Human beings have turned to poetry as an expression for centuries. Sometimes those poems reveal love. Other times, poetry is a way for those to process depression and put their pain into words. And yet, there are moments that poems provide us with hope and inspiration.
These ten poems speak to the year that 2020 has been. Some will acknowledge all the love and depression, and others will remind us we are not alone and to keep going.
Don’t forget to also read these short inspirational poems to inspire you when you feel like giving up.
Poems about captivity
When you think back on your time in quarantine, check out this poem by William H. Davis. He was born in Wales, then moved to America. He lost a foot in a train jumping accident. He ended up back in England and lived a laborious life.
His poem “The Captive Lion” is a meaningful poem about a powerful beast being brought low by something he doesn’t quite understand. It reminds me of how the entire world shut down because of something so small yet so powerful.
Thou that in fury with thy knotted tail
Hast made this iron floor thy beaten drum;
That now in silence walkst thy little space —
Like a sea-captain — careless what may come:
2020 should go down in the history books as the year of change and historical growth. Nothing speaks to the emotion behind the movement of Black Lives Matter like Maya Angelou’s “Caged Bird.” This poem is all about the seemingly insignificant things we take for granted and how freedom is vital to humanity. This poem is about the grief caused by privilege, and it wouldn’t hurt us all to sit in that space and reflect for a moment.
But a bird that stalks
down his narrow cage
can seldom see through
his bars of rage
his wings are clipped and
his feet are tied
so he opens his throat to sing.
Poems about death and anger
This next poem, “Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night,” by Dylan Thomas, is a much louder and angry fight song about grief. This poem’s purpose is to inspire you to fight for hope. It is about the need to claw your way out of the darkness sometimes. Another fitting reminder for 2020.
I see this one as a reminder to everyone who got infected with COVID-19 and fought to survive in the ICU. It is believed that Thomas wrote this for his father, who was dying; it reminds us to remember all of those we have lost.
Good men, the last wave by, crying how bright
Their frail deeds might have danced in a green bay,
Rage, rage against the dying of the light.
This year started with “Fire” ravaging the continent of Australia. We lost wildlife at an alarming rate, but conservationists, activists, famous people, and everyone else seemed to want to rally and do their part. They were angry that climate change isn’t being taken seriously.
I remember thinking about how this would be the defining moment of 2020. Reading this poem by Emily Dickinson, I am saddened at the reminder of “departed creatures,” but proud of how humanity handled this crisis.
Ashes denote that fire was;
Respect the grayest pile
For the departed creature’s sake
That hovered there awhile.
Fire exists the first in light,
And then consolidates,—
Only the chemist can disclose
Into what carbonates.
Moishe Kaufman was born in Grodno, Belarus. His work is primarily about Jews during the Holocaust. He worked as a furniture finisher, a teacher, and a chief editor at the Buenos Aires Yiddish Press. This poem, “Not Chosen” reminds me of being confined to our houses so as not to get sick. To avoid the virus that could spread quickly and kill many.
Seek no tomorrow, seek no friends
this day alone belongs to you
grasp, take without concern
before life slips away
Poems that make us question what we believe about race
This next poem, “On Being Brought from Africa to America,” is an essential read in 2020 because it is a reminder of our past and our history. Phillis Wheatley was a slave brought from Africa when she was 7 or 8. She was a vital piece of abolitionist history.
It is important to note that the U.S. Court System repeatedly put her through intelligence testing because they doubted that she was the author of her work. She ended up moving to London, where she could have her poems published finally.
‘Twas mercy brought me from my Pagan land,
Taught my benighted soul to understand
That there’s a God, that there’s a Saviour too:
Once I redemption neither sought nor knew.
Some view our sable race with scornful eye,
“Their colour is a diabolic die.”
Remember, Christians, Negros, black as Cain,
May be refin’d, and join th’ angelic train.
There were so many disturbing things about the murder of George Floyd, but I can never unhear this man call out begging for his mother. George Floyd’s words have felt like a call to all mothers to do something: protest, teach your children about privilege, talk about race, and defend those who need it. A rallying cry of battle. Rudyard Kipling’s poem not only reminds us of the unconditional love of a mother but the emptiness that mothers feel at a loss.
If I were drowned in the deepest sea,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
I know whose tears would come down to me,
Mother o’ mine, O mother o’ mine!
Speaking of motherhood, this poem by Henry Van Dyke, titled, “Mother Earth,” is full of love and inspiration. We could all use a little more of that, and this a reminder to be thankful for all the beauty we see every day.
Mother of all the high-strung poets and singers departed,
Mother of all the grass that weaves over their graves the glory of the field,
Mother of all the manifold forms of life, deep-bosomed, patient, impassive,
Silent brooder and nurse of lyrical joys and sorrows!
If you elected to learn a new skill, or rediscovered an old passion, or committed to improving yourself during the quarantine period, this poem is for you. Katy A. Brown’s poem, “Pain Ends,” is an inspiring piece of work. It reminds us all to do the work required to achieve our dreams and let go of all the things that we can not control.
The quarantine was where I poured myself into the idea that I could be a full-time writer. I promoted my writing more, found additional clients, and published more articles on Medium, and I earned money compared to my wage.
I am a firm believer that income streams and residual income are better than wages. I wondered what I would accomplish if I had more time to invest in my writing, and this poem speaks to that power of believing in yourself.
Focus on your goals,
Never lose your fight.
It’s time to open new scrolls.
Everything will be all right.
Robert Frost’s “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” is a poem that leaves the reader feeling dreamy and calm. The imagery of the beautiful wood, the solitude of no other visible dwellings, and the reminder we have things to accomplish before sleep, make this the perfect poem for 2020.
The woods are lovely, dark and deep,
But I have promises to keep,
And miles to go before I sleep,
And miles to go before I sleep.
We have made it through the first six months of 2020, and I won’t dare the universe to top the first half, by saying the worst is likely over. Every time I think along those lines, I just see one of those “Hold my beer” memes in my head. I do not want that.
I would like for us to remember there is beauty in this world, even when it seems the darkest. Poetry has always been that reminder for me. I talked to my friend yesterday about how sad I am that my notebooks upon notebooks of poetry I wrote as a depressed teenager are lost. The poetry I wrote and the poetry I read got me through some of the hardest times in my life.
Who is your favorite poet? Is there a poem you feel has resonated with you during the first half of this year? Do you have a poem that inspires you to do something new and exciting in the back half of the year? Let us know in the comments below!