Famous Sad Poems

Famous Sad Poems

The Saddest Classic Poems

Coping with sadness can be quite a challenge. Many famous poets understood that whether one feels sadness because of a breakup, the loss of a loved one, illness, or another of life's many injustices, one of the best ways to vent this complicated emotion is through poetry. Many famous poets used their words to turn sadness into something tangible, making it easier to understand. Poems that deal with sadness have often helped their writers to identify the true source of their sadness. They can also help readers to feel understood and less alone.

30 Poems about Sadness and Depression by Famous Poets

  1. 1. Solitude

    "Solitude" is Ella Wheeler Wilcox's most famous poem. The idea for the poem came as she was traveling to Madison, Wisconsin, to attend the Governor's inaugural ball. On her way to the celebration, there was a young woman dressed in black sitting across the aisle from her. The woman was crying. Miss Wheeler sat next to her and sought to comfort her for the rest of the journey. When they arrived, the poet was so unhappy that she could barely attend the festivities. As she looked at her own face in the mirror, she suddenly recalled the sorrowful widow. It was at that moment that she wrote the opening lines of "Solitude." It was first published in an 1883 issue of The New York Sun.

    Laugh, and the world laughs with you;
    Weep, and you weep alone;
    For the sad old earth must borrow its mirth,
    But has trouble enough of its own.

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    This poem, in my own eyes, represents things I have already heard. A sum up of this poem, for any and all that wish to understand the dark yet true meaning behind this poem, Ella states that...

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  3. 2. We Wear The Mask

    Both of Paul Laurence Dunbar’s parents were slaves, and he was born less than a decade after slavery became illegal. “We Wear the Mask” was published in 1896. Dunbar wrote about what it was like to be African American during the late 1800s and the pain experienced by the black community. In this poem, he writes about how the truth is not always what it appears to be when a mask is used. In addition to applying to race and society, this poem can be applied to any situation where someone uses a mask to hide the truth.

    We wear the mask that grins and lies,
    It hides our cheeks and shades our eyes,—
    This debt we pay to human guile;
    With torn and bleeding hearts we smile,

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    A wonderful poem Paul Laurence Dunbar wrote many years ago, after slavery was abolished. How it must have hurt to know his parents had been slaves... Imagine the pain that slavery...

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  5. 3. Leisure

    We are often in such a hurry in life that we move from one thing to the next without stopping to notice the beauty around us. Famous poet W.H. Davies (1871-1940) reminds us that life passes by quickly, and he encourages readers to take moments to “stand and stare.” W.H. Davies was a Welsh poet who devoted himself to writing poetry in his late 20s. Many of his poems were filled with themes of hardship and the natural world.

    What is this life if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare

    No time to stand beneath the boughs,

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    This is a wonderful poem and has always been one of my favourites. At this time of lockdown restrictions and protecting ourselves, we have that time to stop and look at the world - to enjoy...

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  6. 4. The Genius Of The Crowd

    Charles Bukowski (1920-1994) warns of people who say one thing but have actions that show something different. The hypocrisy of these people is extremely dangerous, and their hatred creates an incredible amount of destruction. Charles used his writing to shed light on the less glorious parts of urban life. Some people were offended by his writing style, but he held back nothing.

    There is enough treachery, hatred violence absurdity in the average
    Human being to supply any given army on any given day

    And the best at murder are those who preach against it

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  7. 5. Sympathy

    Paul Laurence Dunbar worked at the Library of Congress for slightly over a year from September 1897-December 1898. He was the first poet to give a poetry reading at the Library of Congress. During his time working there, he was inspired to write “Sympathy,” which was published the following year in a poetry collection. Paul Laurence Dunbar suffered from tuberculosis. Dealing with the dust of books in a hot and confined space negatively impacted his health. It made him feel like a bird stuck in a cage, calling out to be free to enjoy the wind, the grass, and the river. However, “Sympathy” also has a deeper symbolism of the oppression of African American people. Maya Angelou used the last line of this poem as the title of her bestselling autobiography.

    I know what the caged bird feels, alas!
    When the sun is bright on the upland slopes;
    When the wind stirs soft through the springing grass,
    And the river flows like a stream of glass;

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    If Paul Laurence Dunbar were still here on earth, I'd tell him how wonderful those words were in his poem called Sympathy. A bird needs to feel the wind beneath its wings, for the freedom...

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  8. 6. Richard Cory

    A narrative poem, "Richard Cory" was first published in 1897, as part of The Children of the Night. It is one of Robinson's most popular and published poems.
    The poem describes a person who is wealthy, well-educated, mannerly, and admired by the people in his town. Despite all this, he takes his own life.

    Whenever Richard Cory went down town,
    We people on the pavement looked at him:
    He was a gentleman from sole to crown,
    Clean favored, and imperially slim.

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    I read this poem as one of the mandatory literary pieces while in High School. Even at that tender age something about the absurdity of life struck me and it continued to haunt me. I tried to...

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  9. 7. One Art

    Possibly her most famous poem, Elizabeth Bishop's,"One Art" is a villanelle, a 6 stanza poem that consists of five tercets (3 line stanzas), and one concluding quatrain (4 line stanza). For more about this challenging poetry form see How To Write a Villanelle.
    This poem is about loss and starts off light with a touch of humor, but loss is certainly not a humorous topic and as the stanzas go on the losses mount. Losing our most precious possessions, our friends and loved ones is a most difficult burden. Bishop lost both her parents as a child. Her father died when she was an infant and her mother was committed to an Insane Asylum when she was five. She never saw her mother again and grew up in the homes of various relatives.

    The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
    so many things seem filled with the intent
    to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

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  10. 8. Acquainted With The Night

    “Acquainted With The Night” was published in 1928. It has themes of sadness and isolation. The narrator avoids contact with people and tries to escape his despair. The narrator doesn’t want to let anyone in, which continues his cycle of loneliness. Robert Frost himself was familiar with despair. At the time of writing this poem, he had already lost two children. Two more of his six children would pass away before him in later years. This poem includes symbols such as night (depression) and the moon (hope). It’s written as a “terza rima,” which is a poem made up of tercets (three-line stanzas). Within those stanzas, the ending word of the second line sets up the rhyme of the first and third lines of the next stanza.

    I have been one acquainted with the night.
    I have walked out in rain—and back in rain.
    I have outwalked the furthest city light.

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    Each word of the poem is uttering its deep pain in the darkness of night. Highly weighted poem like any other poem of him. Only the one who has gone through this sea of sorrow can understand...

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  11. 9. This, Too, Will Pass

    A comforting poem that speaks about the resilience of the human spirit. Crowell uses repetition and personification, to convey her message of hope and encouragement in the face of difficulties. The repetition of the phrase "this too" at the beginning of each line emphasizes her idea that whatever challenges we are facing are temporary and will eventually pass. The personification of the "tiresome road" and the "heavy load" we may carry speaks to the human experience of struggling through difficult times. Overall, the poem serves as a reminder that strength and determination can help us overcome obstacles and that hope can sustain us through very difficult times.

    This, too, will pass.
    O heart, say it over and over,
    Out of your deepest sorrow,
    out of your deepest grief,

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  12. 10. Defeat

    Defeat, my Defeat, my solitude and my aloofness;
    You are dearer to me than a thousand triumphs,
    And sweeter to my heart than all world-glory.

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  13. 11. Never Shall I Forget

    "Never Shall I Forget" by Elie Wiesel is a poem about the Holocaust and the atrocities committed against the Jewish people. Elie Wiesel writes about his personal experiences as a prisoner in Nazi concentration camps, the horrors committed during the Holocaust and the lasting impact they had on the him. The poem is written in a simple, direct style and uses vivid imagery to convey the unimaginable horrors of the camps. The repetition of the phrase "Never shall I forget" serves to emphasize the emotional impact of the memories and the importance of remembering the past in order to learn from it and prevent antisemitic hatred from arising again.



    Never shall I forget that night, the first night in camp, that turned my life into one long night seven times sealed.
    Never shall I forget that smoke.
    Never shall I forget the small faces of the children whose bodies I saw transformed into smoke under a silent sky.
    Never shall I forget those flames that consumed my faith for ever.

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  14. 12. Bluebird

    there's a bluebird in my heart that
    wants to get out
    but I'm too tough for him,
    I say, stay in there, I'm not going

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  15. 13. Tulips

    Sylvia Plath (1932-1963) wrote “Tulips” while she was in the hospital. It reveals the struggle she had with her mental state. Sylvia wants to die at that moment, but the bright red tulips make her think about life and living. She almost feels as though the flowers are taunting her. “Tulips” was written in 1961 but wasn’t published until 1965 - a couple of years after her death.

    The tulips are too excitable, it is winter here.
    Look how white everything is, how quiet, how snowed-in.
    I am learning peacefulness, lying by myself quietly
    As the light lies on these white walls, this bed, these hands.

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  16. 14. Windows

    You’ve probably heard the saying, “The grass is greener on the other side.” This poem captures that sentiment. Often, we look longingly at what others have while looking down on what is ours. The irony is that others see such beauty in what we have.

    I looked through others' windows
    On an enchanted earth
    But out of my own window--
    solitude and dearth.

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  17. 15. Winter Stars

    Sara Teasdale, famous American poet born in 1884, was born to a wealthy family in Missouri and had many successes in her career. However, she fought depression and ultimately committed suicide in 1933. In this poem, the speaker is comforted by the constant presence of the stars. No matter where she went, she knew she could always see the stars high in the sky. Even as life changes ("years go, dreams go, and youth goes too…"), there are certain things that are unwavering. Sometimes we need to keep our eyes focused on those things.

    I went out at night alone;
    The young blood flowing beyond the sea
    Seemed to have drenched my spirit’s wings—
    I bore my sorrow heavily.

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  18. 16. A Dream Within A Dream

    Poe is describing feelings of desperation and sadness at the passing of time, and comparing it to a dream. He wishes he could hold on to just a moment of his life. He questions if anything in life is real or is it all "but a dream within a dream?"

    "A Dream Within a Dream" by Edgar Allan Poe was first published in 1849.

    Take this kiss upon the brow!
    And, in parting from you now,
    Thus much let me avow —
    You are not wrong, who deem

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    Most of what we learn we learn from others. It is the moments we ourselves have to live and learn that we realize most of what we are taught or preached have been lies. We all have to live...

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  19. 17. Work

    When we look at our work as a burden, we can quickly become discouraged and discontent. Often, people wish they didn't have to work, but there's a blessing in being able to work. To have a job is to have a gift. Henry van Dyke (1852-1933) challenges himself and others to change the way we look at our jobs. Even when work is challenging, exhausting, tedious, or overwhelming, let's look at the blessing we have.

    Let me but do my work from day to day,
    In field or forest, at the desk or loom,
    In roaring market-place or tranquil room;
    Let me but find it in my heart to say,

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  20. 18. Alone

    The poem "Alone" was written by Edgar Allan Poe (January 19, 1809 - October 7, 1849) in 1829. It was written by Poe when he was only 20 and describes his own inner torment at that young age. The poem was not published until 1875, long after his death.

    From childhood’s hour I have not been
    As others were—I have not seen
    As others saw—I could not bring
    My passions from a common spring—

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    This poem has always had a special place in my heart. I get to connect with it; my childhood is different from others, so most things in my life that I got to love I most definitely have come...

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  21. 19. I Sit And Look Out

    “I Sit and Look Out” captures the corruption of the world. Walt Whitman, an influential American poet, lived in the 1800s, a time that saw things like political slander, Trail of Tears, slavery, and the Civil War. In this poem, the speaker is merely an onlooker, not someone to get involved in all these negative affairs of society. However, readers might be inspired to do their part to create a positive influence on the world that will lessen the destruction.

    I SIT and look out upon all the sorrows of the world, and upon all
            oppression and shame;
    I hear secret convulsive sobs from young men, at anguish with
            themselves, remorseful after deeds done;

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  22. 20. Circus In Three Rings

    Sylvia Plath was an American poet who lived from 1932-1963. Sylvia’s dad died during her childhood, and her husband left her for another woman. She experienced heartbreak and depression that ultimately led to her commit suicide at the age of 30. Her poetry was raw and honest, which can be seen in the chaos she captures in this poem. First published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1955, the hurricane mentioned in the poem could be compared to the personal struggles that swirled inside of her.

    In the circus tent of a hurricane
    designed by a drunken god
    my extravagant heart blows up again
    in a rampage of champagne-colored rain

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