I used to read a lot more poetry than I do now. Tastes shift and change, and experience brings the perspective to realise that a lot of sentiments expressed through poems have either (a) already been written, far better, by someone else, (b) are completely unrealistic (poets seldom wax rhapsodic about the mortgage, or the insurance), or (c) have already been co-opted by the evil empire that is the greetings card industry. It was either Douglas Adams or a general sort of cliché which once propounded the notion that a poet is someone who can’t get out of bed without writing a song about it, and over the years, I’ve come to feel that the accusation isn’t entirely unjust. I feel on safe ground in saying this, as I used to write some (incredibly bad) poetry myself. Fortunately, those notebooks are long destroyed (don’t bother looking for them), for the good not only of my reputation, but for the general future of human civilisation. The stuff that I wrote may or may not have been as good as Vogon poetry; I will certainly never tell.
All that being said, a love poem done well is a thing worth celebrating, and this morning before settling down to work, I pulled out my old favourite collection on the subject, The Faber Book of Love Poems, edited Geoffrey Grigson. The Faber books of verse were a staple of my early poetry reading, with their authoritative voices and their whimsical cover design (the distinctive “ff” pattern), these books got anthologies right, in a way I haven’t really seen since. There are 401 poems in this volume, with a percentage in French, and several containing sections in Latin (if you are a fan of poetry in French or Latin, I would also suggest looking into the relevant books published by Oxford University Press).
The selection in The Faber Book of Love Poems is idiosyncratic, but Grigson was clearly a man who knew his poetry, and loved it well. The earliest English and French poems are mediaeval, but the contents span the centuries up to the middle part of the 20th century, with poets like Robert Graves and A.E. Housman represented. Women are not heavily represented, although Emily Dickinson and Christina Rossetti both get a look in. This may make the collection too old-fashioned for some tastes, but I would defend it with the somewhat trite observation that good poetry is good poetry, no matter.