Since Valentine’s Day conjures words of love, we thought it might be interesting to remember some historic state and regional writers and let them reopen their hearts and souls to a contemporary audience.

And while style and tones have obviously changed over the past few hundred years — with the youngest poem here being around 100 years old — the collection here serves as a good reminder of our region’s literary heritage.

Yet more importantly, it also reminds us of our shared humanity and the joys and pains of loving.

So let’s take a sentimental journey from the Colonial Era to the Jazz Age with the following Valentine’s Day guides:

Annis Boudinot Stockton

Annis Boudinot Stockton (1736-1801) is the Revolutionary War poet and wife of Declaration of Declaration of Independence signer Richard Stockton. Her connection to a political family and her interest in poetry made her Princeton home, Morven, a center for culture and ideas — as well as target for the British during the Battle of Princeton in 1777. Here the young bride banishes her longing for her traveling husband by transforming his physical absence to a spiritual presence.

The Disappointment! (1756)

An ode to Mr. Stockton

I see my kind protector come
To soothe my throbbing heart to rest.
He breaks that cloud’s o’erspreading gloom
And chases midnight from my breast.

No tis not him a shadowy sprite.
So like my lover met my eyes
Some angel left the fields of light
Touch’d with compassion at my sighs.

No more he joins the Social band
Around my cheerful fire side
Where friendships fascinating wand
Once made his hours serenely glide.

Tis not for me that voice to hear
Whence sprightly wit and manly sense
Can floe to charm the brow of care
And wisdom’s choicest gifts dispense.

But he shall live within my heart —
His image all my Joy supply —
And when death hurls the fatal dart
I’ll bear it with me to the sky.

Yes see the blessed hour arrives
Ev’n now the peaceful clime I view
When gentle love and virtue thrives
And souls their lapsed powers renew.

No disappointment enters there —
The tender heart no absence pains —
For love refin’d is angels’ fare —
For love eternal ever reigns.

Philip Freneau

Philip Freneau (1752–1832) attended Princeton University, where his roommate was James Madison. Based most of his life in New Jersey, he was a merchant sailor, sea captain, member of the New Jersey militia, and a newspaper publisher and editor who supported Jeffersonian ideas. His war-time poems, including one about his time on a British prison ship, earned him the reputation of being “the poet of the American Revolution.” While the poem here is addressed to the goddess-like moon figure, it was written to his wife while he was away on business.

To Cynthia (1789)

Through Jersey groves, a wandering stream
That still its wonted music keeps,
Inspires no more my evening dream,
Where Cynthia, in retirement, sleeps.

Sweet murmuring stream! how blest art thou
To kiss the bank where she resides,
Where Nature decks the beechen bough
That trembles o’er your shallow tides.

The cypress-tree on Hermit’s height,
Where Love his soft addresses paid
By Luna’s pale reflected light —
No longer charms me to its shade!

To me, alas! so far removed,
What raptures, once, that scenery gave,
Ere wandering yet from all I loved,
I sought a deeper, drearier wave.

Your absent charms my thoughts employ:
I sigh to think how sweet you sung,
And half adore the painted toy
That near my careless heart you hung.

Now, fettered fast in icy fields,
In vain we loose the sleeping sail;
The frozen wave no longer yields,
And useless blows the favouring gale.

Yet, still in hopes of vernal showers,
And breezes, moist with morning dew,
I pass the lingering, lazy hours,
Reflecting on the spring — and you.

Francis Hopkinson

Francis Hopkinson (1737-1791), the Bordentown resident who signed the Declaration of Independence, was a lawyer, inventor, artist who designed the first U.S. flag, musician, and America’s first poet-composer. The following poem served as the lyrics to one of his secular songs. It was published in the Columbian magazine in Philadelphia.

Give Me Thy Heart (1789)

Give me thy heart as I give mine,
Our hands in mutual bonds will join,
Propitious may our union prove,
What’s life without the joys of love?
Should care knock rudely at our gate,
Admittance to obtain,
Cupid shall at the casement wait,
And bid him call again!
Give me thy heart as I give mine
Our hands in mutual bonds will join,
Propitious may our union prove,
What’s life without the joys of love?

Walt Whitman

Walt Whitman (1819–1892) was the Camden-based poet who is acclaimed as one of America’s greatest poets. His recurring themes include democracy, fraternity, and the joys of the physical world and the human body. Here in this undated poem, he sings of the wonder of being a human being and his love for the presence of others.

To a Stranger

From the 1900 edition of “Leaves of Grass”

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,
All is recall’d as we flit by each other, fluid, affectionate, chaste, matured,

You grew up with me, were a boy with me or a girl with me,
I ate with you and slept with you, your body has become not yours only nor left my body mine only,
You give me the pleasure of your eyes, face, flesh, as we pass, you take of my beard, breast, hands, in return,
I am not to speak to you, I am to think of you when I sit alone or wake at night alone,
I am to wait, I do not doubt I am to meet you again,
I am to see to it that I do not lose you.

Stephen Crane

Stephen Crane (1871-1900), born in Newark and an off-and-on New Jersey resident, is the author of several acclaimed “naturalistic” American novels, including the Civil War story “The Red Badge of Courage” and “Maggie: A Girl of the Streets.” He was also a Spanish-American war correspondent, a New Jersey journalist, and one of the era’s most innovative poets. His free, unadorned, and unromantic style was an example of early modernism and, like his novels, had ironic and bitter twists.

Love Walked Alone (1895)

Love walked alone.
The rocks cut her tender feet,
And the brambles tore her fair limbs.
There came a companion to her,
But, alas, he was no help,
For his name was heart’s pain.

Joyce Kilmer

Joyce Kilmer (1886-1918) was the New Brunswick-born and Rutgers-educated journalist and poet whose best known work is “Trees.” However, in addition to his love of nature, Kilmer was noted Catholic and World War I poet who was killed in France four months before the Armistice. The poem is addressed to his wife.

Love’s Lantern (1914)

For Aline

Because the road was steep and long⁠
⁠And through a dark and lonely land,
God set upon my lips a song
⁠And put a lantern in my hand.

Through miles on weary miles of night
⁠That stretch relentless in my way
My lantern burns serene and white,
⁠An unexhausted cup of day.

O golden lights and lights like wine,
⁠How dim your boasted splendors are.
Behold this little lamp of mine;
⁠It is more starlike than a star!

F. Scott Fitzgerald

F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) is the noted writer of such Jazz Age classics as “The Great Gatsby” and “Tender is the Night.” In 1913 he began attending Princeton University, the inspiration for his novel “This Side of Paradise,” and experimented with writing poems. That includes this highly romantic recollection of his unrequited love for Ginevra King, the later inspiration for “The Great Gatsby’s” Daisy. His studies were interrupted by an absence and with more interest in the Triangle Club than maintaining grades. He left without graduating in 1917. The poem was published in the Nassau Literary Magazine.

My First Love (c. 1917)

All my ways she wove of light
Wove them half alive,
Made them warm and beauty-bright…
So the shining, ambient air
Clothes the golden waters where
The pearl fishers dive.
When she wept and begged a kiss
Very close I’d hold her,
Oh I know so well in this
Fine, fierce joy of memory
She was very young like me
Tho’ half an aeon older.

Once she kissed me very long,
Tip-toes out the door,
Left me, took her light along,
Faded as a music fades…
Then I saw the changing shades,
Color-blind no more.

Editor’s Note: For more on love and poetry, see the column by Pia de Jong and Landon Y. Jones.

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