Before email, text messages, and Instagram memes, couples in love would communicate through heartfelt handwritten messages. Something about the notion of writing one’s thoughts for another conveys a deep sense of intimacy.
While jewelry and diamonds may catch the eye, words written from the heart convey your love in a more intimate way. This Valentine’s Day, write your loved one a note to accompany a gift or follow a romantic dinner. These famous love letters will inspire you to craft the perfect message.
The History of Love Letters
Love letters have been capturing the minds and hearts of civilization for centuries. The form, medium, and content may have changed, but the purpose remains the same — to communicate raw emotion.
The Song of Solomon, found in the Hebrew Bible and the Old Testament, is the voice of two lovers praising each other. It is a unique example of sexuality in historical, religious writings.
Behold, you are beautiful, my love;
behold, you are beautiful;
your eyes are doves.
Another example from ancient history is a letter written from Rukimini to Krishna that appears in the Bhagavata Purana. In this Hindu scripture, Rukimini eloquently expresses his affection for Krishna.
Oh Most Beautiful One of all the Worlds, I heard about Your qualities. For all who listen and whom You have entered through the openings of their ears, You thus remove the distress of their bodies. To those who have eyes, the sight of Your beauty constitutes the complete fulfillment of their life’s purpose. Therefore I have without any shame devoted my mind to You Acyuta!
As time went on and language evolved, so too did love letters. Old love letters serve as a glimpse into society, highlighting important values, personal expression, and communication styles.
Love letters as we know them today probably began in the early Renaissance, around the start of the 14th century. The Age of Chivalry produced a series of discrete correspondences based on chaste compliments and courtly love. In the early 18th century, love letters become much more personal, full of tenderness and charm.
Human beings from every time and place have sought to explain the depth of their emotion and their regard for their partner. Below we feature famous love letters from around the globe to explore the universality of love.
Examples of Great Love Letters Through Time
1790s – General Napoleon Bonaparte To Joséphine Bonaparte
General Napoleon Bonaparte is known for his military prowess and the large empire he built following the French Revolution. When he was just a young officer, he met Joséphine, who was six years older. He wrote her love letters while he was at war, though she rarely answered them. The letter below reveals another side to this complicated man.
A few days ago I thought I loved you; but since I last saw you I feel I love you a thousand times more. All the time I have known you, I adore you more each day; that just shows how wrong was La Bruyére’s maxim that love comes all at once. Everything in nature has its own life and different stages of growth. I beg you, let me see some of your faults: be less beautiful, less graceful, less kind, less good…
- Discuss how your love has evolved.
- Tell them explicitly that you care for them.
- Highlight their positive attributes.
1812 – Ludwig van Beethoven to his Immortal Beloved
The intended recipient of this famous letter has long been the subject of speculation. What is not questioned is the passion of Beethoven’s words. The unsent letter remained in the composer’s estate, where it was found after his death.
Even in bed my ideas yearn towards you, my Immortal Beloved, here and there joyfully, then again sadly, awaiting from Fate, whether it will listen to us. I can only live, either altogether with you or not at all.
What longing in tears for you — You — my Life — my All — farewell. Oh, go on loving me — never doubt the faithfullest heart
Of your beloved
- Detail how being both together and apart makes you feel.
- Make your closing shine by cementing the longevity of your love.
1890s – Oscar Wilde to Lord Alfred Douglas
The poet Oscar Wilde was inspired by his passionate and tumultuous love for Lord Alfred Douglas, who was an undergraduate at Oxford at the time of their meeting. Douglas became Wilde’s muse. Throughout the course of their affair, Wilde wrote some of his most stirring works, including Salomé and The Importance of Being Earnest.
My Own Boy,
Your sonnet is quite lovely, and it is a marvel that those red rose-leaf lips of yours should be made no less for the madness of music and song than for the madness of kissing. Your slim gilt soul walks between passion and poetry. I know Hyacinthus, whom Apollo loved so madly, was you in Greek days.
- List traits of theirs that you find attractive.
- Tell them that they inspire you.
1920s to 1930s – Zelda Fitzgerald to F. Scott Fitzgerald
The Fitzgeralds wrote a great deal of wonderful letters to one another over the course of their tumultuous relationship. Zelda’s eccentric personality and her way with words shine in this letter.
“Darling– I love these velvet nights. I’ve never been able to decide whether the night was a bitter enemie or a “grand patron” –or whether I love you most in the eternal classic half-lights where it blends with day or in the full religious fan-fare of mid-night or perhaps in the lux of noon. Anyway, I love you most and you ‘phoned me just because you phoned me tonight– I walked on those telephone wires for two hours after holding your love like a parasol to balance me. My dear–”
- Describe the space they occupy in your heart.
- Convey that you enjoy speaking to them.
1940s – Frida Kahlo to Diego Rivera
The strong emotions associated with love can be confusing and polarizing. This is evident in the letters between Frida Kahlo and Diego Rivera. While their marriages were notoriously tumultuous, their love for one another is unquestionable, albeit sometimes difficult to interpret.
Truth is, so great, that I wouldn’t like to speak, or sleep, or listen, or love. To feel myself trapped, with no fear of blood, outside time and magic, within your own fear, and your great anguish, and within the very beating of your heart. All this madness, if I asked it of you, I know, in your silence, there would be only confusion. I ask you for violence, in the nonsense, and you, you give me grace, your light and your warmth. I’d like to paint you, but there are no colors, because there are so many, in my confusion, the tangible form of my great love.
- Tell them how they fulfill your needs.
- If the words fail you, write that down. That in itself is meaningful.
1964 – Richard Burton to Elizabeth Taylor
Richard Burton fell in love with Elizabeth Taylor the moment he saw her on set of the 1963 epic Cleopatra. Their love affair was both celebrated and vilified, but the passion between the two movie stars could not be denied. The pair became Hollywood royalty.
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.
- Explain how excited you get to see them.
- Note how the world sees them, which many struggle to see in themselves.
1989 – Patti Smith to Robert Mapplethorpe
Punk legend Patti Smith and renowned photographer Robert Mapplethorpe fell in love as struggling artists in New York City. While their romance was short-lived, their friendship and regard for one another lasted a lifetime. Patti wrote this moving letter to Robert after his passing.
Often as I lie awake I wonder if you are also lying awake…You drew me from the darkest period of my young life, sharing with me the sacred mystery of what it is to be an artist. I learned to see through you and never compose a line or draw a curve that does not come from the knowledge I derived in our precious time together…The other afternoon, when you fell asleep on my shoulder, I drifted off, too. But before I did, it occured to me looking around at all of your things and your work and going through years of work in my mind, that of all your work, you are still your most beautiful. The most beautiful work of all.
- Explain what they were able to help you through.
- Remind them of their accomplishments.
1994 – Johnny Cash’s letter to June Carter Cash
This sweet birthday letter doesn’t use any floral language or metaphors. There is something deeply endearing about the straightforward nature of this note from Johnny Cash to his beloved wife.
Happy Birthday Princess,
We get old and get use to each other. We think alike.
We read each other’s minds. We know what the other wants without asking. Sometimes we irritate each other a little bit. Maybe sometimes take each other for granted.
But once in awhile, like today, I meditate on it and realize how lucky I am to share my life with the greatest woman I ever met. You still fascinate and inspire me.
You influence me for the better. You’re the object of my desire, the #1 Earthly reason for my existence. I love you very much.
Happy Birthday Princess.
- Be true to who you are.
- Tell them how they make you feel and what it means to be a part of their life.
Tips from Iconic Love Letters
These love letter tips show that even as written communication evolves, romantic sentiments stay the same. Take note of how these artists and authors expressed their undying love for their significant others.
There is a visceral pleasure in writing and reading a love letter. Hopefully the famous love letters above inspire you to put your feelings down in writing. Regardless of how eloquent or well-written, your loved one is sure to be smitten with this sweet gesture.