Men and women have used writing to express their feelings to one another since the dawn of recorded time. Most of those heartfelt words are lost to the press of history. Even from what survive, there may be more beautiful and earnest love letters. But these 10 letters demonstrate the qualities that make a love letter a moving tribute to the beloved—and provide some guidance for writing beautiful love letters of our own.
What makes these love letters beautiful?:
- These letters are honest. The women who penned these letters aren’t afraid to share their feelings, even if those feelings might be painful or embarrassing to share. They open themselves completely to their husbands or husband-to-be without protecting themselves or their spouses’ feelings.
- The authors write to feel close, even if they don’t have anything to say. Frequent communication is one of the secrets to long distance relationships that work (link). Many of these letters were written simply to say, “hello” or “I love you” to those the authors cared about most.
- The letters express how important their husbands are to them. In happy or failing marriages, from nearby and far away, these letters all remind their recipients that they are meaningful parts of the writers’ lives.
- These women keep trying. Some of the most moving letters on this list are from women whose marriages are facing significant challenges. Their writers aren’t willing to give up on love.
History’s 10 Greatest Love Letters from Wives to Their Husbands
Song of Songs
Written around 900 BC, perhaps by or for King Solomon, the Biblical book Song of Songs contains some of the most beautiful love poetry ever written. In these verses the woman uses powerful, animal imagery to express her longing for her beloved.
My beloved is like a roe or a young hart: behold, he standeth behind our wall, he looketh forth at the windows, shewing himself through the lattice.
My beloved spake, and said unto me, Rise up, my love, my fair one, and come away. For, lo, the winter is past, the rain is over and gone; The flowers appear on the earth; the time of the singing of birds is come, and the voice of the turtle is heard in our land; The fig tree putteth forth her green figs, and the vines with the tender grape give a good smell. Arise, my love, my fair one, and come away.
O my dove, that art in the clefts of the rock, in the secret places of the stairs, let me see thy countenance, let me hear thy voice; for sweet is thy voice, and thy countenance is comely. Take us the foxes, the little foxes, that spoil the vines: for our vines have tender grapes.
My beloved is mine, and I am his: he feedeth among the lilies.Until the day break, and the shadows flee away, turn, my beloved, and be thou like a roe or a young hart upon the mountains of Bether. (Read more from Song of Songs…)
Heloise to Her Husband Abelard
Abelard (1079-1142) and Heloise (1090?-1164) are the true-life, tragic lovers of the 12th century. Abelard seduced and married his pupil Heloise who fell deeply in love with him. When her uncle had Abelard forcibly castrated, he considered himself effectively divorced by the knife, so the pair entered cloistered religious life. Heloise accepted her husband’s desires, but continued to love him until the day she died—she left instructions that she be buried beside him in his tomb. In this letter, Heloise defends actions that might seem sinful to the rest of the world and forces Abelard to fathom the depths of her affection for him.
Mary Queen of Scots to Her Late Husband Francis
Although she was the only legitimate heir of King James V of Scotland, Mary (1542-1597) spent most of her early life in France. According to contemporary accounts, she was beautiful, vivacious, clever, and—at 5’ 11”—statuesque. Soon after they met, Mary and Francis, Dauphin of France (1544-1560) fell in love and married in 1559. Even though he died just a year later, Mary thought of him as her one, true love for the rest of her life. She wrote this poem after his death in 1560.
By all thine eyes have told me, think on me.
When hearts are lightest, when eyes are brightest,
When griefs are slightest, think on me.
In all thine hours of gladness, think on me.
If e’er I soothed thy sadness, think on me.
When foes are by thee, when woes are nigh thee,
When friends all fly thee, think on me.
When thou hast none to cheer thee, think on me.
When no fond heart is near thee, think on me.
When lonely sighing, o’er pleasure flying,
When hope is dying, think on me.
“To My Dear and Loving Husband” by Anne Bradstreet about Her Husband Simon
Early pilgrim writer Anne Bradstreet (1612?-1672) was the first published female poet in the New World. She left her father’s aristocratic English home to follow her husband Simon (1603-1697) and their shared religious vision to Massachusetts in 1630. During her husband’s frequent business trips, Anne deeply missed him. Her poems about him reflect a deep, spiritual connection and a romance most Puritan couples tried to spurn. Anne recognized her marriage as a central part of her vocation and loving her family as her way to love God. In this poem, she expresses her deep gratitude for her husband.
If ever man were loved by wife, then thee.
If ever wife was happy in a man,
Compare with me, ye women, if you can.
I prize thy love more than whole mines of gold,
Or all the riches that the East doth hold.
My love is such that rivers cannot quench,
Nor ought but love from thee give recompense.
Thy love is such I can no way repay;
The heavens reward thee manifold, I pray.
Then while we live, in love let’s so persever,
That when we live no more, we may live ever.
Queen Mary II to Her Husband King William III
Unlike most of the women on this list, Mary (1662-1694) was not eager to marry her betrothed, her first cousin William of Orange (1650-1702). Though she cried her way down the aisle, Mary eventually came to love her husband deeply. When he was away on his frequent military campaigns, she wrote to him often to keep him up-to-date about what she was doing and how she was feeling. In this brief epistle, Mary writes simply to tell her husband she is thinking about him.
Abigail Adams to Her Future Husband John
By the time she was 17, Abigail (1744-1818) knew enough about poetry, philosophy, and politics to catch the eye of her clever and ambitious third-cousin, John Adams (1735-1826). John and Abigail soon began to write to each other, a tradition they upheld during each of his frequent absences for the next fifty years. In their earliest correspondence, Adam’s wrote to his “Diana,” the virgin goddess of the moon. She returned letters to her “Lysander,” the Spartan hero of the Peloponnesian War. In this letter, Abigail insists that her fiancé’s problems are her problems, too.
And there is a tye more binding than Humanity, and stronger than Friendship, which makes us anxious for the happiness and welfare of those to whom it binds us. It makes their [Misfortunes], Sorrows and afflictions, our own. Unite these, and there is a threefold cord — by this cord I am not ashamed to own myself bound, nor do I [believe] that you are wholly free from it. [Judge you then] for your Diana has she not this day [had sufficient] cause for pain and anxiety of mind?
She bids me [tell] you that Seneca, for the sake of his Paulina was careful and tender of his health. The health and happiness of Seneca she says was not dearer to his Paulina, than that of Lysander to his Diana. (Read more about Abigail and John Adams…)
“How Do I Love Thee” by Elizabeth Barrett Browning about Her Husband Robert
By the time she met her husband-to-be, Elizabeth (1806-1861) was already one of the most popular writers in her country. Robert (1812-1889) wrote to the 38-year-old poet to tell her, “I love your verses with all my heart,” praising their “fresh strange music, the affluent language, the exquisite pathos and new brave thought.” The couple married two years later, over her father’s objections. Elizabeth wrote this earnest ode to Robert just before they married.
I love thee to the depth and breadth and height
My soul can reach, when feeling out of sight
For the ends of being and ideal grace.
I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.
I love thee freely, as men strive for right;
I love thee purely, as they turn from praise.
I love thee with the passion put to use
In my old griefs, and with my childhood’s faith.
I love thee with a love I seemed to lose
With my lost saints. I love thee with the breath,
Smiles, tears, of all my life; and, if God choose,
I shall but love thee better after death.
Zelda Fitzgerald to Her Future Husband F. Scott
Zelda (1900-1948) and F. Scott Fitzgerald (1896-1940) had a famously rocky marriage. After a decade as a golden couple, Zelda spent the rest of her life in and out of mental institutions, trying and failing to patch together her marriage. But this letter chronicles young Zelda’s feelings on the eve of their wedding in 1920. In the letter, Zelda refers to the months after she broke off the engagement because Scott seemed unable to support her. With the publication of his first novel, the couple could finally marry and—Zelda hoped—live happily ever after.
Frida Kahlo to Her Ex-Husband/Husband-to-Be Diego Rivera
Frida (1907-1954) and her husband also had a notoriously troubled marriage, characterized by conflict and infidelity. An established artist, Rivera (1866-1957) helped cultivate Kahlo’s blossoming talent. The two married in 1929. They later divorced in 1939, be remarried just over a year later and remained married the rest of their lives. Kahlo wrote this brief and optimistic letter to Rivera just before their second wedding.
Remember that once you finish the fresco we will be together forever once and for all, without arguments or anything, only to love one another. Behave yourself and do everything that Emmy Lou tells you. I adore you more than ever.
Dana Reeve to Her Husband Christopher
Dana (1952-2006) and Christopher Reeve (1961-2004) married in 1992. Just 4 later, Christopher fell from his horse, sustaining a terrible and highly-publicized injury that left him paralyzed from the neck down. Dana spent the rest of her life first nursing her husband and then preserving his memory. She wrote this letter to him just 11 months after his injury.
This path we are on is unpredictable, mysterious, profoundly challenging, and, yes, even fulfilling. It is a path we chose to embark on together and for all the brambles and obstructions that have come our way of late, I have no regrets. In fact, all of our difficulties have shown me how deeply I love you and how grateful I am that we can follow this path together. Our future will be bright, my darling one, because we have each other and our young ‘uns.
With all my heart and soul I love you,
When was the last time you let your partner know how important he is to you? Take the chance to write him and note and tell him how you feel.