Change affects everyone, whether it comes with time, with shifts in relationships, jobs, or one’s emotional state.
The poems on this list document these different types of change, and others, that have inspired poets for centuries. From William Shakespeare’s sonnet addressed directly to ‘Time’ to poems about emigration and racial identity from Carol Ann Duffy and Gloria Anzaldua, there are a wide variety of experiences described here.
Best Poems about Change
- 1 Sonnet 123: No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change by William Shakespeare
- 2 Why Flowers Change Colour by Robert Herrick
- 3 Autumn Song by Dante Gabriel Rossetti
- 4 Change upon Change by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
- 5 Originally by Carol Ann Duffy
- 6 Revolving Days by David Malouf
- 7 Modern Love X by George Meredith
- 8 The Journey by Mary Oliver
- 9 To Live in the Borderlands by Gloria Anzaldua
- 10 Give by Simon Armitage
- 11 The Tide Rises, the Tide Falls by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
- 12 Eleven by Tanya Markul
Sonnet 123: No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change by William Shakespeare
‘Sonnet 123’ is directed toward a personified version of “Time.” It addresses change and growth throughout one’s lifetime. The years continue to pass, the narrator gets older, but he doesn’t feel that he needs to change his personality accordingly. He resolves that no matter what happens in his life that he’s going to be true to himself.
No, Time, thou shalt not boast that I do change:
Thy pyramids built up with newer might
To me are nothing novel, nothing strange;
They are but dressings of a former sight.
Read more of William Shakespeare’s 154 Sonnets.
Why Flowers Change Colour by Robert Herrick
Robert Herrick’s ‘Why Flowers Change Colour,’ is a simple, short poem in which his speaker uses flowers as an image of change and aging. He also relates them to women and a loss of virginity. Here are the four lines of the poem:
These fresh beauties, we can prove,
Once were virgins, sick of love,
Turn’d to flowers: still in some,
Colours go and colours come
Read more Robert Herrick poems.
In Rossetti’s ‘Autumn Song,’ the poet describes the pain experienced by nature at the end of autumn as the seasons change. These same pains are then translated to similar ones experienced by humankind. The emotional impacts of the changing seasons are like the emotional ups and downs everyone experiences during periods of plenty and periods of loss. Here is the first stanza:
Know’st thou not at the fall of the leaf
How the heart feels a languid grief
Laid on it for a covering,
And how sleep seems a goodly thing
In Autumn at the fall of the leaf?
Read more poetry by Dante Gabrielle Rossetti.
Change upon Change by Elizabeth Barrett Browning
In this lesser-known Browning poem, the speaker depicts the changes that come over a landscape from spring to winter while at the same time alluding to a relationship. The tears “have drifted to” her “eyes” as “slow as the winter snow.” Here are a few lines:
Five months ago the stream did flow,
The lilies bloomed within the sedge,
And we were lingering to and fro,
Where none will track thee in this snow,
Along the stream, beside the hedge.
Read more of Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s poems.
‘Originally’ describes the personal experience of a child who transforms as she emigrates to a new country. She loses her original accent and begins to sound like all the other students. She’s gained a lot, but she’s also lost a lot. Here are a few lines:
All childhood is an emigration. Some are slow,
leaving you standing, resigned, up an avenue
where no one you know stays. Others are sudden.
Read more Carol Ann Duffy poems.
Revolving Days by David Malouf
‘Revolving Days’ discusses themes of change connected to the past and memory, as well as personal relationships. The speaker explains how he used to be a lover, but now he’s leading a different life. He distinctly remembers how he fell in love and the complex emotions he felt then.
Revolving days. My heart
In my mouth again, I’m writing this for you, wherever
You are, whoever is starting into your blue eyes. It is me
Modern Love X by George Meredith
‘Modern Love X’ is one of the several poems with the same name and a different numerical designation that Meredith wrote throughout his life. For example, ‘Modern Love VI.‘ In this ‘Modern Love X,’ his speaker asks questions about change, how he got where he is, and who he wanted to be. Here are the first four lines:
But where began the change; and what’s my crime?
The wretch condemned, who has not been arraigned
Chafes at his sentence. Shall I, unsustained,
Drag on Love’s nerveless body thro’ all time?
Read more poetry from George Meredith.
The Journey by Mary Oliver
This moving poem depicts the emotional turmoil someone experiences in order to end one dark period of their life and start a new one. The poem describes this unknown person reaching a point in their life where they knew they had to make an important change. They decided they’d wasted enough of their life. Here are a few lines from Mary Oliver’s poem:
One day you finally knew
What you had to do, and
Though the voices around you
Their bad advice—
Read more Mary Oliver poems.
In ‘To Live in the Borderlands,’ Anzaldua depicts her perceptions of race–her own and others–and alludes to the darker words and ideas some use and have about people who look like her. She has five races in her personal history, and she can feel the weight of them. They each want something different from her. She concludes that one must “be a crossroads” and exist between and within all the worlds. Here are a few lines:
In the Borderlands
you are the battleground
where enemies are kin to each other;
you are at home, a stranger,
Give by Simon Armitage
‘Give’ is a thought-provoking poem in which the speaker describes homelessness and suggests the changes one’s life goes through to coalesce into living on the street. While discussing life, the poet also tries to draw attention to the humanity of the homeless population.
For coppers I can dance or sing.
For silver-swallow swords, eat fire.
For gold-escape from locks and chains.
Read more poetry from Simon Armitage.
Throughout this poem, Longfellow describes life and death through images of the seashore. He uses the movement of the water as a way of depicting the changes one goes through in life. Life, he implies, flourishes and declines. He also includes an image of a traveler walking along the water’s edge. Here are a few lines:
The tide rises, the tide falls,
The twilight darkens, the curlew calls;
Along the sea-sands damp and brown
The traveller hastens toward the town,
And the tide rises, the tide falls.
Read more Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poems.
Eleven by Tanya Markul
In this lesser-known poem, Markul writes briefly and beautifully about the “pain” that makes “you” who you are. The speaker addresses the way that one might feel themselves to be an outsider and the way that change, as seen through painful moments, unites them to “a healing world.” This suggests that it’s through a mutual understanding of one another’s humanity that we’re healed.
That made you
The odd one out