New Year’s poems are a way to reflect on the year you’ve had and look forward to the year ahead. In 2020, more than ever, we learned how little control we have over the world around us. But in dark times and joyous times and everything in between, there are ways to look inward and celebrate ourselves. New Year’s poems can be full of hope. New Year’s poems can be about regret, grief, and moving on. From Mary Oliver to Jericho Brown, this collection of 20 New Year’s poems are as varied and unique as the years we all have and the resolutions we make. Whatever happened to you in 2020 and whatever is waiting for you in 2021, I hope one of these New Year’s poems speaks to you and helps you feel hope (whatever that means to you) for the new year ahead of us.
It doesn’t have to be
the blue iris, it could be
weeds in a vacant lot, or a few
small stones; just
pay attention, then patch
a few words together and don’t try
to make them elaborate, this isn’t
a contest but the doorway
into thanks, and a silence in which
another voice may speak.
2. “Burning the Old Year” by Naomi Shihab Nye from Words Under the Words
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.
3. “This Morning I Pray for My Enemies” by Joy Harjo from Conflict Resolutions for Holy Beings
And whom do I call my enemy?
An enemy must be worthy of engagement.
I turn in the direction of the sun and keep walking.
It’s the heart that asks the question, not my furious mind.
The heart is the smaller cousin of the sun.
It sees and knows everything.
It hears the gnashing even as it hears the blessing.
The door to the mind should only open from the heart.
An enemy who gets in, risks the danger of becoming a friend.
4. “A Center” by Ha Jin from A Distant Center
You must hold your quiet center,
where you do what only you can do.
If others call you a maniac or a fool,
just let them wag their tongues.
If some praise your perseverance,
don’t feel too happy about it—
only solitude is a lasting friend.
You myst hold your distant center.
Don’t move even if earth and heaven quake.
If others think you are insignificant,
that’s because you haven’t held on long enough.
As long as you stay put year after year,
eventually you will find a world
beginning to revolve around you.
5. “Moon Song” by Kate Baer from What Kind of Woman
6. “Risk” by Anaïs Nin
And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
7. “Psalm 150” by Jericho Brown from The New Testament
Some folks fool themselves into believing,
But I know what I know once, at the height
Of hopeless touching, my man and I hold
Our breaths, certain we can stop time or maybe
Eliminate it from our lives, which are shorter
Since we learned to make love for each other
Rather than doing it to each other. As for praise
And worship, I prefer the latter. Only memory
Makes us kneel, silent and still. Hear me?
Thunder scares. Lightning lets us see. Then,
Heads covered, we wait for rain. Dear Lord,
Let me watch for his arrival and hang my head
And shake it like a man who’s lost and lived.
Something keeps trying, but I’m not killed yet.
8. “New Year On Dartmoor” by Sylvia Plath
This is newness: every little tawdry
Obstacle glass-wrapped and peculiar,
Glinting and clinking in a saint’s falsetto. Only you
Don’t know what to make of the sudden slippiness,
The bling, white, awful, inaccessible slant.
There’s no getting up it by the words you know.
No getting up by elephant or wheel or shoe.
We have only come to look. You are too new.
To want the world in a glass hat.
9. “Beginning” by Lia Purpura from It Shouldn’t Have Been Beautiful
In the beginning,
in the list of begats,
work begets work
In other words,
once there was air,
could be got.
But conjured up.
10. “Big with Dawn” by Katie Condon
Yesterday: me, a stone, the river,
a bottle of Jack, the clouds
with unusual speed crept by.
A man was in the middle of me.
I was humbled.
Not by him. The earth,
with its unusual speed,
went from dawn to dusk to dawn.
Just like that. The light
every shade of gold. Gold. I’m
greedy for it. Light is my currency.
I am big with dawn. So hot & so
pregnant with the fire I stole.
By pregnant I mean everything
you see is of me. Daylight
is my daughter. Dusk, my lover’s
post-pleasure face. And the night?
Well. Look up.
Are you ever really alone?
To read more of Katie Condon’s poems check out Praying Naked.
11. “They Could Take Away” by Rupi Kaur from Homebody
12. “When You See Water” by Alice Walker from Her Blue Body and Everything We Know
When you see water in a stream
you say: oh, this is stream
When you see water in the river
you say: oh, this is water
of the river;
When you see ocean
you say: This is the ocean’s
But actually water is always
and does not belong
to any of these containers
though it creates them.
And so it is with you.
13. “To be of use” by Marge Piercy from Circles of Water
The people I love best
jump into work head first
without dallying in the shallows
and swim off with sure strokes almost out sight.
They seem to become natives of the 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 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.
14. “Nature Knows Its Math” by Joan Graham from Marvelous Math
the snow then
15. “The Peace of Wild Things” by Wendell Berry
When despair for the world grows in me
and I wake in the night at the least sound
in far of what my life and my children’s lives may be,
I go and lie down where the wood drake
rests in his beauty on the water, and the great heron feeds.
I come into the peace of wild things
who do not tax their lives with forethought
of grief. I come into the presence of still water.
And I feel above me the day-blind stars
waiting with their light. For a time
I rest in the grace of the world, and am free.
16. “Try to Praise the Mutilated World” by Adam Zagajewski from Without End: New and Selected Poems
Try to praise the mutilated world.
Remember June’s long days,
and wild strawberries, drops of rosé wine.
The nettles that methodically overgrow
the abandoned homesteads of exiles.
You must praise the mutilated world.
You watched the stylish yachts and ships;
one of them had a long trip ahead of it,
while salty oblivion awaited others.
You’ve seen the refugees going nowhere,
you’ve heard the executioners sing joyfully.
You should praise the mutilated world.
Remember the moments when we were together
in a white room and the curtain fluttered.
Return in thought to the concert where music flared.
You gathered acorns in the park in autumn
and leaves eddied over the earth’s scars.
Praise the mutilated world
and the gray feather a thrust lost,
and the gentle light that strays and vanishes
17. “What’s Not to Love” by Brandon Constantine
To read more of Brendan Constantine’s poems check out Bouncy Bounce
18. “To the New Year” by W.S. Merwin from Present Company
With what stillness at last
you appear in the valley
your first sunlight reaching down
to touch the tips of a few
high leaves that do not stir
as thought they had not noticed
and did not know you at all
then the voice of a dove calls
from far away in itself
to the hush of the morning
so this is the sound of you
here and now whether or not
anyone hear it this is
where we have come with our age
our knowledge such as it is
and our hopes such as they are
invisible before us
untouched and still possible
19. “A Brave and Startling Truth” by Maya Angelous from Maya Angelou: The Complete Poetry
20. “Rain, New Year’s Eve” by Maggie Smith from Good Bones
The rain is a broken piano,
playing the same note over and over.
My five-year-old said that.
Already she knows loving the world
means loving the wobbles
you can’t shim, the creaks you can’t
oil silent—the jerry-rigged parts,
MacGyvered with twine and chewing gum.
Let me love the cold rain’s plinking.
Let me love the world the way I love
my young son, not only when
he cups my face in his sticky hands,
but when, roughhousing,
he accidentally splits my lip.
Let me love the world like a mother.
Let me be tender when it lets me down.
Let me listen to the rain’s one note
and hear a beginner’s song.
I hope you enjoyed this collection of New Year’s poems as much as I enjoyed collecting them. If you are looking for more New Year’s poems to read you can look through 25 Poems About Life and Resilience, 15 Poems About Happiness, or 33 Nature Poems. Happy New Year. May 2021 have less tragedy and be a pathway to a healthier, safer, and more equitable society.