It’s a tough question even for poetry buffs: “What is the saddest love poem ever written?”
As you’ll see with the collection of painful love poems in this post, there are many contenders for that mark of distinction.
If you’ve ever written a, you’ll find plenty here that resonates.
Even if you learn to let go of the people you love most, time doesn’t always ease the pain of losing them.
Can Love Poems Be Sad?
As human experiences go, love can be plenty sad.
So can poems about love – but it’s all about the context.
Although love can be blissful, the end of love or not having it reciprocated can cause exquisite suffering.
The pain and sadness usually stem from one of the following:
- Losing someone you love (to a break-up or death)
- Being far away from someone you love
- Seeing someone you love suffering or in pain
- Disappointing someone you love
- Betrayal or abandonment by someone you love
- Loving someone who doesn’t love you back
- Loving someone who doesn’t see you
21 Heartbreaking Poems About Love and Pain
If you’re seeking a poem about being hurt by love, we have you covered. Read carefully through each of the following sad poems about love.
Keep track of the ones that resonate with you. Simply having your feelings validated through poetry is one way to begin the healing process.
1. “After Love,” by Sara Teasdale
Teasdale compares the turbulence and magic of a passionate love relationship with the tepid calm after its end. Comparing herself to the sea and then to a quiet pool separate from the pull of the ocean’s tide make the difference more real to the senses.
Being separated from the ocean has made it possible for her to maintain calm at the surface. But a growing bitterness festers beneath it.
There is no magic any more,
We meet as other people do,
You work no miracle for me
Nor I for you.
You were the wind and I the sea—
There is no splendor any more,
I have grown listless as the pool
Beside the shore.
But though the pool is safe from storm
And from the tide has found surcease,
It grows more bitter than the sea,
For all its peace.
2. “Witch Wife,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
The poem describes a wife who doesn’t fit the expected norms in her appearance or behavior. She loves her husband as best she can, but while he wants to connect with her, he feels incapable of reaching her heart.
She may love him, but she can’t or won’t fit his idea of how a wife should be. Each feels separate from and alien to the other.
She is neither pink nor pale,
And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
And her mouth on a valentine.
She has more hair than she needs;
In the sun ’tis a woe to me!
And her voice is a string of coloured beads,
Or steps leading into the sea.
She loves me all that she can,
And her ways to my ways resign;
But she was not made for any man,
And she never will be all mine.
3. “Reality,” by Keioma Livan
Here the poet describes the importance of the person in her dreams while also admitting they’re not someone the poet gets to wake up to in the morning.
Every morning greets them with the painful difference between their dreams and reality, the latter of which feels empty by comparison. Reality puts an abrupt end to their dream, and with it, their hope, leaving the poet feeling more alone than ever.
Just saying your name makes me realize
how much meaning you add to my life
I watch your actions every day
and long to hold and kiss you when I’m awake
but reality dawns a rainy day
a world of fantasy and dismay
In my dreams I make you mine
I hold you ’til the end of time
but when I awake to find that you’re not there
my world is full of sorrow and despair
and reality, like a rushing wind, destroys my hope
4. “What My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
The sadness in this love poem comes from the poet’s realization that she doesn’t remember every one of those she’s kissed or spent the night with. Like a tree that only notices the relative silence when the birds leave, she knows she’s felt the bliss that goes with new and passionate love, even if now, that feeling is a distant memory and one that might not return again.
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.
5. “Heavy,” by Mary Oliver
Oliver writes of the heaviness of grief so powerful she felt it would be the end of her. Yet, instead of dying, she learned how to embrace the pain and carry it instead of being crushed under its weight.
Choosing to carry it, one day at a time, she was surprised to find she was still capable of laughter and wonder, as well as new love.
I thought I could not
go any closer to grief
I went closer,
and I did not die.
had his hand in this,
as well as friends.
Still, I was bent,
and my laughter,
as the poet said,
was nowhere to be found.
Then said my friend Daniel,
(brave even among lions),
“It’s not the weight you carry
but how you carry it –
books, bricks, grief –
it’s all in the way
you embrace it, balance it, carry it
when you cannot, and would not,
put it down.”
So I went practicing.
Have you noticed?
Have you heard
that comes, now and again,
out of my startled mouth?
How I linger
to admire, admire, admire
the things of this world
that are kind, and maybe
also troubled –
roses in the wind,
the sea geese on the steep waves,
to which there is no reply?
6. “When You Are Old,” by William Butler Yeats
Yeats invites his beloved to revisit how many men once loved and admired her.
But he reminds her that his own love was more than passing or superficial. He loved her “pilgrim soul” and the “sorrows in [her] changing face,” offering a contrast between the adulation from admirers in years past and his more profound love.
That love is gone now, and the poem looks to the future—to a time when the beloved is old and dying—inviting her to remember again.
When you are old and grey and full of sleep,
And nodding by the fire, take down this book,
And slowly read, and dream of the soft look
Your eyes had once, and of their shadows deep;
How many loved your moments of glad grace,
And loved your beauty with love false or true,
But one man loved the pilgrim soul in you,
And loved the sorrows of your changing face;
And bending down beside the glowing bars,
Murmur, a little sadly, how Love fled
And paced upon the mountains overhead
And hid his face amid a crowd of stars.
7. “I Crave Your Mouth, Your Voice, Your Hair,” by Pablo Neruda
Neruda’s expressions of love and craving in this poem aren’t always complimentary, but the passion and urgency in them are impossible not to feel.
He hungers for her as much as a starving man might crave bread or meat (or even more than that). Pain goes with a hunger that deep because he has no guarantee she feels the same desire for him—or that she’ll act on it.
I crave your mouth, your voice, your hair.
Silent and starving, I prowl through the streets.
Bread does not nourish me, dawn disrupts me, all day
I hunt for the liquid measure of your steps.
I hunger for your sleek laugh,
your hands the color of a savage harvest,
hunger for the pale stones of your fingernails,
I want to eat your skin like a whole almond.
I want to eat the sunbeam flaring in your lovely body,
the sovereign nose of your arrogant face,
I want to eat the fleeting shade of your lashes,
and I pace around hungry, sniffing the twilight,
hunting for you, for your hot heart,
like a puma in the barrens of Quitratue.
8. “When You Come,” by Maya Angelou
Angelou writes of someone important to her, who living or remembered, frequently lures her back to memories of their time together. The images and emotions tied up with those memories, however distant and pleasant, are still strong enough to bring her to tears. The pain of losing them is still fresh.
When you come to me, unbidden,
To long-ago rooms,
Where memories lie.
Offering me, as to a child, an attic,
Gatherings of days too few.
Baubles of stolen kisses.
Trinkets of borrowed loves.
Trunks of secret words,
9. “Love Is Not All,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Though Millay makes the point that love is not strictly necessary to keep someone alive, the lack of it drives many to “make friends with death.”
When she contemplates the possibility she may be asked to trade in her love for peace or her memories of this night for food, she admits she probably wouldn’t – even if her refusal would be the end of her.
Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.
10. “I Didn’t Leave,” by Rupi Kaur
Though brief, this poem expresses a lifetime’s worth of pain from letting go of someone he still loves, only because being with them meant becoming something he could not love in himself.
He saw the corrosive nature of the relationship and ultimately had to choose between leaving and becoming someone neither of them would find lovable.
i didn’t leave because
i stopped loving you
i left because the longer
i stayed the less
i loved myself
11. “Coat,” by Vicki Feaver
Here, the poet remembers a relationship that, at times, felt too heavy or restrictive. Only when it ends does she realize how cold she feels without it. Freedom has come at a painful cost. Wearing “light clothes or none at all” implies more casual relationships, which don’t provide the same warmth or security. She misses her “coat.”
Sometimes I have wanted
to throw you off
like a heavy coat.
Sometimes I have said
you would not let me
breathe or move.
But now that I am free
to choose light clothes
or none at all
I feel the cold
and all the time I think
how warm it used to be.
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12. “Love Hate,” by David Charlton
This poet is keen to explain why he holds love in contempt — thanks, in large part, to what it has cost him. He’d rather live with a smile that “struggles to be more than a grin” because, to him, it still beats what love does to him. Though “impossible to resist,” love, to the poet, is more trouble than it’s worth.
Of all the emotions a person can feel,
Love is scariest and hardest to heal.
Excitement and mystery impossible to resist.
Promises of magic perpetually persist.
We long for a connection that is as strong as it is true,
But love always does as love wants to do,
So to the emotion of love, I just want to say,
I’m much better off without you; I’m glad you went away,
‘Cause I’d much rather live with a heart that can sing,
A smile that struggles to be more than a grin.
I might not be happy, but at least I’m not sad,
Holding onto happiness that I never had,
Love’s an impostor, a thief in the night,
Reduces flames to embers that no longer burn bright.
Love captains your emotions and steers your fate.
Love is the only emotion that I truly hate.
13. “Well, I Have Lost You,” by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Here Millay writes of the bittersweet ending of a relationship that had run its course. She allows herself to cry over it, but she would not have held onto it just for the sake of having someone to hold onto.
The cost would have been much higher than the one she’s paying now. This way, she has only good things to say about the one she lost.
Well, I have lost you; and I lost you fairly;
In my own way, and with my full consent.
Say what you will, kings in a tumbrel rarely
Went to their deaths more proud than this one went.
Some nights of apprehension and hot weeping
I will confess; but that’s permitted me;
Day dried my eyes; I was not one for keeping
Rubbed in a cage a wing that would be free.
If I had loved you less or played you slyly
I might have held you for a summer more,
But at the cost of words I value highly,
And no such summer as the one before.
Should I outlive this anguish – and men do –
I shall have only good to say of you.
14. “Long Neglect Has Worn Away,” by Emily Bronte
Bronte writes about an old, neglected photo of a lost loved one. Time hasn’t been kind to the image, but the lock of hair “still beneath the picture twined” rekindles the memory of their face and with it the memory of the motto and the hand that wrote it.
Faithful or not, the subject in the neglected photo is gone, but the sight of them is still overwhelming.
Long neglect has worn away
Half the sweet enchanting smile;
Time has turned the bloom to grey;
Mould and damp the face defile.
But that lock of silky hair,
Still beneath the picture twined,
Tells what once those features were,
Paints their image on the mind.
Fair the hand that traced that line,
‘Dearest, ever deem me true’;
Swiftly flew the fingers fine
When the pen that motto drew.
15. “Shake Hands,” by A. E. Housman
Housman writes of a relationship’s ending where he promises to step out of his loved one’s life—not to try to remain friends or to lay claim to their attention.
He wishes them the best but asks in parting that they remember him and invite him to reach out if they find themselves alone, in danger, or in pain. He won’t hesitate to be there.
Shake hands, we shall never be friends, all’s over;
I only vex you the more I try.
All’s wrong that ever I’ve done or said,
And nought to help it in this dull head:
Shake hands, here’s luck, good-bye.
But if you come to a road where danger
Or guilt or anguish or shame’s to share,
Be good to the lad that loves you true
And the soul that was born to die for you,
And whistle and I’ll be there.
16. “Heart, We Will Forget Him,” by Emily Dickinson
Dickinson speaks to her own heart, asking it to join her in forgetting someone she loves (or loved). Once her heart has forgotten his warmth, she can put out of her mind all thoughts of him.
Her last couple lines suggest the difficulty in this, as she asks her heart to hurry up and forget, so her mind can do the same.
HEART, we will forget him!
You and I, to-night!
You may forget the warmth he gave,
I will forget the light
When you have done, pray tell me,
That I my thoughts may dim;
Haste! lest while you’re lagging,
I may remember him!
17. “A Fixed Idea,” by Amy Lowell
The undoing power of a single thought, unbidden but not unwelcome, is what prompted the poet to describe how something so warm, familiar, and thrilling can cause so much pain.
She loves someone she knows she can’t have or hold onto. And at the end, she recognizes the cost and lets them go—or at least tells herself it’s the right thing to do.
What torture lurks within a single thought
When grown too constant; and however kind,
However welcome still, the weary mind
Aches with its presence. Dull remembrance taught
Remembers on unceasingly; unsought
The old delight is with us but to find
That all recurring joy is pain refined,
Become a habit, and we struggle, caught.
You lie upon my heart as on a nest,
Folded in peace, for you can never know
How crushed I am with having you at rest
Heavy upon my life. I love you so
You bind my freedom from its rightful quest.
In mercy lift your drooping wings and go.
18. “Neither of Us Is Happy,” by Rupi Kaur
Even when you know the relationship is toxic, leaving a loved one can feel like death. Staying together might slowly kill the both of you, but sometimes you’ll still take that over the quicker, more violent shock of separation.
When real love and happiness feel impossible (or impossible for you), it doesn’t make sense to want more than a slower, warmer death, with a scattering of good moments.
neither of us is happy
but neither of us wants to leave
so we keep breaking one another
and calling it love
19. “Mag,” by Carl Sandberg
Sandberg does not mince words here. He regrets meeting Mag, falling in love, getting married, and having kids with her. He looks at his life and would honestly rather be alone and destitute as a bum, with thousands of miles between them.
Whatever his present situation, if he could go back and erase their first meeting (and, by extension, their kids), he would. Ouch.
I wish to God I never saw you, Mag.
I wish you never quit your job and came along with me.
I wish we never bought a license and a white dress
For you to get married in the day we ran off to the minister
And told him we would love each other and take care of each other
Always and always, as long as the sun and the rain lasts anywhere.
Yes, I’m wishing now you lived somewhere away from here
And I was a bum on the bumpers a thousand miles away, dead broke.
I wish the kids had never come,
And the rent, and coal, and clothes to pay for,
And the grocery man calling for cash.
Every day, cash for beans and prunes.
I wish to God I never saw you, Mag!
I wish to God the kids had never come!
20. “How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43),” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
Browning uses this poem not only to describe the depth of her love for someone but to express her hope that her love will grow even stronger and purer after death. It’s not clear whether she writes this from the pain of having lost the one she loves or from the pain of fearing that loss. In either case, she clearly hopes for a passionate reunion in the afterlife.
How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right.
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
21. “I’ll Open the Window,” by Anna Swir
Here, the poet writes about a passionate relationship that lasted “too long” and has now ended. She’s now determined to sleep alone, to let in the cold night air, and to reacquaint herself with human concerns and the misfortunes of others.
She asks the lover not to return, saying she’s only rarely “an animal.” She takes pride in shutting down that part of herself. But she can’t help remembering it.
Our embrace lasted too long.
We loved right down to the bone.
I hear the bones grind, I see
our two skeletons.
Now I am waiting
till you leave, till
the clatter of your shoes
is heard no more. Now, silence.
Tonight I am going to sleep alone
on the bedclothes of purity.
is the first hygienic measure.
will enlarge the walls of the room,
I will open the window
and the large, frosty air will enter,
healthy as tragedy.
Human thoughts will enter
and human concerns,
misfortune of others, saintliness of others.
They will converse softly and sternly.
Do not come anymore.
I am an animal
Now that you’ve read through all these examples of poetry about being hurt, which ones hit you hardest?
Which are you most likely to write down and save for your own collection of favorites? And will you share any of these with someone else today?