The French know how to write about love. From the depths of their souls to the pinnacles of their hearts, they examine and bring to life love in its many expressions. Whether you turn to the Romantics or delve into literature throughout the ages, you can find a poem to express your love.
19th Century Love Poems by French Poets
Many 19th century French poets beautifully capture and translate the romanticism of love. Three poets from this era - Victor Hugo, Marceline Desbordes-Valmore and Alphonse de Lamartine - epitomize the French love poem. Their work captures love in its extremity, from first bloom to the grave.
Victor Hugo is a literary giant. Best known for his classic works Notre Dame de Paris and Les Misérables, he is also a celebrated poet. His poems often circle around the theme of love.
In Demain, dès l'aube (Tomorrow at Dawn), the poet takes us through the Normandy countryside, his destination at first a mystery, perhaps a love assignation, but what unfolds is much deeper to the poet. He arrives at the gravesite of his daughter, the beauty around him obscured by the loss of his beloved. The poem begins with the title phrase, "Tomorrow, as soon as the first rays of light come through, I will leave." With head cast down, the landscape a night to his grief, the poet trudges to the grave, whereupon he lays a bouquet, vibrant and alive and reconnecting the two, in life and in death.
Another famous love poem by Hugo, Aimons toujours! Aimons encore! begins, 'Let us love always! Let love endure!' encourages us to love at all costs despite the pain and difficulty that are intrinsic to love.
Maceline Desbordes-Valmore was a woman competing in a man's world, yet her first published work, Élégies et romances, marks her as one of the founders of French romantic poetry.
Her poem, L'amour, she asks the question of whether love can make one happy and explores both sides of the question before affirming that love is, indeed, something that even in cruelty brings happiness: "You'll know, whatever may occur/That love will win by force or grace."
Desbordes-Valmore's poem le premier amour (first love) remembers the first drunken moments of love.
Les roses de Saadi, probably her best known poem, rather than de-claim love, enacts love: carrying so many roses that they are lost on the wind and carried out to sea. One cannot possibly carry so many roses, as one cannot contain their love, but, "Roses sweet souvenir scents so closely cling, this evening my dress seems a perfumed-stained skin!"
Desbordes-Valmore's works can be explored at Les grandes classiques.
Alphonse de Lamartine
Alphonse de Lamartine wrote seven poems entitled Chant d'amour, numbered I to VII. Each one has its charm, but Chant d'amour III is easy to discern. Lamartine is famous for hiding his intention in poetic language (which should come as no surprise from a romantic poet), although this can make for difficult elucidation.
One of his longer love poems, Le lac, embeds the theme of love in its interchange. "Let's love, then!/Love, and feel while feel we can/The moment on its run." A fuller understanding of French is required to navigate this poem, but new angles are revealed in every reading.
For access to de Lamartine's complete poems in French visit Les grandes classiques.
More Classic French Love Poems
There are many eras and many love poems to choose from throughout the ages. The following French poets capture the many forms for love, from courtly love to the dying passion of love in the embodiment of the physical world. These poets are revered and lauded to this day.
René Char was a large man, both in person and in life. He was an early follower of the surrealist movement and joined the French Resistance. The war inspired many of his later poems.
His first book of poetry Cloches sur le cœur or Bells on the Heart, was published in 1928. A later poem, La rose violente, resolves, "The violent Rose/Of ruined and transcendent lovers." The lovers attempt to keep their hearts at bay, and while their love remains intact, it's unattainable as loved ones move beyond their reach.
He is an important poet in the scheme of French literature. There are many works, both selected poems with English translations, available for purchase.
Jean Cocteau was many things, including "poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, playwright, artist and filmmaker." Before World War I, he was linked with the Cubists and worked with such artists as Pablo Picasso. It is said that every work he created was a poem. No matter what form his creativity found, poetry was his first and lasting love.
He began his career, publishing a book of poetry, Le cap de Bonne-Esperance, in 1919. Awakening is a widely read poem. On the verge of daybreak, "At the grave mouths of lions," we rise to, "...the widowed queen/And the sailor," as the sun separates and rises to awaken "the tattered fanfare" of humanity. Lamenting the passing of the evening, we must, with heavy heart abandon love for daylight.
For a full collection of Cocteau titles, peruse his works on Amazon, where his books are available for purchase along with recordings, DVDs, and more.
René Daumal was born in the early twentieth century and died at a young age of tuberculosis. He was known for his writings on spirituality and experimented with drugs to attain a higher state of being.
His book of poems, Le contre-ciel (The Counter-Heaven), won the Prix Jacques Doucet. From death, the poems indicate, life begins again. In The Shadow's Skin, the narrator is transformed into pure essence. "And now I have cast off decay/and I come into you completely white,/my new skin is already shivering/in your presence."
Although less known than other poets of this era, Daumal is nevertheless seminal to the canon of French literature.
Marie de France
Marie de France was a medieval poet from the 12th century whose name was taken from a line of one of her published works. Little is known about her identity, but she was most likely known in the court of King Henry II of England.
The Lais of Marie de France are a series of twelve short narrative poems that glorify the concept of courtly love. Told in eight syllable verse, they are written in the Middle English and were probably composed in the late 12th century.
Laustic, or The Nightingale, speaks of lovers who must conduct their affair over a high wall. When the husband becomes suspicious, he orders the nightingale the lady listens to captured, and instead of releasing the bird, kills it. She sends word to her lover, wrapping the bird in tapestry, a token to their unspoken love. He keeps the bird in a small bejeweled vessel, and carries it with him always.
For futher review, her work can be found for purchase at Marie de France.
Classic Love Poems
If you prefer to take the more traditional route, then consider Classic French Love Poems edited by Lisa Neal. This book boasts a wide array of poets, including Pierre de Ronsard, Charles D'Orleans, Jacques Tahureau, Charles Baudelaire, and Paul Verlaine, among others. Sensation by Arthur Rimbaud, The Rose by Pierre de Ronsard and Vain Vows by Charles Guerin are among these selected poems.
Tous Sont Amoureux
Finding the perfect love poem can be easy but also arduous, because Love, with a capital "L," never sleeps in France. The search is endless yet exquisite. Whether mining the depths online or holding the weight of a book in your hand, the perfect romantic poem is within reach. Pace yourself; you are sure to find beautiful romantic sayings in French poems from all periods.