The Most Powerful Love Letters Ever Written

Photo: Rex.
What's hiding in your mail pile? Imagine if, among the gas bills, catalogs, and takeout menus, there were a letter from a lover, telling you in beautiful English that you’re the best thing ever. The internet is an unbelievably great form of communication, but a touching text on iMessage or WhatsApp tends to fall between all your other chat threads, open apps, and tabs. It might make you smile for a moment — but a letter makes you stop.

These letters made hearts stop. From some of history’s greatest literary heroes and most-adored artists and actors, here are nine of the most powerful sentiments ever written. They describe love that's turbulent, stolen, unrequited, certain, and pure. Read on; then, find the nearest pen and get writing.
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Ted Hughes To Sylvia Plath

The tragic love story of the two poets is most often considered in the context of Plath’s suicide, which gave everything she wrote a foreboding, melancholic tone. Though they parted under stressful circumstances (Ted left Sylvia and their two children for another woman), this letter was written at the beginning of their relationship, when they were really in love. And it's full of promise.

My dearest Sylvia—

[…]
What’s happened to your dreams? Probably now you’ve started writing all that out, you have — as you say — exorcised it, or at least got it under control. Perhaps it’s been pushing and glooming and corrupting your imagination for long enough. But if you keep up a detailed vivid looking at things, and not at all things, your dreams will go on improving, till you’re the angel of your own paradise.

[…]
I dreamed about you continually last night, in all kinds of places and confusions. We shall meet next week. A week since we met! I wish this was that or was next week, Sylvia. I wish this year were over and our wedding in America were over and I were just laying you down on the bed. All all all all all love Your
Ted.
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Patti Smith To Robert Mapplethorpe

The history of musician and writer Patti Smith and photographer and artist Robert Mapplethorpe should be read in Smith’s important book, Just Kids. It’s a story of two beautiful souls who found each other, both poor and artistic, in New York City — and fell in love. They lived and worked together until Robert started to have relationships with men. Patti went on to marry the musician Fred "Sonic" Smith, but she and Robert remained great friends until his death in 1989. This is a letter Patti wrote to Robert just after his death.

Dear Robert,

Often as I lie awake I wonder if you are also lying awake. Are you in pain or feeling alone? 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. Your work, coming from a fluid source, can be traced to the naked song of your youth. You spoke then of holding hands with God. Remember, through everything, you have always held that hand, grip it hard, Robert, and don’t let go.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.

Patti


Watch Patti read the letter here.
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Germaine Greer To Martin Amis

It’s hard for our generation to picture Germaine Greer as a young woman; the same goes for Maggie Smith and Judi Dench. It’s also hard to picture her being in that vulnerable state of love. But in September this year, Australian journalist and academic Margaret Simons discovered a 30,000-word love letter that Greer wrote to the author Martin Amis but never sent. It was half-titled “The Long Letter to a Short Love, or…” and was written when Greer was 37 and Amis 26, while Amis was in a relationship with somebody else. The letter is to be published this month in an Australian literary journal, though Greer has said that she never intended it to be read widely. That said, it’s just too well-written to exclude from this list.

Your eyes…are cool-coloured, sort of air force blue-grey, and strangely unreflecting. You slide them away from most things and look at people through your thick eyelids, under your hair, your eyebrows and your lashes. You look at mouths more than eyes. Is it because you hate to look up? It is very shy and graceful and tantalising, as well you know.
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Virginia Woolf To Leonard Woolf

Virginia Woolf wrote some of the most remarkable and original prose in all of history. But her suicide letter to her husband, Leonard, is perhaps the most touching. After battling depression for many years, Virginia waded into the river near her East Sussex home and drowned. She left this note for her husband on the mantelpiece.

Dearest,

I feel certain that I am going mad again. I feel we can't go through another of those terrible times. And I shan't recover this time. I begin to hear voices, and I can't concentrate. So I am doing what seems the best thing to do. You have given me the greatest possible happiness. You have been in every way all that anyone could be. I don't think two people could have been happier till this terrible disease came. I can't fight any longer. I know that I am spoiling your life, that without me you could work. And you will I know. You see I can't even write this properly. I can't read. What I want to say is I owe all the happiness of my life to you. You have been entirely patient with me and incredibly good. I want to say that — everybody knows it. If anybody could have saved me it would have been you. Everything has gone from me but the certainty of your goodness. I can't go on spoiling your life any longer.

I don't think two people could have been happier than we have been.

V.
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Vita Sackville-West To Virginia Woolf

Both writers, Virginia and Vita met at a dinner party in 1922. Vita and her husband were bisexual and had an open marriage. Virginia was married to Leonard, seemingly the nicest man in the world, who accepted his wife’s affair with Vita because he valued the happiness it gave her. Vita inspired Virginia to write her most controversial book, Orlando, in 1927. Vita’s son later described it as “the longest and most charming love letter in literature.” Though the affair ended, Virginia and Vita remained close friends until Virginia’s death in 1941.

I am reduced to a thing that wants Virginia. I composed a beautiful letter to you in the sleepless nightmare hours of the night, and it has all gone: I just miss you, in a quite simple desperate human way.
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Simone De Beauvoir To Nelson Algren

The writers met in 1947 and were embroiled in a love affair for 20 years, during which de Beauvoir wrote more than 300 love letters to Algren. De Beauvoir was 39 — and in a devoted but open relationship with Jean-Paul Sartre — when she met the Pulitzer Prize-wrinning writer. The affair turned bitter when de Beauvoir refused to abandon her partnership with Sartre. When she died, her ashes were placed next to Sartre's — yet there is something absolute in this letter she wrote to Algren.

Anyhow, you gave me so much, Nelson, what you gave me meant so much, that you could never take it back. And then your tenderness and friendship were so precious to me that I can still feel warm and happy and harshly grateful when I look at you inside me. I do hope this tenderness and friendship will never, never desert me. As for me, it is baffling to say so and I feel ashamed, but it is the only true truth: I just love as much as I did when I landed into your disappointed arms, that means with my whole self and all my dirty heart; I cannot do less.
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Vladimir Nabokov To Vera Nabokov

The Lolita author met his wife, Vera, at a charity ball in Berlin in 1923. They were married for 52 years. All of his works are dedicated to her, and he has been described as “the most happily married writer of the 20th century.” The Nabokovs spent most of their time together, living and working alongside each other, with Vera overseeing the translation and publication of all of Vladimir’s books. The Guardian reported that she “even carried a gun to fend off unwanted journalists and other snoops.” Despite several affairs, including one that nearly tore them apart (it was with fellow Russian Irina Yurievna Guadanini, to whom Vladimir apparently wrote similarly moving letters), the Nabokovs stayed married until Vladimir's death in 1977. Complicated though the relationship was, there’s a loveliness to this, one of Vladimir's first letters to Vera.

I won’t hide it: I’m so unused to being — well, understood, perhaps, — so unused to it, that in the very first minutes of our meeting I thought: this is a joke… But then… And there are things that are hard to talk about — you’ll rub off their marvelous pollen at the touch of a word… You are lovely…
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Richard Burton To Elizabeth Taylor

Elizabeth Taylor and Richard Burton married each other twice. He was her fifth and sixth husband (of an eventual eight). They fell in love while filming Cleopatra in 1963, and their first on-screen kiss reportedly went on long after the director said "cut." They were both married at the time, but this was Hollywood, and they divorced their respective spouses in order to marry each other in 1964. A decade later, in 1974, they divorced, citing Richard’s affair with a younger co-star. Then, they married again in 1975 — and divorced again shortly after. Their relationship was so fiery, even the Vatican condemned it as “erotic vagrancy." Here are two letters they wrote to each other, both after the relationship had ended.

So My Lumps,

You’re off, by God! I can barely believe it since I am so unaccustomed to anybody leaving me. But reflectively I wonder why nobody did so before. All I care about — honest to God — is that you are happy and I don’t much care who you’ll find happiness with. I mean as long as he’s a friendly bloke and treats you nice and kind. If he doesn’t I’ll come at him with a hammer and clinker. God’s eye may be on the sparrow but my eye will always be on you. Never forget your strange virtues. Never forget that underneath that veneer of raucous language is a remarkable and puritanical LADY. I am a smashing bore and why you’ve stuck by me so long is an indication of your loyalty.

I shall miss you with passion and wild regret.
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Elizabeth Taylor To Richard Burton

My darling (my still) My husband,

I wish I could tell you of my love for you, of my fear, my delight, my pure animal pleasure of you — (with you) — my jealousy, my pride, my anger at you, at times. Most of all my love for you, and whatever love you can dole out to me — I wish I could write about it but I can’t. I can only 'boil and bubble' inside and hope you understand how I really feel.

Anyway I lust thee, Your (still) Wife.

P.S. O’Love, let us never take each other for granted again!

P.P.S. How about that — 10 years!!
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