An Italian Valentine’s Day

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Over the centuries, writers have pondered the question, “Che cos’è l’amore?” “What is love?” And since the Italian poet Petrarch expressed his great love for Laura in the 14th century, love poems have often taken the form of he used — the sonetto, or sonnet. These “little songs” are 14 lines long and follow a specific rhythm and rhyme scheme. When Shakespeare took up the sonnet in the 16th Century, he changed Petrarch’s form and made it his own; Shakespeare used the sonnet to write some of the most famous lines about love in existence today. Shakespeare’s contemporaries and many poets who have followed still write about love using the sonnet form, and those lines that ring true have been translated into many languages.

Let’s take a brief survey of famous poesie d’amore
and create Italian phrases for our own true loves on Valentine’s Day!

William Shakespeare
Sonnet 116

William Shakespeare is a well-known playwright who lived from 1564-1616. His sonnets were his last non-dramatic work to be published in complete form in the early 1600s. Since that time, Shakespeare’s sonnets, and in particular his Sonnet 116,  have become well-known meditations on the meaning of true love. For Shakespeare, true love is the love between “true minds,” that will not be altered by any circumstance. In the first lines he states, “Love is not love/Which alters when it alteration finds/Or bends with the remover to remove.”

Take a few lines from Shakespeare’s examples of the steadfastness of true love, here translated into Italian, to tell your true love that you will always be there for them. Note: The last line, “ma sarà per sempre” has been substituted for Shakespeare’s final, more dramatic line, “But bears it out even to the edge of doom.”

Il mio amore per te…
è  come un faro sempre fisso, che non vacilla mai.

non è soggetto al Tempo,
non cambia in poche ore o settimane
ma sarà per sempre.

My love for you…
is  like a beacon, always fixed, that never falters.

is not subject to Time,
will not change in a few hours or weeks,
but will be forever.


Pablo Neruda
One Hundred Love Sonnets: 17

Pablo Neruda was a Chilean poet and diplomat  (1094-1973) and is famous in Italy and around the world for his poems about love.  Sonnet XVII is one of the most famous of his One Hundred Love Sonnets, and is known by it’s first line, “I don’t love you as if you were rose salt or topaz…”  In this poem, Neruda says most elegantly that love for another cannot be defined or explained but only exist.

Below are a few lines taken from this Sonnet, translated from Spanish into Italian and English. Anyone to whom these lines are spoken is sure to fall in love!

T’amo senza sapere come, né quando, né da dove,
T’amo simplicemente senza problemi né orgoglio:
Così ti amo perché non so amare diversamente.

I love you, without knowing how, nor when, nor from where,
I love you simply, without problems or pride.
I love you so because I don’t know how to love any other way.



e. e. cummings
i carry your heart with me(i carry it in)

The American poet, author and playwright Edward Estlin Cummings published works under the pen name e. e. cummings  and  lived from 1984-1962. He wrote more than 2,500 poems. He favored the use of lower-case letters in his poetry and stretched the bounds of traditional poetic forms.

Cummings’ line, “I carry your heart with me,”  translated into Italian as, “Porto il tuo cuore con me,”  and  is a lovely romantic reference from the first line of his poem. Notice the unusual use of capitalization and punctuation that cummings is known for in this poem, which seems to make one thought rush directly into the next.

i carry your heart with me(i carry it in

my heart)i am never without it(anywhere

i go you go, my dear;and whatever is done

by only me is your doing, my darling)

  i fear

no fate(for you are my fate, my sweet)…


Elizabeth Barrett Browning
How Do I Love Thee? (Sonnet 43)

Most everyone knows the first lines to this sonnet, one of the 44 poems of  Sonnets from the Portuguese written by Elizabeth Barrett Browning (1806-1861).  In the first line, Barrett-Browning asks, “How do I love thee? Let me count the ways.” Then she continues to answer the question by expressing her devotion to the love of her life as the poem continues.

Sonnet 43 is a tribute to Elizabeth Barrett’s future husband, who she loves so deeply that it “consumes (her) soul and permeates every moment of every day.”  The last two lines, which talk about how her love fulfills her “most quiet need,” are lovely enough to be translated into Italian for anyone who is in love today.

Ti amo fino al punto del bisogno di ogni giorno più tranquill,
al sole e alla luce della candela.

I love thee to the level of every day’s
Most quiet need, by sun and candle-light.

John Keats
I Cannot Exist Without You

Perhaps the ode to love that best expresses the Italian sensibility was written by the Romantic poet John Keats (1795-1821) in a letter to Fanny Brawne in 1918.*  The second line of this poetic exhortation is, “Non posso esistere senza di te,” translated  literally as, “I cannot exist without you.” In recent time, this phrase has become part of the refrain for many Italian songs as, “Non posso vivere senza di te,” or “I cannot live without you.” The idea of two lives so intertwined that one person cannot live without the other is a common theme in Italian culture, and maybe that is why these lines translate so easily into Italian.

There are so many lines to choose from in this poem, I have reprinted most of what Keats wrote to his dear love, with the Italian translation for several lines that can be used to express one’s true love on Valentine’s Day.

My love has made me selfish. I cannot exist without you – I am forgetful of every thing but seeing you again – my Life seems to stop there – I see no further. You have absorb’d me. I have a sensation at the present moment as though I was dissolving – I should be exquisitely miserable without the hope of soon seeing you. I should be afraid to separate myself far from you. My sweet Fanny, will your heart never change? My love, will it? I have no limit now to my love –…
My Love is selfish – I cannot breathe without you. – John Keats *

Non posso esistere senza di te.
I cannot exist without you

Non posso vivere senza di te.
I cannot live without you

Ora non ho limiti al mio amore.
I have no limit now to my love.

Non posso respirare senza di te.
I can’t breathe without you.

*Hanson, Marilee. “John Keats Love Letter To Fanny Brawne – 13 October 1819”, February 4, 2015.


Buon San Valentino!

Remember a few phrases of love
from the great poets
for your true love on Valentine’s Day!


For “All the Italian you need to enjoy your trip to Italy,” click on the links below to purchase my  Conversational Italian for Travelers books – Kathryn Occhipinti


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Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Important Phrases” book downloaded onto a cell phone from
Conversational Italian for Travelers Just the Verbs
Conversational Italian for Travelers “Just the Grammar” and “Just the Verbs” books: Available on  and Learn Travel

About Kathryn Occhipinti

Dr. Kathryn Occhipinti is a radiologist who has been leading Italian language groups in the Peoria and Chicago areas for more than 10 years. She is the author of the “Conversational Italian for Travelers” series of books to teach adults Italian with the vocabulary they need to travel to Italy. She is very active on social media promoting Italian language and culture through her Facebook group Conversational Italian! as well on Twitter @travelitalian1. Links to audio for her Italian language dialogues and her blogs for beginning and intermediate Italian can be found at

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