It’s finals season for all of you college students, and I know things can get pretty gnarly. I remember getting due dates mixed up and sleeping so little I felt sure I’d need matchsticks to prop my eyelids open. I couldn’t wait for this chapter of life (and the next six chapters of required reading for rhetoric class) to be over. I wished there was some way to put into words how I was feeling or something I could read to inspire me. Well, here’s the good news: you will make it. And I have collected eight poems that will help you through finals.
Some of the poems remind you that great things are possible, even when others around you doubt. A few tell stories of perseverance to remind you that your hard work will be rewarded, even if you can’t imagine that right now. Others share that even if you feel hopeless or that you should be doing something else with your life, you are right where you need to be.
Poems to Remind You That You Can Do Anything
1. Maya Angelou “Still I Rise”
2. Edgar Guest “It Couldn’t Be Done”
3. Jacqueline Woodson “On Paper”
The first time I write my full name
Jacqueline Amanda Woodson
without anybody’s help
on a clean white page in my composition notebook,
if I wanted to
I could write anything.
Letters becoming words, words gathering meaning,
thoughts outside my head
Jacqueline Amanda Woodson
Poems to Remind You That Hard Work Pays Off
4. Rudyard Kipling “If”
5. Marge Piercy “To Be of Use”
The people I love the best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out of sight.
They seem to become natives of that element,
the black sleek heads of seals
bouncing like half-submerged balls.
I love people who harness themselves, an ox to a heavy cart,
who pull like water buffalo, with massive patience,
who strain in the mud and the muck to move things forward,
who do what has to be done, again and again.
I want to be with people who submerge
in the task, who go into the fields to harvest
and work in a row and pass the bags along,
who are not parlor generals and field deserters
but move in a common rhythm
when the food must come in or the fire be put out.
The work of the world is common as mud.
Botched, it smears the hands, crumbles to dust.
But the thing worth doing well done
has a shape that satisfies, clean and evident.
Greek amphoras for wine or oil,
Hopi vases that held corn, are put in museums
but you know they were made to be used.
The pitcher cries for water to carry
and a person for work that is real.
6. Naomi Shihab Nye “Burning the Old Year”
Letters swallow themselves in seconds.
Notes friends tied to the doorknob,
transparent scarlet paper,
sizzle like moth wings,
marry the air.
So much of any year is flammable,
lists of vegetables, partial poems.
Orange swirling flame of days,
so little is a stone.
Where there was something and suddenly isn’t,
an absence shouts, celebrates, leaves a space.
I begin again with the smallest numbers.
Quick dance, shuffle of losses and leaves,
only the things I didn’t do
crackle after the blazing dies.
Poems to Remind You to Not Give Up
7. Emily Dickinson “Hope is the Thing with Feathers”
“Hope” is the thing with feathers—
That perches in the soul—
And sings the tune without the words—
And never stops—at all—
And sweetest—in the Gale—is heard—
And sore must be the storm—
That could abash the little Bird
That kept so many warm—
I’ve heard it in the chillest land—
And on the strangest Sea—
It asked a crumb—of me.
8. Sarah Kay “Paradox”
Hopefully these poems have refreshed you and you are now prepared to take on finals. Ready to forget about school and look ahead to the holidays? Read 10 Festive Christmas Poems to Get You Ready for the Holidays next.