew, grew, new, slew, too, true, view, or hullabaloo?)

  1. Say it with flowers.

Just not the kind you order from FTD.  Write a poem titled “My Bouquet,” or something a little less sappy, in which every line is built on a flower.  The two previous poems depended on rhyme for their effect, but this one uses alliteration–that is, using the same first letter or sound for significant words in the poem.  For example:

Here’s a daisy for that day

   you dropped everything to help with my budget report.

Here’s an iris for the eyes

   that smile when they see me all dressed up.

Here’s wisteria for the way

  ____________________________________

 Here’s a pansy for the praise

  ____________________________________

Here’s ______________ for the ___________

 ____________________________________

You get the idea.  In case you’re not up on botany, here are some other flowers that might provide alliterative inspiration: violet, dahlia, lily, rose, hibiscus, geranium, hollyhock, clematis, sweet pea, honeysuckle, snapdragon, gladiola, black-eyed susan, peony, primrose, columbine, orchid, and phlox.  Just kidding about the last one–if ever a name does NOT belong in poem, “phlox” is it.  You may “tie up” the bouquet with a rhyming couplet, or a line about how these flowers will never fade.  And chances are they won’t.  Your poem may never make it to a poetry anthology, but it’s very unlikely that the recipient will throw it away.

That doesn’t look so hard, does it?  Now, go make someone happy.

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