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.

33 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.
    Sing, and the hills will answer;
        Sigh, it is lost on the air;
    The echoes bound to a joyful sound,
        But shrink from voicing care.

    Rejoice, and men will seek you;
        Grieve, and they turn and go;
    They want full measure of all your pleasure,
        But they do not need your woe.
    Be glad, and your friends are many;
        Be sad, and you lose them all,
    There are none to decline your nectared wine,
        But alone you must drink life's gall.

    Feast, and your halls are crowded;
        Fast, and the world goes by.
    Succeed and give, and it helps you live,
        But no man can help you die.
    There is room in the halls of pleasure
        For a large and lordly train,
    But one by one we must all file on
        Through the narrow aisles of pain.

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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,
    And mouth with myriad subtleties.

    Why should the world be over-wise,
    In counting all our tears and sighs?
    Nay, let them only see us, while
           We wear the mask.

    We smile, but, O great Christ, our cries
    To thee from tortured souls arise.
    We sing, but oh the clay is vile
    Beneath our feet, and long the mile;
    But let the world dream otherwise,
           We wear the mask!

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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,
    And stare as long as sheep and cows

    No time to see, when woods we pass,
    Where squirrels hide their nuts in grass

    No time to see, in broad daylight,
    Streams full of stars, like skies at night

    No time to turn at Beauty's glance,
    And watch her feet, how they can dance

    No time to wait till her mouth can
    Enrich that smile her eyes began

    A poor life this if, full of care,
    We have no time to stand and stare

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  6. 4. 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;
        When the first bird sings and the first bud opes,   
    And the faint perfume from its chalice steals—
    I know what the caged bird feels!

    I know why the caged bird beats his wing
        Till its blood is red on the cruel bars;   
    For he must fly back to his perch and cling   
    When he fain would be on the bough a-swing;
        And a pain still throbs in the old, old scars   
    And they pulse again with a keener sting—
    I know why he beats his wing!

    I know why the caged bird sings, ah me,
        When his wing is bruised and his bosom sore,—
    When he beats his bars and he would be free;
    It is not a carol of joy or glee,
        But a prayer that he sends from his heart’s deep core,   
    But a plea, that upward to Heaven he flings—
    I know why the caged bird sings!

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  7. 5. 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
    And the best at hate are those who preach love
    And the best at war finally are those who preach peace

    Those who preach god, need god
    Those who preach peace do not have peace
    Those who preach peace do not have love

    Beware the preachers
    Beware the knowers
    Beware those who are always reading books
    Beware those who either detest poverty
    Or are proud of it
    Beware those quick to praise
    For they need praise in return
    Beware those who are quick to censor
    They are afraid of what they do not know
    Beware those who seek constant crowds for
    They are nothing alone
    Beware the average man the average woman
    Beware their love, their love is average
    Seeks average

    But there is genius in their hatred
    There is enough genius in their hatred to kill you
    To kill anybody
    Not wanting solitude
    Not understanding solitude
    They will attempt to destroy anything
    That differs from their own
    Not being able to create art
    They will not understand art
    They will consider their failure as creators
    Only as a failure of the world
    Not being able to love fully
    They will believe your love incomplete
    And then they will hate you
    And their hatred will be perfect

    Like a shining diamond
    Like a knife
    Like a mountain
    Like a tiger
    Like hemlock

    Their finest art

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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.

    And he was always quietly arrayed,
    And he was always human when he talked;
    But still he fluttered pulses when he said,
    "Good-morning," and he glittered when he walked.

    And he was rich - yes, richer than a king -
    And admirably schooled in every grace:
    In fine, we thought that he was everything
    To make us wish that we were in his place.

    So on we worked, and waited for the light,
    And went without the meat, and cursed the bread;
    And Richard Cory, one calm summer night,
    Went home and put a bullet through his head.

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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.

    Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
    of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
    The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

    Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
    places, and names, and where it was you meant
    to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

    I lost my mother’s watch. And look! my last, or
    next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
    The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

    I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
    some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent.
    I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

    —Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
    I love) I shan’t have lied.  It’s evident
    the art of losing’s not too hard to master
    though it may look like (Write it!) like 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.

    I have looked down the saddest city lane.
    I have passed by the watchman on his beat
    And dropped my eyes, unwilling to explain.

    I have stood still and stopped the sound of feet
    When far away an interrupted cry
    Came over houses from another street,

    But not to call me back or say good-bye;
    And further still at an unearthly height,
    One luminary clock against the sky

    Proclaimed the time was neither wrong nor right.
    I have been one acquainted with the night

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  11. 9. 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.   
    I am nobody; I have nothing to do with explosions.   
    I have given my name and my day-clothes up to the nurses   
    And my history to the anesthetist and my body to surgeons.

    They have propped my head between the pillow and the sheet-cuff   
    Like an eye between two white lids that will not shut.
    Stupid pupil, it has to take everything in.
    The nurses pass and pass, they are no trouble,
    They pass the way gulls pass inland in their white caps,
    Doing things with their hands, one just the same as another,   
    So it is impossible to tell how many there are.

    My body is a pebble to them, they tend it as water
    Tends to the pebbles it must run over, smoothing them gently.
    They bring me numbness in their bright needles, they bring me sleep.   
    Now I have lost myself I am sick of baggage——
    My patent leather overnight case like a black pillbox,   
    My husband and child smiling out of the family photo;   
    Their smiles catch onto my skin, little smiling hooks.

    I have let things slip, a thirty-year-old cargo boat   
    stubbornly hanging on to my name and address.
    They have swabbed me clear of my loving associations.   
    Scared and bare on the green plastic-pillowed trolley   
    I watched my teaset, my bureaus of linen, my books   
    Sink out of sight, and the water went over my head.   
    I am a nun now, I have never been so pure.

    I didn’t want any flowers, I only wanted
    To lie with my hands turned up and be utterly empty.
    How free it is, you have no idea how free——
    The peacefulness is so big it dazes you,
    And it asks nothing, a name tag, a few trinkets.
    It is what the dead close on, finally; I imagine them   
    Shutting their mouths on it, like a Communion tablet.   

    The tulips are too red in the first place, they hurt me.
    Even through the gift paper I could hear them breathe   
    Lightly, through their white swaddlings, like an awful baby.   
    Their redness talks to my wound, it corresponds.
    They are subtle : they seem to float, though they weigh me down,   
    Upsetting me with their sudden tongues and their color,   
    A dozen red lead sinkers round my neck.

    Nobody watched me before, now I am watched.   
    The tulips turn to me, and the window behind me
    Where once a day the light slowly widens and slowly thins,   
    And I see myself, flat, ridiculous, a cut-paper shadow   
    Between the eye of the sun and the eyes of the tulips,   
    And I have no face, I have wanted to efface myself.   
    The vivid tulips eat my oxygen.

    Before they came the air was calm enough,
    Coming and going, breath by breath, without any fuss.   
    Then the tulips filled it up like a loud noise.
    Now the air snags and eddies round them the way a river   
    Snags and eddies round a sunken rust-red engine.   
    They concentrate my attention, that was happy   
    Playing and resting without committing itself.

    The walls, also, seem to be warming themselves.
    The tulips should be behind bars like dangerous animals;   
    They are opening like the mouth of some great African cat,   
    And I am aware of my heart: it opens and closes
    Its bowl of red blooms out of sheer love of me.
    The water I taste is warm and salt, like the sea,
    And comes from a country far away as health.

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  12. 10. 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—
    From the same source I have not taken
    My sorrow—I could not awaken
    My heart to joy at the same tone—
    And all I lov’d—I lov’d alone—
    Then—in my childhood—in the dawn
    Of a most stormy life—was drawn
    From ev’ry depth of good and ill
    The mystery which binds me still—
    From the torrent, or the fountain—
    From the red cliff of the mountain—
    From the sun that ‘round me roll’d
    In its autumn tint of gold—
    From the lightning in the sky
    As it pass’d me flying by—
    From the thunder, and the storm—
    And the cloud that took the form
    (When the rest of Heaven was blue)
    Of a demon in my view—

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  13. 11. 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.

    Defeat, my Defeat, my self-knowledge and my defiance,
    Through you I know that I am yet young and swift of foot
    And not to be trapped by withering laurels.
    And in you I have found aloneness
    And the joy of being shunned and scorned.

    Defeat, my Defeat, my shining sword and shield,
    In your eyes I have read
    That to be enthroned is to be enslaved,
    And to be understood is to be leveled down,
    And to be grasped is but to reach one’s fullness
    And like a ripe fruit to fall and be consumed.

    Defeat, my Defeat, my bold companion,
    You shall hear my songs and my cries and my silences,
    And none but you shall speak to me of the beating of wings,
    And urging of seas,
    And of mountains that burn in the night,
    And you alone shall climb my steep and rocky soul.

    Defeat, my Defeat, my deathless courage,
    You and I shall laugh together with the storm,
    And together we shall dig graves for all that die in us,
    And we shall stand in the sun with a will,
    And we shall be dangerous.

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  14. 12. Bluebird

    Charles Bukowski's poem "Bluebird" explores the poet's internal struggle to suppress his vulnerable emotions. There is a bluebird residing in his heart, yearning to be set free, yet the speaker's toughness and fear of exposing his true self prevent it from escaping. He resorts to numbing the bird's presence with whiskey, smoke, and distractions from the outside world. The poem reveals a complex relationship between the speaker and the bluebird, with moments of tenderness and acknowledgment. Their secret bond brings solace, evoking powerful emotions that resonate deeply, leaving readers to contemplate their own capacity for vulnerability.

    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
    to let anybody see
    there's a bluebird in my heart that
    wants to get out
    but I pour whiskey on him and inhale
    cigarette smoke
    and the whores and the bartenders
    and the grocery clerks
    never know that
    in there.

    there's a bluebird in my heart that
    wants to get out
    but I'm too tough for him,
    I say,
    stay down, do you want to mess
    me up?
    you want to screw up the
    you want to blow my book sales in
    there's a bluebird in my heart that
    wants to get out
    but I'm too clever, I only let him out
    at night sometimes
    when everybody's asleep.
    I say, I know that you're there,
    so don't be
    then I put him back,
    but he's singing a little
    in there, I haven't quite let him
    and we sleep together like
    with our
    secret pact
    and it's nice enough to
    make a man
    weep, but I don't
    weep, do

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  15. 13. 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.
    Never shall I forget the nocturnal silence that deprived me for all eternity of the desire to live.
    Never shall I forget those moments that murdered my God and my soul and turned my dreams to ashes.
    Never shall I forget those things, even were I condemned to live
    as long as God Himself.

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  16. 14. 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.

    But when I lifted up my head
      From shadows shaken on the snow,
    I saw Orion in the east
      Burn steadily as long ago.

    From windows in my father’s house,
      Dreaming my dreams on winter nights,
    I watched Orion as a girl
      Above another city’s lights.

    Years go, dreams go, and youth goes too,
       The world’s heart breaks beneath its wars,
    All things are changed, save in the east
      The faithful beauty of the stars.

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  17. 15. 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.

    And yet there is a mystery
    I cannot understand--
    That others through my window
    See an enchanted land.

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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
    That my days have been a dream;
    Yet if hope has flown away
    In a night, or in a day,
    In a vision, or in none,
    Is it therefore the less gone? 
    All that we see or seem
    Is but a dream within a dream.

    I stand amid the roar
    Of a surf-tormented shore,
    And I hold within my hand
    Grains of the golden sand —
    How few! yet how they creep
    Through my fingers to the deep,
    While I weep — while I weep!
    O God! Can I not grasp
    Them with a tighter clasp?
    O God! can I not save
    One from the pitiless wave?
    Is all that we see or seem
    But a dream within a dream?

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  19. 17. 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,
    No hurt can last forever--
    Perhaps tomorrow will bring relief.

    This, too, will pass.
    It will spend itself--
    Its fury will die as the wind dies down
    with the setting sun;
    Assuaged and calm, you will rest again,
    Forgetting a thing that is done.

    Repeat it again and again,
    O heart, for your comfort;
    This, too, will pass
    as surely as passed before
    The old forgotten pain, and the other sorrows
    That once you bore.

    As certain as stars at night,
    or dawn after darkness,
    Inherent as the lift of the blowing grass,
    Whatever your despair or your frustration--
    This, too, will pass.

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  20. 18. 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,
    When vagrant wishes beckon me astray,
    "This is my work; my blessing, not my doom;
    "Of all who live, I am the one by whom
    "This work can best be done in the right way."

    Then shall I see it not too great, nor small,
    To suit my spirit and to prove my powers;
    Then shall I cheerful greet the labouring hours,
    And cheerful turn, when the long shadows fall
    At eventide, to play and love and rest,
    Because I know for me my work is best.

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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;
    I see, in low life, the mother misused by her children, dying,
            neglected, gaunt, desperate;
    I see the wife misused by her husband—I see the treacherous seducer
            of young women;
    I mark the ranklings of jealousy and unrequited love, attempted to be
            hid—I see these sights on the earth;
    I see the workings of battle, pestilence, tyranny—I see martyrs and
    I observe a famine at sea—I observe the sailors casting lots who
            shall be kill'd, to preserve the lives of the rest;
    I observe the slights and degradations cast by arrogant persons upon
            laborers, the poor, and upon negroes, and the like;
    All these—All the meanness and agony without end, I sitting, look
            out upon,
    See, hear, and am silent.

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  22. 20. The Rainy Day

    "The Rainy Day" by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow is a melancholic poem about the feelings of sadness. The poem uses imagery and metaphor to depict the bleakness of a rainy day. The wind and rain symbolize the constant struggles and difficulties in life, and the fallen leaves represent lost hopes and dreams. The poet tries to find comfort in the idea that everyone experiences hardships in life, but the sadness still lingers. The rhyme scheme used in the poem is ABAAB. The message is that life can be dark and difficult, but one must keep hope and find the sunshine behind the clouds.

    The day is cold, and dark, and dreary
    It rains, and the wind is never weary;
    The vine still clings to the mouldering wall,
    But at every gust the dead leaves fall,
    And the day is dark and dreary.

    My life is cold, and dark, and dreary;
    It rains, and the wind is never weary;
    My thoughts still cling to the mouldering Past,
    But the hopes of youth fall thick in the blast,
    And the days are dark and dreary.

    Be still, sad heart! and cease repining;
    Behind the clouds is the sun still shining;
    Thy fate is the common fate of all,
    Into each life some rain must fall,
    Some days must be dark and dreary.

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