Main Image

From the Archives: A Reading of Love Poems

Published in The Harvard Advocate, Vol. II, No 3 (Oct. 26, 1866).

In October 1866, the editors of The Harvard Advocate decided it was time to address the subject of “love poetry.” Though the publication had been running for under a year, it had already disappointed dozens of swooning sonneteers with rejection letters. In the column reprinted above, the editors do their best to soothe these romantic spirits: it’s not you, they promise—it’s love that’s the problem. A timeless preoccupation, a “favorite” since ancient times, love (they say) is simply impossible to transcribe onto the pages of an undergraduate publication.

The editors explain that love is an intricate and many-sided thing; however, they regret to announce, its best sides have already been taken. And while it is indisputably interesting, love is not contagious: those who remain outside of Cupid’s sway do not care to hear from his arrow-struck victims. Ultimately, the column concludes, a love sonnet simply doesn’t belong in a magazine. Removed from its proper home—a romantic landscape furnished with gentle whispering winds and twinkling stars—the poem loses its power, only to be obscured by crumbs of ash in the hands of some “careless Sophomore.” The editors recommend that their inspired contributors tone down the love bit and just write good poetry.

The editors of 1866 can relax in their graves; their concerns have been largely obviated by the passing of time. Today’s poetic climate has shifted away from outpourings of love in iambic pentameter, and not too many rosy-cheeked lads remain sulking over their rejected sonnets for Sally. But to reveal how Advocate editors throughout the decades have treated the matter of meritorious love poetry, I leave you with two representative poems: “The Undying” from 1905 and “Poem” from 1955.

Published in The Harvard Advocate, Vol. LXXIX, No. 6 (May 12, 1905).

Published in The Harvard Advocate, Vol. CXXIX, No. 3 (Christmas 1955).