The Greatest Love Letters Ever Written
“Love letters straight from your heart, keep us so near while apart…” The lyrics from the 1945 love song echo the pain of lovers separated, perhaps by war, circumstances, distance, or forbidden love.
Lovers letters wrung from a passionate heart are something that we see less and less of nowadays, which is a crime. A great love – or even an ordinary one – deserves a love letter. Or maybe, the love letters are what makes a great love…
Some of the greatest loves have been celebrated and immortalized by equally great love letters – and every woman deserves to receive one, at least once in her life.
King Solomon’s Love Letter - 600 BCE
Men and women have been writing love letters to each other for all of recorded history. The Song of Solomon, or The Song of Song is part of the Old Testament, and is the only text in the Bible that makes no reference to God, Law, or Judgement – it is a love letter, and a subtly erotic one too…
King Solomon is supposed to have written The Song of Songs for one of his 700 wives and 300 concubines - which made him a very busy man - sometime in the late 6th century BCE, and nearly 3000 years later, the words ring true.
“Thou hast ravished my heart, my sister, my spouse; thou hast ravished my heart with one of thine eyes, with one chain of thy neck. How fair is thy love, my sister, my spouse! how much better is thy love than wine! and the smell of thine ointments than all spices! Thy lips, O my spouse, drop as the honeycomb: honey and milk are under thy tongue; and the smell of thy garments is like the smell of Lebanon.”
Anonymous portrait of Anne Boleyn circa 1533 | Public Domain
Henry XVIII – 16th Century
Henry XVIII’s courtship of Anne Boleyn, his first wife’s maid of honor ended badly, as we all know – he chopped off her head after 3 years of marriage…
But for 7 years, the King ardently pursued the reluctant Anne (who was initially in love with someone else) and won her, not so much with demonstrations of power and wealth, as by baring his soul in a series of sizzling love letters.
“My Mistress & Friend,
my heart and I surrender ourselves into your hands, beseeching you to hold us commended to your favour, and that by absence your affection to us may not be lessened: for it were a great pity to increase our pain, of which absence produces enough and more than I could ever have thought could be felt, reminding us of a point in astronomy which is this: the longer the days are, the more distant is the sun, and nevertheless the hotter; so is it with our love.”
1914 Cover illustration of Soror Mariana Alcoforado for
Mariana of Alcoforado - 17th Century
Some of the most passionate and moving love letters ever written were by the hand of a 25-year-old Portuguese nun, Mariana of Alcoforado, who was seduced by a visiting French nobleman, Noël Bouton, Marquis de Chamilly.
After a 2-year affair, Bouton absconded back to the more sophisticated pleasures of Paris, and the infamously libertine court of Louis XIV. The devastated Mariana wrote him a series of heartbroken letters that the unchivalrous Bouton had published. The letters were so popular in France, that love letters were thereafter referred to as “Portugals.”
“I have bid farewell to my health since you left me, and all my pleasure is in repeating your name a thousand times a day. Some nuns, who know the deplorable state to which you have reduced me, speak to me of you. I leave this room you visited so often as little as I may, and spend all my time gazing on your portrait, which I love a thousand times more than my own life. I dote on looking on you, though it brings me pain, knowing I may never see you again.”
Mariana of Alcoforado
Henri Félix Emmanuel Philippoteaux's portrait of Napoleon Bonaparte, aged 23 | Public Domain
Napoleon Bonaparte – 18th Century
Napoleon Bonaparte fell desperately in love at the age of 26 with a 32-year-old widow, Joséphine de Beauharnais, who was to be the great love of his life. He conquered her heart, and most of Europe, and had her crowned Empress of France.
Desperate for an heir, Napoleon would later divorce his beloved Josephine in order to sire a son, but his last word on his death-bed was her name. While on his many military campaigns, he wrote her numerous impassioned love letters, which are now as famous as his military conquests.
“I awake all filled with you. Your image and the intoxicating pleasures of last night, allow my senses no rest. Sweet and matchless Josephine, how strangely you work upon my heart. Are you angry with me? Are you unhappy? Are you upset? My soul is broken with grief and my love for you forbids repose. But how can I rest any more, when I yield to the feeling that masters my inmost self, when I quaff from your lips and from your heart a scorching flame? Yes! One night has taught me how far your portrait falls short of yourself! You start at midday: in three hours I shall see you again. Till then, a thousand kisses, mio dolce amor! but give me none back for they set my blood on fire.”
Portrait of Antonie Brentano, the woman thought to be Ludwig van Beethovens
Ludwig van Beethoven – 18th Century
One of the greatest mysteries of the well-documented life of beloved composer Ludwig van Beethoven is the identity of his great love, which he addressed as his “Immortal Beloved” in an unsent letter found after his death.
Immortal Beloved was almost certainly a married noblewoman, and Beethoven’s tormented letter reveals the struggle to love absolutely, when he could lay claim to nothing. Because of his obsession with his Immortal Beloved, Beethoven never married.
“My angel, my very self…
Why this profound sorrow, when necessity speaks — can our love endure without sacrifices, without our demanding everything from one another; can you alter the fact that you are not wholly mine, that I am not wholly yours? — Dear God, look at Nature in all her beauty and set your heart at rest about what must be — Love demands all, and rightly so… No doubt we shall meet soon; and today also time fails me to tell you of the thoughts which during these last few days I have been revolving about my life — If our hearts were always closely united, I would certainly entertain no such thoughts.”
Ludwig van Beethoven
Oscar Wilde and his lover, Lord Alfred Douglas in 1893 | Public Domain
Oscar Wilde - 19th Century
Celebrated poet, playwright, and dandy Oscar Wilde was a married man and a devoted father when he met the very young and beautiful Lord Alfred Douglas, the son of the Marquess of Queensberry. Their torrid affair was the scandal of Victorian society, and led to Wilde being jailed for “the love that dare not speak its name.”
Homosexuality was a crime, and for Alfred’s sake, Wilde lost everything. He ended his life in exile, and in abject poverty. Before and after his fall from grace he wrote Alfred a series of achingly beautiful love letters celebrating their forbidden love.
“My dearest boy,
This is to assure you of my immortal, my eternal love for you. Tomorrow all will be over. If prison and dishonour be my destiny, think that my love for you and this idea, this still more divine belief, that you love me in return will sustain me in my unhappiness and will make me capable, I hope, of bearing my grief most patiently. Since the hope, nay rather the certainty, of meeting you again in some world is the goal and the encouragement of my present life, ah! I must continue to live in this world because of that.”
Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor | Getty Images
Richard Burton – 20th Century
Few modern romances are as famous as the one between actor Richard Burton and screen diva Elizabeth Taylor. The couple met on the set of the 1963 movie “Cleopatra,” and though Burton initially referred to her disparagingly as “tubby,” he was soon madly in love with her – and she with him.
The married stars launched into a scandalous adulterous affair that threatened to end their careers and ended up marrying each other, not once but twice. Obsessed with each other, but unable to live together, their romance was a marked by a series of love letters the poetic Burton wrote to Taylor. She was to receive his last letter after his death.
“My blind eyes are desperately waiting for the sight of you. You don’t realise of course, E.B., how fascinatingly beautiful you have always been, and how strangely you have acquired an added and special and dangerous loveliness.”
You Deserve a Love Letter
We all deserve a love letter like these. We all deserve to be passionately and completely loved and to receive a love letter, at least once in our lives. And once in our lives we should love, love completely, and pour out our hearts.
Don’t take those words to the grave, sing them out, write a love letter. Drop that cell phone, forget the DM or the e-mail, grab a sheet of paper, and pour out your feelings. That love you’ve felt, be it past or present: let it all out.
Love letters are just as dizzying and inebriating to write as to receive so if you’ve never received a love letter, go ahead and write one – even if it is to your own best self, your soul, your Immortal Beloved.