In the immortal words of Alfred Lord Tennyson, “Tis better to have loved and lost than never to have loved at all.” Whether you have experienced separation, divorce, or bereavement, it can be hard to believe this when mourning the end of a relationship. However, it can be therapeutic to reflect on love lost. Here I have gathered a list of some of the most memorable lost love poems to help you through these feelings.
Short lost love poems
Sometimes you can say a lot in just a few words. These next lost love poems are short enough that I have included them in their entirety! Short poems can be devastatingly effective, and the most skilled poets can convey in just a few lines what may take others many pages. These next lost love poems are included fully to give you a little boost when needed.
“Heart, We Will Forget Him” by Emily Dickinson
This short love poem by 19th Century American poet Emily Dickinson expresses desperation and determination to get over a lost love. Like many of Dickinson’s, this poem does not have an actual title. Dickinson had an intense connection with her close friend Susan Gilbert, who went on to marry Dickinson’s own brother. As stories of lost love go, that has to be one of the most heartwrenching. This relationship has led scholars to speculate that the “him” in her love poems was not, in fact, a “him” after all. Whatever the truth of the matter, this is one of the great lost love poems.
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!
“Coat” by Vicki Feaver
This short poem by English poet Vicki Feaver uses a simple yet effective metaphor to depict lost love and regret. Comparing her former lover to a coat, she mourns that there is now nothing to keep her warm in the cold. It is normal to have mixed and conflicting emotions after a breakup. This poem does an excellent job describing how a relationship can be both stifling and deeply missed when it is gone.
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.
“Reasons” by Lang Leav
Bestselling Cambodian novelist and poet Lang Leav has become well-known for her concise yet brutally honest love poetry. There are many lost love poems in her repertoire, with “Reasons” being one of the best. If you find yourself lying awake in the early hours of the morning wondering what caused your romance to end, this poem is bound to strike a chord.
I wish I knew why he left. What his reasons were. Why he changed his mind.
For all these years, I have turned it over in my head—all the possibilities—yet none of them make any sense.
And then I think, perhaps it was because he never loved me. But that makes the least sense of all.
“i didn’t leave” by Rupi Kaur
In the tradition of Shakespeare and Emily Dickinson, young Canadian poet Rupi Kaur often writes short, untitled love poems. In a break with tradition, Kaur’s poetry first rose to prominence on social media platforms like Instagram and Tumblr, resulting in her releasing the bestselling collection milk and honey at only 21. Although Kaur’s poems are usually very short, they are often profound and empowering. If you are mourning the end of a relationship and need reminding why leaving was the right choice, this one is a great reminder!
i didn’t leave because
i stopped loving you
i left because the longer
i stayed the less
i loved myself
Motivational lost love poems
Sometimes you don’t want to wallow in sadness. At some point, you have to do the work of rebuilding your broken heart and thinking of the future. If you are at this point in the recovery process, poetry and art can be a valuable ally. If you’re ready to wipe the tears from your eyes and face the world again, these next two lost love poems can get you back on your feet.
“To-do list (after the breakup)” by Rupi Kaur
Some of Rupi Kaur’s poetry is a little longer and more detailed. Self-care is a common topic in her work, and there is no time when self-care is more vital than after a breakup. Thankfully, there are many ways that you can practice self-care! Are you looking for incredibly specific guidance on how to recover from a lost love? Kaur’s poem “to-do list (after the breakup)” will take you through the process step-by-step!
1. take refuge in your bed
2. cry. till the tears stop (this will take a few days).
3. don’t listen to slow songs.
4. delete their number from your phone even though it is memorized on your fingertips.
5. don’t look at old photos.
6. find the closest ice cream shop and treat yourself to two scoops of mint chocolate chip. the mint will calm your heart. you deserve the chocolate.
7. buy new bed sheets.
8. collect all the gifts, t-shirts, and everything with their smell on it and drop it off at a donation center.
9. plan a trip.
10. perfect the art of smiling and nodding when someone brings their name up in conversation.
11. start a new project.
12. whatever you do. do not call.
13. do not beg for what does not want to stay.
14. stop crying at some point.
15. allow yourself to feel foolish for believing you could’ve built the rest of your life in someone else’s stomach.
“One Art” by Elizabeth Bishop
Pulitzer Prize-winning American poet Elizabeth Bishop produced many great works. “One Art” is a standout, describing the narrator’s method of preventing the pain of lost love. Bishop lists the things to lose daily to become accustomed to your loss. However, by the end of the poem, the narrator seems to be fooling themselves on this strategy’s effectiveness!
Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.
Unconventional lost love poems
There are many possible approaches to the topic of lost love. The best art can break conventions and still remain emotionally resonant. These next few lost love poems are a little more unusual: some approach the topic from a different philosophical perspective, and others use unconventional writing styles to express feelings of loss.
“Wild Oats” by Philip Larkin
Sometimes you have to acknowledge your own faults in a breakup. As comforting for the ego as it may be for us to believe ourselves entirely the innocent victim, life is not usually this black-and-white. When you are ready, it can be healthy to reflect on how you can avoid similar future mistakes. “Wild Oats” by revered English poet Philip Larkin presents a level-headed look at the narrator’s own romantic failures.
Parting, after about five
Rehearsals, was an agreement
That I was too selfish, withdrawn,
And easily bored to love.
Well, useful to get that learnt.
“Mad Girl’s Love Song” by Sylvia Plath
No list of poetry would be complete without mentioning Sylvia Plath. She was one of the most famous English poets of all time and a brilliant novelist who created the masterpiece The Bell Jar. Sadly, her personal life was marred by depression, mental illness, and a turbulent relationship with fellow poet Ted Hughes. The combination of these tragedies led her to suicide in 1963, but not before she left behind a remarkable oeuvre of poems. “Mad Girl’s Love Song” is one of the great lost love poems, and the suggestion that her loved one was purely imaginary gives it a devastating twist.
I fancied you’d return the way you said,
But I grow old and I forget your name.
(I think I made you up inside my head.)
“To a Stranger” by Walt Whitman
Sylvia Plath was not the only poet to approach the topic of lost love from an unexpected angle. Walt Whitman, one of the greatest American poets of all time, evoked a sense of the imaginary in “To a Stranger.” One of the less conventional lost love poems, “To a Stranger,” imagines the spirit of a lost love from a past life, reincarnated in the body of a passing stranger. If you’ve ever been through a breakup and thought you saw your lost love everywhere, you’ll probably relate to this one.
PASSING stranger! you do not know how longingly I
look upon you,
You must be he I was seeking, or she I was seeking,
(it comes to me, as of a dream,)
I have somewhere surely lived a life of joy with you
“Seeing other people” by Kae Tempest
English writer and musician Kae Tempest is something of a master of the arts and a skilled observer of modern love. They have been active on the performance poetry scene for a few years now, writing plays and releasing critically-acclaimed hip-hop albums! Tempest’s collection Running Upon the Wires features this heartwrenching love poem about a partner deciding to leave and go their own way.
We smile like this is something but the gestures
all seem posed. Well aware that morning comes
and finds us separate and closed
We go for drinks, they take me home
the heartthrob I have dreamed of being. Sort of sure
that my heart’s lost
and can’t bear what it’s seeing
“Miles Away” by Carol Ann Duffy
Contemporary poet Carol Ann Duffy was both the first woman and the first (known) LGBT poet to be granted the position of Poet Laureate of the United Kingdom—the highest honor a British poet can receive! In many of her poems, heartbreak is a common theme. “Miles Away” from her second poetry collection Selling Manhattan, is an excellent example of Duffy’s devastatingly sad love poetry.
I want you and you are not here. I pause
in this garden, breathing the colour thought is
before language into still air. Even your name
is a pale ghost and, though I exhale it again
and again, it will not stay with me.
Devastating lost love poems
Getting over a lost love is not usually a smooth ride. While some days you may feel optimistic and motivated, other days you may just want to wallow in the depths of your angst for a while. Don’t worry: this is a perfectly normal part of the process. Nothing expresses the torment of lost love like poetry, and these next few lost love poems are drowning in misery and regret.
“To His Lost Lover” by Simon Armitage
English poet Simon Armitage succeeded Carol Ann Duffy as Poet Laureate in 2019, and his repertoire features just as much emotionally devastating writing as hers! His poem “To His Lost Lover” tells the story of a man reminiscing about lost love and all the things he never got the chance to share with her. This poem is pretty brutal if you have recently ended a relationship—especially the final stanza!
But said some things and never meant them –
sweet nothings anybody could have mentioned.
And left unsaid some things he should have spoken,
about the heart, where it hurt exactly, and how often.
“I Hear An Army” by James Joyce
Legendary Irish novelist and poet James Joyce describes this poem from his 1907 collection Chamber Music, “an army charging upon the land, and the thunder of horses plunging.” This dramatic, terrifying scene conjures feelings of overwhelming dread and angst. But what has caused such mental turmoil? The reason for these feelings is made evident by the last line of the poem:
They come shaking in triumph their long, green hair:
They come out of the sea and run shouting by the shore.
My heart, have you no wisdom thus to despair?
My love, my love, my love, why have you left me alone?
“Saddest Poem” by Pablo Neruda
Chilean poet Pablo Neruda indeed led one of the most eventful lives of any writer imaginable. A child prodigy, Neruda became known for his poetry at the age of thirteen. He continued to write poetry and non-fiction during his adult years spent as a politician and diplomat. Before his untimely death (suspected to be a political assassination) in 1973, he produced many love poems. The aptly-named “Saddest Poem,” which starts with the line “I can write the saddest poem of all tonight,” is a devastating example.
I no longer love her, true, but perhaps I love her.
Love is so short and oblivion so long.
Because on nights like this I held her in my arms,
my soul is lost without her.
“Shake hands, we shall never be friends, all’s over” by A. E. Housman
After a bad breakup, it is easy to feel cynical and hopeless at times. Poems like this next one express this feeling in all its bitterness. In this poem, English poet A. E. Housman details the end of a relationship that is beyond saving. Not only have the narrator’s flaws made it impossible for their love to continue, but the two of them are unable even to remain friends. Ouch.
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…
Classic lost love poems
Love has always existed and been celebrated in human society—romantic scenes have even been found in prehistoric cave paintings! For as long as humans have experienced love, they have also experienced the loss of love. Since the invention of language, feelings of loss have been expressed through poetry. These next lost love poems are timeless and still relevant after centuries.
“Sonnet 147” by William Shakespeare
One of the most famous wordsmiths of all time, William Shakespeare, wrote nearly 40 plays and 154 sonnets (that we know of)! Born in Stratford-upon-Avon, England, Shakespeare’s writing was not only hugely popular but is taught in classrooms around the world to this day.
His 147th sonnet is one of his saddest, describing his relentless thoughts of his lost love and comparing them to illness.
My love is as a fever, longing still
For that which longer nurseth the disease,
Feeding on that which doth preserve the ill,
Th’ uncertain sickly appetite to please.
“Long Neglect Has Worn Away” by Emily Brontë
While Emily Brontë is most well-known for her classic romantic novel Wuthering Heights, she also contributed many short poems to the canon of English literature. “Long Neglect Has Worn Away” is a heartbreaking portrayal of the devastation left by lost love. However, it also takes care to evoke the sweetness of the memories that the narrator is still left with, even if things did not end well.
Long neglect has worn away
Half the sweet enchanting smile;
Time has turned the bloom to grey;
Mould and damp the face defile…
“Whoso List to Hunt” by Sir Thomas Wyatt
This poem is one of the earliest-known sonnets written in the English language. Sir Thomas Wyatt wrote “Whoso List to Hunt,” and many other poems, as a reworking of a piece by the Italian poet Petrarch. In this poem, Wyatt likens the object of his affection to a deer that he has reluctantly given up hunting. With Wyatt’s love rumored to be none other than King Henry VIII’s second wife Anne Boleyn, it is easy to imagine why he may have thrown in the towel to such a powerful rival.
Whoso list to hunt, I know where is an hind,
But as for me, hélas, I may no more.
The vain travail hath wearied me so sore,
I am of them that farthest cometh behind.
“They Flee From Me” by Sir Thomas Wyatt
Carrying on with the “lover as an animal” metaphor from “Whoso List to Hunt”, Wyatt describes how all of his past lovers have deserted him in “They Flee From Me.” With no shortage of sad love poems, Wyatt certainly wore his heart on his sleeve! If you have ever contemplated a long history of romantic failures, this is sure to be one of the most relatable lost love poems out there.
They flee from me that sometime did me seek
With naked foot, stalking in my chamber.
I have seen them gentle, tame, and meek,
That now are wild and do not remember
“The Broken Heart” by John Donne
Like Shakespeare, English poet and Catholic priest John Donne wrote in the late 16th and early 17th Centuries. Although he was a profoundly religious man, Donne had various romances and often wrote poems dedicated to love and eroticism. He also wrote about the aftermath of love in poems like “The Broken Heart,” where he describes his heart shattering beyond repair.
And now, as broken glasses show
A hundred lesser faces, so
My rags of heart can like, wish, and adore,
But after one such love, can love no more.
“A Broken Appointment” by Thomas Hardy
Victorian writer Thomas Hardy is most famous for his novels “Far From the Madding Crowd” and “Tess of the d’Urbevilles,” but he was also a prolific poet. One of his most well-known poems is “A Broken Appointment,” which describes a former lover standing him up on an agreed meeting. It is one of the saddest poems on the list—not only has the narrator lost his love, but he has lost respect for her and has been denied closure!
You did not come,
And marching Time drew on, and wore me numb<
Yet less for loss of your dear presence there
Than that I thus found lacking in your make
That high compassion which can overbear
Reluctance for pure lovingkindness’ sake
“You say you love; but with a voice” by John Keats
As one of the Romantic poets, John Keats was no stranger to descriptions of vivid emotion. The Romantic movement gave the world a multitude of great lost love poems, and this 1817 offering is no exception. Of all the verses about sad love, this is one of the most tragic—his lover will not even admit that her love for him is gone. While the couple is still “together”, the flame seems to have been extinguished.
You say you love; but then your hand
No soft squeeze for squeeze returneth;
It is like a statue’s, dead,—
While mine for passion burneth—
O love me truly!
“When You Are Old” by W. B. Yeats
For many years, William Butler Yeats pined for the Irish revolutionary Maude Gonne, whose beauty earned her many other admirers. “When You Are Old” from 1893 is one of Yeats’ best poems, and imagines his beloved one day looking back to realize that Yeats’ love for her was the truest, but it is now too late. For Yeats, his beloved’s courage and integrity drew him, not just her physical beauty.
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.
Lost love has been an ever-present topic for poems for centuries. This overwhelming and universal human feeling and the pain it can bring have been explored as much as the joy. The loss of a relationship usually brings pain and tears—the “grieving stage” is a natural and healthy part of the healing process. While nothing can make the pain disappear instantly, reading sad love poems can be cathartic and help you acknowledge and make peace before moving on.