“Life” is such a wide umbrella; a word that covers many, many things, and everyone’s experience of it is different. So let’s narrow it down. Let’s look at some poems about life that crack open how life can feel when we’re struggling and things are hard…but also ones that put a balm on that wound. There’s a lot of shit going on right now. There always is, but it’s been particularly sharp and thorny lately, and sometimes we need someone to put that into the words we just don’t have in us. Words that make us feel heard and understood, that acknowledge our pain and how heavy life can feel.
And sometimes we also need to get put back together again; to be reminded of the ways we can get through this, how we have overcome, and how, despite it all, life gives us hope. Poems like that serve as a reminder that we are not alone, and there is still beauty to be had—even if it’s just in the form of a perfect line of poetry.
Let this collection of poems about life help you feel heard, comforted, and give voice to whatever hurts or heals right now.
Cindy Williams Gutiérrez “The Small Claim of Bones”
what my body knows
is not a lie it’s not
a lie i tell you it is not
it’s nothing short of truth
and nothing larger
my past lodges
in my marrow and if
i wanted a transplant
there’d be no match
others’ sorrows dwarf
my petty traumas still
these bones are mine
when they creak
when they moan
when they whine
there’s only one thing
i can claim these bones
are mine i tell you
they are mine and kind
to abandon no thing
that makes this pulse
no one but me
Jane Hirshfield “My Life Was the Size of My Life”
Kaveh Akbar “Against Dying”
Camille T. Dungy “Daisy Cutter”
Octavio Paz “The Street”
It’s a long and silent street.
I walk in the dark and trip and fall
and get up and step blindly
on the mute stones and dry leaves
and someone behind me is also walking:
if I stop, he stops;
if I run, he runs. I turn around: no one.
Everything is black, there is no exit,
and I turn and turn corners
that always lead to the street
where no one waits for me, no one follows,
where I follow a man who trips
and gets up and says when he sees me: no one.
Warsan Shire “Ugly”
Suji Kwock Kim “Monologue for an Onion”
Nikki Giovanni “Legacies”
W.S. Merwin “Separation”
Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
Edna St. Vincent Millay “Dirge Without Music”
Pablo Neruda “Ode to Broken Things”
Langston Hughes “Life is Fine”
I went down to the river,
I set down on the bank.
I tried to think but couldn’t,
So I jumped in and sank.
I came up once and hollered!
I came up twice and cried!
If that water hadn’t a-been so cold
I might’ve sunk and died.
But it was Cold in that water! It was cold!
I took the elevator
Sixteen floors above the ground.
I thought about my baby
And thought I would jump down.
I stood there and I hollered!
I stood there and I cried!
If it hadn’t a-been so high
I might’ve jumped and died.
But it was High up there! It was high!
So since I’m still here livin’,
I guess I will live on.
I could’ve died for love—
But for livin’ I was born
Though you may hear me holler,
And you may see me cry—
I’ll be dogged, sweet baby,
If you gonna see me die.
Life is fine! Fine as wine! Life is fine!
E.E. Cummings “Suppose”
Mary Oliver “Wild Geese”
Anne Sexton “The Room of My Life”
Tupac Shakur “The Rose That Grew From Concrete”
Did you hear about the rose that grew
from a crack in the concrete?
Proving nature’s law is wrong it
learned to walk with out having feet.
Funny it seems, but by keeping it’s dreams,
it learned to breathe fresh air.
Long live the rose that grew from concrete
when no one else ever cared.
Joy Harjo “I Give You Back”
Naomi Shihab Nye “Valentine for Ernest Mann”
Alice Walker “Be Nobody’s Darling”
Emily Dickinson “I Took My Power in My Hand”
I took my Power in my Hand—
And went against the World—
‘Twas not so much as David—had—
But I—was twice as bold—
I aimed by Pebble—but Myself
Was all the one that fell—
Was it Goliath—was too large—
Or was myself—too small?
Rumi “The Guest House”
Elizabeth Barrett Browning “Love”
Raymond Carver “Late Fragment”
And did you get what
you wanted from this life, even so?
And what did you want?
To call myself beloved, to feel myself
beloved on the earth.